As the days grow shorter and you spend more time indoors, it’s more important than ever to make sure your home is hardened against harsh winter conditions. During the coming months, freezing temperatures outside and dry heated air inside can create a variety of issues — from frozen pipes that burst to leaky roofs. Whether you recently moved to a colder climate or an early arrival of winter storms has created a greater sense of urgency, you can help prevent future damage to your home and increase safety for your family with our winter home maintenance checklist.

1. Check Your Heating System

Home maintenance experts advise getting your furnace checked annually by a professional, especially before the first big snowstorm arrives! Most manufacturers and technicians recommend scheduling a tune-up or inspection for your furnace every year. A professional will not only check for any safety issues, but they can also perform maintenance as a preventive measure so you don’t end up with a breakdown in the middle of a cold front – when you may have to wait several days for a service call. Here’s a quick rundown of the types of areas that need to be evaluated, depending on the type of heating system you have:

Gas furnace: A professional will check your vent system for any leaks or blockages. All burners should be checked for proper ignition, plus any hoses or drainage systems should be checked for leakage. This is also a good time to replace your filter, which should be done every six months or so.

Boiler: You should be doing at least monthly checks on your boiler for any signs of leakage. For an annual inspection, a professional will take a look at the heat exchanger, wiring, and venting system, and ensure the water pH levels are in the correct range.

Heat pump: Make sure your outdoor unit is free from any leaves or snow, and trim back all shrubs and greenery at least 18 inches away. Technicians also recommend an annual inspection for heat pumps to ensure optimal functioning.

2. Schedule a Chimney Cleaning

The last thing you want on a cold wintry night is your home filling up with smoke because of a chimney blockage. Whether there’s a build-up of soot or an old bird’s nest hiding at the top of your chimney, regular cleaning is essential for a properly functioning fireplace. Plan ahead and schedule an inspection and cleaning — that way you can fully relax with a cup of hot chocolate next to your fireplace or wood stove.

3. Clean Out Your Gutters

If you have any trees close to your home, your gutters may be full of leaves and debris. Even trees that don’t lose their leaves each year tend to have lots of debris fall during a windstorm. A small rake is the easiest way to comb the leaves out of your gutter. Hire a professional to clean your gutters if you’re uncomfortable climbing up on a ladder to reach everything. Clearing everything away is important — if it rains heavily and your gutters are too full, the water won’t be directed properly which may cause flooding around your exterior and damage to your siding and foundation.

4.  Check Your Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

In the winter, our doors and windows stay closed tight to keep out the cold air, which means fresh air flow is at a minimum. This means your home is more susceptible to build-up of dangerous gases like carbon monoxide. Heating systems also tend to dry out the air in your home, so if something catches on fire, it can escalate much faster. Ensure you’ll be alerted to any smoke or gas leaks by checking on your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. Most units have a button where you can run a test alert. If it’s been beeping periodically, make sure to replace the battery and run a test. 

5. Find Out If Any Heat Is Escaping Your House

After you’ve spent the money to have your furnace checked, you’ll want to make sure all that money isn’t going to waste every time you turn up the thermostat. The heated air in your home could be escaping though faulty weather-stripping around windows, cracks under doors, or poor insulation around pipes. While proper insulation in your walls is still key (around 31 percent of all heat in your home is lost through the walls and ceiling), there are lots of small things you can do to boost your home’s energy efficiency. Here’s a quick list of places to check for air leakage:

Recessed lights, wiring, and plumbing: Consider adding specialty spray foam insulation to seal gaps behind the wall near outlets and plumbing fixtures.

Windows and doors: Seal any cracks around your window frames with indoor caulk and add weather-stripping around door frames to create a seal against the cold air.

Basement: If you have a basement, there are often lots of holes to fit vents and pipes from indoors to out, which can allow heat to escape. Fill in the gaps with an expanding foam.

The Energy Department estimates that with proper weatherization and insulation, you can reduce your home’s heating and cooling use by as much as 30 percent. See this guide from The Washington Post for more specifics on how you can increase your home’s energy efficiency.

6. Stock Up on Emergency Supplies

If you live in an area that’s prone to winter storms, it’s important to prepare for short-term emergencies. In the last 15 years, the number of power outages in the U.S. increased more than six-fold, due in part to more frequent extreme storms and weather conditions. Make sure you’re prepared with plenty of water, blankets, and canned and non-perishable foods. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, it’s good to have plenty of extra chopped wood and fire-starters on hand so you can stay nice and warm if the power goes out. 

7. Maintain the Trees on Your Property

Winter weather can put a lot of stress on trees and plants. Walk around your yard or property and look for potential trouble spots, such as rotted branches or trees that are leaning to one side. Consider having an arborist come out to trim back large trees near your home or powerlines, or to remove a tree or large branches that may be dead by the time winter is over. Otherwise, you risk a tree or branches falling over during a storm and potentially damaging your home or causing injury.

8. Clear Snow and Ice from Your Roof and Trees

When the snow arrives, it’s also important to clear snow from your trees. Wet snow can build up on tree branches and cause them to snap and break off — another safety hazard. When it comes to your roof and gutters, snow and ice can also cause damage. Use a telescoping roof rake to brush snow off your roof. To prevent dangerous icicles from forming along your gutters, make sure they’re clear of dirt and debris. For large icicle removal, consider hiring a roof expert. They’ll go on the roof to remove icicles from above, since it can be risky to knock them down from below.

9. Prevent Pipes from Freezing

Exposure to cold air can make your pipes burst, which can cause significant water damage in your home. Luckily, there are a few easy ways to ensure this doesn’t happen. First, if you’re going to be out of town, keep your thermostat set at 55 degrees and open any cabinetry with plumbing so it can still get warm air flow. Second, you can also try adding some insulation to your pipes with a quick trip to the hardware store.

10. Reverse the Ceiling Fans

This is an easy one that doesn’t cost a penny! You can give your heating system a helping hand by reversing the motor on any ceiling fans to make them run in clockwise direction.  According to the U.S. EnergyStar program, this will force warm air that’s risen near the ceiling down to the  living area. This simple step may be enough to allow you to adjust your thermostat to a lower temperature, so you can save energy and heating costs.

Preparing your home for the cold weather ahead will help you enjoy the season to its fullest. As you go through your winter home maintenance checklist, you can rest assured knowing your home is ready for any freezing temperatures or snowstorms around the corner.

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