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The Ultimate Winter Home Maintenance Checklist

Written by JD Esajian

Fall is here, and that means one thing: winter is right around the corner. It won’t be long before inclement weather grips the nation, and your house is no exception.  Not surprisingly, the impending drop in temperature means it’s time to work on that good, old winter home maintenance checklist.

Coming up with a winter home maintenance checklist does far more than lower your utility bill — which it does — and give you the confidence to work on some of those winter home improvement projects that have been taking up space on your to-do list. But it also protects your biggest investment (your home) from the perils of wind, snow and freezing temperatures.

Here are five key elements of your winter maintenance checklist to ensure your abode is ready to do battle against the elements, and keep you warm and toasty inside.

Your Guide to Ultimate Winter Home Maintenance

Lower your utility bill

Prepare The Furnace

Proper furnace maintenance is vitally important for winterizing a home. Having a professional come in at least once a year to check the system can prevent many problems, including issues with the pilot light or electric ignition.

HVAC technicians can also check the duct system of a property. Many households lose a great deal of heat through leaks in the ductwork, and simple repairs to those areas can make the furnace work more efficiently while saving homeowners a significant amount of money on winter energy bills.

The furnace filter should also be changed at the beginning of the winter season, as well as regularly throughout the winter and early spring. A clogged (or non-functioning) filter greatly reduces furnace efficiency, which can make heating bills sky-rocket.

Fix The Leaks

Most homes, particularly older ones, have a multitude of air leaks (most of which homeowners have no idea exist). While sealing up a home too tightly isn’t good for air quality, plugging most leaks will help keep the home comfortable and save on energy bills.

Homeowners can block the air under doors by using rolled-up rugs or towels, as well as purchasing items made especially for this task, like a draft snake. Using plastic on drafty windows is another simple remedy that is one DIY job almost anyone can handle.

For added protection, homeowners should place a rolled-up towel or rug between the interior window and the storm window when there is a draft. Rolled tightly enough, these items won’t be visible and will help keep out the cold winter winds.

Cracks in the walls and flooring are also energy suckers, but fixing these issues can easily help you lower your utility bill. Caulking smaller cracks can be done quickly and efficiently, however, larger areas may require patching the drywall. For those who are not particular handy, hiring a local contractor to do the job in the late fall can be a good idea. Fixing these leaks has an added benefit, as mice and other rodents will have a harder time getting inside to make an unhealthy mess.

Winterizing The Plumbing

Many homeowners don’t take the time and effort to properly insulate the plumbing of their properties. Which is a shame, since a poorly insulated water heater can add to a home’s energy bills. Newer water heaters probably have enough insulation built in to prevent this problem, but older models often lack enough protection. Using an insulating blanket on older models will help increase efficiency and reduce energy bills.

For those who suffer through frigid temperatures each year, insulating the water and sewer pipes may also be necessary to keep them from freezing. Pipes in areas that are not heated are vulnerable to freezing, as are exposed pipes. DIYers can use wrap-on insulation or a type of “slip on” foam.

Insulating sleeves are also available for purchase. Homeowners can do the insulating themselves, or they can contact their local plumber or contractor to take care of the job. Using heat tape is also a possibility, but can be dangerous if not applied and used correctly, and should generally be left to the professionals.

Manage The Thermostat

Though not as mission-critical as other areas of winter home maintenance, purchasing a programmable thermostat can keep the temperature of your house at an optimal level day and night, which can save you big money down the line.

The temperature can be set at a lower level during the workweek and set to rise approximately thirty minutes before people arrive home each evening (unless you’ve got pets, in which case you may need to re-think this strategy). Also, homeowners can save additional money by setting the thermostat for a lower temperature overnight, and lowering the temperature may also help people in the house sleep better.

Preparing The Septic Tank

Homes that are not on a municipal sewage system need to have their septic tanks prepared for winter. Loose snow can actually as an adequate insulator, but for those in an area with little snow — but lots of cold — a septic tank blanket is a good investment. However, compact snow or soil actually contributes to a septic tank freezing and needs to be loosened, carefully, using a shovel or rake.

Another good option is to use plants as a “cover” for your septic tank, which can keep your tank working correctly through the worst of the cold. Homeowners should do their due diligence to discover which plants are best for this purpose in their particular area. The University of Minnesota has a good resource on the subject of landscaping septic systems which is worth a look.)

A yearly inspection of your unit by a septic tank expert is also a good idea. If the system has leaks, the drain field can become soaked and freeze, causing a sewage catastrophe. The wastewater can back up into the basement causing extensive damage. Though not likely, it can be devastating if you’re one of the unlucky few to encounter such a situation.

“The Best Offense is a Good Defense”

The very things that make winter a special and heartwarming time of year — shorter days, driving snow, nippy temperatures — can also put that most valuable of investments, your home, at risk.

But with a bit of foresight, and some careful winter home maintenance planning, you can ensure you spend your time, not worrying about the pipes or freezing or the unknown home leaks, and instead enjoy the benefits of the winter time.