Prepare your home for winter (9 must-do's)

Complete this winter home maintenance checklist before the chill sets in.

Key tips to remember

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

It’s easy to get a little starry-eyed about all the best parts of the holiday season, like warm fires, comfort foods, sharing the company of your favorite people, and the pleasures of giving and receiving the perfect gifts. ’Tis the season for cold weather, hot beverages and cozy blankets. But set aside your gift ideas and holiday meal planning for a little while because there are some important considerations for taking care of your home this season that deserve your attention. If you take great care of your home inside and out, it’s a lot easier to enjoy all the fun times without incident. Long before the weather outside becomes frightful, there are some decisive steps you can take to make sure everything inside remains delightful, all winter long.

Maintenance and repairs

Winter is almost home for the holidays. The chill is already in the air, and it’s getting colder by the week. Before you start hanging lights and decorating, there are a few important tasks you need to complete around the house to winterize your home. 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 on the roof (more on those later). We’re going to assume you’ve already covered the steps we suggested in our fall prep checklist. If there’s been some procrastination on your part, don’t worry. You still have time to catch up on those fall tips. 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 of nine essential winterizing steps — maybe even checking it twice — and you’ll be ready to relax and enjoy a movie next to a blazing fireplace in no time!

Make sure your heating system and fireplace are ready for winter.

It’s about to get chilly, and when you’re getting your home ready for winter, 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 an icicle. 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 dangerous and can cause house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning, so this is not an item on your winter checklist to overlook.

Check batteries for smoke detectors and carbon-monoxide detectors.

Speaking of fires and carbon-monoxide poisoning, no cold-weather home checklist would be complete without a reminder to check the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon-monoxide detectors. Of course, if your home lacks one or the other, you first need to get them.f If yours are older, remember that these important safety gadgets typically only last about a decade, so you might be due for replacements. If you haven’t installed these devices before, they’re pretty easy to DIY, assuming you have a stepladder and are steady on your feet. If not, it’s worth it to call in a pro to have your smoke detectors and carbon-monoxide detectors checked thoroughly. Home heating systems cause approximately one-third of wintertime fires, so making sure you’re covered with fully functional detectors in every room, including hallways, is a vital safety check essential to any winter house checklist.

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 as much heat. To prevent pockets of air that can be cold enough to freeze, always keep your heat running and set it 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 it 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.

Check for air leaks.

Your “winterize your house checklist” will need to include checking for air leaks because escaping air anytime of year means your HVAC system has to work harder than it should to heat or cool your home. You’ll notice this even more during the cold months because a small draft of chilly air can feel like a blast from the freezer. Go ahead and feel around the inside and outside of all your windows and doors, and you might be surprised by what you find. Luckily, weatherstripping is a simple and inexpensive fix that can make a big impact on your comfort, your HVAC system’s energy efficiency and longevity, and your utility bills. Read more about how to do this in our post on DIY weatherstripping.

Get a generator for the winter and stock emergency supplies.

For many of us, winter means an increased potential for severe weather and power outages. Depending on the climate where you live and the severity of its winter weather, you might also want to consider a generator, or give yours a test run if you already have one. Remember, gas-powered generators should never be used indoors, but they can be a huge help in the event of a serious power outage. Whether or not you’re considering that generator, now is also a good time to prep or replenish a storm survival kit.. Some great suggestions to add to your kit include:

  • First-aid supplies
  • Flashlights
  • Bottled water
  • Nonperishable food
  • Batteries
  • Smartphone chargers
  • Hand-cranked or battery-operated radios
  • Extra warm hats, gloves and scarves

Get your seasonal tools ready for winter.

Before the weather gets rough and home stores start selling out of equipment, check the condition of your seasonal tools. Be sure to keep them near the door, organized in one section of your garage, or wherever you have quick access to them. You should always have at least a small selection of basic tools like wrenches and screwdrivers, but when you’re planning for cold weather and expect a solid dose of snow, be sure to include:

  • Snowblowers
  • Snow shovels
  • Snow sweepers
  • Ice scrapers
  • Ice melters
  • Roof rakes

Remove low-hanging branches.

Your “getting ready for winter checklist” would be incomplete without a double-check of tree limbs above or near your home. Make sure they’re trimmed well away from the windows and roof. While you’re at it, be sure you have a broom or a roof scraper 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, which can damage your home and potentially lead to power outages. Any sort of organic junk accumulating on your roof can also create the perfect conditions for an ice dam, which you want to do everything you can to avoid.

Check the roof.

While you’re at it, take a closer look at the roof. Replace any loose shingles, and remove any of those leaves or other built-up debris. You’ll want to stay well ahead of those ice dams, which form when the roofline of your home is colder than the upper areas, 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, ice dam removal is all about prevention. Before winter weather sets in, make sure to:

  • Clear debris from gutters, especially all those fall leaves.
  • Inspect and upgrade attic insulation so that it’s properly distributed.
  • 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.

Protect your floors and walkways.

Not everyone has a fancy mudroom for transitioning between the muddy, snowy exterior and the clean, cozy interior, but you can create your own process for keeping out the wet and the mess. Snow and ice can become a real slip-and-fall hazard, not to mention deal a serious blow to your floors if the soggy remnants of the great outdoors are constantly tracked throughout your home. For safety and to keep your flooring looking beautiful for years to come:

  • Place mats inside and outside each entrance to your home.
  • Have waterproof trays 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 outdoor steps or walkways leading to your doorway are free from tripping or slipping hazards, especially if you are expecting elderly guests. Have a sturdy handrail installed for when rain, ice, snow and sleet make things dangerous, and don’t forget to stock salt, ice melt or sand before it’s time to shovel the sidewalk and driveway.

If you’d like to read more helpful ideas about how to take care of your home leading up to and throughout the most wonderful time of the year, check out our post on the three most important steps in radiator maintenance. If you’re wondering whether your home warranty covers your roof, we’ve got some insight. While you’re at it, we also suggest you review the finer points of fire safety. Again, be sure not to overlook the importance of weatherstripping doors. We’ve got plenty more posts with all sorts of useful suggestions for any time of the year, so feel free to dig in, get comfy and read more. 

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. Thanks for stopping by!

The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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