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Living room with fireplace

How to get your home winter ready

Wendy Helfenbaum

By Wendy Helfenbaum

With cooler temperatures upon us, it’s time to prepare our homes for winter. That means taking a good look at the systems and components we sometimes take for granted. From cleaning to caulking, we cover all the ways you can get your house in top shape for the cold months ahead.

House roof

 “Have someone make sure that the caulking around the roof penetrations is intact and that the flashing is in good shape,” says Mose.

Check your property exterior

Your house was designed to protect you from the elements, but wear and tear are inevitable. So before winter blows in, make sure it’s ready to withstand water, snow, and cold drafts.

Start with a look at your roof from the ground. If you see missing or damaged shingles, bare spots, or bits of asphalt near your foundation, enlist a professional to inspect your roof, advises Carol Mose, a home inspector at Mose Home Inspection Services in Montreal.

 “Have someone make sure that the caulking around the roof penetrations is intact and that the flashing is in good shape,” says Mose. “For flat roofs, make sure the gravel is spread around everywhere and the drain is cleaned.”

 If you notice rotten wood trim around your windows, make sure it’s patched or replaced. Then take a look at the caulking and weather stripping around your windows and doors and fix anything that is brittle or cracked. “Weather stripping at the base of front doors gets damaged because it's always at the point of contact, so replacing that can prevent cool drafts,” adds Mose.

Gutter filled with leaves

“If you have a flat roof with a drain that manages rainwater, make sure that drain is completely clear of leaves and debris,” says Carol Mose

Clean your gutters

If you have a sloped roof with gutters, give them a thorough cleaning before winter. When gutters are clogged, water can seep under roof shingles and cause damage when it freezes and thaws. Check that gutters are well secured and that downspouts haven’t been crushed or damaged, suggests Mose. “If you have a flat roof with a drain that manages rainwater, make sure that drain is completely clear of leaves and debris,” she says. “Otherwise, there's a high risk of your roof leaking.”

Exterior faucet

Turn off exterior faucets

With outdoor gardening season over, prevent damage to exterior pipes by turning off the water supply from inside your home and draining the water lines. 

“Don't be fooled by faucets that say ‘frost-free,’” warns Mose. “They're only frost-free if you remember to disconnect your hoses. Make sure your hose slopes downwards towards the exterior so any water that's left in there will drain out.” Remember to leave the outdoor valve open for the winter, so excess water or air doesn’t get trapped inside.  

Repeat these steps for your irrigation system or any other outdoor water sources your home may have, too. To protect the shut-off valve from freezing, insulate it with foam insulation tape. Insulate any above-ground or vulnerable piping as well.

Furnace and boiler inspection

“If your filters are blocked, the system has to work harder to get the air through, which causes stress on the furnace while reducing energy flow,” adds Carol Mose

Get your furnace and boiler inspected

Homeowners should be in the habit of regular furnace and water heater maintenance. “If you have a heat pump, have the compressor serviced and cleaned to make sure it’s not full of leaves or debris so that it will work well over the winter,” says Mose.

Gas and oil furnaces should also be inspected, and filters should be changed regularly so everything runs properly. “If your filters are blocked, the system has to work harder to get the air through, which causes stress on the furnace while reducing energy flow,” she adds.

Mose also recommends hiring a pro to clean your ducts. “They’ll also analyze the performance of your system, so if any seams need to be sealed, they can do that,” she says. To improve energy efficiency, it may also be worthwhile to install a smart thermostat. When your furnace runs less often, it uses less energy, lowering your utility bills.

Insulation and seal leaks

“Adding attic insulation is a relatively inexpensive improvement to save quite a bit of money on heating, because when you have a huge need for heat and the heat pump is trying to keep up, sometimes your furnace will kick in instead,” says Mose.

Add insulation and seal leaks

Speaking of heating, if your home needs it, take the opportunity to add more insulation and seal leaks. That includes inspecting often neglected areas of the home, such as the attic.

“I just did an inspection for people who had lived in their house for 45 years, and I went up into their attic and there was no insulation,” says Mose. “They're in their eighties, and they've just been cold for the past 45 years,” says Mose.

“Adding attic insulation is a relatively inexpensive improvement to save quite a bit of money on heating, because when you have a huge need for heat and the heat pump is trying to keep up, sometimes your furnace will kick in instead,” says Mose.

Look for other ways to seal your building envelope and conserve heat. Even closing window curtains and blinds at night can trim down hydro costs.

Fireplace and chimney in the living room

Check your fireplace and chimney

As a rule of thumb, you should have your chimney, fireplace, vents, and flue duct professionally inspected and cleaned on a yearly basis.

“Make sure there are no critters nesting in there and that everything’s in good condition,” says Mose.  “Even in an area like Montreal where you're not allowed to use your wood fireplace unless there’s a power outage,” it’s still necessary to conduct these inspections, she says.

“Be proactive and get your chimney swept. People have had issues with fires in the chimney because they didn't check them.” Don’t forget to close the chimney damper when the fireplace is not in use. Left open, hot air rises, as does your heating bill.

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Author

Wendy Helfenbaum

Wendy Helfenbaum is a Montréal journalist and television producer who covers real estate, design, architecture, gardening, travel, and food for many publications, including Apartment Therapy, Metropolis, AARP, Houzz, Cottage Life, Chatelaine, PBS’ NextAvenue, Realtor.com, and Country Gardens. Follow her on Twitter.

About

Billdr Magazine

Billdr Magazine is an online publication packed with design trends and inspiration, expert insights, and personal home renovation stories. From planning a major renovation to navigating construction and maintaining your beautiful home, Billdr Magazine is here for you.