Your Ultimate Guide to How to Winterize a House

Man cleaning out his gutters to prevent ice dams

Harsh winter temperatures have a major effect on everything outdoors, but winter can also affect your home. Learning how to winterize a house will provide you with the information you need to keep your home safe, warm, and free from potential damage. If you’ve never prepared your home for winter, you may not know where to begin. Use this guide to better understand how winter can affect your house and the best techniques for winterization.

16 Ways Winter Weather Can Affect Your Home

Freezing temperatures and violent storms can affect your home inside and out. While vacant homes pose a higher risk for weather damage, any unprotected home can face serious damage during the winter months. Here are just a few ways winter weather can damage your home and why knowing how to winterize a house is so important.

1. Damaged, Broken, or Fallen Gutter Systems

Fall leaves often clog gutters. Failure to clear these gutters before freezing temperatures hit can spell disaster for your home. When water freezes and snow back up in your gutters, the resulting weight can break gutters loose from your home or cause ice dams. The result can be damage to your roof or siding and leaks, which can cause structural damage over time.

2. Cracked Foundation

If your clogged gutters don’t break free from your home, they can still cause serious damage. A non-functional gutter system can lead to running water and ice buildup around your home. This moisture creates new foundation cracks or targets existing ones, making them larger.

3. Flooded Basements

Sump pumps are amazing tools that can keep your basement dry and safe. Heavy snowfall can put pressure on your sump pump’s drain, causing it to back up into your basement.

4. Leaky Roof

Improperly insulated attacks can lead to thawing and refreezing of ice on your roof. As slushy snow and ice refreeze along your gutter system, ice dams form, preventing natural drainage. Additional snow and ice have nowhere to go except inside your home.

5. Rotted Door and Window Frames

When your door frames are exposed to continual moisture, structural damage can occur. Softening wood can lead to crumbling door frames and entry points for termites in the spring.

6. Flooded Yards

Improperly insulated outdoor pipes can lead to big problems surrounding your home. When outdoor pipes and fixtures aren’t properly insulated or winterized, underground pipes or outdoor wall fixtures can break.

7. Mold Growth

Cold air outside and warm air inside provide the perfect conditions for condensation, which often leads to mold. Poorly insulated homes are especially vulnerable to this problem, and mold can exacerbate respiratory issues that naturally occur during the winter.

8. Cracked and Peeling Exterior Paint

If your exterior paint is damaged, improperly applied, or sealed incorrectly, cracks and peeling can occur during winter weather. While this damage affects your home’s appearance, it can also lead to siding damage and potential leaks.

9. Flooding Inside Your Home

Burst pipes don’t only occur outdoors. Improperly insulated walls and ceilings can lead to pipes that freeze and burst inside your home. Burst pipes can cause slow leaks or extreme flooding, which leads to serious wall and structural damage.

10. Chimney Cracks and Leaks

While the heat from your fire rarely causes chimney damage, the heating and cooling that occurs with winter weather can lead to the gradual degradation of your chimney. Additionally, if your chimney flashing was installed during cold weather, it can fail to adhere properly, leading to leaks.

11. Rodent Damage

When the weather cools outdoors, rodents seek a warm space inside your home. Chimney damage or rotting window or door frames provide easy entry for critters that can damage your home. These pests can eat away at or degrade your home’s insulation, leading to a variety of winter damage.

12. Failed HVAC

When powerful winter storms cause ice and snow buildup on your HVAC’s exterior unit, an emergency shutdown can occur. This leaves you and your family without heat during the worst possible time and can lead to other damage like frozen pipes.

13. Damaged Grout

When grout is exposed to cold, wet temperatures, it can degrade and pull away from the surfaces it’s designed to protect. When your grout’s water sealing properties are compromised, the resulting damage can include mold growth and damage to plaster, drywall, and even wood framing.

14. Gas Leaks

High winter winds can blow out pilot lights for your furnace and oven, causing a potential gas leak inside your home. Gas leaks cause a variety of dangers for your home, including carbon monoxide poisoning, fire, and even explosion.

15. Cracked Walls

Your home’s heating system can dry out the air in your home. This drier air can be dangerous for plaster walls, causing them to shrink and crack. Maintaining a consistent temperature can help you avoid this problem.

16. Tree Damage

Snow and ice build up on tree branches, adding several extra pounds. The extra weight leads to broken branches that can crash down onto your roof and cause significant damage. Even when trees and falling branches aren’t close enough to hit your home, they can cause damage to your electric lines and lead to a power loss during the coldest months of the year.

Your Step-by-Step Guide to How to Winterize a House

Man sealing window seams with caulk to prevent drafts

There are a variety of tasks you’ll need to accomplish to winterize your home and avoid the potential damage that the weather can cause. Taking steps to keep your home warmer, stronger, and drier will help keep your house in the best shape possible during the frigid winter months. Use this handy guide about how to winterize a house to ensure you’re fully prepared for whatever Mother Nature has in store this winter.

Weatherproofing Your Home

Weatherproofing includes a variety of tasks that help you keep cold outside and heat inside. If you want to start the process of how to winterize a house, minimizing the effects of weather on the interior is a good start. The results not only keep you and your family warmer. They can also help you lower your energy bills. Try these tips to keep your home warmer this winter:

Install Storm Doors

The air that seeps in around your doors and windows can keep your furnace running way too often. Storm doors provide double-duty protection by sealing out cold air and keeping moisture from reaching your door frames.

Weatherstrip the Doors and Windows

Weather stripping comes in a variety of materials (like vinyl and foam) designed to block cold. These materials may require certain glues or tapes to apply, though some types already have adhesive applied. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for the correct application of your product.

Install a Door Sweep

This handy device seals the gap between the bottom of your door and the threshold to block out cool drafts. You may be required to cut a door sweep to fit your door and use screws or nails to attach the piece in place. Some varieties are designed to simply slide onto the bottom of aluminum doors.

Caulk Around Windows

Drafty windows (especially those in your attic) are a common culprit for lost heat during the winter. Check all your windows for drafts and apply caulk around windows to seal out cold and keep heat in.

Insulate Your Attic

If you have an unfinished attic or have never checked to see if your space is properly insulated, you could be in for a big surprise. A large amount of your home’s heat can escape from your attic, causing high energy bills, dangerous ice dams, and leaks. Insulate your attic with the proper materials and thickness for your climate. Your basement and attached garage can benefit from insulation as well.

Winterizing Your Plumbing System

Freezing temperatures can wreak havoc on your plumbing system, so any plan for how to winterize a house should focus on preventing freezing water. Outdoor lines with remaining water can leave you with a lake in your yard. Improperly insulated walls and pipes can lead to leaks within the walls. Pipes that freeze and burst in walls, ceilings, or basements can lead to flood damage. Read on about how to winterize a house by ensuring your plumbing is winter-ready.

Learn the Locations of Your Shut-Off Valves

If you encounter frozen pipes or leaks during the winter, then you need to know how to stop the water flow as quickly as possible. Make sure you know where each shut-off valve is located, including the main valve that shuts off water to your entire home. No matter how much you know about how to winterize a house, something may go wrong. When you already know where the shut-offs are, you can respond faster to problems.

Insulate Your Pipes

Exposed pipes in your walls, basement, or crawlspace are more likely to freeze. Use foam sleeves to cover these pipes and protect them against freezing temperatures.

Disconnect and Store Garden Hoses

Water that freezes in exterior hoses can rupture your faucet. Disconnect all outdoor hoses, dry them completely, and store them for the winter.

Winterize Exterior Faucets

If your outdoor faucets have shut off valves, close them and completely drain the faucet to prevent freezing. If you don’t have shut off valves, use a foam cover to insulate your outdoor faucets.

Close the Foundation Vents and Repair Any Broken Basement Windows

Check your basement thoroughly before winter sets in. Close foundation vents and caulk around windows to prevent drafts that could lead to frozen pipes. Repair cracked or broken windows before temperatures dip below freezing.

Keep Your Heat On

Even when you won’t be home, it’s essential to keep your thermostat set at 55 degrees to avoid frozen pipes during extremely cold weather.

Allow the Water to Drip From Faucets When Temperatures Are Below 20 Degrees

During the coldest nights, all your regular efforts may not be sufficient to keep your pipes safe. Allow cold water to drip or run in a small stream in a few faucets to keep water moving through the system. This movement is usually all you need to avoid frozen pipes.

How to Winterize a House By Preparing the Roof

Your roof takes the brunt of all types of winter weather. You probably don’t think much about the condition of your roof as long as it’s keeping the rain out. But when winter is on the way, it’s important to inspect your roof for any dangers that could lead to damage from winter weather. Take these steps to ensure your roof is winter-ready:

Inspect the Roof

Look for signs of deterioration, loose or damaged flashing, and clogged valleys. Inspect shingles for wear. Watch for broken, frayed, curled, or missing shingles. If you’re unsure of your roof’s condition, or unable to inspect it yourself, contact a professional roofer for an inspection.

Clear Away Dirt and Debris

Clear dirt, pine needles, fallen leaves, and other debris from your roof. This type of organic matter can prevent the natural flow of water and snow from your roof and lead to ice dams.

Check and Clean the Gutters

Fall and early winter are prime times for clogged gutters. Inspect your gutters for leaves and other debris. Scoop out large clogs and use a water hose to flush out smaller debris from your gutter system.

Trim Your Trees

While trees can provide valuable protection against winter wind, dead limbs are a danger to your home. Cut back overhanging branches or any dead or dying tree limbs. These objects can cause roof damage or become dangerous projectiles during winter storms.

Install Snow Guards

Snow avalanches from sloping roofs can cause a mess that leaves you spending a quality afternoon with the snow shovel. They can also cause damage to gutters, skylights, and lower roof areas. Installing snow guards will allow snow and ice to melt and gradually drift from your roof in small amounts.

Inspect the Attic

Your attic’s interior can provide a wealth of clues to the condition of your roof. Check for stains on ceilings and walls, mold and mildew, and wet spots that signal leaks. While you’re up there, take a look at the windows and ensure there are no cracks or drafts.

Prep Your Heating System for Winter

When winter delivers its worst, your heating system should be at its best. All heating systems can benefit from an annual winter inspection to ensure nothing is clogged, worn, or damaged. Maintaining your heating system as a key part of how to winterize a house is also a great way to improve indoor air quality during the winter months. Take these steps to prepare your heating system for winter:

Check Your Chimney for Buildup or Blockage

Creosote buildup in your fireplace and chimney can be dangerous. Additionally, if your chimney cap is damaged or missing, it’s not uncommon for birds, bees, or other small creatures to take up residence in your chimney while it’s not in use. If you’re concerned about the condition of your fireplace, flue, or chimney, call a chimney sweep for assistance before using your fireplace.

Optimize Your Thermostat

A programmable thermostat is a great tool as you develop your plan for how to winterize a house. It allows you to customize your heating system for the most efficient heating schedule, even when you aren’t home. You can program the thermostat for one temperature when you’re home and another while you’re away.

Schedule an Energy Assessment

Many power companies provide free services to help you detect areas that cause excessive energy loss during winter. An energy assessment will help you understand specific changes that can help you keep your home warmer and save money on energy bills.

Check Your Detectors

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are essential safety measures no matter how you heat your home. Inspect all the detectors in your home and replace the batteries as needed.

Get Professional Help

Most homeowners are not heating experts. Your HVAC technician, chimney sweep, or electrician can provide you with a professional inspection to ensure your heating system is working properly and safely for the season ahead.

Pro Tip for How to Winterize a House:

If you haven’t replaced your furnace or central air filters within the last three months, now is the time to take care of them. Your furnace will run more efficiently and provide more heat with clean filters. Filters should be replaced at least once each season.

How to Winterize a Vacant Home

A technician draining and inspecting a hot water heater before winter vacancy

Knowing how to winterize a house that’s vacant is similar to winterizing a home you plan on staying in. But if you’re responsible for a home that will be vacant during the winter months, you’ll have to take extra steps to avoid potential weather-related disasters. While many weatherproofing techniques will act as useful safety measures, additional steps should be taken to secure a home that won’t be used during the winter. Take these steps to ensure your vacant home is safe during harsh winter weather:

Make Use of Utilities

Turning off the heat and electricity may seem like a great way to save money on your heating bill, but it’s not really the most advisable option. Many of the components of any modern home are designed to be kept at room temperature. While it may seem like a waste of money, keeping the heat on at a low level could save you hundreds of dollars in the long run. 50 or 55 degrees should be enough to keep pipes from freezing.

Prep the Plumbing

When water freezes, it expands, leading to burst pipes and flooding. While your heat provides a useful function in your vacant home, there’s no need to have running water available. Shutting off the water and draining the system is a great way to avoid returning to a flooded home next spring. Use this checklist to ensure you don’t miss an essential step of the plumbing winterization process:

  • Shut off the main water valve. Then turn off the water pump and the water heater.
  • Open all valves and faucets to drain any remaining water in the system. These taps will remain open while the plumbing system is not in use.
  • Drain your water heater. If your water doesn’t have a floor drain, you’ll need to attach a garden hose to drain the tank completely.
  • Drain any water that is left in the holding tank. Ensure that all of the water is drained, and add antifreeze to the jet pump case.
  • Flush the toilets to remove as much water as possible from toilet tanks and bowls. Add antifreeze to tanks and bowls after flushing.
  • Check the sink and tub drains to ensure no water remains in taps, and add antifreeze to the drains to eliminate freezing risks from leftover water.
  • Insulate all exposed pipes to prevent freezing (and add an extra layer of protection).
  • Inspect the outside of the home. Seal exterior cracks and make sure the crawl space is properly insulated.

If you’re uncertain about your ability to successfully winterize your plumbing system, contact a plumber for help.

Pro Tip for How to Winterize a House:

Never use automobile antifreeze to winterize your home plumbing system since it’s highly toxic. Instead, use RV antifreeze that is non-toxic and non-flammable.

Install Protection

Storm doors and windows are very effective for their intended purpose. Install storm doors, secure plywood over windows, and close your shutters. Check each window (including those in the attic and basement) to ensure they’re closed and locked.

Check Gutters and Roofs

Clogged gutters and minor roof damage can lead to serious damage when snow and ice are added to the equation. Your vacant home should have a roof inspection with the same care as the home you occupy. Also, take time to inspect the attic for potential signs of leaks. Roof damage should be repaired before you leave your home vacant during the winter.

Stay Unplugged

While utilities can be useful to keep things cozy, appliances and other tools should stay unplugged while the home is unoccupied. Heavy snow and ice combined with harsh winter winds are notorious for power outages and surges that can short-circuit electronic devices. In an unoccupied home, these occurrences are likely to go unnoticed or even lead to a fire.

Bring Everything Inside

Take outdoor furniture and decorations inside, or find a suitable storage solution. Avoid leaving items outdoors, where they could degrade or become projectiles in a violent storm.

Check the Sump Pump

Your sump pump is designed to remove excess water from your home to prevent flooding. It’s easy to assume your sump pump is working properly. However, a small clog can become a big deal when the weight of snow compromises your drain pipe. Make sure your sump pump is working its best before winter weather arrives.

Close off the Fireplace

A fireplace in use sends heat and smoke upwards through the chimney. A vacant fireplace that loses its chimney cap can become an inlet for rain, snow, and ice. It can also create a secure haven for animals to make a nest or even enter your home.

Arm the Security System and Alert Neighbors

Protecting your home in your absence is an important part of your winterization schedule. When your neighbors are aware your home will be vacant, they’re likely to notice unexpected intruders on the property. If you have a security system, ensure it is armed and working properly before you leave.

Learning how to winterize a house pays off in many ways. Besides keeping your home warmer during the winter months, you can save money on your energy bills and avoid potential damage to your home. Make sure you also protect other large assets like your RV or boat with our winterization tips.

Additional Winterization Resources

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