Cold Man  © Corbis

The Basics

13 ways to winterize your home

Checking the furnace, air ducts, gutters and water pipes before the cold weather hits will save you from potential headaches later.

By Insure.com

For many of us, winter means curling up next to the fireplace. But what if your home isn't prepared for winter weather? You could find yourself fixing burst water pipes instead. These tips from the Insurance Information Institute and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry can help eliminate some of the worry about your home this winter.

  • Make sure your furnace is in good working order. Check that the furnace filter is clean, and replace it if it's not. Make sure that the thermostat and pilot light are working properly and that the pipe bringing fuel to your furnace isn't leaking or loose.

  • Have your heating ducts cleaned. The ducts should be vacuumed every five years.

  • Trim trees and remove dead branches. Ice, snow and wind could cause weak tree trunks or branches to break, damaging your home or car, or injuring someone walking on your property.

  • Check the caulking around doors and windows to make sure there's no cracking or peeling. Recaulking, if needed, prevents cold air from entering your home. Why pay a higher heating bill if you don't have to?

  • Keep snow and ice from building up around the bottom of the garage door so that it closes completely and doesn't warp.

  • Frozen water pipes can crack and spew gallons of water all over your home. You can prevent this by draining your outdoor hose bibs and by keeping your heat on even when you're away from home.

  • Keep the house warm. The temperature in the home should be at least 65 degrees. The temperature inside the walls, where the pipes are located, is substantially colder than the walls themselves. A temperature lower than 65 degrees will not keep the pipes from freezing.

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  • Make sure steps and handrails are in good shape. Broken stairs and banisters can become even more dangerous when covered with snow and ice. Make repairs now to prevent someone from falling and being seriously injured.

  • Get to know your plumbing. Learn how to shut off the water, and know where your pipes are located. If your pipes do freeze, time is of the essence. The more quickly you can shut off the water, or direct your plumber to the problem, the better chance you have of preventing the pipes from bursting.

  • Take special care if you plan to be away from home. If you are not going to be in your home this winter for an extended period of time, have the water system drained by a professional to keep pipes from freezing or bursting. Also, hire someone to check on your home on a regular basis. That way, a problem can be fixed quickly, lessening any damage. Activity at your home also reduces the likelihood that it will be burglarized.

  • Drain the gasoline from lawn mowers, weed whackers and other engines that won't be used until summer. This lengthens the life of your equipment and helps avoid costly repairs.

Updated May 20, 2007

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