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February 2024
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14 Home Prep Tasks to Take Care of Before Winter Hits

Winter weather can be hard on your home if you’re not prepared. But by taking care of a few key tasks, you can often avoid expensive damage and prevent premature wear and tear.

Even if you live in a milder climate, you’ll want to review the list below. See which home tune-up tasks you may want to perform now to keep your home clean, safe, and comfortable throughout the coldest, darkest days of the year.

Here are 14 tasks to complete before winter arrives:

Get professional maintenance for your heating systemTest your carbon monoxide detectorsLocate air leaksInsulate your homeUpgrade your windowsPrepare your pipesInstall a programmable or smart thermostatInsulate your hot water tankReverse the direction your ceiling fan spinsHave your fireplace and chimney inspectedUpdate your emergency supplies for winter stormsClean your gutters and downspoutsInspect your roofCheck tree health

1. Get professional maintenance for your heating system

It’s smart to hire a professional to inspect your heating system before the cold weather sets in. They’ll perform routine maintenance that you might not have the time for, like changing air filters, vacuuming registers, and cleaning dirt and debris in and around the unit that could harm its functioning.

They’ll also check for leaks, identify obstructions, lubricate moving parts, look for signs of corrosion, and generally use their expertise to extend your system’s life and minimize the chance of it breaking down on the coldest day of the year.

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2. Test your carbon monoxide detectors

Carbon monoxide is a dangerous odorless gas that can send you to the emergency room or even kill you. You might think you’re coming down with the flu when you’re actually being poisoned by carbon monoxide. If you’re sleeping, you may not experience any symptoms before it’s too late. Pets are susceptible, too.

Heed these warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and make sure you have working carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home, especially near sleeping areas. They’re important year round, but especially in winter. Oil and gas furnaces, fireplaces, and generators can cause toxic CO to build up in your home.

3. Locate air leaks

If you want to go all out, you can hire a professional to conduct a blower door test. This test can locate leaks you might be unaware of and identify places where your home could use more insulation, according to the US Department of Energy.

It’s also fine to look for leaks yourself. Homes tend to leak air in places you can easily check: around doors and windows, electrical outlets, baseboards, pipes, vents, and anywhere else there’s a hole in a wall or connection between the inside and the outside. Focus on fixing the biggest leaks with caulking and weatherstripping.

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4. Insulate your home

Along with sealing leaks, adding insulation to your home can help you maintain a more comfortable temperature while using less energy. Basements, attics, walls, and other areas where your living space meets the outdoors or an unconditioned space (like an attached garage) are all candidates for more insulation, especially in older homes.

Hiring a professional will cost more up front but may pay off through better results. An expert can evaluate where additional insulation will make the biggest difference, how much you need, and the best type to use. They can also install it correctly to make sure it’s effective.

5. Upgrade your windows

If you have old windows, especially single-paned ones, you know they’re not great at keeping your home warm in the winter or reducing noise from outside. Sometimes, they’re unattractive as well.

Replacing every window in your home can be an expensive project (one you might want to finance with a home improvement loan), and it might take you years to recoup your investment. At the same time, though, you’ll save money on heating and cooling costs over the long run, make your home more comfortable, and boost the property’s value.

Tip: If you want to keep costs down, consider replacing the windows in one room where you’ll notice the difference most, like your bedroom. Homeowners can expect to spend $300 to $1,200 for one new window, depending on type and size, plus $150 to $800 for installation, according to HomeAdvisor.

You may be able to claim a federal tax credit of up to $200 for Energy Star-rated windows you purchase before Dec. 31, 2021.

6. Prepare your pipes

Insulating exposed pipes is a simple and inexpensive project most able-bodied homeowners can do themselves. Six feet of foam pipe insulation from a major home improvement retailer will cost you less than $5. Installing it is as easy as slipping the insulation over the pipe and taping the seams.

This project can reduce your water heating costs, but the real savings lie in preventing burst pipes and water damage to your home during freezing weather. You’ll also want to disconnect garden hoses and place insulating covers over outdoor faucets.

7. Install a programmable or smart thermostat

A smart thermostat can also help prevent burst pipes by letting you monitor and control your home’s temperature from your smartphone, even if you’re out of town. You can find a quality smart thermostat for anywhere between $100 to $250.

Energy Star-rated smart thermostats can help you save even more money on heating and cooling costs. They also offer convenient features like voice activation, occupancy sensing, and energy use monitoring.

Spend less: Your electric company or city might have rebates on qualifying smart thermostats, reducing your overall cost. Check online or contact your electric provider to see if there are any offers you can take advantage of.

A programmable thermostat that’s not WiFi-connected can also reduce your energy use. They cost less, at around $30 to $90, but you may spend more time adjusting the settings with schedule and weather changes.

To install a new thermostat, you might want to hire an electrician or HVAC technician, but some units are simple enough to install yourself.

8. Insulate your hot water tank

If you have an older electric water heater, correctly installing an insulation blanket made specifically for this purpose can save you money. The insulation will reduce some of the heat the tank loses to the air around it, especially if your tank is in an unconditioned space like a garage or outside cabinet.

The job isn’t complicated, but you may need a helper. Ask your electric company: they might come out and do it for you. Supplies will cost around $30, but the job can pay off after the first year.

9. Reverse the direction your ceiling fan spins

You can run your ceiling fans on low to make your home more comfortable and save energy during the winter. All it takes is nudging a small switch on the fan (or fan remote control) so the blades spin clockwise.

Changing the blade direction will help pull cool air up from the floor and push warm air down from the ceiling. You can do this task yourself with a stepladder and good balance.

Warning: Don’t attempt this task with fans on high ceilings: not only is it dangerous, but it won’t give you any benefit.

10. Have your fireplace and chimney inspected

Having your fireplace and chimney professionally inspected and possibly cleaned before you use it for the first time each year is a critical safety task. No one wants smoke building up in their living space, carbon monoxide poisoning, or a chimney fire.

That said, you may want to avoid burning wood in your home at all. The chemicals and ultrafine particles in wood smoke have the potential to cause life-threatening health problems. If you love sitting fireside, consider a professional conversion to a cleaner-burning gas fireplace.

11. Update your emergency supplies for winter storms

A winter storm could leave you without power for days and make roads unsafe. The insulation and leak sealing suggested above can really help in such a situation when you’re sheltering in place at home.

Here are a few supplies you’ll want to keep handy in case of a winter emergency:

Extra blankets and warm clothingBottled water and at least a 3-day supply of foodAir-activated hand warmersBackup power supplyHand crank radioBattery-powered LED lantern or flashlightEmergency supply of medicines (including pain relievers, prescription medications, and bandages)

12. Clean your gutters and downspouts

Free-flowing gutters protect your home from water intrusion and moisture damage. When your gutters get clogged with debris, they won’t work correctly: rain and melting snow can’t flow through them and may freeze, and the weight of that ice can cause your gutters to sag and pull away from the roof edge. Clogged gutters can also encourage harmful ice dams on your roof.

If you have a one-story house and a sturdy ladder, you might consider cleaning your gutters yourself. Otherwise, the safety risks of falling off a ladder are too great. Leave the task to a professional. You can expect to pay around $90 to $225 for gutter cleaning on a two-story home, according to HomeAdvisor.

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13. Inspect your roof

A roof inspection in advance of winter weather can spare you from the water damage of leaks. And a professional is usually the best choice for this job. Not only do you want to avoid falling off your roof, you most likely don’t have the training to identify potential weak spots like loose or missing flashing and poor seals around vents.

If your roof is in really bad shape, it may be time to replace it. The national average cost for new asphalt shingles, including installation, is around $8,500, according to HomeAdvisor. If you want to use higher-end shingles, need to replace rotted roof decking, or decide to add ventilation, costs can be higher.

Tip: Accessing your home equity through a home equity loan or line of credit can make sense in a situation like this, because protecting your home from damage is essential.

14. Check tree health

Most of us don’t take a close look at our trees on a regular basis. Even if we did, we might not know when they’re sick, weak, or otherwise posing a threat to our home. The worst-case scenario is a toppled tree crashing through your roof during a winter storm, causing expensive damage and leaving your home exposed to the elements.

To avoid harm to your home — and yourself — from unstable trees or large limbs that might break off due to winter weather, hire an arborist. These highly trained tree experts can help prevent problems as well as evaluate possible damage after a storm.

Read More: 10 Ways to Craft an Elegant Outdoor Space

Paying for winter-related home projects

If you’re concerned about paying for some of the pricier items on this list, a cash-out refinance could be a good solution. Mortgage rates are near historic lows, and home values have swung up across the country.

By replacing your existing mortgage with a new, less expensive one and cashing out some of your equity, you may be able to slide some essential home projects into your budget as well.

Credible makes it easy to compare mortgage refinance options. You can see rates from all of our partner lenders without leaving our platform. Check out the table below to get started.

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