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How to prepare your home for winter

Posted on Sept. 19, 2017

Winter is technically more than three months away. One could argue that it's preposterous to even be thinking about winterizing a home right now—and that person wouldn't necessarily be wrong.

The thing is, though, winter weather rarely kicks in on the season's official start date. Especially in Canada, residents could be dealing with freezing temperatures and snow as early as—gulp—October.

That's why, even if you don't act on home winter prep immediately, it's good to at least be thinking about it, so that you can get it all done quickly if the need to do so arises suddenly (and if you're a driver, you should brush up on how to prep your winter road kit while you're at it). Here's what you'll need to do when the time comes.

1. Scan the roof

Why not start your winterizing process at the top?

If your roof has been damaged at all since the previous winter, it may not be fully evident in the summer or fall, but it could certainly get worse once the next winter settles in. So make sure it gets looked at; either by you, or—if you lack the comfort to climb up high and scuttle around a roof—someone more willing.

Look for areas where it might be damaged or starting to wear down. Then patch up those spots as soon as possible.

2. Clean the gutters

This can be a mucky job—or a tedious one, depending on how exposed your gutters are to fall leaves—but it's also pretty essential.

Clogged gutters prevent water from draining properly. They also increase the risk of ice dams forming up on the roof, which will quickly come back to haunt you (in the form of water damage).

3. Divert downspout water

While we're on the subject of gutters and drainage, this feels like a good time to bring up the need to divert water that flows from downspouts.

It can be risky for your home if massive swaths of ice are building up right around the foundation. This is what happens when downspouts release water straight down. To prevent it, just add extensions that divert the water and instead shoot it out a few feet away from the house's base.

4. Shut down hoses and sprinklers

Hoses and sprinklers can be easily overlooked when you haven't used them in a while, but if you want them to be functional for the next spring, then it's important to shut them down properly before the winter hits.

This is a very straightforward task. Just make sure these materials are fully drained, all the valves are completely shut off, and the hoses and sprinklers are disconnected and stored properly.

5. Reseal and replace windows

Windows are a major point of vulnerability for homes during the winter. They are not only highly susceptible to the elements (in comparison to the rest of the house), but also spots at which heated air can easily escape—thus costing you money.

Make sure to examine all of your windows and ensure that there aren't any cracks or leaks through which drafts can escape. If there are, patch them up with caulk.

It's also highly recommended to purchase storm windows for your home if you haven't already. They can greatly increase energy efficiency and further ensure that heat isn't getting out unnecessarily.

6. Automate thermostats

Most people would probably agree that it makes sense to adjust heat levels to what circumstances dictate (i.e. keep it low in warmer weather, high when it becomes necessary). Making those adjustments manually is a bit of a hassle, but thankfully, there's a clear solution: thermostat automation.

For very reasonable prices, homeowners can purchase thermostats that are capable of being programmed to raise or lower the heat levels according to external temperatures. Like shoring up windows, this is both a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution.

7. Reverse ceiling fans

Yes, even the direction in which ceiling fans turn can have a significant role in the winterization of your home.

If they are set to turn counter-clockwise, as they should in the summer, it will cause the airflow they create to move downward and cool anyone nearby. Because warm air rises and will do so unless redirected elsewhere, reversing the fan direction to clockwise is the best way to ensure that the heat being generated is used optimally.

8. Inspect the furnace

Unlike a roof inspection, this is best done by a professional. Get in touch with an HVAC pro to come in and check that the furnace is running smoothly.

Paying for professional help isn't the most ideal pill to swallow, but it is certainly better than having a serious issue in the middle of winter, when the house is in desperate need of heat.

9. Maintain fireplace and chimney

Obviously not every home has a fireplace and chimney, but for those that do, homeowners should be very attentive to making sure that they are properly maintained.

One way to do that is to make sure the entire pathway is cleared of nests or any other obstructions that may have formed. It's also good to think about hiring a chimney sweep if it's been a while since the chimney has been fully cleaned. Take a close look at the hearth area as well, since open mortar joints around the brick can lead to fire spreading throughout the house.

10. Prepare an emergency storm kit

Every few years or so, cold-weather dwellers are faced with one of those storms that causes an extended power outage. Instead of getting caught off guard by it, prepare in advance by putting together an emergency storm kit.

A good kit will have enough in it to allow for at least a few days of self-sufficiency. This means including water, non-perishable food items, flashlights and candles, extra batteries, first aid materials, a whistle, a radio, and sanitation items.

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