How to Winterize a House

No matter what sort of cold-weather climate you live in, a few home maintenance chores can go a long way to helping protect your home from the elements. Here's a home winterize checklist to help.

Summer turns to autumn, autumn turns to winter, and that means pulling out sweaters, coats, and other cold-weather gear. But have you given your home the proper winter prep, too? A few hours and a few seasonal maintenance tasks can be a big boost to helping your home withstand the rigors of winter, no matter where you live. Here are 12 home winterizing tasks to tackle:

Clean the gutters. It can be a dirty job, but cleaning gutters is essential in both autumn and spring. All the accumulated debris, including leaves and sticks, can end up clogging your home's drainage systems, and that can cause water to backup or freeze, creating backups, ice dams, and possible structural damage. Use a small tool such as a hand scraper to remove any lodged-in materials, and rinse the gutters with a hose, making sure that leaks and cracks are fixed and downspouts are directed away from the home, not toward the foundation.

Check for leaks. If warm air can get out, cold air can get in, which means you can waste energy and not feel as comfortable inside your winter-weather house. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each home in the U.S. has enough leaks, holes, and gaps equal to having a window open every day of the year. You can caulk, upgrade your outlets, seal masonry, and use draft snakes to stop leaks at windows and doors. 

Give your air conditioners some TLC. A little protection can help your unused air conditioning unit better withstand its off months. Drain hoses to prevent freezing and clean up any water in the drain pan. You can also cover the unit to prevent water and snow from entering during winter.

Review your attic's insulation. The generally accepted standard for attic insulation is 12 inches; seeing roof joints is one clue that you might not have enough. A higher R value for insulation indicates a greater ability to seal your home, and you can use loose-fill or blankets, according to the EPA -- just don't pick insulation with a paper backing.

Change the flow on ceiling fans. In cold weather, ceiling fans should push the warm air trapped at ceiling height down, so the blades should turn clockwise.

Winterize your windows. As part of a seasonal home maintenance routine, screens on doors and windows should be swapped out for storms. If you don't have storms and aren't planning on window replacements before winter, consider a window insulating kit -- basically plastic that acts as a cold-weather barrier.

Inspect the chimney and fireplace. A chimney inspection can turn up any debris that may end up a fire hazard. If you don't have a chimney cap, a chimney sweep may advise adding one to keep out animals and the elements.

Insulate your pipes. Basements, garages, and crawlspaces are prime spots for uninsulated pipes, which can burst in cold weather. Use foam rubber sleeves to wrap uninsulated pipes; you'll also reduce heat loss.

Trim your trees. Loose or dead branches can't withstand winds, rain, or snow during winter; remove any debris or hire a tree trimming service to reach very high branches.

Turn off and store exterior hoses. Garden hoses should be disconnected from exterior spigots, drained of remaining water, and stored in a garage, basement, or shed.

Update your alarms. Home winterizing time is a good time to change the batteries on smoke detectors, and replace any that are a decade or more old. Check that your carbon monoxide detector is working, too, or install one if necessary.

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