Winter is the most challenging season for residential homes. Outside of storms and hurricanes, the freezing cold and unrelenting pileup of snow have a negative impact on the house’s structural components, furniture, and appliances.
Winter storms accounted for $1 billion in insured losses for the whole of 2020. For the first half of 2021, it ballooned to a record $15 billion, due in large part to the severe winter that affected large parts of the US in February.
How Winter Can Damage your Home
Cold temperature can freeze the pipes, which can lead to leaks, bursting, or the formation of mold and mildew.
The dry stale air from indoor heating can lower humidity, which can damage wood. This can range from cracks in furniture and shelves, all the way to structural damage in wooden parts of the house itself.
Strong wind can snap off branches or even entire trees, which can fall on the roof or parts of the house. The wind can also blow leaves and yard debris into the gutters, leading to clogged downspouts.
Accumulated snow can cause structural damage to the roof, eaves, and yard landscape. When it melts, it can also cause localized flooding, which can leak down into the basement.
Ice can cause fractures in the building foundation. Water in the soil beneath the house can freeze then expand, producing an upward pressure on the foundation that manifests in cracked walls, floors, and ceilings.
How to Winterize your House
☑ Inspect the roof. Check the shingles for damaged or missing areas.
☑ Gutter check. Clear the gutters, downspouts, and drains to prepare them for the deluge of ice and melted snow. This is important to prevent ice dams from forming.
☑ Bulb change. Check that outdoor lights are good and working, especially the front yard, door and back lights. You wouldn’t want to do a bulb change in the dead of winter wearing heavy mittens.
☑ Outdoor faucets prep. Remove all attachments to outdoor faucets so they don’t freeze on the metal.
☑ Install storm windows. Depending on your location, a storm window or door adds an extra layer of protection from the elements. They also help retain warmth and minimize heat loss.
☑ Foundation check. Do a walkaround and check the foundation for cracks, holes or openings. These can compromise the integrity of the home when ice or water seeps through. They can also attract pests like rats and insects, which tend to burrow in recesses for the winter.
☑ Perimeter trimming. Clear the areas surrounding the roof and walls of any overhanging branches and foliage, which can fall and cause substantial damage.
☑ Ground clearing. After trimming off high branches, do the same with low-lying foliage. Pay particular attention to the areas surrounding the HVAC, exhaust vents, basement windows, and meters.
☑ Water check. Blow out in-ground sprinklers, and drain any water left to prevent freezing and bursting.
☑ Stow outdoor furniture. Upholstered chairs should be kept clear of water. For wooden pieces like teak tables and chairs, make sure the storage area isn’t too dry and stale to avoid wood damage from lack of humidity.
☑ Firewood placement. These should be stored at least 30 feet away from the house, to avoid a fire hazard. This also puts sufficient distance between your home and wood-boring pests.
Interior living spaces
☑ Furniture placement. Make sure appliances and furniture are not blocking inlets and vents, which can cause heaters to work harder and lower efficiency and operating life.
☑ Maintain humidity. The Mayo Clinic suggests keeping a humidity level between 30-50% for comfort and health. To maintain proper humidity, invest in a humidifier or use indoor plants that generate moisture.
☑ Get steamed. Another way to increase moisture level is to let steam permeate the house. This can come from stovetop cooking, hot showers, and simple pots and pans of hot water left around living areas.
☑ Reverse ceiling fans. Reverse the blades so that the fan pushes out the warm air that rises to the ceiling out to the sides to lower your winter heating costs.
☑ Furnace check. Make sure your furnace and heaters are working properly before they get a workout.
☑ Fireplace cleaning. Fireplaces need to be cleaned well in advance, especially wood-burning fireplaces. Get a chimney sweep, and read up on our guide to fireplace cleaning whether you have a traditional, gas, or electric fireplace.
☑ Water heaters. Clean your hot water heaters, whether storage or tankless. You may also want to invest in a hot water recirculation system before the temperatures drop.
☑ Air seal check. Heaters are useless if the warmth just seeps out into the cold. The Department of Energy has a practical guide to air sealing, and which areas of your home to check for air leakage.
☑ Insulation. To lower heating costs and improve energy efficiency, make sure your insulation is up-to-date. Note that different types of insulation have varying levels of life expectancy, so know when it’s time to replace them.