snowy home in the winter

Preparing Your Home for Winter: Homeowner’s Guide

David Sherwood Sherwood Inspection Services, LLC 1 Comment

Winter weather is quickly approaching us which means a lot of snow, slush, sleet, and storms. Even if you aren’t ready for the cold months, your house needs to be! Failing to prepare your home for winter weather can leave you with some costly damages. Good news! We’ve got some maintenance tips to keep your house protected from the elements this winter.

snowy home in the winter

Winter Home Maintenance Tips

  1. Protect your water supply pipes
  2. Test the sump pump
  3. Inspect insulation
  4. Consider your little friends
  5. Prepare the heating system
  6. Be cautious with electrical equipment
  7. Check your alarms
  8. Prevent cold air leaks from windows
  9. Reverse ceiling fans
  10. Humidity and mold risks
  11. Protect your patio furniture
  12. Prepare for gutter downspouts
  13. Check the roof

Protect Your Water Supply Pipes

The water supply pipes near your windows are prone to freezing. This can lead to them bursting and even flooding your home. Avoid these issues by insulating the pipes before the weather gets cold. This can be done by adding wall insulation, using foam pipe sleeves, or using strips of pipe wrap.

If there are outside hose bibs, disconnect the hoses and extend them so that they drain, and so that trapped water won’t freeze and burst them. Find the interior shut-offs for the hose bibs and turn them off. To avoid forgetting this, immediately go outside and turn the exterior hose bibs on. This way, if there is any water trapped in the pipe it can drain out before it freezes.

Test the Sump Pump

If you want to avoid your sump pump failing and potentially flooding your basement, you need to check it regularly. Turn it on and off, run the pump, test the alarm, check for any corrosion, and assure that it drains at least 6 feet from the foundation.

Inspect Insulation

Having inadequate insulation will lead to your heating system working overtime. Check to make sure your insulation is up to date to avoid spending any extra money on heat this year. We recommend getting an energy audit in order to see all potential heat loss areas of the home (free with all SIS home inspections!)

Consider Your Little Friends

bird taking a bath

Get a heater for the birdbath.  The birdies and other critters need water to drink through the winter, and birds need to bathe year-round. They have the extra benefit of being fun to watch!

Prepare the Heating System

You will likely be using heat a lot during the next few months so you need to make sure your system is working properly.

Heating Devices

If you have a boiler system, it should be cleaned every year prior to any heavy usage for safety and efficiency. If you have a gas system, it should be cleaned every three years.  Check the pilot lights on all of your gas appliances and make sure they are operating. Additionally, you should make sure that all gas appliances are exhausting properly in order to prevent carbon monoxide issues.

If you have a furnace, replace the air filter every two or three months for a one-inch thick filter or twice a year for a four-inch filter. In addition, make sure there is a clear path to the fill pipe if you use oil heat.

Vacuum around radiators and baseboard heaters.  Excess dust and debris impede efficiency, and the dust can circulate in the convection that the heaters create. 

If you use a fireplace or stove, get them inspected by a professional to assure it is drafting properly, that there is not combustible creosote accumulation, to ensure that there aren’t gaps through which flame, heat, or embers can reach flammable framing, etc. In addition, it is important to have your chimney inspected if you have a fireplace. Timely attention from a hearth professional can be a lifesaver. 

You should also have your heating exhaust pipes checked for potential blockages to help prevent carbon monoxide leakage into the home.

In addition, you want to be sure that your radiant heating systems are being inspected once a year to make sure that it lasts in the years to come.

Open Dampers

A damper is a device on your fireplace or gas stove that can be manually opened or closed to allow gases and other byproducts to be safely vented from a building when open. Make sure yours is open for the winter!

It’s going to be crucial to take the time to learn how to operate the fireplace damper.  If you do not know what it is or how it works, you run the risk of having a closed damper, which can cause damaging smoke to fill a home.  A damper left open when the fireplace is not in use draws heat from the home. Be aware that most simple living room fireplaces are ornamental and meant only for occasional use. They send your heating dollars up the chimney.

Electrical Equipment

If you have an electric baseboard or wall heaters, be aware that the heaters can get very hot.  Be sure that electrical cords, drapes, bed linens, and stored items are not in contact with them. This is a prevalent fire risk.

If you use electric space heaters, be sure they are built with a device that shuts them off if they tip.  Be sure they are also not in contact with anything. It will be important to check and make sure the power cords are exposed and visible because they can overheat otherwise. If it is necessary to use an extension cord, be sure it is rated for at least the amperage that the heater draws.  If you are not sure then do not use an extension cord.

Check your Alarms

Be sure smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are installed on every level of the home and in or near every bedroom. These should be checked on a yearly basis. If they are the type that uses conventional batteries, change them annually at “Fall Back,” the transition to standard time in the Fall. Replace alarms per manufacturer’s recommendations, typically every five to ten years. If everyone checked that their alarms are functioning properly regularly, it could prevent hundreds of deaths each year.

Prevent Cold Air Leaks from Windows

To help reduce heat loss during these cold months, remove the screens on your windows and install some storm windows/doors in their place. Not only will this help to retain the heat in your house, but it will also protect the exterior of your doors and windows.

If you have older windows you might find leaky gaps between sashes or drafts coming from the counterweight pulleys.  A little flexible, reusable putty is useful for temporarily reducing those drafts. If your home has old-school triple-track storm windows, it is time to raise the screen and lower the glass for some extra insulation.

Reverse Ceiling Fans

You might not think to turn your fan on in the cold months of winter, but doing so can actually help manage a home’s interior climate. If you reverse the blades to spin in a clockwise position at the lowest speed, cool air will get pulled towards the ceiling and warm air will be pushed down.

Humidity and Mold Risks


Winter brings dry skin and static electricity. Don’t be tempted to over-humidify.  Over-humidification will cause condensation on window frames, which will eventually harbor mold.  You should stay in the ballpark of 20-40% percent humidity level depending on the exterior temperature and how well your windows insulate against the cold.

Protect your Patio Furniture

Surely you do not want to be stuck buying all new outdoor furniture next year. Protect your outdoor furniture from the elements, either by storing it in a garage/shed/basement or by covering it with a tarp. 

Gutter Downspouts

Check that gutter downspouts will not deposit water on walkways or driveways where it might freeze and create a slip risk. Slip inexpensive extensions on downspouts (if necessary) to divert water safely away.

Check the Roof

Before the snow starts building on top of your house, check out your roof!  What condition is it in? Are there any loose or missing shingles that may result in leaks from melting snow? If you are unsure of what to look for, consider getting a professional to inspect the roof for potential problems.

Once you’ve completed all of these tasks, your home will be prepared for everything the winter weather throws at it! If you need help inspecting your roof, chimney, or anything else mentioned, give us a call at (860-646-9983) or schedule an inspection online!

Extra Tips

  • Never use a portable combustion heater indoors. Period. The risk of asphyxiation from carbon monoxide is real.
  • If you have direct-venting gas heaters, be sure the vents don’t get buried in snow.
  • Get ahead of the issues that snow can cause with proper snowstorm preparation techniques.
  • For more tips on how to winterize your house, our friends at Ownerly have more tips in store for you

Comments 1

  1. Thanks for sharing. One of the most common reasons people discover leaking windows during rain is damaged or missing sealant or caulk. Caulking is one of the simplest and most overlooked causes of window leaks. Any damaged caulk around the exterior of the window should be cleared out and replaced with a new bead of silicone caulk.


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