Did you know that 85% of all homes in the United States were built before 1980 and in need of home maintenance?
Whether your home has been standing for decades or was just built last year, there are some things that should always get done around the house to prepare it for winter. The hot summer days are well behind us, and just like your car needs special care as the cold comes on, so does your home.
The following is a near-complete checklist of everything you may need to do to get your home ready for the cold weather.
Make Sure That Your Heating System is Ready
Depending on exactly what sort of heating system your home has, there will be a few home maintenance tasks you should get taken care of before you switch from air conditioning to heating. If your furnace is a high-efficiency heating system, the PVC vent pipes will need to be cleared of any obstructions. Furnaces with boiler systems should always be cleaned every year; meanwhile, gas-powered systems should be cleaned roughly once every three years.
Inspect the Fireplace and Chimney
If your home has a functioning fireplace, you’ll need to have it and the chimney cleaned by a chimney sweep. You’ll also want to check around for any debris or cracks in the chimney specifically.
Remember, creosote buildup and obstructions like bird nests and leaves could become fire hazards if left alone, even inside industrial chimneys.
Check the Batteries in Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
The U.S. Fire Administration has stated that heating systems cause 27% of structure fires in the winter. Since you’ll be starting up the furnace soon, you’ll want to have those fire alarms checked to ensure they’re still working correctly and the batteries are still good. Make sure you have functioning carbon monoxide detectors while you’re at it. And if you don’t have fire alarms in every room of your house, now would be a perfect time to install new ones. To stay on top of your home maintenance, you should try to check the batteries in your alarm systems at least once every single month.
Take Steps to Prevent Pipes from Freezing
Water expands when it freezes, and when water expands inside of pipes, it can cause the pipes to burst. Even if your pipes don’t burst, if water freezes inside them, you’ll find yourself without access to water until it melts. To prevent either of these inconveniences from happening, make sure that any pipes located near windows, doors, and unheated areas (such as your garage) are all well insulated. If you haven’t already, disconnect any garden hoses from outdoor faucets. Finally, as a final precaution, never set your home’s thermostat below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Test the Sump Pump
Your sump pump is going to be responsible for keeping your basement dry during the winter wet season, so checking it is an important part of winter home maintenance. You’ll want to make sure it’s working properly now, before there’s a chance of experiencing water damage in your basement — a broken sump pump isn’t something you want to be surprised by. To do this, gently pour a few gallons of water into the sump pit, and wait for the pump it to turn on. If it doesn’t turn on, you’ll need to replace it. As a reminder, the typical lifespan for a sump pump is 10 years. You’ll want to be wary of a sump pump that’s any older.
Get Prepared for Winter Storms
Make sure you’re prepared with canned food, bottled water, and a multipurpose emergency survival kit for in case a winter storm hits and you’re unable to leave the house. In areas where the weather tends to be more extreme, this is especially important. Make sure you have flashlights, first-aid supplies, extra batteries, and smartphone chargers in your kit. You may also want to install temporary power restoration devices to keep your electricity working in the event of a blackout.
Protect Entryway Floors
Snow, ice, and mud are inevitably going to get tracked in during the winter, and they can wreak havoc on entryway floors. To help prevent floor damage, lay mats down both inside and outside your doors. This would also be a good time to place waterproof boot trays next to all doors, too. As an extra home maintenance precaution, make sure you have a mudroom ready with extra space to dry wet hats, gloves, mittens, and jackets.
Inspect for Air Leaks
This is an especially important step for helping you save money on heating costs. Look around your windows and doors for potential air leaks. These typically show up as cracks in the caulking or weatherstripping. While you’re at it, replace any caulk and weatherstripping that looks worn out.
Prevent Ice Dams from Forming
If you live in a home that’s prone to ice dams and icicles, another home maintenance step you’ll want to take is making sure you have the right insulation and venting. Other things you can do to prevent ice dams are to rake snow off your roof as it builds up and install heat cables before it gets too cold.
Inspect Your Roof
Guardianship over your roof is especially important at all times of year, since it’s literally what keeps the rain off your head. You’ll want to check yours over and make sure any roof repairs aren’t in order. Are there any shingles that are loose, or missing altogether? This could cause leaks to form from melting snow. Check around for broken seals around vents or the chimney. If you have a flat roof surfaced with pebbles or asphalt, be sure and remove any leaves that have piled up, since these can hold moisture and cause damage.
Examine the Insulation
Sufficient insulation will help keep your home warm in the winter, as well as keeping it cool during the summer. And if the insulation in your home is inadequate, your furnace system will be forced to work overtime during the winter. By adding some extra insulation to the walls, attic, and crawlspace, you’ll be able to save money on heating expenses.
Set Ceiling Fans to Reverse
If you have ceiling fans in your home, they ought to have switches for making the fan blades run clockwise. This is backwards to the direction fans spin to keep us cool during the summer, and it causes them to push heated air down from the ceiling, instead of pulling air up from below. This particular home maintenance task is especially helpful for making rooms with high ceilings more comfortable.
Protect and Store Air Conditioners
Even though the condensing unit next to your house was made to withstand the elements, it may still be damaged by falling icicles or other debris. You may not want to use a waterproof cover, either, since this can form a warm place for small animals to hide out. Instead, simply place a piece of plywood on top to cover the vent, held down with a few bricks. This will keep your AC unit safe and ready to run again in the spring. If you have window units in your home, now is the time to take those down and store them properly until next summer.
Flush and Insulate Your Hot Water Tank
To remove any sediment sitting at the bottom of your hot water heater tank, you’ll want to flush it out. While you’re at it, you might wrap an insulating blanket around the tank, especially if it’s older. This can help conserve energy, saving you money over the winter, and also prevent the water heater from losing its heat in cold rooms. As with everything else, taking care of your hot water tank now can help prevent unnecessary breakdowns from occurring, removing the danger of having to buy a new one early and rely on finance options like water heater financing.
Prepare the Humidifier
If you have a whole-home humidifier in your house, now is the time to make sure the drain line is clean and unobstructed. You’ll also want to replace the media panel, which is responsible for mixing water with the flow of warm air from the furnace. This needs to be done twice for every season. Finally, check the solenoid valve to make sure it’s working correctly and clean the humidifier fan.
Trim Dead Tree Limbs
No winter home maintenance checklist would be complete without including trimming away any dead tree limbs around your house. This will prevent them from falling during a winter storm and causing damage to your home. If there are any particularly large limbs that need to be removed, or if you have an entire tree that’s past its prime, you may need to hire a professional tree remover for the job.
Clean the Gutters
If you haven’t done it already, you’d better clear out the gutters of any debris, such as sticks, pine cones, and leaves. This will make room for melting snow to drain properly. While you’re at it, direct downspouts so they face away from your home’s foundation to avoid basement leaks or flooding.
Inspect Steps and Handrails
Few things are more important to your safety during icy winters than slip-resistant stairs and sturdy handrails. Make sure the steps that lead to your home are free from any tripping hazards. Repair any damaged concrete if necessary. Make sure handrails are sturdy and anchored well to help prevent falls from occurring.
Arrange Shovels and Inspect the Snow Blower
Before the snow starts falling, move all of your snow shovels to a spot near the door where you can reach them easily. Change the oil in your snow blower if you didn’t do it last spring, and replace the spark plug if it needs it.
Check Outdoor Light Fixtures
On your home maintenance checklist, check to make sure that your outdoor lights are working correctly, including any motion sensor lights. This can help prevent falls, especially on ice-covered driveways and walkways.
Cover or Store Patio Furniture
Ideally, you should store patio furniture safely inside a shed, garage, or your basement. If this isn’t an option, you can still protect your outdoor furniture from the elements (including rust) by placing a few heavy tarps over it.
Guard Pots and Planters
Your porcelain and clay planters may crack during the oncoming cold weather, so make sure your winter home maintenance checklist includes clearing away the soil from planters and bringing them inside. You can also store them on their side in a shed or garage, but be sure to protect them from heavy objects falling or rolling on top of them.
Place Seasonal Tools in Storage
All of your seasonal tools not intended for winter (rakes, pruning shears, garden shovels — basically everything but the snow shovels) should be stored inside a shed or garage, well away from the elements. It would be a good idea to apply a light coating of vegetable oil to them to prevent rust from forming. Don’t forget to stow away the lawn mower for next year, too. You wouldn’t want the aluminum components on that fancy mower package you just bought to get rusted.
Stock Up on Ice Melt or Sand
Before the first snow hits, be sure and purchase some ice melt, salt, or sand. Salt and ice melt both cause ice and snow to melt faster than they ordinarily would, while sand poured on the ground can give you some much-needed traction for walking when it comes time to shovel the driveway and sidewalk.
Install Storm Doors and Windows
To help bring down heating costs during the winter months (especially in homes with single-pane windows), install storm windows and doors. These can be special-ordered from most home improvement stores, but you’ll want to be sure and measure carefully before ordering.
Clean Window Weep Holes to Prevent Rainwater from Seeping Inside
Most sliding windows have weep holes on the outside-bottom of their frame. Weep holes are designed to let rainwater drain away from where it would normally collect in the frame’s bottom panel. However, weep holes can easily get obstructed with bugs and other debris, which could cause water to fill the bottom channel and spill into your house. To make sure your weed system is working, just pour a cup of water into the track, or spray the window with a garden hose from the outside. A steady stream of clean water should be visible exiting the weep hole. If there isn’t, try poking the end of a wire coat hanger into the hole or spraying it out with compressed air. Then try wetting it down again.
Prepare the Pool for Winter
If you have a permanent or above ground pool, your home maintenance chores have only just begun. Next, you’ll need to clean the pool properly, including its filter, balance the water’s PH (or drain the water altogether), and take steps to prevent algae or bacteria from forming. By researching and taking the right steps now for your pool, it’ll be ready for many luxurious swims next year.
From inspecting your roof, to setting up your mudroom, to cleaning your pool, these are all the home maintenance steps you should try to take before the snow begins falling. By getting on top of your todo list now, you’ll be more likely to avoid unexpected problems after the cold weather starts.