11 Important Steps to Winterize Your Home

Below-freezing temperatures and winter storms can wreak havoc on your home without the proper preparation. Thankfully, it’s easy to winterize your home once you know the steps. Winterizing will protect your home from the harsh Minnesota winters.

As the seasons change, many people start thinking about winterizing. Getting ready for winter is important whether you are going to live in your permanent residence through the season or you are snowbirds leaving a house unoccupied for the winter. Learn everything you need to know about how to winterize your home in this comprehensive guide.

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What Does Winterization Mean?

Winterization means preparing your home, automobile, or trailer for winter weather. The goal of home winterization is to keep the house warm and protected from harsh winter climates. This includes protection from ice, snow, hail, and extreme temperatures.

The level to which you should winterize your homes depends on the climate where you live and the house’s ability to withstand. Because Minnesota gets consistent below-freezing temperatures in the winter, homes here require extra winterization steps than a house in, say, Alabama. In places with harsh winters, you should prep both the inside and outside of the home.

When To Winterize Your Home

Generally, people winterize their homes in the fall. The exact timeline will depend on where you live. People residing in colder parts of the US will likely need to winterize sooner than their southern counterparts. If you are leaving your home for the winter, just make sure it’s winterized before you leave.

11 Steps For Your Home Winterization Checklist

The easiest way to winterize a house is to make a checklist of all the steps you need to do. Organize the checklist based on the categories below. For each category, we have provided winter home tips for whether you are staying put all winter or heading south for a warmer season. Keep in mind that the list to winterize your home should be personalized to your home and the specific weather conditions where you live.

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Check and Clean the HVAC System

You will rely heavily on your furnace in the winter. Cleaning and maintaining it before you need it will help it function as efficiently as possible during the winter. If you don’t have experience working on HVAC systems, definitely call in a professional for this part of the winterization process. Certain tasks like changing an air filter are easy to do, but anything more complicated requires technical training.

Furnace or Heating System Maintenance

If you live in a place with harsh winters, it’s a good idea to schedule any heating system maintenance over the summer. Technicians tend to get busy as temperatures drop.

Also, consider investing in a smart thermostat that you can program automatically. This is an excellent option for people leaving a house vacant for the winter. Leave the thermostat at 55 degrees or higher to protect indoor plumbing and other systems.

Replace Air Filters

HVAC system air filters should be replaced every 30-90 days depending on the type of filter and the amount of use. Some filters can be cleaned and reused.

Check your furnace to see what size filter you need. After you install the new filter, set a reminder for the next replacement. The cleaner the air filter is, the more efficient your heating system will be.

Seal Drafts and Gaps

Drafts can come from anywhere in your home and let in unwanted cold air in the winter. They are a sign that a part of the house is not properly sealed. Check for gaps around doors, windows, and in the attic. Hold a lit candle near areas to check for drafts. Once you locate them, you can seal them. This step is critical to winterize your home and can not only keep you warm but help you save on your heating bill.

Materials needed:

  • Weatherstripping and/or caulk
  • Door sweeps or draft stoppers
  • Insulation

Check Doors and Windows

You can use weatherstripping around doors and windows. It’s a thin strip of material that covers the small gap between the door/window and its frame to prevent cold air from entering the home. You can also use caulk to seal siding, doors, and windows, but it requires a caulk gun tool.

Use Draft Stoppers and Door Sweeps

To prevent drafts when the door is closed, add a door sweep or draft stopper if there is a space between the bottom of your exterior door and the floor. For crafty types, draft stoppers can be made at home, and they are very easy to install.

Insulate Your Attic

The majority of heat in a home escapes through the attic. The more insulated your attic is, the better. You can add to or replace existing insulation. It’s a doable DIY project, but make sure to wear the proper protective equipment. There are several types of insulation to choose from.

Insulate Pipes

Frozen pipes are a common problem in the winter. Any hard freeze has the potential to damage your pipes. They can burst and leak water into your home causing even bigger problems. If you only winterize your home by doing one thing this year, winterize house plumbing. It’s extremely cheap and simple to do on your own, and it’s worth the effort.

Alternatively, for homes that are going to be vacant throughout winter, you can drain the pipes and other water sources such as the toilet bowl and water heater. Make sure all pipes are completely clear of water, then shut off the water supply to the home. Winterizing houses this way means you do not need to insulate pipes because they will remain dry throughout the winter.

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Insulate Exposed Water Pipes

Insulating exposed water pipes is an easy DIY winterization task. You can buy foam insulation at your local hardware store or use pool noodles. Slide the insulation around any exposed pipes and tape if needed to hold it together. As another option, you can apply heat tape to exposed pipes.

Check Outdoor Faucets and Hoses

If you leave your hose connected when the temperatures start to drop below 32 degrees, it may freeze to the faucet and be very difficult to remove. All outdoor hoses should be cleared of water and stored inside for the winter if possible. Check outdoor faucets to make sure they are not leaking or dripping at all. Turn off the water supply if needed.

Check Insulation

Insulation is vital to keeping your home climate-controlled all year long. Your entire house should be insulated. However, builders construct some homes with more insulation than others, and insulation can degrade over time. If you notice your utility bill going up, more insulation could help keep your home from losing heat.

Materials needed:

  • Insulation
  • Headlamp
  • Gloves

Look inside your walls and attic to see what type of insulation your home has and where there may be gaps. Check the R-value of the insulation used to see how energy-efficient it is. A higher R-value means better insulation.

Clean Gutters and Downspouts

In autumn, leaves fall in large amounts and clog up gutters. This can prevent water from draining, cause roof or siding damage, and increase the risk of leaks. It’s straightforward to clean gutters and downspouts yourself, but be cautious and wear proper footwear when working on a roof or ladder.

If it’s time to replace or upgrade your gutters, hire professionals. DIY gutter installation can be dangerous. Professionals can ensure your gutters will hold up to heavy rain and snow.

Materials needed:

  • Ladder
  • Broom
  • Gutter guards (optional)
  • Water hose

Remove Leaves and Debris

After the last leaves have fallen for the season, clean out the gutters so that rain and melting snow can drain properly in the winter. Use a sturdy ladder to reach the gutters. Depending on the type of roof you have, you may be able to reach the gutters by climbing on the roof. To prevent more debris from getting in your gutters, consider installing gutter guards. They could save you time and money in the long run.

Ensure Downspouts are Clear and Direct Water Away From the Foundation

Downspouts can get clogged with leaves as well. You can test the downspout by running water down it to see if it flows freely. If it’s clogged, try spraying water down it. If that doesn’t work, you may need a telescoping cleaning tool. Lastly, check the direction water is flowing out of the downspout, and make sure it drains away from the foundation.

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Inspect the Roof and Chimney

While winterizing your home, this is a great time to do an annual roof and chimney inspection. The time and complexity of winterizing a house, and completing this step depends on the size of your home and the condition of your roof and chimney.

Check Roof For Damage

Check the roof for signs of damage and repair them as needed. Strong winter winds can loosen roof shingles, and even a small leak can have detrimental effects, especially with freezing temperatures. The Minnesota Exteriors blog has more information about roof inspections before or after winter storms. If you live in a place where it hails, you should also check your home’s siding for hail damage.

Have Your Chimney Inspected and Cleaned

You should clean chimneys annually. Check to make sure the chimney passageways are free of debris and animal nests. Remove any old ashes from wood-burning fireplaces. For electric fireplaces, check the manual for maintenance recommendations.

Trim Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubbery might not be top of mind when thinking how to winterize your home. However, dead branches can fall down during winter storms and potentially damage your home or vehicle, or worse, injure someone. Trim any dead branches from trees and shrubs before the first winter storm of the year.

Keep in mind that evergreen trees can accumulate a lot of snow on their branches. This can weaken branches and cause them to break. Survey the tall trees outside your home to see if any branches should be removed for safety. Lastly, any potted plants and flowers should be brought inside when temperatures begin to drop below 45 degrees at night.

Test Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Furnaces release carbon monoxide, and any leak can be extremely dangerous. Carbon monoxide detectors are essential in the winter. Check all your home’s smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at least once a month. Replace batteries as needed.

For folks leaving a house unoccupied for winter, consider upgrading to smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. These digital detectors connect to your home’s Wi-Fi, so you can check them anytime from anywhere in the country via an app on your phone. You will also get notifications whenever a detector triggers.

Stock Up on Winter Supplies

An often last-minute thought when it’s time to winterize your home is stocking up on supplies. If there is a severe winter storm, you may be unable to leave your house for days. And, there will be no InstaCart or Uber Eats deliveries until road conditions are safe again. Therefore, you must stock up on necessary winter supplies before you need them.

Supplies needed:

  • Ice melt, sand, or salt
  • Adequate firewood supply
  • Non-perishable food
  • Bottled water
  • Extra pet food
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra generator fuel

Keep enough extra food and water in the house for each person and pet to have enough to last at least three days. There should be at least one gallon of water per person/pet, per day.

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Check and Service Generators

One of the best tips to winterize your home is to purchase a generator. You can get one that runs on propane, gas, or both. A generator will ensure your heating system remains on even if the power goes out in a winter storm.

Already have a generator? Most generators need to be maintained at least once a year. This involves:

  • Changing the air filter
  • Changing the spark plugs
  • Changing the oil

You may be able to DIY these steps to winterize houses but don’t be afraid to call in a professional if needed. Changing generator oil can be a messy job.

Winterize Your Vehicle

A place where people winterize homes may have extreme enough temperatures that vehicles should also be winterized. Keep snow chains in your car starting in the fall, and stay on top of vehicle maintenance. Park in a heated garage when possible.

If you plan to store a vehicle long-term during the winter in Minnesota, remove the battery and store that in a heated building. Leave the car with a full tank of gas and an added fuel stabilizer, and get an oil change right before storing it.

Check Tires and Fluid Levels

Tire pressure levels fluctuate with temperature changes. As temperatures drop, your tires will lose some pressure. Get them checked regularly as the seasons change and anytime you haven’t used your car for a while. Consider switching to winter tires if you drive a lot in wintery conditions.

Frequently check your car’s fluid levels in the winter as well. Use windshield wiper fluid specifically formulated for cold weather, so it doesn’t freeze. Always keep your gas tank above half in case you need to run your car for warmth in an emergency.

Keep an Emergency Kit

In the winter, keep the following items in your car in case it breaks down and you need to sleep in it overnight:

  • Drinking water
  • Emergency blankets
  • Ice scraper
  • Jumper cables
  • First aid kit
  • Extra antifreeze

Why Winterization Is Important

A winterized house will be safer and more comfortable to live in during cold months. Winterization is not just for homeowners. It can help you whether you are renting an apartment or living in a mobile home as well. Cars should also be winterized in places with ice, snow, and far below-freezing temperatures.

Benefits of home winterization:

  • Prevents damage: Freezing temperatures, snow, and ice can damage homes without the proper protection.
  • More comfortable: Winterizing a home is also about keeping it dry and warm inside no matter the conditions outside.
  • Reduces energy costs: When your home is winterized, less cold air will seep in, and less warm air will seep out. This means your furnace does not have to work as hard.
  • More sustainable: Using less energy to heat your home helps conserve resources.

Winterize your home with a FREE, No-Risk Inspection and Estimate From Minnesota Exteriors

Does winterizing your home seem too overwhelming or are you short on time? Let Minnesota Exteriors, Inc. (MEI) do the hard work for you. MEI’s expertise can help to keep your home safe through the harsh winter.

Our residential contractors specialize in roofing, siding, gutter replacement, and insulation.. Contact us today to schedule your free no-risk home inspection, and enjoy warmth and peace of mind throughout the winter knowing your home is protected.