17 Ways to Winterize Your Home
Weathering your home for cold, snowy and icy weather
Wintertime means sledding, building snowmen, making snow angels, having the ultimate snowball fight and enjoying picturesque views of snowy hillsides. But, it also means freezing temperatures, frosty nights, icy weather and higher utility bills. And while you may enjoy playing in the snow for hours on end, you’ll eventually want to relax in the comfort of a safe, warm home. In order to do that, use these winterization tips to properly prepare your home for the cold (and save money in the process)!
What is winterization and why is it important?
Winterizing a house means adapting it for the chilly months ahead to avoid damage and save on energy costs. Many people only think about winterizing vacant homes (like summer or vacation properties), but it’s equally important to take preventative measures to keep main households safe, too. And while it probably seems like a hassle, it could save your home from:
- Flooding (from bursting pipes or leaky roofs)
- House fires (due to an unclean chimney)
- Carbon monoxide leaks (from space heaters, fireplaces or wood burning stoves)
- Costly heating bills (from airflow inefficiency)
- Costly repairs from other unforeseen wintertime damages (like dead tree limbs falling on a car)
When should I winterize my home?
Early to late fall is an ideal time to get a home ready for winter because the temperatures are usually pretty comfortable. But really, it’s up to you — just make sure to do it before the temperature falls below freezing!
How to winterize your home
Some of the following tips are simple DIY projects, while others may require professional help. When in doubt, we recommend consulting an expert. They can help you be sure your home is at its safest for the winter season, and allow you to save as much energy and money as possible.
- Schedule a home energy assessment
It’s frustrating when your utility costs are higher because your home is losing energy. As a result, you may consider getting an energy audit. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), “A home energy audit is the first step to assess how much energy your home consumes and to evaluate what measures you can take to make your home more energy efficient. An assessment will show you problems that may, when corrected, save you significant amounts of money overtime.”
The best way to complete a home checkup is by calling a professional technician. However, to save some money and time, you can complete your own. Just follow this checklist provided by the DOE.
- Cut down dead tree limbs
Tree branches laden with heavy ice can be dangerous to homes, lawns and other property if they break off and fall. Before winter arrives, cut down all dead or loose branches, limbs and twigs.
- Be proactive about ice dams
In states that experience a lot of snow and ice, it’s possible for ice dams and icicles to collect on roofs and in gutters. The bigger they grow, the more likely water trapped underneath will seep through shingles and cause damage to roofs, insulation, ceilings and walls. The best way to prevent ice dams is to:
Scrape snow off the roof with a snow rake, broom or plastic shovel (be cautious if using a ladder, or hire a professional)
Remove any leaves or twigs from the gutters that could block water from flowing freely down the drain
Consider replacing a shingled roof with a metal one
- Adjust ceiling fans
Ceiling fans are great for circulating cool air during the summer. But, they can also help spread warm air in the winter. Most come with a reverse switch that enables the fan to move in a clockwise rotation — which pushes the hot air collecting at the ceiling toward the floor. According to apartmenttherapy.com, setting your ceiling fan to “winter mode” can cut heating costs by at least 10 percent.
- Regulate thermostat
When you’re rushing out the door in the morning for work, you’re probably not thinking about turning the temperature down, especially when it’s cold outside! But doing so for at least eight hours every day (while you’re at work, on vacation or sleeping), can save nearly 10 percent each year on heating bills.
Older homes were constructed with analog thermostats. While these still work efficiently, you’ll have to manually lower the temperature before work and bed to conserve energy. Newer or recently-updated homes will have a digital thermostat and many of them are programmable. Programmable thermostats can be set to your daily schedule so that the temperature is automatically lower when you’re not home.
- Lower water heater’s temperature
Water heaters are used daily to do laundry, wash dishes and take warm showers. Because of their frequent use, hot water tanks account for nearly 18 percent of the energy consumed in households. When installed, they’re normally set at 140°F. Keeping the temperature that high isn’t really necessary — try reducing it to 120°F. You probably won’t notice the change (since you most likely don’t use pure hot water), and it will save energy and money.
- Clean out the chimney
More than likely, your fireplace hasn’t been used since the previous winter. So if you’re planning on lighting a fire anytime soon, call a local chimney sweep to come out for an inspection. They’ll clean out any soot and hazardous debris, and make sure it’s free from animals and nests. This way you can snuggle up next to the fireplace on a frigid evening without having to worry about house fires starting from a dirty chimney.
- Reduce heat loss from fireplace
Here are some suggestions that will reduce fireplace heat loss and save you money on wintertime utility bills:
- Close damper when not in use. Keeping the damper open when a fire isn’t burning is like keeping a window open while the heater is turned on — it allows warm air to escape through the chimney.
- Lower thermostat when burning a fire. Decreasing the thermostat’s temperature by 5 to 10 degrees when the fireplace is in use will save you money on heating costs.
- Seal chimney flue if you never use it. Some people prefer not to burn fires in the winter. If that’s the case for you, just be sure to plug the flue so that you aren’t unnecessarily losing heat.
- Caulk the cracks. Fill in any cracks in the hearth where cold air is coming through.
- Check insulation in walls
Houses built before 1980 may not have enough insulation to make the home energy efficient — which means you’re losing heat faster and having to pay for it. To determine whether or not you have an adequate amount of insulation, you’ll need to do an inspection. If you choose to have an energy assessment done, the auditor will note any insulation needs. If you’d rather inspect the insulation yourself, the Department of Energy has some good directions.
- Insulate pipes
Frozen pipes can burst, causing floods and costly repairs. But, preparing ahead of time can decrease the chance of this happening. The best and easiest solution is to insulate your pipes with pre-slit pipe foam found at most hardware stores.
- Refresh carbon monoxide and smoke detector batteries
If you’ll be using a gas fireplace or stove to heat your home this winter, be sure all carbon monoxide and smoke detectors have fresh batteries and are working properly. Functioning sensors will help keep you and your home safe from fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Install storm doors and windows
Place your hand on the frames of windows and external doors. Do you feel cold drafts seeping through? You might consider installing storm doors and windows — they’re not only super easy to put in, but they can save you up to 33 percent in heating and cooling costs annually.
- Seal air leaks
Cracks in chimneys, flues, windows, doors, walls and foundations allow cool air to leak through and create a lot of energy waste. Use caulk or weather strips to fill in any areas of your home where heat can escape. This simple project helps you stay warm and conserve energy at the same time!
- Replace or clean air filters
If your central heating and air conditioning unit isn’t producing a good amount of airflow, it’s possible the filter is dirty. Experts recommend replacing or cleaning clogged filters at least once a month (or as needed). A clean filter will create healthier air quality and can reduce utility costs up to 15 percent.
- Create a draft guard
Draft stoppers are great for keeping out any cold air that sneaks underneath exterior doorways. You can purchase these at local hardware stores, or you can just roll up a towel or blanket and place it along the bottom of the door. Sealing drafts can save up to 30 percent of energy use per year.
- Hang thicker curtains on the windows
When colder weather arrives, swap our sheer curtains with heavier draperies for window insulation. During the day, open any curtains on south-facing windows to allow the sunlight to naturally heat your home. At night, close all drapes to reduce the chill.
- Dress warm in the house
Instead of cranking up the heat when you’re cold at home, wear warmer clothes or bundle up in a blanket. This way the thermostat can remain on a lower setting, which will then help reduce your overall heating costs for the season.
Do you have other tips for winterizing a home?
Maybe you have some other great tips we didn’t include. Share them with us in the comments below. And if you have additional questions about how to winterize your home, let us know — we’re always happy to help!
Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, statistics used in this blog post are from the United States Department of Energy.