Effective Ways to Prepare a Home for Winter

Trista - October 18, 2019

While preparing the outside of the home for winter is essential, do not forget about the inside. Depending on the climate in which you reside, there are steps to take to prepare your humble abode for the harsh climate winter harbors.

Some of these steps will require paid professionals; most of these tips are things you can do yourself to save on your heating bill this winter. And with the temperatures already starting to fall, it seems like the perfect time to spread the knowledge. Below are some tips and tricks that, if followed, will help ensure that your house is prepared for the winter.

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Adjust Your Thermostat

These first few tips are for those who plan on leaving behind their home for the winter to go somewhere warmer until spring. One of the most manageable steps you can do is to set your thermostat at an appropriate temperature. Even though no one will be in the house, it is essential to leave your heat on to prevent pipes from freezing. The optimal temperature is between 50 and 55 degrees; make it the last thing you do as you walk out the door before returning.

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Check the Security Alarm

This tip is also important to set if you will be leaving a house for the winter. Keeping your home protected while you are away is vital, so be sure your security alarm is armed and ready.

If you are without one, make sure all of the doors are locked, and you take or hide any valuables you would not want to go missing while away. However, to really have a peace of mind, maybe you should invest in a camera system you can watch from your phone.

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Shut Off Water

If you will not be home for winter, this is another critical step to take before walking out the door. If, for some reason, your thermostat did not keep the house as warm as intended, a pipe can burst and flood your home. This step will prevent that from happening, even if everything works smoothly.

What do you do? Open up all the faucets and drain the toilets; this will prevent any pressure buildup in the pipes, which is what will eventually cause them to break. If you feel uncomfortable with this step, calling a plumber is also an option.

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Take Care of the Food

The focus here is non-perishable food. The best thing to do for this type of food is to put all of it in airtight containers while you are gone. Critters start finding their way indoors once the temperature drops; storing food properly will prevent pests from getting into any meal. If you have had problems with insects and rodents before, it might be a good idea to lay some traps or spray some insecticides before taking off for your winter destination.

Perishable items are next on the list. Anything that can go bad while you are not home should be disposed of properly. It might also be a good idea to wipe down your fridge and shut it off while not in use; be sure to keep the doors of the refrigerator and freezer open, so they do not have a musty smell to them or grow mold in your absence.

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Pay Attention to the Gas Line

Along with your water line, you will want to shut off your gas line, as well. The last thing you want is a gas leak while off in warmer places for the winter, especially if you are going to be traveling far away from your home during the three months of winter. Simply call your gas provider and discuss the best options.

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Bundle Up The House

This tip is for those of you who live in particularly harsh climates. You may want to consider bringing outside home decor inside, putting up storm windows, putting up plywood over the windows, closing shutters, and installing storm windows before taking off. Close and lock all windows to keep the elements outside.

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Protect the Plants

If you do not have anyone to watch your house for you while hibernating for the winter, it may be a good idea to take any plants that are important to you with you. Plants still need to be tended in the winter months; leaving them behind will inevitably cause them to die.

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Unplug Appliances

The fridge is not the only appliance to be worried about before heading out. It is wise to unplug all appliances before abandoning the house for the winter. This tip will ensure that no electrical shorts or surges take place, which could then start a fire, potentially ruining your entire home.

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Brace the Gutters

Check these bad boys before leaving as well; fall brings with it many leaves that happen to fall into gutters quite easily. If they are not clear, snow and water could buildup, causing the trenches to burst, creating water damage to the home. To prevent this, just make sure to evacuate the gutters of any debris before closing up the house for the winter.

Gutters can also create something called an ice dam. An ice dam occurs when water backs up in the gutter and ends up freezing near the edge of the roof. The ice builds up, creating a barrier that does not allow rain and snow to flow through the gutters and away from the house. Water can then form little pools that seep water into your home. To prevent this, remove all leaves and debris so water may flow freely.

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Reroute the Mail

While this may seem like common sense, it is something often looked over or forgotten. If you want to continue receiving your mail throughout your move, make sure you go through the post office and change your address. You can also do it online, but make sure you plan by about two weeks in advance for this snowbird tip.

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Deal With the Fireplace

Obviously, this winter tip only applies to those who own a fireplace; it is vital to close the damper on your fireplace so that snow and rain do not enter your house. Animals may even find their way inside through here! So to keep everything in your home protected, double-check that your fireplace is safe before heading out the door.

It may also be beneficial to clean out your fireplace. Take down and clean all andirons and grates; hot water works just fine. Next, you will want to remove anything that is in the fireplace. After the fireplace is empty, scrub all of the walls (place newspapers down before starting so that any loose soot is collected and can easily be thrown away).

Now to deep clean: once you have finished the steps above, it is time for a little elbow grease. Make a solution of warm water (I gallon), bleach (1 cup), and trisodium phosphate (6 tablespoons) to clean the floor and walls of the fireplace. Make sure to wear rubber gloves while washing as the solution may be harmful to the skin. Once clean, rinse off the solution with more warm water.

After deep cleaning the fireplace comes the closure process. Double-check that the flue closes all the way; make sure you feel no air coming in. Adding glass doors around the fireplace is another way to keep heat in for the winter.

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The Sump Pump

Before you leave your home for the winter, you need to check the sump pump. Make sure it is functioning correctly before departure. Why? To avoid a flooded basement upon your return. The last thing you want to deal with after being away for the winter is a basement full of old, stale water.

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Winterize the Pipes

This winterize trick is one of the most critical features in the house to prepare for winter. They can easily burst in the cold winter months; if you want to avoid a flooded home, follow these instructions. Pipelines are a common problem because they are always filled with water; in winter, this water can freeze and expand, causing leaks in the structure due to increased pressure.

Winterizing pipes is crucial if you plan on leaving a house vacant for an extended period, meaning that the pipes will not have water running through them. The process involves emptying the water heater, draining all water from pipes, and filling all fixtures with antifreeze.

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Steps to Prepare Your Pipes for Winter

Here is a list of steps that are easy to follow that will prepare your pipes for the winter to come. Shut off these features in this order: main water valve, water pump, then water heater. Next, open all drain valves and taps. They will remain open all winter to make sure there is no vacuum inside the pipe, which would keep water trapped inside the pipes. Then blow out any excess water (most people use an air compressor). You will then want to open the drain valve on your hot water tank and drain it completely. You may need to connect a garden hose to the valve if there is no floor drain present.

Next, drain any water left in the holding tank and add antifreeze to the jet pump case. Then flush all toilets and remove as much water as you can from the tank and the bowl. If all of the water cannot be removed, make sure to add antifreeze to the tank and bowl to prevent anything from possibly breaking. The last thing on your list is to check all tubs and sinks; these will also need some antifreeze to prevent any damage from occurring.

Which pipes should be the focus of winterization? Any that are located in unheated areas, outside walls, windows, and uninsulated pipes need to be addressed before winter hits. Pipes are not the only thing to worry about, however. If you notice any cracks or holes in ceilings, walls, or floors, make sure you caulk them before traveling. This tip will keep warm air in and the elements out.

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Insulate the Pipes

Here are some tips for insulating your pipes against the frigid temperatures of winter: find some insulation sleeves to wrap around vulnerable pipes. Plastic pipes may not pose as much of a problem because they are more tolerant of freezing as compared to metal pipes. Heat tape is another recommended product for insulating pipes.

Another good idea is to leave at least one pipe dripping water (but not gushing water). This tip will prevent water from freezing inside the pipes.

If you have a crawl space, this needs to be taken care of as well. Make sure it is adequately insulated for the winter and that any vents leading to the outdoors are blocked off.

Hose bibs are another home feature in need of winterization. Most people neglect hose bibs during the winter, which causes them to become broken. So do not forget to drain them and cover them with insulation and deactivate bibs before calling it good.

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Use Door Sweeps

Now that we have discussed what you can do for your house, if you have a second home to go to during the winter, it is time to move on to steps that can be taken to winterize your home if you are actually living in the house.

One thing you can do is install door sweeps on any door that leads to the outside. Cold air can travel inside the home through the cracks underneath doors; if you want to protect your home from a draft or save some money on your heating bill, door sweeps are the answer!

There are two types of door sweeps available: u-shaped sweeps that slide under doors or metal strips that screw into the door bottom. Choosing which type to use comes down to preference; they both work equally well and will keep your home extra toasty all winter long.

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This winter hack is another tactic you can use on your doors to keep the cold air out. Weatherstrips can be applied to both doors and windows. This step may also help save on your energy bill by keeping more warm air inside!

How do you know when it is time to replace your weatherstripping? If you can see the light coming in around the edges of your doors and windows, it is time for an update.

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Winterize the Outdoor Equipment

Although they will not be in use very often during the winter, it is still essential to take care of any outdoor equipment before the snow starts to fall. Any mowers or trimmers should be serviced before storage; snow blowers should also be checked as you will soon be needing one.

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Get the Furnace Ready

Before you turn this guy on for the winter, it may be a good idea to get it checked out by a professional. The paid professional may do any of the following: inspect gas piping that runs to the furnace, check for carbon monoxide, clean furnace motor and fan, clean and replace air filters, and check the blower.

Although all of the tips so far have been relatively simple and free to do (or at least low cost), this service will require payment, but an inspection can help you save more than that in energy costs.

It is also wise to change out the filters yourself from time to time throughout the winter. Dirty filters can make it harder for the air to circulate correctly. In extreme cases, a dirty furnace filter can start a house fire. One tip you could follow is to replace disposable filters with reusable electrostatic or electronic ones: these only need monthly washings and do not require actual replacement.

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The Heating Ducts

If you are having the furnace inspected, it may not be a bad idea to have the same professional check your heating ducts as well. Warm air can actually escape through these ducts, so it is vital to have them checked before turning on the furnace. If any leaks are found, it is quite easy to seal them, so that warm air stays indoors and is not escaping to the outside.

It may not be a bad idea to have the ducts insulated as well. This trick helps to keep the air heated as it travels through unheated spaces under the house or in the attic.

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Trimming the Trees

If any limbs are hanging too close to the house, it may be wise to trim them back before the snow starts to fall. Sure, it will keep your curb appeal up to par, but it is also for safety. Snow and ice will only weigh them down, which could cause them to break and fall into your home or car, causing extensive damage. Be prepared and trim those trees back!

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Do a Chimney Inspection

Along with fireplaces and furnaces, chimneys need to be checked out before winter comes. Make sure this is done by a professional. Have them inspect and clean out your chimney before you put it to use.

Stacks are a familiar spot for fires to start; the professional cleaner is there to help spot and remove combustibles and obstructions and to make sure your chimney is functioning as it should be.

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Reverse Ceiling Fans

It would seem counterintuitive to turn a fan on during the winter to keep your home warm. But it works!

All you need to do is switch the fans to have their blades start rotating clockwise. This home tip actually pushes the warm air down into the room and forces it to circulate throughout the space. Just do not forget to switch your fans back once winter is over.

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Prepare a 72-Hour Kit

This tip may not be necessary for all of you, just those who experience particularly nasty winters. If you are ever in fear of losing power for extended periods due to the ice and snow, preparing a 72-hour kit may not be such a bad idea.

Packages can be created from scratch, or they can be purchased in a store, either in person or online. Be sure to include food, water, and any other supplies deemed necessary.

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Winterize the A/C

Since you will not be using the A/C too much during the wintertime, it may be a good idea for you to prepare it for the winter as well. It is pretty simple to do and can be added to your checklist of other pipes to be ready.

What you want to do is drain any pipes or hoses that are connected to the air conditioning unit. Leaving water in these pipes can cause the water to freeze, in turn breaking the pipe. If there is any water left in the system, make sure you remove it! Another step you could take is to cover your A/C unit with a plastic cover, which will keep snow and water off, preventing rust from forming.

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Insulation for the Home

The more, the merrier! Insulation is a great way to keep warm air in and cold air out. The best place to add more fiberglass insulation is in the attic, where studies show it is one of the most significant problem areas of a home. It is recommended that you install 12 inches of insulation in the attic alone.

If you somehow did not purchase enough fiberglass insulation, add on a few layers of the pink or yellow itchy insulation. If adding on to existing insulation, make sure the new stuff does not have any paper on the back; the paper can actually act as a vapor barrier and can cause problems down the line. Adding insulation to the opening of the attic may not be a bad idea.

Other places to add insulation include exposed areas of decks and crawl spaces. Are you looking for all-natural replacements for traditional insulation? You can also use cellulose and foam spray to insulate your home.

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Install Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Although it is essential to check these guys all of the time, during the winter, it is especially important. Home fires seem to increase in the winter months, so you want to make sure that all detectors are working before the cold strikes.

Why is this so? Any time you use your furnace or boiler, chances of a fire increase. All you need to do here is to check and replace any old batteries.

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Window Insulation Film

Although we have touched on insulating the attic, windows are another feature of the home that can be protected against cold drafts. It may not look the prettiest, but placing a film over all of the windows will help save on energy bills this winter and will keep you warmer too. Most of the wraps are plastic and can be put up with ease.

If you have bubble wrap handy, that works just as well as an insulation film. How does the bubble wrap work? The air inside of the individual bubbles helps to insulate windows better than plain old plastic wrap.

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Caulking the Cracks

If none of the tricks above worked for you, the simple solution is caulk. You may safely caulk any seams, holes, or gaps in the walls, ceilings, or floors. Siding, doors, and windows benefit from being caulked as well. The choice is up to the consumer: caulk just the outside or both the inside and the outside.

Caulking around windows is especially important. Heat can easily escape through tiny imperfections, and because windows are exposed to the outside, windows are one of the hot spots for this phenomenon. Caulking must be replaced periodically.

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Removing Items That Could Freeze

No matter if you leave or stay, this step is vital to saving anything from breaking that contains freezable liquids. Remove all bottled liquids; it is possible for them to freeze and burst. Empty water from any outdoor equipment, as well, before it explodes.

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Check the Foundation

Along with checking your doors and windows, the foundation of the house is also essential. Any gaps or cracks here can cause heat to seep out from the house, making your heater work that much harder to keep the home warm.

Make sure to take away any leaves or debris from around the foundation to make inspection easier. Seal up any imperfections to keep heat in and cold and rodents out. Check sill plates for dry rot or pest infestation.

Another trick for natural insulation comes from straw bales; place them around the foundation of your home to block the cold air from entering. This placement of straw bales will also help keep the floors warmer.

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Adding Heavy Drapes And Rugs

Thicker drapes help trap in the warm air, especially if the windows have been caulked and been protected with an insulation film. Thicker rugs will add an extra layer of insulation on otherwise bare floors. The most recommended drape type is non-vinyl black curtains to help trap in heat and keep the cold out.

Another trick regarding curtains or drapes: open them on the south/west side of the house during the day to let in the natural warmth of the sun. Be sure to close them up once night falls and temperatures drop. An old trick is to install a drape in front of the front door (or really any door leading to the outside); this trick will also help keep the cold air out and the hot air in.

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Winterize a Water Heater

Another easy solution to lower the energy bill is to cover your water heater with a blanket. The blanket may not keep all of the heat in, but it will increase the time it takes for heat to escape. It is also wise to lower the temperature on the water heater; only drop it 20 degrees, from 140 to 120.

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Perform an Energy Audit

While not for everyone, this may be a good idea if you have no idea where you are losing heat from your home. If you are worried about costs, stop right there: most companies offer this service free of charge.

If you desire a more extensive audit, there is the option to pay for that service as well. The goal here is for the company to provide suggestions on how to improve your home to save on your energy bill and ultimately keep your house warmer.

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Replace Windows and Doors

If the energy audit suggests new windows, do as they say! Adding double or triple pane windows to the home will significantly decrease the amount of warm air escaping. Insulated doors are also an option.

Garage doors are another target area for improvement; there are insulated options for these door types as well.

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Find Other Things To Drain

There are many other appliances in the home that need to drained other than pipes, toilets, tubs, and sinks. It is crucial to the integrity of these machines for you to drain them for the winter: water softeners, ice makers, systems for water treatment, dishwashers, and washing machines all require water drainage.

Remember, you only need to take this precaution if you are leaving the house vacant for the winter. Problems only occur if the thermostat stops working; although unlikely, it is still a good idea to try to prevent bad things from happening. Adding antifreeze to both the dishwasher and washing machine is also advised.

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Use Windbreaks

Even though this is an old-fashioned solution to natural insulation, it still works effectively today. Two options are available, and both work efficiently. You can plant evergreens close to your home or plant a windbreak using a fence or some other structure aside from natural foliage.

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Outlets and Furniture Hacks

Whenever your outlets are not in use, cover them. Another viable option is to install foam insulation gaskets around all electrical outlets. Now when it comes to your furniture, a simple but smart solution: remove all furniture from vents so that the warmed air may circulate the room with ease.

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Don’t Forget the Radiator

If you are lucky enough to have an old-fashioned radiator, this tip is catered to you. If not, move to the next winterizing at home hack. Utilize a fan to help spread out the warm air generated by the radiator; it may also help to place a reflector behind the radiator.

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Shut the Doors

This tip may seem like a no-brainer, but another simple solution here but worth mentioning: close any doors on rooms that are not in use. This trick ensures that the warm air is only being circulated in rooms people are currently occupying.

If you are in an enclosed space with a fireplace, try lighting a fire while all the doors are closed. Then lower the heat to the other rooms in the house. A fireplace provides more than enough heat to keep a large room warm; this will help save on the heating bill.

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Who Should Winterize?

Now that we have talked about numerous ways to winterize your home, it is worth noting who it is that you should be taking these steps. These tips work best for those who plan to leave their homes vacant for long periods during the winter months.
Those who take extended vacations should also take these steps; it will help keep costs down while you are away. If you have a summer vacation home, it is worth winterizing that as well.

Lastly, some of these tricks can be used for those who are still occupying their homes during winter; these tricks will help you lower your energy bill while increasing your home’s temperature.