7 Winter Home Maintenance Tips

As fall makes way for winter, we can take the season off from lawn and garden maintenance – but that doesn't mean there isn't work to do. In many parts of the country, wintertime puts homeowners on the defense against snow, ice, frozen pipes, heat loss and more. Getting your home ready will take a bit of effort, but your preparation will pay off when you get to cozy up in a safe, energy efficient haven during the harshest winter days.

Follow these seven essential maintenance steps for a comfortable and joyous winter at home.

  1. Pack Up the Patio

    Freezing temperatures and winter precipitation can be tough on patio furniture and other items that you might keep outdoors the rest of the year. Most outdoor furniture and items should be stored in a shed, garage or basement, especially if they're made of plastic, wood or wicker. Cushions, patio umbrellas, coolers, plastic sandboxes and similar items should also be stored out of the elements.

    All-metal furniture is generally safe to leave outdoors year-round, but should be cleaned before the snowy season and kept free of fallen leaves. It's also a good idea to clean all your other furniture as you store it, so that it will be fresh and ready to go on the first day of spring. If you don't have appropriate storage space for all your items, you can protect them by stacking them together and covering them with a tarp.

  2. Stock Up on Winter Supplies

    If you live above the snow line, there are quite a few items that can help you to get through the winter. Inspect your snow shovel, boots and outerwear early so you have time to replace worn-out items. Buy plenty of sidewalk salt or other ice melt product to help clear your driveway and walking paths. And if you have a chimney or wood-burning stove, stock up on firewood and store it in a dry, accessible place.

    In addition to supplies for working outside in the ice and snow, you should prepare some essentials to help you ride out a sudden power outage that could leave you with no heat. Make sure you have at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food and bottled water for every member of the household. Pack a first aid kit that includes important medications, and locate warm blankets and sleeping bags to help you stay comfortable. If you don't have a generator or other system for generating emergency electricity, you might want to buy an inexpensive solar charger so that you can keep your mobile phone charged.

  3. Protect Pipes and Plumbing Fixtures

    Water expands as it freezes, which can spell disaster for pipes or fixtures that are exposed to freezing temperatures. In a worst-case scenario, frozen pipes can burst and flood your home or basement. To protect garden hose bibs and exterior faucets, close their shut-off valves where applicable (these may be in the basement) and open the faucets to let any remaining water drain. Hoses, sprinklers and other attachments should be drained and stored. Hose bibs and faucets can then be wrapped in rags or insulating material and covered with plastic bags to provide more protection.

    Your home's heat will usually protect the plumbing inside your home, but if you have pipes that go through crawl spaces or other areas that tend to get very cold, you can cover them with pipe insulation. If your heat goes out and endangers your plumbing, you can temporarily prevent freezing by leaving your faucets and fixtures running with a thin stream of water. For longer power outages, you may need to shut off your home's main water valve and drain the remaining water while you wait for power to be restored.

  4. Search for Hidden Drafts

    Autumn is usually the best time to carefully inspect your home for air leaks and drafts, because it gives you time to make repairs before frigid temperatures set in. But if you missed any, you're likely to discover them in winter when you notice that certain rooms are colder than others.

    Take advantage of these cold days to pinpoint the drafts you couldn't find in the fall, and seal them up by caulking cracks, filling gaps with spray foam or replacing worn weather stripping.

  5. Monitor Your Indoor Humidity

    Winter air is drier in most North American climates, leading to drier indoor air. This can cause some irritating physical symptoms like dry skin, nasal passages and throats. But if you overcorrect your indoor humidity using humidifiers or other sources of moisture, it can cause condensation, frost or ice to form on your windows and exterior walls. This problem can cause wood, drywall and other materials to rot, and may lead to the development of harmful mold.

    You can buy an inexpensive digital hygrometer to monitor the relative humidity inside your home. A relative humidity between 40 and 60 percent is ideal most of the time, but the colder it is outside, the lower the relative humidity should be inside to avoid moisture-related problems. If you have inefficient windows or insufficient insulation, these problems will be worse. – so you might consider upgrading these elements so you can enjoy higher humidity indoors without harming your home.

  6. Manage Snow and Ice

    After any significant snowfall, you should use a shovel or snowblower to clear walking paths and driveways. Shoveling is physically demanding work, so make sure you're well hydrated and take plenty of breaks. If you uncover ice beneath the snow, use sidewalk salt or another ice melt product to dissolve it.

    If you didn't clean your gutters in the fall, there's an increased risk for icicles and ice dams to form in your gutters and along your roofline. Large ice dams can damage your gutters and roof, and icicles can be dangerous when they break and fall. It's possible to knock down icicles from a safe distance using a broom handle; however, this can be dangerous, so you should consider hiring a professional if you're unsure it can be done safely.

  7. Remove Snow from the Roof

    Significant snow buildup on your roof can be damaging, especially if you have a flat or low-pitched roof, or if your roof is already in disrepair. The weight of the snow can cause leaks or even a collapse, and melting rooftop snow can refreeze into ice dams. If you have a single-story home, you may be able to safely remove snow using a telescoping roof rake. But for taller homes, high-pitched roofs or other tricky snow removal situations, you should call in the pros.

    Simple pruning can be a DIY job with the proper equipment and safety precautions, but there are some types of trimming that are best left to experienced arborists. Trimming near power lines, pruning high branches and removing large, heavy branches can be dangerous work.

You can find more tips for taking care of your home in our Learning Center.

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