To do: get your home ready for winter

Jeffrey Anderson | Improvement Center Columnist | December 6, 2012

Depending on where you live, the last of the leaves are probably falling and so are the temperatures. It won't be long before cold weather is here to stay for a while and with it usually comes howling winds, snow, and perhaps even a little freezing rain for good measure.

While you may be able to break out your winter coat and hat fairly quickly, what about protecting your house from the elements? Preparing your home for cold weather can be a little more involved than just digging through a closet.

DIY winter home preparation tasks

Many cold weather preventative maintenance tasks can be handled by DIYers -- even those who might be new to the world of home improvement. Here are a few that most homeowners should be able tackle:

  1. Drain outside hose bibs. Water has a tendency to freeze when the temperature drops below a certain point. Bad things can happen if that water happens to be inside your unprotected outdoor plumbing lines. All outside hose bibs and hydrants should be drained before nighttime temperatures begin hitting freezing on a regular basis. If you have a lawn irrigation system, those lines should be emptied as well. Mario of Homeland Scapes in Leesburg, Va., recommends that homeowners use compressed air to blow their irrigation lines dry.
  2. Clean the gutters. Nothing says autumn like children playing in the piles of colored leaves you've gathered from your lawn. Your memories of those leaves might not be quite as fond if they cause your roof to leak this winter. Clogged gutters can create ice buildup during snow and ice storms and that could lead to ice damming problems. While you're cleaning the gutters, think about installing gutter guards to eliminate the problem once and for all.
  3. Inspect your home's exterior. Summertime rain, thunderstorms, and even sunshine can be tough on the exterior of your house. Take a few moments to give the siding a good inspection -- any new cracks, holes, or signs of moisture damage should be repaired. If you don't find them, winter's cold winds surely will. Plugging them can also help prevent woodland creatures from seeking shelter in your home.

The approach of winter is also a good time to change your furnace filters or better yet, schedule your entire system to be serviced by a qualified technician.

Winter home improvement projects to improve energy efficiency

There are also a few home improvement projects that might not be preventative maintenance but can help your house be better prepared for winter's chill. These two upgrades should improve your home's energy efficiency, so they can also leave more cash in your wallet regardless of the season:

  • Install energy-efficient windows. Energy-efficient replacement windows can be a good way to lower your winter cooling costs. The government's Energy Star website suggests that homeowners with old single pane windows may see significant savings on their utility bills by upgrading to Energy Star rated units. In some parts of the country, the reduction could be up to $340 a year for a typical home. If your home already has double-pane windows, moving up to units that have the latest in low-e coatings and insulating gases might still result in significant savings.
  • Add attic insulation. Most homes can have their attic insulation upgraded in an afternoon, an improvement that can result in heating and cooling savings all year long. Whether you choose blown-in insulation or polyurethane spray foam, a few more inches in the attic can contribute to lower loads on your HVAC system.

And don't forget your roof: broken or missing shingles, loose flashing and cracked caulking are open invitations for water intrusion when winter snows arrive. John Mills of First Light Roofing in Mooresville, N.C., suggests that all homeowners get a roof inspection before a small problem turns into a major one due to winter weather. An hour of minor repairs may be able to prevent thousands of dollars in damage should that snow on the roof find its way into your home.

About the Author

Jeffrey Anderson has a Degree in English from V.M.I., and served as an officer in the Marine Corps. He worked in Residential and Commercial construction management for 25 years before retiring to write full time. He spends his time writing, remodeling his old farmhouse, and in animal rescue.