SnowmanWinter has already made an unexpectedly early appearance in the Midwest, and will shortly be descending on most of the rest of the U.S. Now would be a good time to take care of some basic chores to assure your home is ready for those wintry blasts. Here are 21 tips for prepping for the cold.
  • Tune up your furnace and humidifier. Call in a professional to make sure that your furnace is working up to par; with the high price of natural gas and electricity, it wouldn't take much of an efficiency loss to justify that maintenance visit. And don't forget about the humidifier, or you'll be snapping your honey with static electricity all winter long.

  • Turn off water to outside spigots. If you live in a climate that could freeze, now would be a good time to turn off water to your outside spigots, then open them from the outside to let any remaining water drain out. You don't want to wake up some morning to find that the water within those pipes had frozen and burst your water line.
  • Check your flues. Creatures like squirrels and birds have fatal attractions to the flues of fireplaces, furnaces and water heaters. Since these flues are meant to carry away noxious fumes, you certainly don't want them clogged up.
  • Confirm outside drainage is clear. You don't want water pooling next to your foundation or across your sidewalk in the winter, so take advantage of the next rain to walk the perimeter of your house and check that water is draining away properly. You might find that in your summer gardening you blocked some of the natural drain paths.
  • Clean your gutters. Clogged gutters can cause damage in multiple ways; the frozen water can weigh them down until they sag or fall off. The water can overflow on the home side of the gutter, allowing it to freeze against siding. Overflow on the outside can form icicles that dangle precariously overhead.
  • Check your roof shingles. If you aren't comfortable walking on your roof, use a pair of binoculars to check that shingling is intact. Also scope out the flashing around your chimney, sanitary stack and other exhausts for signs of leaks. If you can access the underside of your roof in your attic, check there for any signs of leaks, too.
  • Check your siding/exterior walls. There are many places that your exterior wall is breached, where water lines, phone lines and cable television lines come into the house. Caulk around these openings as needed. Also check your siding, repairing and sealing any that have come loose.
  • Check outside lights. Before the season of interminable night arrives, check your outside lights to make sure you can illuminate the exterior as needed. Otherwise you might end up shoveling in the dark.
  • Fix up your walkways. If you have holes or uneven sections in your sidewalk, fill or align them before the first winter snow arrives. Hidden by snow, pedestrians won't be able to see these dangers until they tread on them, and such sections will be much harder to shovel, too.
  • Remove overhanging limbs. If you have trees near your house or outbuildings, this is a good time to remove any limbs that, if ice-encrusted or snow-burdened, might come down and cause damage.
  • Drain, store your hoses. They may seem impervious to damage, but a good hose will last longer if shown a little care. Drain thoroughly and straighten all kinks before storing, and store coiled off the floor.
  • Store your tools properly. Time to store away those gardening tools, but not before brushing off any dirt, sharpening what edges need to be sharpened and giving all metal tools a light wipe with an oily cloth.
  • Check your snow blower. Don't wait until the first snow to discover that the plug is fouled and it won't start. Check for loose bolts and worn parts. Check the oil. Will the tires hold air? Is the scraper bar (that scrapes the snow off of the ground) worn down? If you see anything of concern, take it to a pro. And make sure to have fresh gas on hand for the season.
  • Caulk your windows. The caulking that seals the window within the window frame, and the window frame within the wall, could dry and flake away, leaving openings for the cold to penetrate your house. Caulk as needed around the individual frames and around the perimeter of the window unit.
  • Weatherstrip your doors. Light a candle or stick of incense and watch the smoke to help determine the source of air leaks, usually around the door frames. Replace any faulty or inadequate weatherstripping, and don't forget the door sweep (at the bottom of the door, sealing the door and threshold).
  • Insulate. If your attic isn't well insulated, some time and money spent here can make a big difference in your winter heating bill. How much do you need? Check out this map showing the U.S. Department of Energy's suggestion.
  • Add/reprogram a programmable thermostat. If you're not home all day, why heat your house to the same level you would when you are home? And dropping the temperature a couple of degrees while you're asleep can help save some money, too.
  • Reverse ceiling fan direction. One disadvantage to our modern taste for high ceilings is that hot air pools near the ceiling. To counter this, simply reverse the direction of your ceiling fan to circulate this air down to floor level.
  • Stock up on salt or salt alternative. Don't wait until the whole town is buried in snow and the shelves at the store are empty; stock up now so you can keep those walkways and driveways clear and safe.
  • Shop for a generator. If you've struggled through a winter blackout, or even if you haven't yet, you might want to buy some backup protection. For less than the cost of throwing out a freezer full of meat, a small portable generator can help keep your most essential electrical appliances running. Shop now and you'll find a good selection.
  • Check your fire extinguisher. Soon it will be the season of fires in the fireplace, candles in the window and holiday decorations festooning the house. Don't go into the winter without working fire extinguishers, and make sure everyone in the household knows where they are and how they works.

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