How to Winterize a House - Everything You Need to Know & Checklist
how to winterize a house - photo by Matthieu Joannon on Unsplash

How to Winterize a House: Everything You Need to Know

It can seem like a daunting task to prepare your home for winter. But with a little experience, confidence, and a good checklist, it can be relatively easy. Save our complete guide on how to winterize a house to make the process simple and smooth every year.

A winterized home will protect you and your loved ones throughout the harshest of winters. It will protect you from the ongoing cold and help you stay warm and safe even through difficult times such as a power outage or ice storm.

There are many things to consider inside and out, but we’ve broken them all down into easy, smaller tasks. You can complete the tasks individually and tick them off as you go.

Most importantly, start winterizing your home as the last leaves fall and before the first frost or snowfall. Remember to book any heating engineers or plumbers early.

Building Winterization and Property Care

Detectors and Alarms

Fire Alarms

Make sure your fire alarms are functioning correctly. Check their operation and replace batteries. Consider upgrading to a newer system with remote connectivity and monitoring.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Protect yourself and loved ones by fitting carbon monoxide alarms. If you already have CO alarms, then check their operation and replace the batteries.

Home Security

Check your home security system. If you don’t have one, consider whether you need one. Check the alarm activation sensors, the control panel operation, and internal and external security lights. Check security fences and gates.

Pest Control

As the weather closes in and temperatures drop, small animals and insects look for warm sheltered places to hole up for the winter. Protect your home by sealing up holes and securing weather strips around windows and doors.

Check roof spaces and subfloor cavities for rodent ingress. Food storage areas should be checked, cleaned out and protected from rodents and insects.

Check your outside storage areas and eliminate access points and potential nesting materials. Protect your upholstered garden furniture and any outside food stores. Move your firewood pile away from house walls and raise it off the ground. Replenish any bait boxes and reset any traps.

Don’t give pests a source of food or place to nest and breed.

Gutters

Just after the last leaves have fallen and before any snow, clean out your gutters. Consider fitting gutter guards while you’re at it, as it will help during the winter and stop gutters and downpipes from getting blocked next fall.

Roof

Survey the external roof surfaces. Look for missing, loose or cracked shingles. Check flashing around chimney stacks, lining of any roof gullies, and pointing around gable ends. Make sure any antennas or dishes are secure and cabling clipped down.

Clear all moss, leaves, and sticks off of your roof. This stops ice and snow building up and working its way under shingles causing leaks and water damage to your roof and house.

Check the surrounding trees for dead branches and debris that could fall onto and damage the roof and gutters. Repairing a roof in the snow is no fun!

If you live in areas of heavy snowfall, think about a roof rake to help remove heavy snow. In extreme condition areas consider roof heating cables to keep the roof clear of snow.

Attic

Your attic should be well ventilated and dry. A check from the inside will reveal any water staining indicating a leak. Look out for condensation indicating blocked vents, which can lead to mold and mildew forming. Look for wet or dry rot in the roof timbers. Make sure any pipes, tanks and control mechanisms are insulated to prevent them from freezing.

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

Heating

Be proactive with your heating system. Book a service and inspection with your heating engineer before the cold season kicks in. If you leave it too late, they may be overbooked.

Have the engineer check your furnace, boiler, and chimney to keep them functioning efficiently and safely.

A heating system is most likely to fail when it is working hardest in the coldest weather. In these conditions, no heating means a very cold house. This can lead to frozen or burst pipes and subsequent water leaks and resultant property damage. A prewinter service will help prevent this.

Have the engineer make sure there are no cracks around pipes and cables where they go through the wall. Replace or clean any filters to keep clean air flowing in the right direction. Ask them to inspect for leaks and to test for carbon monoxide. See the section on detectors and alarms.

Ventilation

All fuel-burning heating systems need a source of air to ensure a clean carbon monoxide free burn. Check that all vents are free of detritus and allow air to circulate freely.

Air Conditioning

Once the need for air conditioning is over, have your central air unit serviced and made ready for winter. Turning off the power to the external unit will help prevent faults and stop water from entering the condensing unit only to later freeze causing damage.

Clean the external unit, remove debris, and sweep it out. Wipe the unit down and clean vents and filters. Check seals and pipes for any damage. Cold weather will only exacerbate them causing the unit to fail next hot season. Securely cover the unit to protect it from detritus and the weather.

Inspect the insulation on any pipework. Replace any missing or deteriorated insulation.

Regularly check the unit for snow build-up and water ingress. Sweep off heavy snow.

Water Heating

A few days in mid-winter with no hot water could prove terrible. Make sure your water heater is in good condition and fully functioning. Ask your plumber to flush the heater to prevent limescale and sediment build-up that can result in malfunction. This is particularly important in hard water areas.

Adjust Your Thermostat

Set your heating thermostat to at least 65 degrees. All inside areas of the house should be maintained above 50 degrees. Adjust your thermostat so this is possible. This will help deter damp and mold. Don’t reduce the temperature too low. Most of your pipes are inside the external walls of the house and need to be kept from freezing.

Also don’t have the temperature set too high. Reducing the temperature by a couple of degrees will lead to a significant fuel bill saving. Like my father used to say – “put on some socks and jump.”

Get a Programmable Thermostat

A programmable thermostat can save you a significant amount of money. Set it to reduce the temperature slightly when you are sleeping or at work. Up the temperature when the family are home and keeping toasty warm while having dinner and relaxing in front of Netflix.

Ceiling Fans

Remember that heat rises. Test your rooms to find where the warmth is. There is little point spending money on heating the ceiling while you are shivering on the couch close to the floor. If you find all the heat is trapped next to the ceiling, think about using a slow fan to circulate the air around the room. A ceiling fan is ideal. Blow that hot air back down to where it is needed. Use the lowest setting or else the heating will be counteracted by wind chill!

Check & Seal Drafts

Keep your home warm and dry by checking for any gaps that let in the cold winter drafts. Install weather stripping to keep the expensive heat in and the cold out. Draft excluders or door sweeps can help with gaps under the doors Use caulk to seal up cracks around door and window frames. Don’t forget any holes in the walls where pipes and cables run. Reduce drafts from your mail chute, if you have one.

Plumbing & Pipes

Protect Your Pipes

Make sure all pipes are protected from freezing. Install extra insulation to the exposed pipes. Ensure your house is kept warm enough to protect the pipes inside the structure. Remember pipework inside the walls, ceiling, attic space and floors.

If you live in areas where temperatures can plummet significantly, think about installing heating tapes to exposed pipework.

If you are caught by an unusually cold spell, then let water trickle from a faucet will keep the water in the pipes moving. This makes it harder for the water to freeze.

Install an Emergency Release

You can install emergency pressure relief valves. If a pipe freezes, these valves open to reduce the internal pressure and stop the pipe bursting. Ask your plumber for more information next time he services your system.

Know How to Turn Your Water Off

You need to turn the water off at the isolation valve as soon as you detect a leak. Find out where your stop cock or isolation valve is. Make sure it is free moving and in good condition. Keep it insulated and, if it’s metal, lubricated with a drop of light oil. If you need a key to access it, then keep the key somewhere safe.

Show your family how to access the valve, turn the water off, and how to contact a plumber. Make sure the valve is accessible and not covered up. Mark its location with a stake so you can find it in heavy snow.

Drain All Pipes Leading to External Faucets

Drain the water from all pipework that leads to external faucets. Leave the pipes isolated and the faucet open. Flush the pipes for a few minutes when you turn them back on next season.

Let Air Circulate to Keep Pipes Warm

The pipes within your house are protected by the internal ambient air temperature. Keep the pipes from freezing by ensuring air can circulate freely around these pipes.

Remember Hidden Pipes in the Crawl Space, Garage and Attic

Remember that there are likely to be pipes and tanks in the attic. These need insulating. Also, check the garage and insulate any pipes and faucets. Subfloor crawl spaces are another area often overlooked, and it can be difficult to detect leaks in subfloor pipes. Again, make sure any pipes in this space are insulated.

Fireplace and Chimney

Clean Your Fireplace Before First Use

Before you use the fireplace or wood stove for the first time in the season, make sure to give it a good clean. Clean all of the vents and grates. Clean out the ash pan and make sure all the controls work properly. Check the operation of any chimney dampers.

Call a Chimney Sweep

Give your local chimney sweep a call and have them clean and check all chimneys and flues. Assess the structure of the chimney and check for cracks that could leak fumes into the house. Also, remember to check the top of the chimney for structural integrity.

Winterizing Outside the House

Yard, Trees, Shrubs, Grass

Before it gets too cold, get out in the yard, and finish the season’s maintenance to prepare for winter. Make sure your paths are free from trip hazards, your fences are robust and secure and outside lighting is functional. Remove dead branches from trees and sweep up the last of the fallen leaves. Check for branches getting too close to overhead cables and trim back if needed.

Bring in or Protect Outdoor Furniture

The cold weather will damage the finish on outdoor furniture or equipment. Bring all the kit in and store it in the garage or other storage space. Disconnect the gas bottle from the grill and store it safely outside in a covered but well-ventilated place.

If you don’t have room to store things inside, then buy covers for them or wrap well in well-secured tarpaulin. Now is a good time to service and maintain your equipment. It will save time next season and ensure it is ready to go at the first signs of warm weather.

Protect Plants

Take in any delicate plants you want to keep for next year. You can pot them up and put them in the greenhouse or somewhere sheltered. Remember to keep them moist over the winter.

Maintain Your Outdoor Equipment

Start Up Your Snow Blower

Now is the time to check the functionality of your winter outdoor kit. Think about the snow moving gear. Buy an extra snow shovel, stock up on deicer and pavement grit. Fire up the snow blower and give it a service. Stock up on fuel and any consumables. If you need a chainsaw for firewood then check the chain, filters, and fuel. Make sure you have the correct protective clothing.

House the Hose

It’s time to put away the hose pipe and drain any irrigation or sprinkler systems. Leave them free from water and with the tap open. Insulate any external pipework and valves that cannot be drained.

Windows and Curtains

If you still have single-pane windows, then fit insulation kits to save up to 90% of the lost heat. Fit thick insulation curtains to save even more precious heat. Open your blinds, drapes, and curtains during the day to let indirect heat and light from the sun. Close them again as soon as the sun dips below the horizon to trap the heat in.

If the windows are always in the shade, then keep the curtains closed to stop the cold air from coming in.

Have Heat and Power Backups

It is common for heavy snow to bring down power lines and leave people without power for heating and light. Don’t rely on only one fuel source for your heating and lighting. Be prepared for a power outage by having a secondary power source.

Heat Sources

Other types of heaters run on natural gas, kerosene, propane, wood, and coal. If you rely on these heaters, you will need to think about how you are going to heat water and light your home.

Store your alternative fuel supply in a safe, dry secure place. Your woodpile should be away from the house to deter pests but still accessible in the snow.

Stoves

A wood or oil burning stove can be a great secondary heat source. You can also cook on most kinds of wood or oil stove. You need to be careful with the fumes and ensure a good chimney and draft vent them safely away. They often take a time to heat up and are usually designed to be kept running at low and steady heat.

Fireplaces

Your open fireplace is a less efficient way to heat your house. Traditionally the fire would be kept going 24-7 and the heat radiated from the chimney stack provides a significant amount of heat. Unfortunately, up to 90% of the heat from a fire goes straight up the chimney.

You can install a back boiler into the fireplace to heat water. Bear in mind most back boilers still need electricity to pump the hot water after it has been heated. It is also difficult to cook on an open fire.

Log Burners

A log burner is a little different to a wood stove. While they are efficient at heating a room, they offer little in the way of cooking. You can have a log burner with a hot water back boiler but as with the open fireplace boiler, most still rely on electricity to pump the water.

Power Sources

Generators

Many people use a generator as a backup power source. Remember to buy one that is powerful enough to supply all your appliances, heating, and lighting. Consult your local generator supplier for further information. Your generator should be serviced before the cold weather draws in. Also, store enough fuel to last several days.

Batteries

Check your batteries and make sure you have enough spares to last you through a power outage.

Wind-up Things – Radio, Torch

There are several products out there now designed for the survival situation that are powered by a hand-cranked generator. They are also cost-effective. You should consider having a couple of wind-up torches and a wind-up radio. Both will prove useful in a power outage. Use the wind-up kit first to save your batteries in other equipment. Kids also love a wind-up torch as a useful toy!

Buy Supplies

It never hurts to keep a good stock of preserved food. Think tins, jars, and packets. Rotate your stock so you use the old stock first. Prepare for the winter by preserving surplus food in the summer and fall. Experiment cooking with just your stored food. This way you won’t be at a loss if you need to do it for real.

Don’t forget water for drinking and sanitary uses. A rainwater tank could prove useful for flushing the toilet (if it is not allowed to freeze). Stockpile drinking water and think about how to cook with little water.

Also, fill up on other consumables like toilet paper and sanitary pads. Here is a checklist for you:

  • Snow shovel
  • Ice scraper
  • Ice melt
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • A weather radio (wind-up if possible)
  • Emergency car kit (extra blankets, radio, ice scraper, car charger, first aid kit, jumper cables)
  • Water and food that doesn’t require cooking or preparation (dried fruit, granola bars, crackers, etc.)
  • Extra pet food and bedding
  • Stock up on salt and sand

Build a Community & Social Network

Bond with your neighbors and community. Be that pillar of strength and reach out to your friends and neighbors. Build a social network to help everyone in the community get through the hard winter times together.

Make sure local at-risk people are prepared and have some support. Even a friendly wave, smile or chat can make a difference.

Use social media groups to communicate, but don’t forget that these might not work in a power outage or network failure. Consider the landline telephone, an old-fashioned CB radio or newer PMR radio as a backup.

Prepare Personal Emergency Kits

Think about your medical supplies. Have a stock of medicines stored in a suitable safe dry place. Resupply your family first aid kit. Check the expiry dates on existing kit items. Anything expired should be disposed of and replaced.

Don’t Forget Your Pets

Consider the needs of your family pets and other livestock.

Pet Food

You need to have a stock of food to last any times you can’t get to the store for more. As with humans, pets need a balanced diet so include vitamin and mineral supplements if needed.

Extra Water

You need to include your pets when you are considering your water storage. They too need to drink and be washed.

What to Do With Pet Poop?

Also, like humans, your pets need to poop. But what if you can’t let them out due to bad weather? Where will they go? How will you manage the mess and dispose of it hygienically?

Exercise Plans

Pets also need exercise, think about how you can give them at least a minimum chance to run and stretch out.

Medicines & Healthcare

Do your pets need any regular medicines? Start the winter season by worming or de-fleaing your pets, and keep a stock of medicines in reserve just in case.

Prepare to Entertain

We rely heavily on the internet as a form of entertainment. All kids love to run around outside, and it does everyone good to regularly get out for a walk. Severe winter weather may limit these activities. What will you do for entertainment if the weather closes in? How about if the internet or power goes down?

Order a good book or family and group games to play. Invest in a couple of new family board games. Trivia quiz games can also be educational for kids! Of course, kids (and some adults) will want to play with toys. Lego bricks can keep both young and old people occupied for hours.

Try out new arts and crafts to keep the mind occupied on the long cold winter nights. Break out the musical instruments and learn a few new tunes. For more ideas, browse through our list of fun things to do at home this weekend and things to do on a rainy day.

If the House is Vacant

You will need to take further action if you:

  • are vacating your house over the winter period
  • have a vacant vacation home or cabin
  • have a rental home that may or may not be used

You do not need to start stockpiling consumables. You should complete all of the other things on this list that apply, and read through this post on how to winterize a vacant home for more information.

Remember to Winterize These Other Things!

Winterize Your Car

Before the weather turns, have your vehicle serviced and readied for cold weather. Fit winter tiers if needed. Stock the trunk with snow chains, a tow rope, snow shovel, deicer, a car first aid kit, a couple of warm blankets and some emergency food and drink. Make sure the car has a phone and GPS.

Winterize an In-Ground Pool

If you are lucky enough to have an inground pool, then you need to winterize it. Winterizing a pool is complex and best done by professionals. However, if you have the time and are handy around the house, you can do it yourself. We recommend you follow a step by step instruction list to ensure you complete the job properly.

Winterize Your Sprinkler System

If you have an irrigation or sprinkler system, you will need to winterize it. The best time to do this is before the weather begins to change. You need to drain all the water out of the pipes. You can do this by manually draining, blowing the water out with air, or by an auto drain function built into the system. You can find expert details here. It can be a complex process and sometimes best left to professionals.

Summary

You can see there are many things to consider before the winter closes in. Good preparation is the key. You now have a complete home winterization guide and checklist you can use every year. Make sure to save it in your bookmarks for future reference.

You will be wanting to repeat the process every year. Remember to allow enough time and to book your professional help like heating engineers in good time. A winterized house is a safe house that will protect you and your loved ones over the long cold winter.

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