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A Winter Checklist to Get Your Home Ready for the Cold

By: Betsy Vereckey

The arrival of autumn is the perfect time to start thinking about preparing your home for cold weather and protecting yourself against costly repairs. In fact, the average cost of repairs after a storm is $8,389, according to Home Advisor, and can vary widely—between $2,292 and $14,552, depending on the damage.

The good news? With just a little bit of planning, you’ll be able to get your home in safe condition. Here is a winter checklist that will prepare your home for winter.

Start Early

Experts advise starting the process in autumn before the weather gets cold. It’s a lot more pleasant to trim trees, clean gutters and do other outside tasks when it’s still warm and not so cold that your fingers go numb.

Check Your Home Insurance Policy Ahead of the Season

Winter storms are known to cause severe property damage and headaches for owners, having caused $2.1 billion in insured losses in 2019, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Take the time to review your policy to see what’s covered and what’s not. For example, many home insurance policies will cover damage caused by wind or falling debris, but not flooding, which can actually happen in the winter if the temperature spikes. If you want coverage for flooding, you might have to purchase a separate policy. In addition, you might want liability coverage to protect yourself in the unexpected event that someone slips and falls on your property.

Finally, be sure to update necessary documents and take updated photos of your home as evidence in case you need to prove in your claim what your home looked like before the winter.

Trim Your Trees

Head outside and walk around your home, keeping an eye out for unwieldy or low tree limbs that could cause damage — if they fall during a winter storm, they could knock out power to your home or hit your car. Trimming trees during mild weather is far easier than trying to do it in below zero temperatures — and if you want to hire someone to help you, you’ll probably need to book an appointment early.

Multi-stemmed evergreens (such as yews, arborvitae and junipers) are typically the most prone to damage, according to The Morton Arboretum, a tree research nonprofit based in Illinois. If you don’t want to trim your trees, you can still protect them from limb breakage by tying branches together with strips of cloth or coated twine, the nonprofit says, then remove them in early spring when the season changes.

Winterize Your Pipes

Burst pipes are one of the most common and costly causes of property damage. In fact, they can often cause at least $5,000 to repair, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.

One of the most effective and affordable ways to keep water pipes from freezing when the temperature drops in winter is to cover them with pipe insulation. You can also use an electric space heater to keep pipes from freezing, which is especially effective in nooks and small spaces. Just be mindful of the risks that space heaters bring and take proper precautions if using one.

Don’t forget to drain your outside faucets. They will freeze over the winter, and, if they’re not emptied, they can develop leaks or even split the water line well inside your home and flood your basement, experts say. Here’s how to do it:

  • Shut off the water valve to your outside spigot.
  • Open the exterior spigot valve and drain the water out of the line.
  • Leave the water shut off to the faucet until spring arrives.

Lastly, if you plan on being away from home for an extended period of time, it makes sense to just shut off the water to your home and drain your pipes until you return.

Service Your Furnace

Your furnace is what’s going to make you feel warm and cozy on cold nights. Changing your furnace filters is a simple step that goes a long way. Doing so gives your furnace a little boost to work more efficiently, and the added benefit is that it can save you money.

When was the last time you had a furnace inspected? It’s a good idea to do it annually, especially before winter, so that your furnace is operating at optimal levels. A regular tune-up can extend the life of your furnace and also save you money.

Prepare Your Fireplace

Speaking of inspections, experts advise having your fireplace looked at once a year, especially if you use it often. They will look for cracks and make sure that your fireplace damper is working as it should. (Remember, debris can easily prevent it from opening and closing right.)

Make sure you have a 1-inch layer of ash in the fireplace, which the Chimney Safety Institute of America says can make it easier to build and maintain a fire. Be sure to store your wood far away from your home to avoid attracting pests, and at the end of the winter season remove the ashes from your fireplace.

Clean Out Your Gutters

Autumn leaves are pretty, but they can easily clog up your gutters. Cleaning out your gutters is crucial to ensuring that water doesn’t come inside your house. Using a leaf blower is one option to remove obstructions (and it’s faster than working by hand); another option is a standard garden hose. If you do the job manually, be sure to wear gloves and flush the gutters and downspout with water when you are done.

You’ll Thank Yourself When Spring Arrives

While preparing your home for winter might seem like a lot of work, it’s absolutely worth the effort. Start early so that you can get cozy in front of the fire when the snow begins to fall.

Betsy Vereckey is a writer and editor who has been published in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, USA Today, The Washington Post, Newsweek and New York Magazine. View Betsy’s portfolio.