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How to Winterize Your Home

As the days become shorter, it’s time to start getting your home prepared for the cold months ahead. While we can’t predict the weather too far into the future, preparing your home now will help prevent things like frozen pipes, leaky roofs and fires. Here you'll learn some winter safety tips that will protect your home, make it safer to live in and save you money.

What does winterizing a house mean?

According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, winterization is the process of preparing a home for the harsh conditions of winter.1 It’s usually done in the fall before snow and excessive cold have arrived. Not only can winterization prevent heat loss due to openings in your home, but also prevent against damage due to bursting pipes. Winterizing your home can be especially important if you’ll be leaving it unoccupied for periods during the winter months. 

How do I winterize my home?

When winterizing your home, there are a few key areas to make sure are ready for the cold. It may seem like a large task to prepare your whole home for the winter months; however, these tasks can be done over the months leading up to winter. And if you’re willing to call for help, a professional can assist. Here are the steps to take when prepping your home for winter.

Check your home’s exterior and roof

Snow and icicles may be pretty to look at, but they can trigger serious damage to your home. Accumulating snow and ice can cause tree branches to break and fall, form ice dams by clogging your gutters, and even destroy your roof or force it to collapse. Here are steps you can take before winter begins to prevent these issues from occurring on your property:

  • Inspect the outside of your home.
    Examine your exterior for loose or missing shutters and siding, and repair items in poor condition.
  • Examine the condition of your roof.
    Check your roof’s shingles, flashing and gutters, and replace anything damaged.
  • Clean out your gutters.
    Are your gutters filled with leaves? Now’s the time to clean them out before ice has a chance to accumulate and back up under your shingles.
  • Check out your chimney.
    If you notice your chimney is leaning or the mortar has chipped, get it repaired as quickly as possible.
  • Trim the trees surrounding your home.
    Get rid of any weak and dead branches before they have a chance to fall on your house, garage or power lines.
  • Consider buying a roof rake.
    Roof rakes allow you to push snow off your roof while you’re safely standing on the ground.

Take steps to prevent ice dams

An ice dam forms when snow melts, drains down your roof and refreezes at the edge. These can cause major destruction to your house by damaging gutters, ripping shingles and forcing water to back up into your home, ruining ceilings, walls and insulation. By keeping your roof consistently cool and taking other preventative steps, you can stop ice dams from forming.
 

Stop frozen pipes from happening

When temperatures drop, pipes get cold and the water inside them can freeze. This ice buildup can burst the pipes and cause costly damage, including ruined floors and walls, ceiling collapse and mold. Here are some things you can do to winterize your pipes:

  • Insulate pipes in unheated spaces like basements, garages and attics with pipe sleeves or heat tape.
  • Trickle cold water from faucets connected to pipes in unheated spaces when temperatures drop.
  • Keep out cold drafts by adding weather stripping around doors or caulk around your windows.
  • Set your home’s thermostat at a minimum of 65 degrees. If you won’t be living there during the winter, keep the temperature at no lower than 55 degrees.
  • Drain and disconnect outdoor hoses and sprinkler supply lines.
  • Keep garage doors closed.
  • Know where your home’s main water valve is located and how to turn it off. It’s typically found in the basement, on the side of the house that faces the street.

Care for your landscape and outdoor items

Yes, even things that are outside year-round should be winterized. Some shrubs need to be wrapped with burlap to protect them from frost. Layering mulch around the base of your plants will offer insulation and keep them protected. Cover your outdoor furniture so that snow and ice won’t seep in and ruin them. If you have the room, store these items in a shed or garage.

Put a freeze on fires

Cold, dry weather increases the risk of a home fire. Heating equipment, fireplaces, holiday decorations and candles all contribute to more home fires occurring in the winter than any other time. Here are some tips to help you maintain a fire-safe home:

Heating equipment

Inspect all fireplaces, chimneys, wood and coal stoves, furnaces and portable heating equipment to ensure all are in proper working order. Before the heating season begins, call a licensed technician to service your furnace or boiler and replace the filter. Check to be sure that nothing that can easily catch fire is located near your heat sources, like portable heaters. If you do use a portable heater, limit the length of time you run it. These have been known to cause fires when left on for long periods. Use your fireplace screen or door to control sparks, and be sure to properly dispose of ashes. Close the fireplace flue when you’re not using it.

Decorations

When decorating your home for the holidays, test all lights and cords, and replace any items that don’t work. Don’t connect more than three strands of lights together or plug too many lights into one outlet. Be sure to use lights intended for outdoor use to decorate your home’s exterior, and lights meant for indoor use to adorn the inside of your home.

Keep burning candles out of reach of children and pets, and always extinguish them before you leave the room or go to sleep. Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything flammable, including wood floors.

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Test all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Replace the batteries twice a year, and make sure they’re all working properly. Smoke detectors should be installed inside each bedroom, outside the sleeping area and on every level of your home, including the basement.

How much does it cost to winterize a home?

Exactly how much it costs can vary depending on what you want to DIY or hire a professional for, and the size and condition of your home. On average, it costs $200 to $250 to winterize a home.2 If you’re doing it yourself, your expenses will be for buying any supplies you may need such as insulation, cleaning supplies or weather stripping. If you decide to hire professionals to assist with your winterizing tasks, your total cost will be on the higher side. 

Stock up on winter essentials

Now that you’ve learned how to winterize a house, it's time to buy the items you’ll need when it gets snowy and icy, like shovels, snow blowers and ice melt. For a pet-friendly ice melt, the ASPCA suggests using one that contains urea or magnesium chloride. If your walkway is concrete, sand is the best material to improve traction.

1 Home Winterization, International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, 2022.
2 How Much Does It Cost to Winterize a House?, HomeAdvisor, 2022.
 

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