After a long, warm summer and a beautiful autumn, we’re starting to see hints of the Canadian winter to come: the days are becoming crisper, the nights colder and longer. Time to make sure that your home is winter-ready, inside and out! Here is our checklist of the top 15 things to take care of before the snow flies.
Clear the gardens and yard.
Trim the trees and remove any dead branches and debris, as well as any branches that are hanging over, or scraping against, your roof or windows, because they can cause problems during severe bouts of weather, potentially damaging your home, car, or even yourself and others. Cut those branches back about a foot from the house. Hire a professional landscaping company to take care of this, if it’s a task you’re not ready to take on yourself.
Check and clean the gutters and downspouts.
Prevent ice dams by ensuring that your gutters and downspouts are in good shape and not clogged with dirt and plant debris. Installing gutter guards may help.
Have your roof inspected.
Hire someone to perform an inspection of your roof. This is a good way to catch any potential problems, before they become worse – and more expensive to fix!
Secure exterior handrails and stair treads.
Make sure that handrails are stable and stairs are safe to use during this snowy and icy time of year. To deal with slippery exterior steps, consider installing a non-slip exterior stair runner, to make trips up and down the stairs safer. While you’re at it, inspect your walkways and driveway for any areas starting to crack, and repair those, to prevent water getting in and freezing the surface, making it a slip-and-fall hazard.
Protect the inside of your home from the outside.
If you notice areas where the paint or stucco has become chipped/damaged, repaint (if it’s still warm enough) or repair those areas. And be sure to re-caulk, where needed, and install weather stripping and seals around your windows, doors, mail chutes – any opening that can allow cold air to seep into your home. This will ensure that you’ll stay warm and dry in your home all winter.
Check the functioning of your automatic garage door.
Make sure that the rubber seals between door panels, seals along the bottom of the door and around the frame, and all moving metal parts (hinges, cables, springs, rollers, etc.) are kept lubricated and that the pedestrian safety sensor is operational. And if you suspect that there’s any problem with the functioning of the garage door, call a professional to look into it, and have any safety issues dealt with.
Shut off your outdoor faucets for the season.
Disconnect the garden hose and let the water run out, if you haven’t already done so. Then put away the hose for the season. If your outdoor tap isn’t part of a frost-proof hose bib, turn off the interior valve that feeds it (typically located in the basement), then go outside and open the tap to drain. By draining all the water out of the line, you won’t have to worry about that pipe freezing and bursting from exposure to winter’s frigid temperatures.
Inspect the heating (HVAC) system.
Have an HVAC professional service your furnace/ boiler and check your chimney annually. In between services, remember to change the furnace filter, ideally every month, but at least every three months throughout the year.
Inspect the fireplace.
Whether you have a wood-burning or a gas fireplace in your home, be sure to have it, the flue, and the chimney inspected annually, and cleaned and repaired as needed, before you start using it this winter.
Adjust the humidifier.
If you turned your home humidifier off for the summer, it’s time to turn it on again – setting it to winter mode, between 30 and 40 percent humidity. (Turn it down if you notice excess humidity, damp walls, etc.) Make sure the water panel evaporator (the wire-mesh piece inside) is free of calcium residue left by hard water.
Protect the pipes.
You can protect against frozen pipes by insulating those that are most susceptible to freezing, like pipes that run along outside or uninsulated walls. In certain cases, install a heating coil. In severe cold weather, keeping a basement faucet (e.g. a bathroom or laundry room tap) open a little, so that a small but steady trickle of water empties into the sink, tub, or shower, will keep water moving within the plumbing system, helping to prevent freezing. You may also consider installing an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system. This will protect against increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can prevent them from bursting.
Protect yourself from drafts. After taking care of exterior caulking and sealing, tackle the places inside your home where cold air is coming in. Start by ensuring that the attic floor is properly insulated, and by placing weather stripping around the attic hatch. Another draft culprit is the space around your home’s electrical receptacles. Remove the wall plates from the receptacles and install insulating foam gaskets behind them. Finally, caulk/seal any gaps around the frames of your windows and doors.
Keep it cozy.
Set your thermostat to at least 18 degrees Celsius. If plumbing is located on exterior walls or if it is underused, lower interior temperatures can lead to frozen pipes, as temperatures in the plumbing may fall even lower.
Test your detectors.
Residential fires are more common in winter, so it is important that all of your smoke detectors work. Check them monthly and replace back-up batteries as needed. At the same time, check the status of your carbon monoxide detectors. If they aren’t wired into your electrical system, change the batteries as needed and test the alarms. Replace your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors before they’re 10 years old.
If you’re travelling…
If you plan to go away on vacation, arrange for a neighbour, friend, or family member to shovel your driveway, walkways, and sidewalk, to make it look like you’re home, and to ensure that your property is safe for anybody walking up to the house, like your letter carrier. That person should also do a walk-through of your home on a regular basis, to check for problems. Nobody wants to return home from a holiday to find that the furnace has been out for a week and that the pipes have frozen or burst. (It’s a good idea, too, to alert your insurance agent/broker that you’ll be away for a while.) Before you leave home, turn down your thermostat to 18 degrees Celsius, to save on energy while also providing enough heat to prevent pipes from freezing. If you’re going to be gone for a longer period of time, or for the whole winter, turn the water off completely, and consider having the plumbing system drained to keep pipes from freezing. Better yet, arrange for a house sitter to enjoy your home and take care of it while you are away.