9 steps to prepare your home for winter

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Winter can seem like a gentle season, with falling snow and cooler temperatures that encourage you to cozy up with a warm drink. But the winter months, including cold weather and winter storms, can be fierce and damage your home if you aren’t prepared. Bankrate can help you get ready for winter with tips to prepare your home. These steps might help lessen the damage to your home during winter storms and might even help you avoid damage altogether.

How to prepare your home for winter weather

Preparing a home for the winter can sound overwhelming, but these tips can usually be done within a weekend and you will be better prepared for whatever weather comes your way.

1. Clean your gutters

You should do this every season, but right before winter might be the most critical time. If your area gets a lot of snow, your home will have to bear that additional weight. If your gutters get too much weight on them, they could be pulled from your home.

But perhaps the most important reason is that if you don’t clean your gutters, your home could get water damage. As snow and ice melts and refreezes overnight, the damage could cost thousands of dollars. Make sure the water has somewhere to go when it melts so it is kept well away from your house.

2. Recaulk your windows and doors

Recaulk your windows and doors each year to prevent water damage and heat loss. A caulk gun and tube exterior caulk will cost you around $20, and you can usually easily do it in an afternoon.

To be clear, you should only caulk the outside perimeter of your windows and doors’ molding. Use exterior silicone caulk because it is less affected by extreme temperatures — meaning it won’t shrink and expand as the seasons change.

To caulk your windows and doors, cut the exterior caulking tube at a small angle using your caulk gun (most caulking guns have an internal blade for this). Insert the tube into the gun and crank the handle until the circular pad is pressed tightly to the tube. Caulk should start to come out of the hole you cut once enough force is applied. Next, apply a thin line of caulk across the window or door molding to your house. Using a latex-gloved finger, lightly press down on the caulk to spread it out until it is smooth so it fills all of the tiny cracks and crevices.

3. Get your roof inspected

This step is probably the most important step when preparing a house for winter. If you are unable to access your home’s roof, you can get it inspected by a contractor to look for loose or broken shingles.

Any contractor you hire to do an inspection should also be able to do any minor repairs in an afternoon (replacing shingles is usually a quick process). It might cost you more than you would like to spend, but neglecting it for an entire winter could easily lead to even more repair bills down the road.

Winter storms, including heavy rain and especially hail, are notorious for wreaking havoc on a roof, so it’s important you repair any damage before your roof gets its toughest test: packed snow.

4. Reverse your ceiling fans

As most people learn in school, warm air rises. Reversing the direction of each of your fans will create an updraft, which in turn will push down any heated air pressed against your room’s ceiling. By keeping warm air circulating, you’ll use heat more efficiently, which could cut down on energy costs. Even if you don’t have any rooms with high ceilings, reversing your fan direction as soon as the weather turns is a helpful step.

To reverse your fan’s direction, make sure the fan is off, then click the switch above the blades. If you have a remote-controlled fan, you should see an option for reversing the fan’s direction on the remote.

5. Get your chimney inspected

If you have a fireplace, get your chimney inspected and cleaned before each burning season, even if wood is not your primary source of heat and you only use your fireplace for aesthetic purposes.

When you burn wood, deposits of creosote build up on the inside of your chimney. Creosote is cancerous and highly flammable. When enough of it builds up in your chimney, the smoke from a fire can cause it to ignite, which in turn can cause a chimney fire. Many home fires are caused by chimneys. Having your chimney inspected can help keep your family and home safe from fire risk.

If you want to go the extra mile, consider installing a steel liner, which will help protect your home in the event of a chimney fire.

6. Drain the fuel from your small gas-powered engines

Gasoline doesn’t last forever. In fact, it decomposes quickly. When this happens in a small engine (such as a lawn mower or weed eater), it can cause the engine’s carburetor to gunk up, which means you may not be able to get it started again when winter is over.

To prevent this, you can either add a fuel stabilizer or let the machine burn through all of the gas by using it one last time in late summer or early fall and letting it run until it turns off. If you do this, your machines should last longer and start much more easily in the spring.

7. Tune up your home’s systems

Cold weather is the prime time for heating systems. Having a technician clean and tune up your furnace, whether gas or electric, could help your systems run more efficiently in the winter months. You should also change the batteries in your smoke detectors annually, which the winter season provides a good time for.

Additionally, if you have carbon monoxide detectors, change the batteries and perform a test if your model allows you to do that. Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and incredibly dangerous, so a functioning detector is key to helping ensure winter safety. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), carbon monoxide poisoning peaks during the winter months.

8. Cut back tree branches

Winter snow can be heavy and if you experience an ice storm, even healthy tree branches are likely to break under the weight. Cutting back branches that overhang your home could help you avoid roof damage if a branch breaks. Ice-coated branches are heavy and can damage roofs and can even fall through and create internal damage. If you aren’t able to cut back branches yourself, a landscaping company or tree surgeon can examine your trees and make any adjustments necessary to keep your home safe.

9. Check your insurance coverage

The period right before winter is usually a good time to talk to your home insurance company to review your coverage. If you have done any renovations over the summer that could add value to your home, make sure the added value is covered by your policy in case anything happens during the season. You may also want to confirm how your policy would cover potential winter damage, like ice dams, fires or damage from tree branches. Each type of home insurance covers different losses. Understanding how your policy would react to damage before it happens could help you spot potential gaps in coverage.

Taking the time to prepare your home for winter and perform basic home maintenance could help you reduce the amount of damage your home sustains from winter storms or even help you avoid damage completely. Once you’ve winterized your home, you might feel more ready to weather winter months.

Written by
Lauren Ward
Insurance Contributor
Lauren Ward has nearly 10 years of experience in writing for insurance domains such as Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, and Reviews.com. She covers auto, homeowners, and life insurance, as well other topics in the personal finance industry.
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Insurance Editor