Essential Winter Home Maintenance Tasks: Don’t Skip These!

By thewriteDuffy •  Updated: 12/08/23 •  8 min read

As you’re digging out those sweaters and coats to prepare for winter, don’t forget that you also should get your home ready for colder weather.

Taking the time to complete a few simple tasks can save you money and make your home a more comfortable place this winter.

In this article, you’ll get to know which parts of your home deserve attention before winter weather leaves you in the cold.

We’ve asked home-maintenance professionals which winter preparation tasks are the most essential and why. Here are the four must-do things to complete before winter hits, as well as four additional tasks you should do.

Must Do Winter Home Maintenance Tasks

1. Gutters and Roof

Must do: Clear debris from your gutters or have a professional do it. Make sure your downspouts are directing water at least three feet away from your home’s foundation, says David Berger, a home-improvement expert at DDS Construction and Remodelling.

Also, make sure that your gutters and downspouts are securely fastened to your house and that there is no blockage in the downspout. If you’re cleaning your gutters yourself, you can check for downspout blockages using your water hose. Insert the hose at the top of the downspout and turn on the water; have someone see if the water is running out the bottom. If there is a blockage, you can try to loosen it by packing rags around the hose at the top of the spout to seal it off, then running the hose at full blast. If that doesn’t work, try a plumbing snake.

Why are gutters and downspouts important? Winter weather typically means more rain or snow, which can seriously damage your home’s foundation. Gutters and downspouts are there to take the water that runs off your roof and get it away from your home. Keeping them working properly will keep your foundation dry and stable and save you a lot of money and hassle.

Should do: Check your roof for peeling tiles and any potential roofing issues. If you really want to be diligent, inspect your attic for mold, water stains and other signs of moisture.

“The last thing you want to do is get into winter with a potential leak,” Berger says.

2. Furnace Maintenance

Must do: If you do nothing else, replace the filter, Berger says.

Should do: Have a professional perform an annual furnace check. Berger says a good furnace pro will vacuum the unit, lubricate the parts, replace your filter and check the thermostat.

“Many homeowners change their filters regularly, and that helps,” says Matt Prather of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, which deals with heating and cooling. But he says most homeowners don’t have the tools or expertise to perform the required maintenance.

“Furnaces are like cars,” he says. “They are mechanical, and they need regular maintenance to operate efficiently and safely.”

He recommends inspections of the furnace and air-conditioning unit twice a year: at the start of the heating season and at the start of the cooling season.

Berger urges homeowners to get that furnace checked soon.

“Don’t wait for a potential furnace problem,” he says. “If it gets to be 10 degrees and your furnace doesn’t work, you and 300 other people are calling.”

Berger also recommends that homeowners who have an older thermostat upgrade to a smart thermostat so they can monitor their use and program when the furnace runs and save money on heating.

3. Insulation Check

Must do: Walk around inside your house while the sun is out and look at the doors that lead outside. If you see daylight coming in around the door frame, that’s a sign that outside air is leaking in.

What should you do if you find an air leak? You can buy weatherstripping at a hardware or home-improvement store and create a tighter seal. Ask an expert at the store to help you find the right type of weatherstripping for your project.

Remove old insulation first, if possible. Make sure your door still shuts properly and securely after you install the weatherstripping.

If light is coming in from the bottom of the door, you can buy a door sweep to keep cold air out.

Also check for cold air coming in around windows and through switch plates and outlets. Weatherstripping can seal off leaks around windows, just as with the door frame. For the outlets and switch plates, you can buy foam outlet insulators and switch plate seals that will provide a layer of insulation to keep the cold air out. They are inexpensive and are installed just below the outlet cover or switch plate cover.

Should do: Berger highly recommends that homeowners have a blower door test performed to determine where the house is leaking air so they can insulate and upgrade to create a tighter, more comfortable home — not to mention save some money.

What is a blower door test? A blower door is a fan that mounts into the frame of an exterior door. It blows air outside to lower the air pressure inside the house. Auditors can then detect where air is leaking in the home and determine how to seal those areas. Read more about blower door tests on the Energy Department website here.

Berger says the test, which costs several hundred dollars, can easily pay for itself by alerting homeowners to insulation issues that, when fixed, can save them as much as 40% on heating and cooling bills.

“Eighty percent of homes were built when energy was cheap,” he says. “That means most homes are underinsulated.”

He says homes usually have gaps that let in air at doors and windows and between floors. An attic should have at least 12 inches of insulation, he says. Any place where light reaches the attic through the main living space of a home needs additional insulation.

“For $1,200, you can probably get all the additional insulation and air sealing you need,” Berger says. “The payback should be fairly dramatic, but fundamentally, we’re talking about comfort. You’ll just notice how much more comfortable it is: warm in the winter, cool in the summer.”

4. Outside Sprinkler Winterizing

Must do: If your home has a sprinkler system, it must be winterized to prevent any freezing in the colder months, says Sam Coller, owner of Coller Sprinkler Service in Denver.

Winterizing that system consists of shutting it off from inside the home, draining it and using compressed air to blow any remaining water out of individual sections of the system. Coller recommends having a professional do this.

“It takes a pretty big air compressor,” he says. “If you don’t do it properly, the expense in the spring is pretty significant.”

Coller says an early freeze last year in Denver meant 70% of his customers had systems freeze.

“Instead of $65 to blow it out, they spent anywhere from $200 to $600 to repair it,” he says.

People who live in older homes may need to drain and protect their outdoor spigots, as well, but most newer homes have frostless faucets that close off inside of the house.

If your home doesn’t have frostless faucets, remove all hoses from the faucets and bring them inside. Ensure that the outside water valve is shut off, then shut off the isolation valve inside the house, if your home has one. Go back out and turn on the outside faucet to let any water drain out. Return inside and reopen the isolation valve to let any remaining water drain, then close the valve. Turn off your outside valve and insulate the faucet with rags or foam faucet covers.

If you don’t have an isolation valve, just disconnect the hoses and insulate the faucet.

Extra Credit: Check These for Areas Potential Issues

While the four winter home maintenance tasks above are the must-dos if you want to ensure your winter months are smooth sailing, here are a few other things to think about before winter hits:

5. Fireplace and Chimney Check

If your home has a fireplace and you regularly have fires, it may be time to have a chimney sweep take a look. Berger says it’s a good idea to have this done every two or three years. Remember that your chimney is letting cold air into your house. Sealing your fireplace with a glass front or screen will reduce heat loss.

6. Pipe Insulation Check 

You can save a little money on hot water by insulating your pipes so they will hold heat longer, Berger says.

7. Detector Battery Check

Check the batteries in your carbon-monoxide and smoke detectors and make sure the detectors are working. The danger of carbon-monoxide poisoning is greater in the winter because more people are burning fuel in their homes.

8. Winter Supply Check

Berger says homeowners should think about what they would do if the power went out for 24 hours. Have flashlights and batteries on hand, and possibly even a portable heater. It’s also not a bad idea to own a snow shovel, even if it rarely snows where you live.

thewriteDuffy

At home, April is a mom, wife, and DIY darling. Among other home projects, she helped her husband Dan renovate their 1986 bungalow and is currently designing and decorating the 2023 custom home they are building themselves. Professionally, April is a writer, author, and online marketer with 15 years of experience writing for newspapers and magazines, building online authority websites, and publishing books.