How to Winterize Your Home: A Complete Checklist

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

As the temperatures start to drop and the leaves begin to fall, it’s time to start thinking about winterizing your home. From sealing up cracks and gaps to insulating your pipes, there are several things you can do to prepare your home for the cold months ahead. To make this daunting task as easy as possible for you, we’ve put together a few tips for winterizing your home. Let’s dive in!

Is it important to winterize your house?

Getting your home winter-ready before the cold weather hits may seem unnecessary, but it can help to keep it safe and secure. In the long run, properly winterizing your home can save you a lot of money on unexpected repairs. For example, you need to know what to do to stop your pipes from freezing and bursting, which could cause significant water damage in your home.

Knowing how to winterize your home is especially important when you plan to leave it empty during the winter months — if you’re lucky enough to travel somewhere warmer! This includes turning off the water and draining your water system to avoid damage while you’re away, and setting the thermostat in your house at the right temperature — no lower than 60 F (15 C). Since you’re not going to be there to make sure everything runs smoothly, ask a friend or neighbor to check your house every now and then to see that it’s warm enough.

10 Practical tips for winterizing your home

While you're stocking up on warm sweaters and cozy blankets in preparation for the colder weather, it’s also worth looking into how to winterize your home. By taking a few simple steps now, you can prevent costly repairs later and keep your family warm and comfortable all winter long.

Here’s a complete list of everything you need to do to winterize your house, from checking your furnace to insulating your windows. Find out how to be prepared for whatever winter throws your way.

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1. Check your heating system

This is one of the most important steps in preparing your home for colder weather. After all, your heating system is what will keep you warm during winter.

  • Clean the air filters in your heating system. It can improve air quality while lowering energy bills by up to 15 percent.
  • Make sure there’s no furniture in front of the vents and radiators. It can block the airflow and prevent your home from heating up evenly.
  • Test your thermostat. Turn it up and see if it heats your home to the set temperature.
  • Schedule a heating system maintenance. Professional technicians can detect and fix any problems before the cold hits.

And don’t forget to flush out your water heater. Sediment that accumulates in it over time can reduce its efficiency. To make sure your water heater works well, clear the water through the drain valve to get rid of any particles and sediment.

2. Insulate your windows and doors

Although small cracks around your door or window may not seem like a big problem, they can result in drafts and a lot of wasted money on your energy bill — those tiny air leaks can add up to around 400 USD a year according to the US Department of Energy.

Door hinges, under-door spaces, and power outlets are also potential sources of drafts in winter. If you want to find out where the cold air can sneak into your home, take a lighted candle or incense stick and slowly pass it around the doors and windows. If there’s even the slightest air leak, the flame or smoke stream will start to dance.

A man insulating windows as one of the steps to winterizing your home

Seal any cracks or gaps around your doors and windows to keep out the cold air. Remove the old caulk, clean the surface, and apply a high-quality acrylic-latex caulk or expanding foam sealant. You can also add an extra layer of protection to your windows by installing storm windows. They can shield you from the cold and improve the energy efficiency of your home.

If you see a big gap beneath your door, you can either raise the threshold or install a door sweep.

3. Clean the gutters

This is one of the easiest ways to prevent water damage to your home. Leaves and debris can clog up your gutters and downspouts, which can cause water to back up and leak into your home.

Making sure water can flow freely through your gutters can prevent icicles and ice dams from forming later.

To clean the gutter, carefully climb onto the roof with the tool of your choice — a spatula, broom, or gloves work well — and remove any debris. If you have gutters that are difficult to reach, you can install gutter guards to help keep them clear: they fit over the top of your gutters and allow water to flow through while keeping leaves and other debris out.

4. Protect your pipes

Frozen pipes are one of the most common problems in winter. Since water expands when it freezes, it can damage the pipes that are exposed to the cold, such as those in your basement, attic, or garage. So insulating them with foam rubber or fiberglass sleeves is an essential step in winterizing your home. Check for blockages too — a clogged pipe is more prone to cracking in cold temperatures because of pressure buildup.

5. Get your chimney professionally cleaned

If you have a fireplace, you need to make sure everything is in order before spending many cozy evenings in front of the fire. Check the brickwork in your fireplace for signs of wear and see if the damper opens and closes easily. Empty the ashes and other debris from the clean-out door.

It’s also important to clean your chimney before the colder months. Ash and soot build-up can block the chimney, causing dangerous gasses to back up into your home. You can clean it with a chimney sweep brush that you can buy in most hardware stores, but it’s best to hire a professional for proper cleaning and checkup. They can spot the problems you may miss and make sure your fireplace is safe to use so that you can just sit back and enjoy the warmth.

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6. Test your smoke detectors

Working smoke detectors are your first line of defense against house fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association, almost three out of five fire deaths happen in homes without smoke alarms or with non-functional smoke alarms.

Test your smoke detectors at least once a month to keep your home and your family safe. To do so, press the test button for a few seconds. If it works properly, your smoke detector alarm should be loud. If it’s weak or doesn’t make a sound at all, you may need to replace the battery or the smoke alarm itself.

Consider installing a carbon monoxide detector too — carbon monoxide is extremely dangerous, especially in small, enclosed spaces like kitchens or garages. It’s a particularly crucial step for those who use gas heaters.

7. Change your furnace filter

Your furnace filters keep dirt and dust out of your heating system. A dirty filter can restrict airflow and reduce the efficiency of your heating system, and in some cases may even cause a fire.

How often you need to change your filters depends on their type, but a good rule of thumb is to switch it up somewhere between every 2–3 months.

Consider getting a new furnace too, if your current one is outdated. Old furnaces can use up to 50 percent more energy than new ones and don't heat your house as effectively, so updating your furnace can save you money in the long run.

8. Winterize your roof and insulate your attic

A full roof inspection — as long as it is safe to do, of course — should be part of your home winterization process. If there are any leaks in it, the water can seep into the structure of your house and cause extensive damage.

Another important step in winterizing your house is insulating your attic. This area is often overlooked, but it can help keep your home warm when the temperatures drop. As you may know, hot air rises, so all of the heat from your heating unit can easily escape through the uninsulated attic. Plus, it can make it easier for the cold air to get into your home.

9. Tend to your garden and yard

Now it’s time to get your garden winter-ready. Keep your trees trimmed — large branches that grow toward your house can be dangerous in high winds. Ice and snow build-up can also weigh them down and make them fall on your roof or car, so it’s best to tidy them up as a preventative measure.

A person cleaning the dead leaves to to get the garden winter-ready

Remove any dead branches, leaves, and other debris from your yard. It’ll be so much easier to clean the snow from your driveway and yard if there’s nothing underneath it.

Detach your garden hose and put it away for the winter. If you leave it on, the water in it may freeze and burst the hose or even damage the pipes.

10. Stock up on de-icing products

Prepare bags of sand and ice-melting products in advance. The temperature may drop suddenly, especially at night, so you may wake up to slippery stairs and walkways. Keep a stash of some de-icing products near your door and consider getting an ice scraper to prevent any slips and falls.

If possible, buy the best snow shovel you can afford. The ergonomic design and high-quality materials can save your back while making the job of clearing the snow easier.

In conclusion

Winterizing your home doesn’t have to be a daunting task: just take it one step at a time using our helpful checklist as a guide. By taking some time to prepare your home for winter before the cold weather arrives, you can avoid big problems — and costs — later on down the road. Seal your windows, clean your gutters, and have your heating system serviced to ensure your winter is trouble-free.

January 25, 2023