5 must-do's to prepare your home for winter

Key tips to remember

  • Schedule an annual service appointment for your heating system and fireplace.
  • Insulate pipes to prevent them from freezing and potentially bursting.
  • Sometimes, a simple change can make a big impact.
  • Build or replenish your winter storm survival kit.
  • Prevent ice dams by cleaning gutters and keeping roof insulation evenly distributed.

For months it was just coming, but with the snowbirds (both human and feathered) beginning their annual migration and lip balm becoming a necessity, it can only mean one thing: Winter is almost here. But before you start hanging holiday lights and decorating your mantel, there are a few other important tasks you need to complete around the house in order to prepare for what Mother Nature has in store.

Of the four seasons, winter probably stresses our homes the most, especially if you live in an area where you need to defend against frozen pipes and ice dams. We’re going to assume you’ve already covered the items in our fall prep checklist. (And if there’s been some procrastination on your part, don’t fear! You still have time to include them now too.) Here we’ve added the key steps you should take now to protect your home from the winter elements.

Simply tick down this winter home maintenance checklist — maybe even check it twice — and you’ll be ready to relax and enjoy a Hallmark movie next to a blazing fireplace in no time!

1. Make sure your heating system and fireplace are ready to go.

It’s about to get chilly, so the last thing you need is an unexpected issue with your heating system. You can get the full lowdown with our furnace maintenance checklist, but it bears repeating that you should schedule a proper service appointment during which a professional can provide essential cleaning, care and inspection — and do it now, before you risk turning into a popsicle.

If you have a high-efficiency HVAC system, the PVC vent pipes will need to be cleared of any obstructions. Homeowners with boiler systems should schedule a cleaning and bleed the radiators every year, while gas systems should be cleaned about every three years. An annual fireplace inspection and chimney sweep are also essential. Clogged chimneys are serious dangers that can cause house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning, so this is no area to skimp.

2. Prevent pipes from freezing.

The thing about water is that when it freezes, it expands, which can spell disaster for your plumbing. To prevent pipes from bursting, insulate pipes near windows, doors and in areas of your home that don’t get heated. These two tips will help protect your indoor plumbing:

  • Always keep your heat running and set no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Let water drip through faucets served by exposed pipes. When water is moving, even at just a trickle, it’s harder for the water to freeze.

For exterior pipes, turn them off at the mains and make sure they are fully drained. You can also wrap them with insulating tape or foam for extra protection. It’s helpful to paint your exterior faucet handles in a bright color, in case you need to locate them quickly in the snow or at night for an emergency repair.

3. Prepare for a winter storm.

Mother Nature can really show off her nasty side during the winter months, which means a high potential for severe weather and power outages. Now is a good time to prep or replenish a storm survival kit, complete with:

  • First-aid supplies
  • Flashlights
  • Bottled water
  • Nonperishable food
  • Batteries
  • Smartphone charger
  • Hand-crank or battery-operated radio

Depending on where in the country you live and the severity of the winter weather in your area, you might also consider a generator, or give it a test if you already have one.

Before the weather gets rough and home stores start selling out of equipment, check the condition of your snow blower, shovels, gloves and scrapers, and be sure to keep your snow supplies and roof rake near the door or where you have quick access to them.

Double-check that tree limbs are trimmed away from the windows and roof, and have a broom handy to brush away any snow that collects on them. This will help reduce the risk of a branch snapping under the weight of snow or ice. And remember: Always store fuel for your equipment in approved containers away from flame sources and never in the basement.

4. Stay ahead of ice dams.

Ice dams form when the roofline of your home is colder than the upper areas, which are usually parts of the attic where there’s more insulation. Snow melting down from the higher, warmer roof collects in the colder eaves, forming a dam that prevents the melting snow from draining properly.

This can lead to serious roof damage. As with most home maintenance, it’s all about prevention. Before winter weather sets in, make sure to:

  • Clear debris from gutters, especially all those fall leaves that might have collected.
  • Inspect and upgrade attic insulation so that it’s properly distributed to keep the roof an even temperature.
  • Invest in a trusty roof rake to remove snow that collects after storms.
  • You can also install heat cables along your roofline to help prevent ice damage.

5. Protect your floors and walkways.

Snow and ice can become a real slip-and-fall hazard, not to mention deal a serious blow to your floors if constantly tracked through the house. For safety and to keep your flooring looking beautiful for years to come:

  • Place mats both inside and outside each entrance to your home.
  • Have waterproof trays just inside the entryway to place wet shoes and boots.
  • Provide a boot scraper or brush outside the door for removing excess snow.
  • Have hooks ready inside for hanging wet coats and gloves.

This is also the time to make sure any steps leading to your doorway are free from tripping hazard, and that you’ve got a sturdy handrail installed for when rain, ice and sleet make things slippery. While you’re at it, stock up on salt, ice melt or sand before it’s time to shovel the sidewalk and driveway.

At Cinch Home Services, we’re dedicated to helping your family stay safe and comfortable this winter season. For additional peace of mind, consider a Cinch home protection plan to eliminate the stress of troubleshooting repairs on any of your home's vital systems and appliances, especially when the weather outside starts getting frightful. You can also subscribe to our newsletter and visit us on Facebook for more helpful home tips throughout the year.

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