With fall rapidly approaching, it’s now time to say goodbye to the summer heat and prepare your home for winter weather. Just like you have to winterize a car and take care of basic auto repair as winter approaches, there are things you need to do to prepare your home for winter weather.
If you’re relatively new to being a homeowner, chances are you never realized that a home needs to be “winterized” each fall to stay in good condition. The cold, wet winter weather can wreak havoc on a house, and failing to prepare your home for winter weather leaves it vulnerable. It can also result in higher utility bills, as a number of winter preparation tips involve improving your home’s insulation against the cold.
Fortunately, you can usually prepare your home for winter weather without spending a lot of money. Many home repairs can be done by the homeowner with a little research and instruction. Whether you’ve just moved in or you’ve lived in your current residence all your life, follow the steps in this article to prepare your home for winter weather.
Check Out Your Heating and Air Conditioning System
A good heating and air system should last between 12 to 15 years, but that assumes you’re taking care of it properly. An essential part of HVAC maintenance involves changing the air filters at least twice per year: once in the spring and again in the fall. In addition to changing the filter, you should inspect the system to make sure everything is clean and in good working order.
You can do this yourself if you know how, but it’s an even better idea to have a local heating service inspect your entire system for you once per year. Getting this done now will ensure that, on the first cold day of winter, you won’t be stuck with a broken heater because you didn’t inspect it ahead of time. HVAC repairmen are very busy during the early winter months, so you’ve got a better chance at getting someone to come out on your schedule earlier in the year.
Seal, Caulk, and Paint Exterior Wood
The wood that your deck is made out of is probably pressure-treated or rot-resistant, but the wooden trim on the outside of your house is most likely just one-inch pine board. If this trim isn’t protected from the elements, it can rot and deteriorate very quickly. Replacing trim after it’s begun rotting away is costly and difficult, and even the best siding installation pros struggle to make it look good again. So it’s a good idea to take steps to ensure it doesn’t rot in the first place.
Walk around the exterior of your house and examine the paint on your walls and trim, and the caulk that seals the gaps between the trim and siding. If the caulk is cracking or the paint is chipping and flaking away, you’ll need to scrape off the loose caulk and paint and apply fresh.
Even though your deck should be waterproof, even if can deteriorate after enough time. To make sure it’s ready for winter, pour a bucket of water on it. If the water beads up and runs off, then the wood is still waterproof. If the wood absorbs the water, it means your deck needs to be cleaned and resealed.
Seal Hard Surfaces and Masonry
Next to prepare your home for winter weather, you’ll need to turn your attention to any concrete around your yard. Concrete driveways, walkways, and patios will all need to be protected from the harsh weather, just like your wood trim. Not because concrete rots, but because it can develop cracks in rapidly-shifting temperatures.
Cracks develop in concrete anyway just from everyday use, but as long as you don’t ignore them they shouldn’t get too large. To seal the masonry around your house, inspect your concrete and fill in any recent gaps or cracks with sealer. This will prevent water from getting in and expanding as it freezes, making the gaps even bigger.
Similarly, if you have an asphalt driveway you should think about resealing it as well. It doesn’t normally cost much to have a company come out and spray it with sealer, but if you prefer you can buy a bucket of sealer and roll it on yourself. Any cracks in your driveway will need to be patched before sealing.
And last, you should turn your attention to your home’s foundation. Examine the soil around your home and make sure it hasn’t settled over the summer, creating low spots where water can pool next to the foundation. When you find a low spot, simply fill it in with some soil.
Clean Gutters and Adjust Downspouts
Just like you needed to fill in those low places so that water won’t collect around your house, you’ll need to make sure your downspouts aren’t set up in such a way as to direct water towards your foundation in the first place. The downspouts should be sturdy and secure, without any substantial leaks, and they should carry the water from your gutters at least a few feet away from your house. You may need to invest in some downspout extenders to take the water away where it won’t flow directly back towards the foundation. If the ground around your home gets saturated with water, it could create serious foundation problems as it freezes and thaws over the winter.
Another critical step to prepare your home for winter weather is cleaning the gutters around your roof. First, you should wait until the leaves have mostly fallen off the trees in your yard, because otherwise, they’ll simply clog the gutters all over again after you finish cleaning them. Once your trees are mostly bare, use heavy gloves to scoop the debris out of your gutters by hand. You can use a small garden shovel or trowel for concentrated debris that’s gotten stuck. If this is too much work for your schedule, your local roofing services can help, or they might recommend a handyman to get the job done for you.
Having clean gutters is important because it allows water to flow freely. If the gutters are clogged, rainwater will back up and overflow out the sides, which will cause your exterior walls to deteriorate faster, not to mention adding moisture to the soil around your foundation.
Clean Your Chimney and Stock Up on Firewood
If your house has a fireplace in it, you’ll need to have it cleaned and inspected by a chimney sweep company before you can start building cozy fires in it. A good serviceman will make sure your fireplace is safe to use, as well as identify any maintenance problems.
Next, prepare your home for winter weather by ordering a load of firewood. You’ll need to stack it in a dry location, or at least cover it with a tarp if you don’t have room for it in your shed. If you have firewood leftover from last year, watch out for rotten logs, and keep them away from your house. Rotting, pest-infested wood can be a contagion to your entire home, potentially allowing burrowing insects to escape and eat into your home’s walls and trim. Of course, if this happens it’s not the end of the world: pest management services can make short work of infestation problems. But it’s ideal to avoid infestations in the first place.
Test Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
It goes without saying that, along with getting your fireplace and heating system working, it’s a good time to test your fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Between excess heat, open flames, and rooms closed up all night, wintertime is when you’re most at risk of both house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Thanks to a careful inspection, you should have affirmed by now that your HVAC and hot water systems are properly vented, which means carbon monoxide poisoning is less likely. You’ll also know by now that your furnace and fireplace are clean and functioning properly. Now to finish taking precautions, test all of the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your house. You’ll be able to feel safe all winter long knowing you’ve done your due diligence to avoid these problems.
Shut Down Outdoor Water Systems for the Year
To prepare your home for winter weather on the outside, you’ve got to make sure your pool, sprinkler system, and outdoor faucets are drained and ready to weather the cold. If you have a pool, closing it down will probably be the biggest task here. To avoid accidentally missing something important, it’s worth hiring a professional pool service to inspect it and shut it down correctly. If there are any problems in your pool system that need fixing, it’s a good idea to get it fixed now rather than wait until spring. Pool contractors are busiest in the springtime, so it’s harder to get repairs done then.
Next you’ll need to properly shut down your sprinkler system, if you have one. Most systems require that the lines be blown out before the ground freezes. Once again, it’s worth the cost to hire a professional. Getting an expert to winterize your sprinkler system is much cheaper than replacing several broken lines in the spring.
The last task here is the simplest: draining the outdoor faucets. Leaving the waterlines to your faucets and water hydrants full can cause considerable damage to your plumbing as the water freezes, from leaky faucets to severely cracked pipes. To make sure this doesn’t happen, simply turn off the water valve that leads outside, and then turn on all the outdoor faucets, letting the water run out. You don’t need to get every last drop out — simply letting most of the water out will be sufficient to prevent breakage when the water expands into ice.
Prepare Your Lawn for Winter
If you want a great-looking lawn and landscaping come spring, it pays to give it some attention in the fall. If your yard needs some new grass to fill it out, you’d better get it planted sometime between September and October, because grass doesn’t grow when it’s either too hot or too cold. You’ll also want to apply some good fertilizer to your yard and flower beds. You should consider having mulch or bark dust installation done in your landscaping to protect the plants’ roots from the harsh cold.
Next you should look at the trees in your yard to make sure they’re still healthy. Dead trees are a serious hazard to property and safety, as they can fall down when least expected. Spotting a sick or dying tree isn’t always easy, which is why you should try to do it while there are still some leaves on the branches. Also, while fall isn’t an ideal time to trim tree limbs, if there are branches that brush up against the house, these should be trimmed before winter hits. For especially high branches that need to come down, you might be able to get a lift from a construction equipment rental company, which can be safer than trying to use a tall ladder.
Sometimes you find a tree that needs to come down, but it’s impossible to tell if it’s your responsibility to remove or if it technically falls on your neighbor’s property. Land surveying services may be useful in cases like this, as they can tell you exactly where your property line ends.
Investigate Your Attic and Have an Energy Audit
Once it starts getting cold out, your attic becomes an ideal winter home for birds and squirrels. As cute as these creatures might be when they’re minding their own business in your backyard, they can quickly become a pain in your attic, where they can cause serious damage. You can prevent this by ensuring your trees are trimmed well away from the sides of your house, and that your gable vents are sturdy and intact. As an added precaution, you should consider stapling up a wire screen between the gable vents.
Next, you should consider having a professional energy audit done if you’ve never done it before. Attics are prone to having poor insulation, which can make it harder (and more expensive) to keep your home warm. While you’re at it, you should check the door seals around your house to make sure they’re secure. If you can see glimmers of daylight through the cracks when an outside door is closed, it needs a new seal.
Cover or Store Your Patio Furniture
Your outdoor furniture may not be as vulnerable or luxurious as your new marble countertops, but they can still be worse for wear if they’re left out all winter long. Continue to prepare your home for winter weather by getting these indoors, or at least covered under a heavy tarp.
Any lawn decor or flower pots should also be put away for the winter. It’s easy to overlook these things, but you’ll be glad you remembered them in the spring when you find everything still looking good as new.
And there you have it: everything you need to know to prepare your home for winter weather. From sealing decks to replacing door seals, follow these tips to get your home ready for the cold weather.