How to Prepare Your Home and Yard for Winter

Now that we’re past the middle of autumn, it’s time to prepare your home for the December—February cold weather. These steps, most of which you can do yourself, will help lower your utility bills and protect your investment. Why not try to be a smarter homeowner this year and take some time now to get ahead of the coming cold weather and all the havoc it can wreak on your house and yard?

Give Your Heating System a Checkup

For about $100, a technician will inspect your furnace or heat pump to be sure the system is clean and in good repair, and that it can achieve its manufacturer-rated efficiency. The inspection also measures carbon monoxide leakage. Acting preemptively, you’ll minimize the chance of repairs being days away, in line for repairs on the coldest day of the year—and that will help prevent the extra charge for an emergency call.

Reverse Your Ceiling Fans

If your ceiling fan has a reverse switch (and most do) use it to run the fan’s blades in a clockwise direction after you turn on your heat. Energy Star says the fan will produce an updraft and push heated air from the ceiling down into the room. This aids in proper heat distribution since heat rises. This is especially helpful in rooms with high ceilings. After doing this, you might even be able to down turn your thermostat a degree or two for even greater energy savings.

Clean Out the Gutters

All the leaves and grime that you neglected over the summer have built up in your gutters. If left full of debris, clogged gutters and drains can form ice dams even during a short freeze, preventing drainage systems from working properly. This can lead to water seeping into your home, which leads to all sorts of issues. Save yourself the hassle of repairing a leak by cleaning your gutters and drains now. When you do, run water through the gutters to check for misalignments that could also cause water damage.

Get Your Ducts in a Row

Your ducts are usually tucked away in the attic or basement, but a home with central heating can lose about 20% of the air that moves through the duct system. Make sure your ducts are in order by properly sealing and insulating them. Tightly sealed and insulated ducts can potentially reduce your annual energy bills.

Caulk Around Windows and Doors

If there are any gaps between siding and window or door frames (and check the joints too) are bigger than the width of a nickel, you need to reapply exterior caulk. Silicone caulk is best for exterior use because it doesn’t shrink and resists elemental damage. Add weather stripping as needed around doors, making sure you can’t see any light coming in when the door is closed.

Protect Your Pipes

Pipes located in attics, crawl spaces under your home, basements, and near outer walls can freeze. When the forecast calls for exceptionally cold temperatures, let water drip from both hot and cold faucets overnight. If you can, keep cabinet doors open to allow warm air to circulate in places like below sinks. If you open the cabinet doors, be sure to remove anything inside the cabinets that may pose a safety to hazard to children or pets, such as household cleaners. For exposed pipes in your attic, basement, or crawlspaces, add extra insulation around them.

Prepare to Stow Your Mower

Fuel remaining in the engine will decompose, “varnishing” the carburetor and causing difficulty when you try to start the engine in the spring. If you’ve added stabilizer to your fuel to keep it fresh longer, then fill the gas tank to the top with more stabilized fuel and run the engine briefly to allow it to circulate. If not, wait until the tank is nearly empty from use and run the engine to use up the remaining fuel. Check your mower’s manual for other cold-weather storage steps.

Time to Fertilize Trees

As soils cool down and mostly remain uniformly moist, tree and shrub growth resumes in the fall, making it the perfect time to fertilize trees. Fall fertilization increases the productivity of soil, both in increasing nutrient availability and encourages root growth. Trees and shrubs with a healthy productive root system are far more likely to overwinter with fewer dead branches and increased spring growth.

Wait to Prune Trees or Shrubs Until Late Winter

While it’s tempting to break out pruning shears after the leaves fall, horticulturalists advise waiting to prune until late winter for most plants, when they’ve been long dormant—and just before spring growth begins. If you want advice specific to your plants and region, consult master gardeners at local nurseries or horticulturalists with your state university’s cooperation extension department. You may need to hire a service to remove deadfall or trim limbs close to your home or power lines that could cause problems in a winter storm.

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