Winter is coming, and you never know when the first frost or — gulp! — blizzard will strike. Even if you live in an area where snow is rare, dropping temperatures and unpredictable weather make it important to be prepared for the long, dark days. If you haven’t given thought to winterizing your home yet, now’s the time to start — ideally, your winter preparations should be complete in the fall so you can enjoy the holidays without worrying about those cold drafts jacking up your heating bills.
When it comes to getting ready for winter, it’s best to be flexible in your prep work. As soon as you get a weekend with some nice weather, take care of the outdoor work — then use a rainy day to get your interior buttoned up and ready to go. Here’s how to tackle the most important areas of your property to get the important job of winterizing done right.
Seasonal storage can mean both outdoor and indoor preparations, depending on where you live and what your lifestyle is like.
Outdoor Storage: Items like lawn furniture, fire bowls or chimineas, grills and other seasonal items are best stored away safely for the winter — especially if you expect rain, snow or ice. Before you pack things up, give them all a good cleaning to remove ash and accumulated dirt. Store items in a sheltered area such as a garage or shed whenever possible, and consider covering your stuff with a furniture cover to keep it dry and dust-free for the next few months.
Indoor Storage: If you live in a location with four distinct seasons, indoor winter storage usually means switching out your wardrobe. Before you pack up your summer clothing, launder or dry clean everything first to remove soil and bacteria that can break down fabrics. Be sure that everything is completely dry before packing items away to prevent mildew and mold. If you’re planning to keep your out-of-season clothing in a spare closet, consider using garment bags to keep clothes dust-free. For folded items, plastic under-bed boxes work well — tuck a few dryer sheets between items for a fresh scent and to deter moths.
No matter what kind of property you live in, it’s a good idea to inspect and winterize your building’s exterior in preparation for inclement weather. If you live in a freestanding home, then you’ll need to handle any issues on your own; however, if you live in an apartment or condo that’s part of a larger HOA community, you should report any issues to the property manager to handle. Here’s what you should look at before winter sets in:
Pathways: Now’s the time to make sure paved walkways and parking areas are in good repair — you won’t get another chance once snow starts to fall, and it’s important to take care of cracks and potholes to avoid tripping hazards that are only made worse once surfaces get icy.
Lighting: Check your property to make sure that all your exterior light bulbs are working and replace ones that have burned out or that aren’t at the maximum brightness allowed by your fixture. When Daylight Savings Time is over and the long nights settle in, you’ll be glad you did!
Plan for Snow Removal: Whether you plan to hire out your plowing and snow removal or do it yourself, now is the time to get things squared away. Many snow removal services require advance notice, and slots fill up quickly throughout the fall. If you’re taking care of your own shoveling, make sure your tools are stored where you can get to them easily. If you have a snow blower, get it tuned up and ready to go. It’s also a good idea to stock up on ice melt for your paths.
Check the Building’s Exterior: Inspect your building for cracks in the siding, missing roof shingles and any rot around windows or gutters that needs to be repaired. These small breaches can lead to major leaks during storms, and repairs are much more difficult to perform in the cold.
One of the most crucial aspects of winter preparation is making sure your house is ready to handle the cold.
Service Your Furnace: Yearly maintenance and — depending on the type of heating system you own — cleaning is mandatory when it comes to keeping your HVAC system running well. Call a pro for a tune-up before you need to turn it on, and make any recommended repairs right away. A system that runs properly is more efficient, and that means you’ll save on fuel costs throughout the winter.
Change Air Filters: While your repairman is working on your system, ask him to show you how to change the filters so you can keep up with this task throughout the winter. Clean filters are good for your indoor air quality and also allow your furnace to run at maximum efficiency.
Stop Drafts: If you’ve never performed an energy audit, fall is a great time to have a professional inspect your home to make recommendations about how to make it more efficient. Common recommendations include adding insulation, air sealing and storm windows. Many states offer rebates for these upgrades, and you’ll notice big savings on your heating bills if you can take care of these projects before winter.
Finally, winter storms can bring power outages, which can cause huge problems if it results in losing your heating source. Even though you may be able to decamp to a hotel, your pipes still need to stay warm so the water in them doesn’t freeze. Water expands when it freezes, and that additional pressure can cause your frozen pipes to burst, flooding your home and causing serious damage.
If your pipes run along an exterior wall, they may be prone to freezing on extremely cold days, even if your heat is functioning well. To keep pipes from freezing, turn the water on to allow a trickle to run down the drain — water can’t freeze as quickly when it’s flowing. You can also open cabinet doors to allow pipes to be warmed by ambient air.
For more serious protection, you can add an insulated sleeve to your pipes to keep them warmer or wrap them with heating cables designed to melt snow from gutters. These will work just as well on your pipes, though they do require electricity to function.
When you take the time to prepare your home for winter, you can enjoy the season knowing that your house is snug and ready to weather any storm. Once you’ve completed these seasonal chores, you can cozy up and enjoy the holiday season with all the warmth and comfort you deserve.