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The Most Comprehensive Winter Home Maintenance Checklist

If you live in a state with harsh winters like Ohio, you’ll want to do all you can to ensure you can live comfortably and safely once the cold and snow arrive. If you’re looking for advice on how to prepare your home for the winter elements, look no further than this comprehensive list of winter maintenance tips. 

Why Do I Need to Prepare My Home for Winter?

In most places in the U.S., winter brings with it freezing temperatures, and in Northern states like Ohio, abundant snowfall, as well. Preparing for this harsh season could help protect your home during the winter and avoid various situations, ranging from minor annoyances like increased utility bills to more serious issues like burst pipes. To save yourself major hassles and potentially costly repairs, it’s a good idea to have a winter weather checklist to make sure your home is prepared for winter. 

When Should I Prepare My Home for Winter? 

Don’t wait until the beginning of winter to start winterizing your home — start in the fall, preferably earlier in the season than later. From inspecting your pipes and heating to cleaning your gutters and storing your tools, you’ll want to get started on your winter home maintenance checklist sooner rather than later. You’ll catch any concerns while the weather is still mild enough to comfortably do so.

Fall and Winter Home Maintenance Checklist

Create your winter weather checklist with these tips:

Make Sure Your Heating System Is Working

Heating systems last an average of 12 to 15 years, but some can fail after 10 years, whereas others are still kicking after 20. This wide variation is largely due to how well they’re maintained. 

Before winter arrives, take the time to have your HVAC system inspected by a professional. Have the technicians inspect your system and ensure your heat will work when you need it. If your HVAC system has a problem, it’s better to find out in the fall than on a cold winter day.

Get Ahead of Ice Dams

Ice dams — which many Ohio residents are all too familiar with — happen after snow melts and freezes near the edge of the roof. This only happens when part of the roof warms above 32 degrees Fahrenheit while the edge of your roof stays below freezing. This situation often results when an attic is warm. 

In the majority of houses, heat makes its way through ceilings into attics, warming the roofs directly above it. Even though the air outside is below freezing, the snow over the warm section of the roof will melt. When this melted snow comes in contact with the colder edge of the roof, which isn’t warmed by the attic, it freezes there. This creates a rim of ice, which tends to grow and trap water behind it, and a full-fledged ice dam results. 

As removing an ice dam can be quite a hassle, it’s best to prevent them from forming, which you can do simply by keeping your roof and attic cold. Cold roofs accumulate thick layers of snow. If the roof is warmer, however, the snow will start to melt, which will be evident by the clear spots on the roof and perhaps even icicles hanging off the eaves. 

To make sure your roof stays cold, remember to do these three things: 

  • Close up your attic bypasses: To prevent air leaks through gaps, cracks or access hatches, you will have to go to your attic and plug up these leaks using caulk, foam and perhaps other methods, as well. To access the leaks, you will have to rake or pull back insulation. If you feel comfortable taking on this project, make sure you wear a dust mask, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt to minimize skin irritation. 
  • Measure attic insulation level: While in your attic, see how deep your attic insulation is. We recommend upgrading your attic insulation to an R-value of around R-49 to R-60. Building codes require a 10- to 12-inch depth of cellulose or 14- to 17-inch depth of fiberglass. If you have fewer than eight inches and have experience ice dam issues before, add more insulation. 
  • Install soffit and roof vents: Ventilation in the attic sucks in cold air from the outside and pushes warmer air out, which in effect cools the attic and the roof. Adding these vents is highly effective when it comes to cooling your attic. 

Check for Frozen Pipes

As the temperatures go down, your pipes may freeze. Because the water in pipes can expand as they freeze and contract as it thaws, this can result in the pipes bursting — and burst pipes mean flooding, water damage and pricey repairs. Burst pipes are definitely something you want to prevent, not repair. 

Luckily, frozen pipes can be avoided by following some basic winter plumbing tips. While some of these should be left to a professional, others are simple DIY tasks:

  • Keep the garage door shut: Garage doors are one of the coldest parts of a house and generally have little insulation. One way to help prevent your pipes from freezing is keeping your garage door shut when the weather is cold. This is especially important if your garage has water supply lines. Keeping your garage door shut also preserves the heat in your house, which can lower your utility bills.
  • Insulate your pipes: Insulating your pipes won’t just prevent them from freezing — it can also lower your energy bills and keep your hot water warm, so you won’t have to wait as long for hot water. Pipes in basements, crawlspace, garages and along exterior walls will need additional insulation, as they are more likely to freeze. If you plan to keep your home’s interior cool, keep in mind that interior pipes generally have little insulation.
  • Let your faucet drip: Many people are familiar with this method for preventing frozen pipes, but it’s important to understand how it works — why you may think that flowing water won’t freeze, it still can. What this constant drip does is relieve the pressure caused by ice blockages. It is this pressure buildup that causes bursts and leaks.  
  • Contact a professional: To ensure frozen pipes won’t be an issue with your home, work with a professional. Have the technician inspect all the pipes in your home and install additional insulation wherever necessary. They can also advise you on how warm your house should be to prevent your pipes from freezing. 

Properly Store Your Seasonal Tools

When preparing your home for winter, you should also make sure all seasonal tools, including garden shovels, pruning shears and rakes, are stored in a garage or other place that is away from the elements. Here are some tips for storing your tools properly: 

  • Install wall-mounted shelves: This is one of the simplest ideas for storing tools in your garage. Shelves are inexpensive, easy to set up and are a great way to maximize space in your garage. 
  • Stack bins vertically: This is another way to maximize floor space. To easily access bins on the bottom, consider building storage towers.  
  • Stack more on walls: If you’re only installing brackets, hooks and other hardware on studs, you’re limiting your wall storage opportunities. The best strategy is to install a layer of 3/4-inch plywood over bare studs or drywall. This way, you will have a fastening surface that is continuous, allowing you to mount storage hardware easily and arrange your items in a way that is more efficient. 

Clean the Fall Foliage and Gunk out of Your Gutters 

Once the trees have finished shedding their leaves, you should clean your gutters. When leaves and other debris accumulate in gutters, they overflow, and when this happens, water will start running down the side of your home, causing your exterior to deteriorate prematurely. It can also cause your foundation to deteriorate and water to get into your basement, which leads all sorts of issues. 

If you feel at all uneasy about the idea of cleaning your gutters, leave the task to a professional. If you are comfortable with this task, here are some tips on how to clean your gutters: 

  • Use a dependable ladder: The ladder you use should be high-quality, sturdy and extendable. Make sure the ladder is on a sturdy surface before climbing up, and make sure it’s not on top of any landscaping rocks, which can easily shift. A ladder stabilizer is a good item to use, both for your safety and for preventing the gutters from being damaged. 
  • Get a helper: We also recommend that you have a helper, just in case you need help with the ladder or happen to drop something.
  • Dress appropriately: Cleaning gutters is a messy job, so make sure to wear work pants, rubber gloves and a long-sleeved shirt. 
  • Use a small plastic scoop: This best way to remove funk from your gutters is with a small plastic scoop, which you can easily find at a hardware store. Alternatively, you can use an old plastic kitchen spatula or a child’s sandbox shovel. 
  • Use a tarp to collect the gunk: We also recommend spreading a tarp under where you’re working, which will collect all the gunk from the gutters and protect your landscaping and lawn. 
  • Flush the gutters and downspouts: Use a garden hose to flush your gutters and downspouts once you’re finished cleaning them out. This will clean out any remaining debris and show you whether you’ve had any leaks. 

Trim Your Trees and Bushes

Before the leaves fall, take a good look at your bushes and trees to see if they’re still healthy — especially ones close enough to fall on your house or a neighbor’s. In many cases, a dying tree isn’t obvious, and you may not notice it at all, especially if there are a lot of trees around your home. A professional can help identify any diseased or dying trees on your property.

If there are any branches up against your house, trim these away, because once winter comes, these branches may be coated in ice, which could do considerably more damage to your home. Again, a professional can assist you if you feel uncomfortable taking on this task yourself.

Check Your Home for Drafts

Drafts will make your home much less comfortable on those chilly winter nights, as they let heat escape through cracks in your home. Drafts account for a significant percentage of energy bills — from 10%-20% — especially in the winter. There are ways to locate these drafts around your home: 

  • Check for gentle breezes when standing near a door or window, which means a draft is nearby. 
  • Turn off fixtures that create air disturbances, such as your stove. Walk around your house with a lit candle in your hand. If the flame starts to flicker or burns out, this means a draft is close by. 
  • Hang a plastic bag over a coat hanger, then place it around doors or windows leading to the outside. If there is a draft flowing into your house, the plastic bag will blow. 

If you discover a draft in your home, there are also ways to fix them: 

  • Contain a draft by a window by installing dark, heavy curtains. 
  • If your home is old, recaulk your windows. 
  • Upgrade your windows to more energy-efficient models. 
  • Install a door sweep at the bottoms of your doors, especially ones leading to the outside.
  • Replace screen doors with storm doors, which catch the elements, including harsh weather and wind. 
  • Close and secure your fireplace when not using it. 

Prepare for Winter Emergencies 

Following a blizzard or heavy snowfall, there’s a chance you could be snowed in for an extended period of time. This could be made worse if accompanied by a power outage, which would leave you with just a few hours to use the contents in your fridge safely. If you fill your pantry with shelf-stable and filling foods, you won’t have to worry about going hungry while waiting for the snow to be cleared. 

Consider stocking up on the following essentials along with non-perishable foods: 

  • Batteries
  • Flashlights
  • Battery-operated radio
  • Can opener
  • First-aid kit 
  • Thermal energy blankets 
  • Space heater rated for use indoors 
  • An emergency backup generator 

Check Your Smoke and Carbon Dioxide Alarms 

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating is the second highest cause of house fires in the U.S. For this reason, ensure all your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are functioning properly. We also recommend that you have smoke alarms in all rooms of your home, even the hallways. You should also check the batteries in all the alarms once every month.    

Contact Crawford Mechanical Services, Inc. for Winter Plumbing Services

To cross some items off your Ohio winter checklist and ensure your plumbing is in working order, get in touch with one of our plumbers at Crawford Mechanical Services, Inc. We provide a wide variety of residential, commercial, industrial and remodel services, and our expert work has earned us the reputation as Columbus, OH’s top plumbing service. You can contact us by filling out our form or by calling 614-665-8594.