How to Winterize a House

Daria Kelly Uhlig
Daria Kelly Uhlig
  • Licensed Realtor with 10+ years in personal finance content

  • Contributor to Nasdaq and USA Today

Daria is a licensed Realtor and resort property manager specializing in personal finance, real estate, and insurance topics. In her spare time, she practices photography.

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Danny Smith
Edited byDanny Smith
Photo of an Insurify author
Danny Smith
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 4+ years in content creation and marketing

As Insurify’s home and pet insurance editor, Danny also specializes in auto insurance. His goal is to help consumers navigate the complex world of insurance buying.

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Updated February 8, 2023

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Winter poses unique threats to your home’s systems and structure, from burst pipes to wasted electricity to chimney fires. It’s important to take steps to winterize your home to prevent problems like frozen plumbing, damage to your heating and air system, and damage to the structure of your home. Increasing energy efficiency is also a key part of the winterization process.[1]

Here’s a closer look at what it means to winterize your home, why you should do it, and the steps you’ll take to get the job done.

What is winterization?

Winterization is the process of preparing your home to withstand winter weather and the serious damages it can cause. Winter can also make it difficult for your heating system to work efficiently, leading to inflated heating bills and costly repairs. 

Winterization helps you avoid these issues with some simple maintenance procedures, most of which you can do yourself.

Why you should winterize your home

You probably know someone whose pipes froze during a particularly cold run of winter weather or who spent a day huddled under blankets because their heat went out the first time they cranked up their thermostat. These are just a couple of potential consequences cold weather can have for your home and for members of your household.

Here are some reasons why it’s important to winterize your home — preferably before cold weather hits.

Winterization protects your plumbing system

Water expands as it freezes. And when it expands in your pipes, it can put so much pressure on them that they burst. Water can then spill out of the broken pipes, causing water damage to your walls and floors, not to mention furniture and other items in your home. Frozen lines can have consequences outdoors, too.

You’ll save money on heating costs

A well-maintained heating system operates more efficiently, which saves you money.[2] Making sure your home is as energy-efficient as possible — with things like smart thermostats, LED light bulbs, and regularly replacing your systems’ filters — can save you money, too. 

Learn More: Best Smart Home Devices and Hubs for Home Automation

Your home will last longer

You can avoid most preventable damages by winterizing your home and its systems each year. Taking proper care of your home can extend its lifetime and value, all while helping you avoid costly repairs and the headaches that come along with them.

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How to winterize your home

A long list of winterization tasks may look daunting at first, but you can do most of them yourself. Some, however, are best left to the pros. 

Drain outdoor water supplies

It’s a good idea to drain all the water supply lines supplying your pool, spa, sprinkler system, and water meter.[2] Also, remove garden hoses and turn off the water to any outdoor hose bibs. The American Red Cross recommends keeping outdoor bib valves open to allow for the expansion of any remaining water if it freezes.[3]

Check your roof and gutters

The American Society of Home Inspectors recommends checking your roof and gutters regularly to make sure snow and rain haven’t accumulated and frozen there.[1] This accumulation can result in ice dams that can seriously damage your home. A properly insulated and vented attic will help keep ice dams from forming.[4]

Check Out: Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Roof Leaks?

Insulate vulnerable water pipes

Plumbing pipes in cold areas — like an attic, crawl space, unheated basement, and your garage — are all vulnerable to freezing. Insulate them using heat tape or pipe sleeves. Several layers of newspaper can provide short-term protection in a pinch.[3]

Shore up unheated areas of your home

Installing or adding insulation to your attic, basement, garage, and other unheated areas of your home will help protect against pipe freezing.[3] Also, consider closing foundation vents if you can do so without risking moisture buildup.[5]

Eliminate drafts

Air can leak into your home anywhere two different building materials meet, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Outdoor culprits include the corners of your home, outdoor faucets, and the areas where your foundation meets the brick or siding.[5] 

Cracks and gaps in the following indoor areas can also let air leak in:

  • Outlets and switchplates

  • Door and window frames

  • Baseboards

  • Fireplaces

  • Attics

  • Wall and window air conditioning units

  • Dryer vents

  • HVAC vents

  • Fans

  • Area around pipes and wires

  • Mail slots

  • Ducts

Check these areas for drafts. If you find any, seal them up with weather stripping and caulk.[5]

Have your heating system serviced

A professional furnace or heat pump inspection will ensure that your heating unit is ready to go when the weather turns cold. An annual cleaning is also important if you have a furnace. The American Society of Home Inspectors notes that regular cleanings reduce dust and mold buildup while keeping your furnace running properly.[1]

Get your chimney cleaned

Fireplaces can be dangerous if they’re not properly maintained. Most chimney fires start during the winter and are caused by a buildup of a substance called creosote. Having the creosote cleaned out by a professional reduces the risk of a fire starting in your chimney, as well as the likelihood of CO2 poisoning.[6]After the chimney has been cleaned, you can keep it clean longer by keeping the fireplace doors and damper open as much as possible and using only well-seasoned firewood.[6]

Read More: 20 Best Fireplace Safety Tips for Homeowners

Encourage air circulation

Your heating system needs ample circulation to perform efficiently.[1] Make sure your vents are open (partway if you don’t use the room) and keep interior doors open as well.[7] A ceiling fan can also help in spaces with eight-foot ceilings or higher. Make sure they’re set to blow air downward to keep warm air from rising.

Perform a safety check

Winter is a good time to check your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. All homes should have a smoke detector on every level of the home, outside of each sleeping area, and inside each bedroom.[8] 

You also need carbon monoxide detectors if you have a heat source or appliance that uses combustible fuel, such as a washer, dryer, hot water heater, or furnace. Check with your local fire department for specific requirements in your jurisdiction.

Program your thermostat

If you have a programmable thermostat, set it to lower temperatures when no one is home and during the night when you’re sleeping. Even if you don’t have a programmable unit, you can save up to 10% on heating and cooling each year by turning the thermostat back seven to 10 degrees eight hours per day, according to the Iowa Utilities Board.[7]

Perform routine maintenance

Cleaning or replacing your air filters on time helps your heating system operate more efficiently and also keeps your air clean. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) also recommends cleaning heat registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators, and making sure they’re a safe distance from curtains, furniture, and carpeting.[5]

Another important task is to release trapped air from hot-water radiators at least once each season. You can get the most out of your radiator’s heat by putting a heat-resistant reflector between the unit and the wall, according to the DOE.

Cover your windows

Homes lose about 30% of their heat through windows, according to the DOE, but covering the windows with energy-efficient treatments can keep a lot of that heat inside.[5] Consider cellular or pleated shades, storm-window panels, curtains or drapes, and window film for inside your home. Film can also be used outside. Awnings, shutters, solar screens, and storm windows protect against heat loss, too. Make sure to keep curtains and shades open during the day so the sun can help heat your home.

Purchase a safe alternative heat source

UL-listed electric space heaters are safe to use if they have tip-over safety switches and can be positioned at least three feet from flammable materials. Plug them into wall outlets, extension cords, or strip outlets.[9]

Good to know

UL Listing means that UL Solutions has tested representative samples of a product and determined that the product meets specific, defined requirements.

UL-listed kerosene heaters are a viable option for well-ventilated spaces. Only use clear K-1 kerosene and never overfill the heater or refill it inside your home. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension recommends contacting your homeowners insurance company to make sure it covers fires resulting from the use of a kerosene heater.[10]

A generator can be an excellent emergency tool, but it can also be dangerous. Position it in a dry area at least 25 feet from your house and point the exhaust away from vents, windows, and doors to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure the cord is in good condition and has all three prongs.[11]

Prepare for an emergency

Winterizing your home reduces the risk of many winter perils, but it can’t eliminate it entirely. However, you’ll have an easier time dealing with emergencies if you can take immediate action. 

  • Label your home’s main water valve so you can find it in an emergency, or direct a family member to it if a broken pipe or other plumbing emergency necessitates turning off the water.

  • Label the breakers in your breaker box to make it easy to shut power off to an appliance or an area of your home.

  • Create a home inventory you can use to file a claim if your home is damaged or destroyed in a fire or other emergency.

Put together an emergency kit with essentials

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security suggests keeping an emergency kit that includes medications, pet care products, radios, flashlights, batteries, and water in case you lose heat or power during a winter weather event. Nonperishable food, a first-aid kit, and USB power banks are also useful during an outage.[12]

Create an emergency kit for your car, too, in case you get stuck on the road in frigid weather. Include jumper cables, sand to give your tires traction, a flashlight, warm clothing, blankets, water, and snacks.[12]

Build an emergency fund

Setting money aside for emergency repairs can be especially helpful during the winter months when time is of the essence for issues like a faulty heater. A savings account is best — never keep a large stash of cash in your home, where it could be stolen or lost in a fire or other emergency.

Read Also: Do I Need Home Repair Insurance?

Winterizing a house FAQs

Want to know more? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about how to winterize a house.

  • How do you winterize a house with a well?

    The well itself should be deep enough not to freeze, but components located above ground need attention. Roto-Rooter recommends insulating the pipes with foam sleeves, securely covering the well, and ensuring that the pump is inside an insulated enclosure.[13] 

  • Do septic tanks freeze in winter?

    Septic tanks typically do not freeze, according to the North Dakota State University agricultural extension. The exception is homes that sit vacant for a week or more and have no water entering the tank. In that case, NDSU recommends placing a layer of insulating material at least a foot deep over the tank, extending it at least five feet past the tank’s edges.[14]

  • How do you winterize a trailer house?

    The same steps you’d follow to winterize a site-built home also apply to manufactured and mobile homes, but the skirt on a manufactured home poses unique challenges. If you don’t have skirting, it’s a good idea to get it. Once installed, insulate the skirt and cover any open areas to help keep pipes from freezing.[15]

    Also place a vapor barrier beneath the home, and check your home’s underbelly for signs of damage. Repair or replace any damaged parts if necessary. Freezing ground can cause your home to shift. Loosening the tie-downs slightly allows your home to settle.

Compare Home Insurance Quotes Instantly

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Sources

  1. American Society of Home Inspectors. "Preparing Your Home for Winter."
  2. NYC Department of Buildings. "Preparing Your Property for the Winter Season."
  3. American Red Cross. "Preventing & Thawing Frozen Pipes."
  4. National Weather Service. "Preventing Roof Ice Dams."
  5. U.S. Department of Energy. "Energy Saver."
  6. FEMA. "Chimney Fire Precautions."
  7. Iowa Utilities Board. "Tips to Save Energy."
  8. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. "CO Alarms."
  9. Indiana Department of Homeland Security. "Alternative Heating."
  10. Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. "Winter Storms: Safety Tips for Heating Your Home ."
  11. National Institute of Standards and Technology. "Generator Safety."
  12. U.S. Department of Homeland Security. "How to Protect Yourself from Winter Weather."
  13. Roto-Rooter. "How Do I Prevent a Well from Freezing?."
  14. North Dakota State University. "|Share Precautions Can Prevent Frozen Septic Systems."
  15. Mobile Home Living. "How to Winterize your Mobile Home Like a Professional."
Daria Kelly Uhlig
Daria Kelly Uhlig

Daria Uhlig is a freelance writer and editor with over a decade of experience creating personal finance content. Her work appears on USA Today, Nasdaq, MSN, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, GOBankingRates and AOL. As a licensed Realtor and resort property manager, she specializes in real estate topics, including landlord, homeowners and renters insurance. In her spare time, Daria can be found photographing people and places on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Danny Smith
Edited byDanny Smith
Photo of an Insurify author
Danny Smith
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 4+ years in content creation and marketing

As Insurify’s home and pet insurance editor, Danny also specializes in auto insurance. His goal is to help consumers navigate the complex world of insurance buying.

Featured in

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