Along with the provocative spending and lavish feasts that are hallmarks of the holiday season also comes the cold, the ice and the snow. Like those extra three helpings of stuffing at Aunt Linda’s have just derailed your diet, the coming weather is capable of causing significant damage (and swelling) to your home if you aren’t prepared.
Winterizing means a lot of different things to people in different locations. For example, in New Jersey, you really need to go full bore and ensure anything that might be holding water is emptied, heated or insulated. In Texas, though, you might not even realize winter has come. With that in mind, take a long look at these seven things and check them all before the first freeze comes (or do it right now if it’s already freezing!)
The Big Seven Winter-Ready Checkboxes
Winter comes with a myriad of hazards, from black ice and deep snow to blowing winds in the negative digits. Please make sure that you’re wearing proper winter weather gear before you attempt to get your house ready for the cold. After all, you’re not going to be able to get through the list if you freeze to the ground.
Even if your plants are hearty as they can be, it’s nice for them to have a fresh pile of mulch to hunker down in during the cold season. Apply two to four inches of an organic mulch over the roots and at the base of any plants that are still above ground, then pull it slightly away from the plants themselves so there’s a little moat in between. Herbaceous plants that die back and the pop up in the spring should be covered with just as much mulch to keep them from freezing.
While you’re out there, trim any overhanging branches from your trees so that accumulating ice and strong winds won’t bring them down onto your house, car or garage. If you have a sprinkler system and haven’t emptied it yet, now is the time to disconnect the water and blow it out according to your system’s design.
When the autumn leaves finished falling, you cleaned your gutters out (you did, right?), but as really frigid weather settles in, you need to check them one last time. Gutters are one of the big causes of ice dams, which can cause water to back up into your attic. This is all bad stuff if it happens over and over, so to be safe, check those gutters again and clean out anything you missed or that has accumulated since your last round of cleaning.
Pop into the nearest home improvement store and grab a styrofoam cover for each of your outdoor faucets, even if they’re frost free. You should have already removed any hoses as soon as the nighttime temperatures started to dip, so now it’s just a matter of putting a little hat on them. Some people wrap their faucets with pipe insulation, but for the long run, the styrofoam caps can’t be beat. They’re easy to install, hold tight all winter and are easy to store until the next year.
Homes with crawl spaces are especially susceptible to frozen pipes during the winter. First, make sure your foundation vents are closed to keep cold wind from blowing into the space, then get a little more hands on with the pipes. Anything on an outside wall should be wrapped with pipe insulation (the more popular types look like small diameter pool noodles), pipes with chronic freezing problems should have heat tape installed. Frozen pipes are no fun for you from a convenience angle, but when they go a bit further and burst it’s kind of a big deal.
Go around your windows and doors with a caulk knife and remove any caulk that’s loose or dried up, then grab the caulk gun and go like mad, making sure to push the new caulk into the opening as you dispense it. You should angle the tip so you can move across a section of trim with a single motion to create an uninterrupted bead.
This is also the right time to check your weatherstripping. Whether it’s between a door and the jamb or helping the windows to seal properly, these are major entry points for cold air and drafty drafts. When you’re replacing weatherstripping, take a sample of the type you need with you to the hardware store because the options are pretty impressive.
Some websites will advocate for you to check your own chimney before using it in the fall or winter, but that’s not the kind of advice to give to a person. Sure, you can do your own chimney inspection. You can also do your own root canals, but it’s really a bad idea. A quick check by a chimney sweep is an affordable alternative to a chimney fire. The thing is that what you can see from the hearth isn’t much, a lot of chimney fires start further up — you might not even know you’ve had one.
If you have a wood stove with a double or triple walled flue, you may have better access to the entire length of the chimney, but don’t ever take a chance on anything that burns as hot as a wood stove or fireplace. This is one item in your house that can have disastrous results if you don’t treat it with respect.
If you own another house, even if it’s in a warmer climate, this is a good time to give it a lot of thought. It’s going to need similar care — location appropriate, of course. Winterizing the plumbing in a house is a DIY trick you can pull yourself, or you can hire it done and know that you didn’t forget to do something important. When DIYing, make sure to test all the shut-off valves as you go. This is a good time to replace them since you’ll also be turning the water off at the main.