How to Protect Your Home from Winter Woes (and Save Money Too!)

winter homewinter homeBy Laurie Lee

There are so many reasons to love a winter wonderland. But the season can be brr-utal on your trees and pipes, among many other parts of your home. The best way to avoid seasonal damage is to prep long before the temperature plummets. Even if you enjoy warm weather year-round, unexpected patterns can bring freezing temperatures to the unlikeliest of places (hey, in January 2011, Florida was the only state with no snow!). So it's still a good investment to insulate plumbing, clean gutters and downspouts, and have an annual furnace checkup. If the forecast calls for temperatures below 35°F, avoid frozen pipes and more with these tips. Photo by Thinkstock.

• Drain the outdoor water supply lines that lead to swimming pools and sprinkler pipes. If you have a pool that isn't winterized, add a pool cover to retain heat.

• Shut exterior doors to uninsulated areas (garage, sunroom) to keep cold air out.

• Let a faucet drip on very cold nights. If you think you have a frozen pipe-because water flow slows or stops from a faucet or showerhead-call your plumber ASAP.


Schedule a Furnace Checkup

Whether you heat your home with an oil-burning furnace or a gas system, an annual inspection will minimize the danger of carbon leakage and keep the system running efficiently through the winter. The visit should include: cleaning the combustion chamber to rid it of soot, inspecting the flue pipe for holes or corrosion, changing the unit's air filter and checking the blower belt for any signs of wear. A professional also can calculate how well your system is running by using a combustion analyzer. No need to wait for a pro, however, to do routine maintenance throughout the year: Wash or trade out dirty filters in your floor or wall registers and vacuum dust or pet hair in ducts every one to three months.

DIY $10 and up for a filter

HIRE A PRO $75 to $150 for inspection
Related: Check out these 15 clever uses for household items.

Prune Your Trees

While foliage is full, scan your trees for dead, storm-damaged or overhanging limbs that could break off and fall under the stress of heavy winds or snow. Remove these as you see them, and give your trees a general pruning once most of the leaves have dropped to minimize stress on the plant. Tackle thinner, lower-level branches with a pole saw, but leave thick, higher limbs to the tree service professionals. If you have any doubts about how your trees weathered the summer, call a pro to help you assess.

DIY $60 and up for a pole saw

HIRE A PRO $300 to $1,000 to trim a 30- to 60-foot tree

Protect Piping

Plastic and copper pipes can freeze due to poor insulation, quick drops in temperature or thermostats set too low. If they do, they may burst or crack-and even an ⅛"-wide slice can spew 250 gallons of water a day! Make sure all of the pipes in your basement, crawl spaces and attic are insulated. Use caulk or insulation to seal openings around electrical wiring or vents where cold air can leak in. Disconnect and drain garden hoses and, if possible, use an indoor valve to shut off water leading to outdoor faucets. Finally, keep your thermostat set above 55°F, even when you're on vacation.

DIY $25 and up for insulation

HIRE A PRO $75 and up for insulation
Related: Discover the 9 buys that are cheaper online.

Clear Out Gutters and Downspouts

Those picture-perfect icicles hanging from your roofline look pretty, but they're likely a sign of something ugly: Leaves and twigs may be clogging your gutters and blocking water flow. Once this trapped water freezes, it can sneak under your shingles and into walls or cause gutters to bend and rip away from the house, bringing siding, fasteners and downspouts with them. Cleaning gutters isn't difficult-just grab a ladder and rake out debris with your hand or a trowel. If your home is more than a single story or you have a tricky roofline, consider bringing in a professional to minimize your risk of injury from falling off a ladder.

DIY Free

HIRE A PRO $40 to $150 per hour, based on the size of your home

Clean the Chimney

Debris like dried leaves or caked-on soot can cause a backup of carbon monoxide or catch fire if it accumulates in your chimney's flue. Before lighting your first fire, clear out ashes and clean the chimney interior with a wire brush. Then, have a sweep do a full inspection, especially if you've just purchased your home or made renovations.

DIY $30 and up for materials, but this messy job may be best left to a chimney sweep

HIRE A PRO $150 to $300 for cleaning (visit CSIA.org for certified pros in your area)
Related: Try these 8 ingenious cooking gadgets.

Prep Air-Conditioning Units

Your AC may have the winter off, but that doesn't mean you should forget about it. Protect it during this hiatus to extend the life of your system and keep its compressor (which drives the cooling agent into the rest of the machine) intact. If you have a centralized unit, empty the pipes or hoses coming from your air conditioner and use a wet vac to suck up water in the drain pan. Remove any leaves or debris and gently hose off the condenser coils and fan blades. Last, prevent rust with a plastic air-conditioner cover. Remove window units, drain them of water and store them in an upright position in a dry part of your home. If they're too heavy or unwieldy, just close the vents and wrap each unit in a cover to keep out moisture and debris.

DIY From $16 for a central air-conditioner cover and $5 for a window-unit cover

HIRE A PRO $50 and up to prep compressor

*All prices may vary across regions.

Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.


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