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Winter is a beautiful season, with falling snow and cooler temperatures, but it can also be fierce, bringing with it cold weather and winter storms, and in turn, the risk of damage to your home. Whether it’s an issue with ice, snow, freezing temperatures or something else entirely, the costs associated with home damage from winter weather can be shocking. That’s why preparing your home for winter weather is essential if you want to protect your home and family from potential winter weather damage and the related repairs.
To help you get started, Bankrate has put together a comprehensive guide of nine easy steps to prepare your home for the winter season. These tips cover everything from inspecting your roof, to reversing your fan directions, to changing the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector. By following these simple steps, you may help lessen the damage to your home from winter storms or avoid it altogether, and will be better prepared for whatever winter weather comes your way.
How to prepare your home for winter weather
It may feel overwhelming to think about preparing your home for winter, but it shouldn’t be. There are a number of simple steps you can take during your spare time or on the weekend to help prepare your home for winter weather. These steps include the following:
1. Clean your gutters
You should clean your gutters every season, but right before winter might be the most critical time to do so. 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 from issues with winter weather. 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 exterior caulk is relatively inexpensive, and you can usually complete the task in a matter of hours.
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 may be one of the most important 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 circulating warm air, you’ll use heat more efficiently, which could cut 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 can 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 can cause a chimney fire. 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 may last longer and may start 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 at risk of breaking 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 cause damage to the interior of your home. 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 renovations recently 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 potentially cover damage before it happens could help you spot potential gaps in coverage.
Taking the time to prepare your home for winter 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.