| Homeowners

The official start of winter is nearly here, but it’s not too late to protect your home from the cold and snow. Following a few simple steps and putting in work now can save you time and money in the long run and keep future repairs at bay.

1. Keep Pipes From Freezing 

Among the most feared problems that come with winter are frozen pipes. The repair can be costly, in the thousands of dollars, and having to turn off your water is a hassle. The water pipes that freeze most often are those against outer walls of your house, pipes in attics and garages and sprinkler lines. 

First, insulate all of the pipes you can access, such as those near exterior walls, in garages and attics. It’s not expensive and it can make the difference between pipes staying solid or bursting. 

Other things you can do to keep pipes from freezing is to keep your garage door closed, open cabinets in the bathrooms and kitchen to let warmer air in and leave faucets dripping when the temperature is below freezing.

2. Protect Entryways, Check for Leaks

If cold air gets in your house and raises your heating bill, doors and windows may be the culprits. It’s a good idea to check around them before the weather turns frigid but it’s never too late! Move a piece of tissue around the edges of doors and windows. If it moves, even slightly, the air is getting in. A simple, cheap fix is weather stripping. This fix seals gaps between a door and the door jamb. On windows, raise the sash and put weather stripping on its bottom. There are several types to choose from, including foam-backed tape, felt and rubber tape. And don’t forget to put a door snake or rolled-up towel (on the indoor side) along the bottom of exterior doors. The door snake does a great job of keeping cold air out. 

3. Flush and Insulate Hot Water Heater

When frosty weather strikes, the temperature of the water passing through pipes and coming into your home can drop more than 20 degrees. So maintaining your water heater keeps it efficient and saves you money. Just as you insulate your pipes, the water heater needs insulation, too. Neoprene foam is a common material for this. You can wrap gas heaters all the way around and from the top edge to just beneath the controller. However, don’t cover it over the top, as the insulation could catch fire from the heat exhaust. Electric water heaters don’t have exhaust, so you can wrap it over the sides and top but not on the access panels. 

4. Trim Tree Limbs, Maintain Yard

Yard maintenance throughout winter can help protect your house and entire property during cold spells and is suitable for the health and growth of vegetation. Damaged or dead tree sections are dangerous in winter storms as snow and ice can make the branches heavier, causing them to fall on the house or ground. Pruning removes the limbs most likely to break. Trimming when the tree is dormant, as most plants are during the winter, is the best time to do it. It causes faster regrowth in the spring, as the sun and moisture can get to the roots easier.

Your yard benefits from some winter maintenance, as well. If you haven’t cleaned up your leaves yet, now’s a good time to do so. Leaving them on the ground, under snow or too much water, can bring disease. Also, take the time to over-seed your lawn in the fall if you can, before the first frost arrives. It leads to a thicker turf. Over-seeding means spreading grass seed over your current lawn. According to the Chicago Botanical Garden, “Most people in the Chicago area have a bluegrass-blend lawn and should use either a high-quality bluegrass blend or a shade blend for over-seeding. Seeds to avoid include bunch-type tall fescue (although fine fescues are desirable), Zoysia, buffalo, rough blue, and annual rye.

5. Examine Roof, Gutters

Your roof can harbor all sorts of problems; taking a closer look is beneficial. If you have the capability, use a ladder to get on the roof or to get a closer look. If not, hire a handyman. You’re looking for shingles that are broken, curling or just plain missing. Snow, ice and water can get into your attic and cause major leaks. Pay extra close attention around chimneys, skylights, and vents, looking for gaps. Closing holes and sealing cracks will also help keep unwanted animals out of your attic during the winter months.

While you’re up there, check out the gutters. Their whole point is to allow water to flow down and away from the house. Gutters that are clogged with leaves and other debris don’t do their job. Cleaning them yourself is doable, but it is time-consuming and challenging work. If standing on a ladder isn’t for you, several tools allow you to stay on the ground. Or, again, a handyman will do the job for you.

6. Fireplace Maintenance

Who doesn’t love a good fire on a cold winter night? In your fireplace, that is. You don’t want a fire in the wrong place, so take care of it before the first use of the season. Cleaning it is something you shouldn’t skimp on, so hire a chimney sweep to remove creosote (a flammable oil created by burning wood), soot and other blockages. Brush the ashes out of the fireplace after each use to keep it clean. And if you use a glass guard on the hearth, keep it shining with water and vinegar.

Follow these steps to head into winter with the peace of mind that your home is ready. And while you’re at it, remember to change the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Guest Post by Kris Sontag

Kris Sontag is a designer who enjoys redecorating older homes. She has a special flair for backyard gardens and outdoor kitchen areas.

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