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Image of winter home, cozy and prepared for snow.

The Ultimate Checklist For Preparing Your Home For Winter

4-Minute Read

Winter is on its way. And this chilliest of all seasons doesn’t just bring freezing temperatures, ice and snow. It also blows in plenty of potential problems for your home – everything from drafty windows and the high energy bills that come with them to blown furnaces, frozen pipes and, if you’re really unlucky, an invasion of unwanted mice and other rodents.

Fortunately, you can simply plan ahead and stop these problems by winterizing your home. Taking steps such as sealing off cracks, caulking away window drafts and servicing your furnace can make winter a little less stressful this year.

And if any of these winter fixes are too costly, you can always apply for a personal loan to help fund any upfront costs. (And keep in mind, it’s not just your home you must prepare for the winter. You might need to get your car ready for the winter, too.)

Your Home Winterization Checklist:

Here are some of the most important steps to make sure your home is ready for the coldest time of year:

Protect Your Pipes

One of the most important winterizing tips is making sure your pipes don't freeze.

Mark Dawson, chief operating officer of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, part of Columbia, Maryland-based Authority Brands, says that frozen pipes can turn into a costly problem.

"Frozen pipes can burst, leaving you with water everywhere and thousands of dollars in repair bills," Dawson says. "The best way to deal with frozen pipes is to avoid the scenario entirely by taking preemptive measures."

And that means …

Schedule A Furnace Check-Up

The first step toward preventing frozen pipes is ensuring your furnace is working properly before the cold temperatures set in. This means scheduling a visit from an HVAC technician who can determine if your furnace is in good working condition. If your furnace conks out during a cold winter night, you might be left with a chilly house and frozen pipes.

If your furnace does stop working, get it fixed as quickly as possible. To reduce the odds of your pipes freezing, Dawson recommends letting your faucets slowly drip to keep water flowing.

Outdoor pipes, of course, are more susceptible to freezing. For those outdoor pipes you know you won't need until the spring thaw, shut off their water supplies and drain them before the winter freeze sets in. Remove any hoses and store them inside for the winter. Leave the outside valves open in case there is water left in the lines.

Make sure outdoor pipes that you can't shut down are well-insulated. Pipe sleeves, heat tape and heat cable are good options for insulating outdoor pipes.

If you leave home for a short trip or a longer vacation, make sure not to turn your home's heat off entirely. If you do, Dawson says, you might be greeted with burst pipes and water damage when you return from your vacation.

And perhaps most importantly, Dawson says that it's critical to know the location of your home's main water-shutoff valve.

"If, despite your best efforts, a pipe freezes and bursts, turn off the water immediately to limit the damage," Dawson says.

Clean And Inspect The Chimney

Craig Gjelsten, vice president of operations with Rainbow International Restoration, says scheduling a cleaning of your home's chimney should be at the top of your to-do list before winter hits.

"A clean fireplace will not only keep you safe, but also help you save energy," Gjelsten says.

Gjelsten says homeowners should have their chimneys cleaned and inspected at least once a year. A good time to do this is in the fall before the colder months arrive and owners start using their fireplaces.

Why is it so important to clean your chimney? Gjelsten says maintaining a clean fireplace is the best way to remove creosote, a byproduct of wood combustion that contains tar and toxins. Eliminating this from the chimney liner and the smoke box reduces the risk of a fire. Cleaning your fireplace also lowers the chance for damage to your chimney cap and reduces the chance for severe smoke and carbon monoxide dangers.

Keep The Pests At Bay

Marty Basher, home improvement expert with Modular Closets, recommends that homeowners set up pest traps during the fall. This is the time of year when unwanted guests such as rats and mice take to the indoors. They might find your home a cozy hideaway as the temperatures drop.

Basher says that owners can keep these pests out by filling in any holes or openings to their homes' indoor spaces. Steel wool works well for this.

Owners should also set up traps in hotspots such as basements or pantries. Basher also recommends that owners keep food items stored in plastic bins, take out their garbage regularly and perform weekly or monthly checks for signs of pests.

Melanie Musson, a home insurance expert for Seattle-based USInsuranceAgents.com, agrees that fall is the time to fill in any cracks or crevices in an effort to keep the critters away.

"If you're ever going to have a problem with rodents, it's going to be in the fall leading to winter," Musson says. "They're looking for a warm place to shelter for the winter."

If you've had rodent problems in the past, Musson recommends hiring a pest control company to come out and study your home. These pest experts might be able to find, and seal off, any access points that rodents are using to sneak into your home.

Is Everything Sealed?

It's wise to give your home a thorough walk-through before the colder temperatures hit. It's especially important to inspect lesser-used spaces such as your home's basement or attic to make sure that your home is sealed properly from the elements.

When you're in your home's attic can you see slivers of outside light shining through cracks in the walls? When you're walking past a door or window, can you feel a draft on your face? When you look down at the basement floor do you notice signs of animal droppings?

These are all clues that your home isn't sealed properly. Homes that aren't sealed tight will cost you more to heat and cool. They'll be less comfortable during the colder days of winter. They might also let in a variety of critters eager to settle into your home.

"Address any area where heat might want to escape," says Rob Shaw, a Boston-based home repair specialist with virtual handyman service ProTip. "You do not want to pay to heat the outdoors."

Shaw says that weatherstripping and caulk can handle most of the drafty windows and doors in your home. The only tools you'll need to weatherproof your home are a screwdriver, utility knife and whichever materials you need to close off any access to the outside.

Brad Roberson, president of Glass Doctor, says homeowners who want to reduce their heating bills during the winter should close off any gaps around window or door frames. This will keep cold air out of the home, meaning that your furnace won't be working as hard.

Roberson recommends using caulk to fill in gaps around window frames. You should only use caulk if it’s above 45 degrees outside.

What’s the best way to apply this caulk? Roberson recommends removing existing caulk with a putty knife or screwdriver. You can then clean and dry the area to make sure the caulk adheres properly. Next, apply the caulk at a 45-degree angle to help the substance seep deep into the crack. Apply in one continuous stream. If caulk oozes out of the crack, use a putty knife or your moistened finger to smooth it out.

Check Your Sump Pump

Eugene Sokol, a DIY enthusiast based in Montreal and founder of PlasticineHouse.com, says homeowners should test their sump pumps and make sure the floor drains in their basements are clear before frost sets in.

The key is to make sure nothing impedes the movement of the sump pump, that drain holes are clear and if there's a discharge outlet that it flows away from your home's foundation.

"I've seen sump pump holes used as dust bins for sweeping out the basement, full of golf balls from putting practice and even some filled in with cement," Sokol says. "Whether it's never been needed or runs every spring, a sump pump hole should be clear of obstructions, have a working sump pump and be connected to a working drain system. It only takes once for a sump pump to fail, which can result in thousands in damages."

Clean Your Gutters

Before the freezing temperatures arrive, get out your ladder. It's time to clean your gutters.

If you don't clean your gutters before winter, the water, leaves and other debris in them will freeze once winter's frigid temps arrive. That becomes a problem after snowstorms. Once the snow starts to melt, the water it generates won't have anywhere to go unless your gutters are clear.

This causes ice dams, frozen water that clogs your gutters. This might look pretty, especially when this water results in icicles hanging from your gutters. But ice dams are heavy. They might cause your gutters to sag or completely rip away from the sides of your home.

And those attractive icicles are actually pretty dangerous. You could get seriously injured if one of these heavy icicles falls on you while you're standing under them.

Final Thoughts

As winter approaches, your home maintenance routine will need adjusting. Make sure you cover all the areas we outlined here to ensure that your home is as ready as possible for whatever winter weathers.

For more seasonal checklists and articles like this, make sure to check out our Rocket Loans® Learning Center.

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