The Most Comprehensive Winter Home Maintenance Checklist

crawfordmech November 9, 2021

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. Our comprehensive pre-winter home checklist will provide some helpful advice for preparing your home for the winter elements.

Fall and Winter Home Maintenance Checklist

Create your cold weather checklist with these tips:

1. 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.

2. Get Ahead of Ice Dams

Many Ohio residents are all too familiar with ice dams, which happen after snow melts and freezes near the edge of the roof. Ice dams are often the result of warm attics and cold roofs. They only happen when part of the roof warms above 32 degrees Fahrenheit while the edge of your roof stays below freezing. 

In the majority of houses, heat makes its way through ceilings into the attic, warming the roof 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 edge of the roof that the attic hasn’t warmed, it freezes there and creates a rim of ice. This rim tends to grow and trap water behind it, resulting in a full-fledged ice dam.

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.

These three steps can help you make sure your roof stays cold:

  • 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 or other methods. 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 the insulation is. We recommend upgrading your attic insulation to an R-value of around R-49 to R-60. For most homes in northern climates, that would come to about 16 to 18 inches deep. If your insulation comes to fewer than 8 inches deep, add more to protect your home against ice dam issues.
  • Install soffit and roof vents: Ventilation in the attic sucks in cold air from the outside and pushes warmer air out, cooling the attic and the roof. Adding these vents is highly effective when it comes to cooling your attic.

3. Check for Frozen Pipes

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

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

  • Keep the garage door shut: Garages are one of the coldest areas of a house and generally have little insulation. One way to help prevent frozen pipes is to keep your garage door shut when the weather is cold, especially 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 prevents them from freezing, lowers your energy bill and keeps your water warm, so you don’t have to wait as long for hot water. Pipes in basements, crawlspaces, garages and along exterior walls are more likely to freeze, so they’ll need additional insulation. If you plan to keep your home’s interior cool, keep in mind that interior pipes generally have little insulation.
  • Let your faucet drip: While many people are familiar with this method of preventing frozen pipes, it’s important to understand how it works. Letting your faucet drip relieves the pressure caused by ice blockages, which can prevent pipe bursts and leaks. 
  • Contact a professional: You can work with a professional to eliminate the risk of frozen pipe issues. 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.

4. Protect Exterior Wood 

Wood trim is usually made of thin pine boards that can experience severe deterioration if you don’t take proper measures to protect it against the winter weather. The best way to avoid costly, inconvenient repairs is to prevent the trim from rotting. 

Walk around your home and check for:

  • Cracking caulk.
  • Chipping or flaking paint.
  • Spots that are darker than the surrounding area.
  • Abnormally soft wood.

If you find damaged caulk or paint, you can easily repair it by scraping away the damage and applying a fresh layer. Soft or dark wood may require professional repairs. 

You may also want to check your deck if you have one. Deck wood is usually either rot-resistant or pressure-treated, so you only need to maintain it every few years. However, you should still check to ensure it’s ready for the cold. 

Inspect your deck by pouring a small amount of water on the boards. If the water beads up on top of the wood, you’re good to go. If the wood absorbs the water, it’s time for a fresh coat of sealant. 

5. Properly Store Your Seasonal Tools

Protect your seasonal tools — such as garden shovels, pruning shears and rakes — from the elements by making sure they’re in a safe place. An enclosed storage area like a garage or a shed is perfect.  

Here are some tips for proper tool storage:

  • Install wall-mounted shelves: Wall-mounted shelves are one of the simplest ideas for storing tools in your garage. Shelves are inexpensive, easy to set up and a great way to maximize space in your garage.
  • Stack bins vertically: Vertical stacking is another way to maximize floor space. Building storage towers can provide easier access to bins on the bottom.
  • 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 approach will provide a continuous fastening surface for efficiently mounting storage hardware and arranging your items.

6. Clean the Fall Foliage and Gunk From Your Gutters

It’s best to clean your gutters as soon as the trees have finished shedding their leaves. When gutters accumulate leaves and other debris, they overflow, causing water to start running down the side of your home. This runoff can lead to premature deterioration of your exterior and foundation. It can also allow water to seep into your basement and cause all sorts of issues.

If you feel at all uneasy about the idea of cleaning your gutters, leave the task to a professional. Otherwise, here are some tips for cleaning your gutters:

  • Use a dependable ladder: The ladder you use should be high-quality, sturdy and extendable. Make sure the ladder is on a solid, level surface before climbing up and isn’t resting on any landscaping that can easily shift. A ladder stabilizer is a good item to use, both for your safety and for preventing damage to the gutters.
  • 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: The best way to remove gunk 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 your work area to 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 to dislodge any remaining debris and reveal any leaks that might be present.

7. Trim Your Trees and Bushes

Before the leaves fall, take a good look at your bushes and trees, 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 them away. These branches can become coated in ice during the winter, which can cause considerable damage to your home. Again, a professional can assist you if you feel uncomfortable taking on this task yourself.

8. Prep Your Lawn

Although opinions differ on the best time to seed and fertilize your lawn, completing this task in the fall provides plenty of time for new grass to grow. It also provides more nutrients for the grass to store throughout the winter, which it can use to fuel its spring awakening.

Start by aerating and overseeding your lawn in late September, then add winterizing fertilizer later in the season.

9. 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% to 20% — especially in the winter. There are ways to locate these drafts around your home:

  • Feel for drafts: Check for gentle breezes when standing near a door or window, which means a draft is nearby.
  • The candle test: 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, a draft is close by.
  • The plastic bag test: Hang a plastic bag over a coat hanger and place it around doors or windows leading outside. If there is a draft flowing into your house, it will blow the plastic bag.

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

  • Contain a draft from 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 outside.
  • Replace screen doors with storm doors to catch the elements, including harsh weather and wind.
  • Close and secure your fireplace when you’re not using it.

10. Shut Off All Outside Water Supplies

Leaving your pool or sprinkler system on during the winter could lead to frozen or burst pipes. It’s much cheaper to hire a professional to winterize your water lines early than to replace a broken system in the spring. 

Starting early also gives you more time to fix any problems that might arise — pool services tend to be busy in the spring, so your pool might be out of commission until later in the summer. Here are the most critical systems to take care of:

  • Pool: Call a professional pool service in the fall to inspect your system and ensure everything shuts down properly. 
  • Sprinkler: Most sprinkler systems require you to blow out the water lines before shutting them down for the season. Relying on a professional can help you ensure everything is done correctly.
  • Outside faucets: Outdoor faucets can easily freeze over the winter and cause flooded basements or split water lines. You can drain the line by shutting off the water valve to the outdoor spigot, opening the exterior spigot valve and allowing most of the water to drain. 

Leave all these systems shut off until you need them in the spring.

11. Prepare for Winter Emergencies

Following a blizzard or heavy snowfall, there’s a chance you could get snowed in for an extended period. This situation can worsen if accompanied by a power outage, which would leave you with limited time to use refrigerated food 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

12. Check Your Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Residential heating is the second leading cause of winter house fires, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). That makes sense, considering how we all crank up the furnace to fight off the Ohio chill. 

Carbon monoxide poisoning is also a significantly higher risk during the winter, as many shut their homes against the elements. 

Keep yourself and your family safe and comfortable by ensuring all your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are functioning correctly before the season change. You should check the batteries in all the alarms once every month. We also recommend installing smoke alarms in every room of your home, even the hallways. 

Why Do I Need to Prepare My Home for Winter?

Winter brings freezing temperatures in most places in the U.S., along with abundant snowfall in northern states like Ohio. Preparing your house for winter weather can protect your home from unpleasant situations, from minor annoyances like increased utility bills to more serious issues like burst pipes. 

It’s a good idea to follow a winter weather checklist to save yourself from dealing with major hassles and potentially costly repairs. 

When Should I Prepare My Home for Winter?

Get a head start on winterizing your home by beginning in the fall, preferably earlier in the season than later. This timeframe gives you plenty of time to catch any concerns while the weather is still mild enough to take care of them comfortably.

Contact Crawford Mechanical Services, Inc. for Winter Plumbing and HVAC Services

Cross some items off your winter checklist by getting in touch with the team at Crawford Mechanical Services, Inc team. We provide a wide variety of residential services for Ohio homeowners, including HVAC maintenance and plumbing services.

Our expert work has earned us the reputation of Columbus, OH’s top plumbing service. Reach out to us online or give us a call at 614-665-8594 to schedule an appointment.