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How to Winterize Your Home to Keep it Warm and Safe

Get prepared now so you won't have to deal with emergencies later.

Before you know it, Old Man Winter will be blowing harsh, freezing air around. And since it’s not uncommon for temperatures to drop precipitously in the course of a few hours, it’s best not to wait until the last minute to prepare your home for winter. While you may not be ready to think about cold weather just yet, learning how to winterize your home now can save you from some frigid emergencies in the future. So, read on to learn everything you should do to get your home ready for winter from the inside out.

Related: 10 Things to Get Rid of Before Winter Hits

<p>Aarre Rinne/Getty Images</p>

Aarre Rinne/Getty Images

How to Winterize Your Home From the Inside

Check your attic insulation

So, how important is attic insulation? Think of how experts recommend wearing breathable, thermal layers underneath your winter jacket. According to Michael DiMartino, SVP of project services at Power Home Remodeling, the same principle applies to your house. Homeowners tend to focus on the outside when they’re preparing for a cold winter season (and we have tips for your home exteriors below), but he believes the most effective way to ensure your house is winter-ready is to prepare it from the inside out.

As an example, you’re likely going to blast your home’s heat source in the winter, but your home should be prepared to retain the hot air. “Before it gets too cold, ensure you have proper insulation in your attic, since this helps improve the airflow throughout your entire home and prevents all of that cozy warm air from escaping to the outside,” DiMartino says.

“When choosing proper insulation, be on the lookout for the ‘R-value’—the higher the R-value of your insulation, the more energy-efficient your insulation is,” he explains. “The recommended R value for your home varies from region to region, but it's typically R-13 to R-23 for exterior walls, while R-30, R-38 & R-49 are common for attic and ceiling spaces.” Sticking within this range can help your home stay warmer during the day and also save you money. However, unless you’re familiar with attic insulation, you might want to seek out a professional for this task.

Check for air gaps and seal them

Hot air doesn’t only escape through the attic. If your home isn’t properly sealed, it could also leak out from other areas as well. “Before winter begins, examine all fenestrations—windows or doors—and their surrounding areas for small cracks or gaps where exterior sunlight peeks through,” DiMartino says. If you find any of these gaps, it’s an indication that air can pass through the space, so you’ll need to seal the openings.

“Make sure to weatherstrip, or seal, any problem areas to combat against air transference or potential leaks," DiMartino says, adding that this is an easy DIY project. In addition, he says it can prevent critters from crawling into your home as well. There may already be sealant around your windows and doors. However, DiMartino says there’s a way to see if you need to apply more. “Hold a lit candle up to an area where you detect air transference, and pay attention to see if the flame moves or not; if it moves, it could be an indication that air leakage is occurring.

Check behind your dryer and stove as well for air leaks. “These are common spots for cracks or gaps to form, and weather-stripping or caulk are easy fixes to seal a problem area.”

Another option is to schedule a building pressurization test to be completed by a professional. “This individual will reduce the pressure inside a home, to narrow the focus of where air leaks might be,” DiMartino says. “This is typically done with a blower door, a professional-grade fan that sucks the air out of your house.” And with your windows, doors, chimneys, skylights and other connecting areas to the exterior closed, he says it’s a lot easier to pinpoint where air is leaking.

Inspect and clean your dryer vents

You should clean your dryer vents on a routine basis, but they should certainly be inspected and cleaned as part of the winterization process. “As temperatures drop, we are using more blankets and heavier clothing, which will increase the usage of the dryer,” says Mike Bidwell, CEO of Neighborly. If the dryer vent becomes clogged with lint, dust, and debris, this will negatively affect airflow and cause the dryer to work harder. “Also, make sure you secure your dryer vents and air intakes to prevent unwanted critters and animals from making your home their new home,” Bidwell adds.

Test your smoke detectors

Your smoke detectors should be checked at least twice a year. And one of those times should occur before the winter season. “During the cold winter months, we’re cranking up our heat and space heaters, celebrating the holidays with extra lights and decorations, and cooking for the family,” DiMartino says. In fact, cooking and heating equipment account for most house fires. “One of the easiest and quickest steps to prepare for a stress-free season is to check your smoke detectors early on, replace their batteries, and make sure they’re working properly,” he says.

Replace your systems’ HVAC filters

Another quick and easy winterization item to check off your list is replacing your HVAC filters. “Before your furnace kicks into high gear, install a new HVAC filter so that airflow is not obstructed by any lint or dust build up and can run as efficiently as possible,” Bidwell says. This can keep you more comfortable and help to keep your bill down as well.

Insulate your pipes

A burst pipe can be a nightmare, spewing water all over the place, and can also lead to an expensive repair bill. “Not all pipes are insulated or equipped to handle frigid temperatures, and bursting pipes can be a major concern during winter months,” DiMartino warns.  “However, it’s easy to add foam insulation around your pipes — especially those on your exterior walls — to ensure the water flowing through them does not freeze and allow pressure to build up.”

Lay down rugs

The right rug can transform your space aesthetically, and it can serve another function as well: energy efficiency. “A rug adds an extra layer of insulation to a room, traps cold air underneath, and creates a cozy resting place for your feet,” explains DiMartino. And he says the larger the area rug, the less cold those bare floors will be.

Install window treatments

If you like bare windows, you might want to reconsider your choices as we head into winter. “When new windows aren’t an option, adding curtains or drapes will help to preserve heat,” DiMartino says. You’ll want to keep them open during the day to allow sunlight to heat your rooms. “But by closing the curtains at night, your home retains its warmth since the window treatments act as a buffer to keep out the cold air; and the thicker the curtain, the more insulation it’s providing,” he adds.

How to Winterize Your Home From the Outside

Clean your gutters

It’s not a fun project, but cleaning your gutters is an important project to tackle before winter. “Gutters are important for diverting water away from your home so it doesn’t collect and leak inside,” DiMartino says. He recommends clearing out leaves, sticks, and other debris that has accumulated over summer and fall months. (And even if you have gutter guards, DiMartino says you’ll still need to give your gutters a thorough clean.) “Depending on your comfortability on a ladder, or how high your gutters might be, it’s always the safer option to call in a professional or a handyman for this task.”

Drain and shut off water sources

It’s also a good idea to check all of your exterior water sources. “I recommend winterizing outdoor irrigation systems, drain and shut off outdoor water sources, and disconnect and store garden hoses to prevent freezing and damage,” advises Bidwell.  “Proper draining and shutting off of outdoor water sources will reduce the risk of pipes bursting when temperatures drop to freezing levels.” In addition, if you drain and store your hoses away, he says this will ensure they last as long as they should and remain functional.

Swap for energy efficient windows

Homes can have a lot of windows, and they tend to be the largest source of air infiltration. “This is especially true of older windows—which are typically made of wood, with a single pane of glass—although some homes also have storm windows, which are an additional barrier that helps with energy costs.”

More modern homes may have older builder-grade window models, or, DiMartino says, they might suffer from seal failure. “Upgrading to energy-efficient windows can keep heat inside during winter months,” he explains. “Oftentimes, [energy-efficient windows] are made of synthetic materials like vinyl, with two to three panes of glass and argon gas to boost energy efficiency.”

A reputable company can help you choose the right windows for your needs—and you can even get custom-built windows if you prefer.

Related: Home Tech Upgrades That Can Save Money and Make Your Home More Efficient

Insulate your garage door

If you have a garage, Bidwell says you should consider insulating your garage door. “It can help you save on electricity and gas bills, especially if your garage is attached to your home,” he says. “An insulated garage provides the added benefit of creating extra space for a potential home gym or office.”

Winterize air conditioning units

If you have window AC units, remove and store them in a dry location. “The main reason to remove window units is that they will create drafts. “Window units do not have tight seals around them, and when cold weather arrives, it can come in around the window unit and side flaps, quickly cooling a room and making it hard to maintain a warm temperature,” Bidwell explains. Depending on the region, he recommends removing window units around mid to late September.  This is something homeowners should be able to do themselves—although it may require two sets of hands.

Check your roof/chimney

Since your roof protects everything underneath, before you head into winter, you’ll want to get it checked out by a professional. “You want a full roof inspection, including checking the age of your roof, if materials are compromised or outdated—like curling or buckling shingles—and identifying any roof stains,” DiMartino advises. “Flat, three-tab shingles might mean your roof is older or outdated, whereas new roof replacements use architectural shingles.”

But it’s not just roof shingles that you should consider. The roof system itself should be in good shape. “A proper roof system should include things like ice and water shields, drip edges, ridge and intake vents, and a vapor barrier that is breathable—not felt paper,” DiMartino adds.

In addition, he recommends getting professionals to inspect chimneys for any compromised masonry or areas that need to be repointed.

Stock up on the right tools and materials

The final winterization tip is related to your supplies. Make sure you have everything that you need to carry you through the winter. You may be thinking, “Someday, I need to get another shovel or some de-icing salt.” However, you should consider stocking on the items you need now, so you won't be met with long lines and empty shelves. “Before winter hits, make sure you’re equipped with the right tools and materials to take care of your home’s exterior,” DiMartino advises. “This includes taking stock of shovels, de-icing salt for steps and driveways, snow roof rakes, ice scrapers, soft bristle brushes and more.”

Related: 7 Things You Should Clean Before Winter Hits

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