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When the weather turns chilly, your house needs to button up, too. And the way to do that is to learn how to winterize your house. No, not once the snow starts falling, but now. Trust us, you’ll want to nip any issues in the bud before the temperature drops too much.
Here’s a handy list of things to check on your house to keep it cozy, save on energy bills, and prevent a nightmare’s worth of damage you’ll have to tackle come spring (or even worse, in the dead of winter).
Conduct a pre-winter inspection
First, size up how prepared your house is for winter by taking a walk around its perimeter and eyeballing these features, says Bob Hanbury, a Newington, CT, builder for 40 years and a board member of the National Association of Home Builders:
Check the ground to make sure it slopes away from your house, which helps prevent melting ice and snow from seeping into your home.
Look for gnawing marks on vents and trim, which signal that critters are trying to make their winter home in your attic. If you see teeth marks, patch holes to discourage unwelcome visitors. The animal type, that is.
Cut back tree branches overhanging the roof, which could cause damage during storms.
How to prevent ice dams
Ice dams, however lovely they may sound, are ice mounds around the edge of your roof created when melting snow can’t drip into gutters, through downspouts, and away from your house. Ice dams are not your friends.
If any of those exits are blocked with leaves or ice, then water stays on your roof and continually melts and freezes, causing dams that push water under eaves and into your home.
Adequate and properly installed insulation helps prevent ice damming; so does making sure gutters and downspouts are in good shape and unblocked by leaves, bird nests, and other debris.
If ice damming has been a past problem, you can increase your odds of a drip-free winter by laying heating cables along the edge of your roof, in gutters, and down spouts, which will keep ice from forming. Cables typically cost $200 to $400, depending on the size of your house.
How to protect pipes in winter
Mother Nature laughs at the calendar (true) and can create a hard frost weeks before or after you expect. So it’s a good idea to protect outside garden hoses by detaching them and turning off the water to outside spigots by Thanksgiving.
After you shut off water valves, open spigots to let water drip out and prevent freezing, which can burst pipes.
And while you’re disconnecting garden hoses, hold them waist-high as you’re coiling them. That will let water drip out, keeping your basement dry if you store hoses there in the winter, or prevent cracks from frozen water if you store hoses in an unheated garage.
How to save on energy bills this winter
Another essential aspect of winterizing is making sure your home keeps heat in and cold out! Here are some ways to make that happen:
Clean or replace filters: Before temperatures drop, make sure your furnace is blowing hot air. Clean or replace filters, “the most important piece of preventive maintenance you can do for your furnace,” says Mike Clear, vice president of operations at American Home Shield, the country’s largest provider of home warranties based in Memphis, TN. Also vacuum burners to remove dust and debris, and be sure drapes and furniture don’t block floor vents. It’s also a good idea to hire an HVAC professional to oil the furnace blower motor annually.
Seal leaks: Sometimes stopping hot air from escaping your home is as easy as stuffing a draft snake (a tubelike cushion) under doors. You can make your own by filling a knee sock with dried beans or popcorn kernels. Other ways to stop air leaks are to replace weatherstripping around windows, replace door and window screens with storm doors or windows, or replace old door sweeps on exterior doors.
Cover water heaters: If your water heater is located in a garage, attic, or other unfinished space, cover it with an insulated water heater blanket that will help prevent heat loss.
Maintain fireplaces: If your wood-burning fireplace is just decorative, plug and seal the chimney flue to make sure heated air doesn’t, literally, go up the chimney. If you still burn wood, close the flue when you’re not making a fire.