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There’s something wonderful about winter. Imagine curling up in front of the fireplace of your new home with some hot chocolate and a good book. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Only if you’ve already ticked off all the items on your home winterizing checklist … those cozy, cold-weather vibes only go so far.
If you’re not careful, freezing temperatures can do significant damage to your new home. And there’s nothing like a broken pipe or a leaky basement to kill those winter-wonderland daydreams!
Maria Walley, a top-performing real estate agent in Cincinnati, Ohio, knows all about the toll that winter can take on a home. Her firsthand knowledge, combined with national winter-safe protocols, helped us compile this comprehensive winterization checklist.
Don’t let winter ruin your new home. We’ll guide you through best practices to keep your home functioning as the year-round haven you always wanted it to be.
Let’s take it from the top!
If you’re able, break out the ladder and do a visual inspection of your roof. Check for any loose shingles or tiles, especially around vents and at seams where expansion and contraction seem to affect the integrity of the roof to a greater degree.
If you notice any cracked or broken areas, you may be able to fix it yourself using a watertight, tar-like sealant. Otherwise, definitely contact a professional roofer to patch it up.
While you’re up on the roof, take the opportunity to inspect your chimney. Make sure there are no loose bricks and check that the vent is clear. Look for an over-abundance of soot, which could indicate the need for a cleaning.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends chimney sweeping when there is a one-eighth-inch buildup of sooty deposits in the flue. If in doubt, the National Fire Protection Association says it’s best to schedule a yearly inspection for safety’s sake.
Next, let’s check out those gutters. Gutters should be free of leaves and debris in order to function properly. Clogged gutters can lead to foundation issues, basement leaks, or water seepage into the soffits and fascia. Plus, if water freezes in your gutters, the heavy ice could cause them to break away from your home. Clean out any gutter blockages before winter, and consider installing leaf guards, especially in sections near tall trees.
Walley says gutter cleaning is her No. 1 winterizing tip for homebuyers.
“I see it happen all the time — water backs up and comes inside. You start to see spotting and think there are big problems with the house. But in reality, if you take the time to clean the gutters, all that can be avoided.”
Don’t put away your ladder just yet! If you’ve got a roof vent for your dryer, now’s a great time to clean it out. Remove all lint to keep air flowing throughout the winter. After all, you don’t want to get up on the roof again when it’s below zero degrees!
Once you’re safely back on the ground, it’s time to take a look at the deck and patio areas. First, pull in all outdoor furniture that could be damaged over the winter. Don’t forget any decorative rugs and seasonal planters.
Next, check the surfaces. Because of the variety of materials and climates, there’s no real rule of thumb for how often a deck needs to be sealed. To determine if your deck may need to be sealed before the snow falls, spray some water onto the surface. Does it soak in or bead up on top? If water isn’t beading, you’ll want to seal and waterproof the deck in order to prevent winter damage.
If you’ve got an outdoor kitchen, now’s the time to pull out those manufacturer guidelines for winterization. Some outdoor appliances can be used safely throughout the colder months, while others will need to be drained of fuel and covered up until spring.
Similarly, pools and water features will need to be winterized according to professional guidelines and your climate. In states that expect freezing temperatures, winterizing pools and water features usually means draining water, adding chemicals, clearing pipelines, and installing a thick cover. States with milder winters can take fewer precautions. Ask your local pros if you need guidance.
You’ll also want to think through which lawn care items you won’t be using anymore. To avoid fuel freezing in the lines, most gas-powered items will need to be stabilized and drained. Again, consult manufacturer specifications for guidance on your specific tools.
Walley also reminds clients to turn off the water going to the hose spigots. “Typically in the basement, there’s a valve for the outdoor faucets. You’ll want to shut that off so you don’t have a burst pipe.”
Just a few more last-minute preparations!
Before the first freeze, be sure to bring in hoses and take down window screens. Stake the driveway, so you don’t “lose” it (and can protect your lawn) in the first snowfall. And be sure to switch out any seasonal decor to keep your curb appeal throughout the winter.
The weather outside is getting frightful … so keep it out there! Guard against chilly drafts by checking that doors and windows are properly sealed. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends holding a lit incense stick near closed windows and doors. If the smoke wavers, you’ve got a gap that will let warm air out and cold air in. Use weatherstripping or caulk to seal up the area.
You may also want to consider insulating your electrical outlets, especially those located on exterior walls. Foam sealers can often help reduce airflow around outlets and switches. For additional measures, you can also caulk around outlet edges.
Indoor fireplaces help keep your family cozy through the winter — as long as they’re safe! Get your fireplace in tip-top shape for winter by cleaning all fireplace components and testing the damper. Make sure you have dry wood or gas ready for use.
Get ready for the change in temperature by testing your thermostat and setting it for optimal heat usage. The U.S. Department of Energy advises setting your thermostat for 68 degrees while you’re home and awake, then setting it even lower while you’re asleep or away. And don’t forget to change your air filters and reverse your ceiling fans’ direction!
Finally, get beds and bathrooms ready for wintertime comfort. Wash and change bedding, putting on warmer sheets such as flannel or fleece. Pull out thicker blankets, quilts, and down comforters that you may have had in storage. Make sure that your bathroom exhaust fans are working well, and consider adding a towel warmer for an extra touch of coziness.
Of course, the biggest seasonal system switch will definitely be the HVAC, or heating and cooling system. Most furnace manufacturers recommend a professional inspection and cleaning yearly, and pre-winter is a great time to do it. A furnace inspection and cleaning will usually run between $100 and $300, and it should include the casing, internal parts, fuel lines, filter, and motor.
Also, don’t forget to cover your outdoor air conditioning unit while not in use, and check the fuel supply for gas furnaces.
Walley says the plumbing system will need attention, as well. To prevent freezing pipes, be sure to insulate any pipes that are exposed to cold air, including those in crawl spaces, attics, and colder bathrooms. You may also want to insulate your water heater to increase efficiency.
In terms of your fire safety system, the U.S. Fire Administration advises homeowners to change the batteries in their smoke detectors once each year. Now is a great time to get this chore checked off the list — before the start of fireplace and furnace season! While you’re at it, check the date on those smoke detectors, since they are only designed to last for 10 years.
If your home has a sprinkler system, you’ll need to make sure all water is expelled from the pipes to prevent freezing damage. Turning the sprinklers off is not enough! Usually (not always) winterization requires an air compressor in order to blow the water out of the lines. If you’re unfamiliar with how to do this or don’t have the equipment, consider hiring a professional. The process is quick and usually costs around $80 on average.
Though none of us like to think about the possibility of a major storm, it’s always best to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Part of your home winterization should include having a storm-readiness plan to get you and your home safely through a blizzard or ice storm.
The American Red Cross recommends building a survival kit, including a first aid kit, crank radio, flashlight, extra batteries, cash, medications, and emergency blankets. You should also stockpile enough non-perishable foods and water for three to fourteen days without power. The rule of thumb for water is one gallon per person, per day. Have important paperwork and emergency numbers handy in case you need to evacuate.
Think through alternative sources of power. Solar-powered cell phone chargers may be useful, and investing in a generator might also be a wise move. But remember to never run a generator inside — it must have outdoor ventilation!
With a little preparation and winterization, your home will be ready to weather those colder temperatures with ease. Print out this home winterizing checklist as a reference. Then get ready to snuggle up with a mug of cocoa and watch the snow fall!
Header Image Source: (Ian Keefe / Unsplash)