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When summer starts coming to an end, it’s time to start thinking about winterizing your home. Even if it’s still hot where you live, don’t let that hold you up: You know you won’t be focused on that winterizing to-do list with all the pumpkin patch visiting, pumpkin spice latte sipping, trick-or-treating, and other fun fall activities you have planned.
Plus, it’s important to get a jump start on some things before the cold hits, which can be as early as October in northern parts of North America. No matter where you live, it’s always important to prepare your space for the upcoming season because it helps you save on energy costs and potential emergency situations down the road. (Have you ever dealt with a frozen pipe bursting? Not fun.) Handle the tasks needed to winterize your home now, and you won’t be stuck making last-minute trips to the hardware store or languishing on a too-busy contractor’s waiting list.
So where do you even start? Here, experts explain 14 tasks you should take on to winterize your home, whether you rent or own.
Preventing Cold Air from Getting In
Sometimes it helps to start fresh at the very beginning with a professional by having someone identify areas that need some help. “An energy audit involves a professional assessing your home to identify areas where energy is being lost. Having one done before winter helps you address any issues early, potentially saving on heating costs and enhancing comfort,” says Josh Mitchell, HVAC technician and founder of Air Conditioner Lab.
Weatherstripping means sealing gaps in windows (or doors, as you’ll see below) and it prevents air from coming into your home when they’re closed. It can also keep pollutants and moisture out, as well as pests. There are different techniques for the type of window you have, however.
“Careful selection and proper application of the right weatherstripping tailored to each window type can make a significant difference in energy efficiency and overall comfort in your home,” says Mitchell.
Here’s how to weatherstrip different types of windows, according to Mitchell.
If you want a truly energy-efficient home (where your bills don’t skyrocket when you have the heat blasting all winter), you’ll also want to weatherstrip your doors. “The key is to identify gaps along the sides, top, and bottom of the door, and choose the appropriate materials like adhesive-backed V-strip or foam tape for the sides and top, and door sweeps for the bottom,” Mitchell says. You also have to make sure the weatherstripping is cut to the proper length and applied firmly after cleaning the surfaces.
Another way to weatherstrip your doors includes using a door sweep. “Door sweeps are attached to the bottom of the door, ensuring a tight seal against the threshold,” Mitchell says.
4. Add heavy drapes to windows.
Not only can heavy drapes look gorgeous when styled correctly, but they also add an extra layer of insulation to your windows, according to Mitchell. They can keep the warm air in and the cold air out in winter — and vice versa in the summertime.
“Look for thermal or blackout curtains that have a tight weave, possibly lined with a reflective layer to keep warmth inside,” Mitchell says.
5. Beef up attic insulation.
Mitchell says insulating the attic is a “critical step” when winterizing your home. It enhances your home’s energy efficiency, and it focuses on areas that you might not think about, such as the spaces between ceiling joists, around penetrations for ducts and wiring, the attic hatch or door, and the perimeter of the attic, Mitchell explains.
Should you go DIY on insulating your attic or should you call in the professionals? It depends, according to Mitchell. “While some tasks, such as laying fiberglass or mineral wool batts and installing rigid foam boards, can be handled as DIY projects, others like spray foam insulation or dealing with complex structures might require professional expertise. Professionals can also ensure adherence to local building codes and regulations,” he says.
Maximizing Warm Air Inside
6. Clean or replace your furnace filter.
“Winterizing a home goes beyond insulating and weatherstripping, encompassing a comprehensive approach that ensures efficiency and comfort,” says Mitchell. And one key consideration includes routine maintenance of the furnace and heating system, he says.
If you have a boiler, which uses steam to heat your home through a system of pipes, there’s no maintenance involved. But a forced-air heating system with a furnace has a filter that needs regular attention.
Replacing or cleaning your furnace filter can not only help you breathe better, but it will also make your furnace run more efficiently, because it’s able to do its job without so much gunk built up. Plus, this will lead to your furnace lasting a long time with regular maintenance. Check your furnace’s user guide to see how often the manufacturer recommends cleaning and replacing the filter, and follow those instructions.
7. Install a programmable thermostat.
As an HVAC professional, Mitchell “strongly recommends” installing a programmable thermostat. “Programmable thermostats allow you to automatically set temperatures for different times of the day, reducing energy consumption and lowering heating bills,” he says.
So if it’s programmable, what is the lowest temperature you should ever set it to and why?
“The lowest temperature to set your thermostat in the winter hinges on a balance of comfort, energy efficiency, and individual household needs,” says Mitchell.
Keep in mind that there are multiple factors at play in the temperature of your home, says Dominic Hayward, service manager at Reliable Heating & Air. “Many other things impact that degree differential such as insulation, length of time under direct sunlight, and so on.”
“Generally, 68 degrees Fahrenheit is considered comfortable when home and awake, while lowering it to 62 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit during sleeping hours or when away can save energy,” Hayward says.
Protecting the Outside of Your Home
What may seem like just a fall and summer problem with the tree limbs and leaves clogging the gutters, it’s important to clean your gutters to help prepare them for winter as well. “Clogged gutters can prevent ice and snowmelt from leaving the surface of the roof. If gutters have leaves and debris inside, meltwater can build up in the gutter trough and turn into ice dams. That ice can back up under shingles and cause damage to your roof,” says Mallory Micetich, a home expert at Angi.
Micetich says it’s smart to aim to have your gutters cleaned once or twice a year by a professional — especially during fall when there’s more foliage than usual.
“On average, a professional gutter cleaning costs $163 and can save you from future roof damage,” she says.
9. Make any necessary roofing repairs.
Speaking of roofs, it’s crucial to make sure yours is in tip-top shape as part of winterizing your home. “The buildup of snow and ice can cause winter roof leaks. It can also damage roofing materials, cause mold or mildew to develop in your attic, and even cause partial or total roof collapses that may lead to a roof replacement,” Micetich says.
So, what can you do? One easy step is to use a set of binoculars to peer at your roof from ground level to see if there are any missing shingles that need to be replaced. If you spot anything amiss, Micetich suggests hiring a professional to come take a closer look — this is one task that’s not safe to DIY.
Adding a layer of mulch to your outdoor plants is a must in order to protect them from the elements. You can also add plant covers. If you have sensitive trees, you can protect those by stabilizing them and wrapping their trunks.
11. Maintain outdoor equipment before storage.
Before storing your outdoor equipment, such as your lawnmower, weed wacker, chainsaw, and so on, get them serviced and dispose of the old oil and gasoline before storing in your shed. This is crucial so you don’t cause a fire or a leak.
Protecting the Inside of Your Home
Nothing is worse in the winter than frozen pipes … except for when they burst. Then you have no pipes and a flooded house and yard. “Cold temperatures create the perfect environment for your pipes to freeze, which could lead to them bursting and causing flooding or water damage,” says Micetich. “You can hire a local handyman to professionally insulate your pipes or you can head to your local hardware store for DIY insulation kits,” she says.
However, Micetich warns that insulating the pipes might not be enough to protect them in the cold winter months. She advises dripping faucets whenever temperatures dip below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but especially if you find yourself in a situation where you’ve lost power and the temperatures are below freezing. “Moving water creates energy and friction, which can help prevent frozen pipes,” she says.
Micetich adds that keeping the heat on in your home also helps prevent frozen pipes, as does keeping cabinet doors open to encourage the warm air to circulate.
13. Prep your fireplace for use.
You’re probably not using your fireplace as your primary heating source, but if you plan on cozying up around it this winter you’ll still need to give it some attention first. It can be a bit involved to winterize your fireplace if you have one, but it’s super important to do so.
“Winterizing a fireplace involves a combination of professional cleaning, closing the damper when not in use, sealing the fireplace opening with a fireplace plug or chimney balloon, checking for cracks, and considering the installation of a glass fireplace door,” Mitchell says.
Routine cleaning and maintenance is especially important if you have a wood-burning fireplace, which can create a buildup of super-flammable creosote in your chimney over time.
If you live in an area that gets extremely cold temperatures and ice and snow, take time to stock up on ice melt, sand, bottled water, scrapers, flashlights, batteries, a first aid kit, a can opener, thermal blankets, a battery-operated radio, back-up energy sources (like a generator or solar chargers), jumper cables, and a tow rope, according to the National Weather Service. You never know when you’ll need these items and it’s better to be safe than sorry.