As we prepare for colder weather, your thoughts might turn to pumpkin spice lattes and cozy sweaters. But there's another winter essential that should at the forefront of your mind: home maintenance. It may not be as much fun as sipping that hot drink, hanging holiday decorations, or curling up in front of the fireplace with a good book, but winter-proofing your home isn't something you can afford to skip, unless you want to waste even more time and money later on bills and repairs. So it's time to make a list, check it twice, and get your home in good shape to survive this winter.
If there's one thing that definitely needs to be working properly over winter, it's your heating system. To make sure your radiators are operating at their most efficient, you should bleed them every year by turning the radiator up to the maximum temperature for a few minutes. Wait for it to cool down, then place a tray below the bleed valve, open it up, and let it drip. Other types of maintenance depend on your heating system — boiler systems should be cleaned once a year, while gas systems should be cleaned every three years. PVC vent pipes in high-efficiency heating systems need to be regularly cleared of snow and debris.
Clogged gutters can leak, overflow, and even break, which means that properly cleaning them is an unpleasant but essential task that could potentially save you significant property damage. Getting rid of any dirt of leaves that have accumulated over the fall can ensure healthy drainage and prevent ice buildup over the winter. To take it a step further, run some water from a hose along the gutter to check for any cracks or leaks.
Other than costly and inefficient heating systems, the number one thing that might cause a bigger-than-expected heating bill over the winter is a poorly sealed door or window, so check for any potential drafts before cranking up the thermostat. Start by inspecting your frames carefully for any gaps — small ones can be sealed with caulk or weatherstripping, while larger gaps might mean having to replace the door or window entirely.
We all know that ice expands, so guess what happens when your pipes freeze? Luckily, frozen pipes are as easy to prevent as they are costly to repair. Pipe insulation is a must-have, and it's surprisingly affordable. Other simple measures you can take to avoid your pipes freezing over include keeping the heating running at no lower than 55° and letting your faucets drip if your pipes don't have a shut-off valve.
This is another job that should be done every year, ideally by a professional. Clogged chimneys are not only a fire risk, but they can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning; this is one job you don't want to skip. Have a chimney sweep clean your chimney and inspect your fireplace, making sure your flue is functional so it doesn't cause drafts when not in use.
Speaking of fires and carbon monoxide poisoning, this is a great time to make sure you've checked the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. This should be done every month, but it's especially important in winter — heating is the second most common cause of fires in homes, so make sure you're safe as well as warm this winter.
Dryers pose another significant fire risk, especially in winter, when they're likely to get used more frequently. To keep your dryer operating at peak performance, make sure you clean the lint filter regularly — every time, ideally — and check your vent and exhaust exits every few months. If necessary, clean or replace your dryer hose to prevent clogging.
This is probably the single easiest thing you can do to save money on heating over the winter. If you didn't already know, most ceiling fans have a reverse switch — instead of cooling a room, running the fan in reverse helps push warm air back down. Check to see if the switch for your fan is easily accessible; if you can't see it, it may be hidden somewhere inside the fan.
This is another easy task that can be done quickly and cheaply. Protect your floors from snow, ice, mud, and road salt by making sure you have indoor and outdoor floor mats. Keep a shoe rack or waterproof tray nearby for storing wet shoes and boots, as well as a brush or boot scraper within easy reach outside to get rid of as much excess snow as you can. If possible, set up a space in your mudroom or entryway to dry other wet things, like coats, hats, and gloves, to prevent water from getting tracked all through the house and to make sure they're ready to wear the next time you need them.
Finally, be prepared for even the best-laid plans to go awry. Emergencies happen, so make sure you're prepared for the worst-case scenario. That might mean something as major as keeping a generator handy in case of power outages, or as simple as keeping a few emergency supplies on hand. Essential components of any storm preparedness kit include a flashlight and extra batteries, a basic survival or first aid kit, bottled water, and some non-perishable food.