Your Winter Home Maintenance Checklist

Our Canadian winter's coming. Is your home ready?

Don't fall behind on your winter home-to-dos. Maintaining your home is important — to protect your investment from harsh weather and reduce your monthly energy costs. Here are some tips and tasks to check off your list.


Check windows and doors for leaks and drafts

It makes sense to seal up leaky windows and doors. You pay to heat your home, so keeping warm air inside and cold drafts out (even tiny ones) can reduce the need to turn up the thermostat. You'll also prevent moisture from creeping into frames, walls and trim.

  • Check on the state of your windows and doors for air leaks. Use caulking, weather stripping, door sweeps, or other products to seal gaps.
  • Place your hand on your front and back door when it's cold outside. If they feel colder than the inside of your exterior walls, it may be time to install a more energy-efficient (well-insulated) door.
  • Exterior door frames can expand and contract over the seasons. Adjust doors that are ill-fitting or 'bind' when opening or closing to neatly fit inside the jamb once again.
  • Put up window film or insulated curtains to help prevent cold air from entering the room after the sun has gone down (especially on north-facing windows that don't see direct sunlight).
  • Are your window seals broken? If there's moisture trapped inside, your windows have lost the ability to insulate and should be replaced.

Clear gutters and ensure proper water drainage in your yard

Melting snow (or cold rain) should drain away from your house properly, to prevent freeze-thaw cycle damage or ice buildup in the wrong places.

  • Clear out leaves and debris from your gutters, and away from the opening of eavestroughs on the ground.
  • Eyeball your roof for loose shingles or signs of water leakage.
  • Pay attention to where your eavestroughs drain, or ask a professional. Draining too close to your house or pavers may damage walkways or patios, or lead to foundation cracks.
  • On decks and patios, put away furniture or items that will accumulate snow, or get in the way of clearing snow.

Protect entryways

Help protect your entryway floors, baseboards and doors from the winter havoc brought in by boots and coats.

  • Use a rubber boot tray to contain the melt-mixture of snow, dirt, gravel and salt.
  • Put down a sturdy rug to absorb moisture and trap dirt (making sure to occasionally vacuum, wash or professionally clean).
  • Use a separate coat rack or hooks to hang snow-covered or wet outerwear, rather than trapping the moisture to evaporate inside your closet.
  • Keep a towel or paper towels near the door to spot-wipe muddy footprints and snow, or to wipe the bottom of your door frames. This will also help protect your 4-legged family members from harsh salts.

Get ready to clear the snow and ice

Make sure you have the right equipment to deal with snow and ice, or hire a service that does. Keeping entrances, sidewalks and driveways clear is often legally required. And even your roof and trees may need attention after a big snowfall. In addition to increasing safety, removing snow can prevent ice buildup, leaks, and potential tree or heavy snow damage to your house.

  • Get your brooms and shovels out for easy access, and make sure they're ready to handle the task (no worn-down edges or cracks).
  • Have a snow blower? Make sure it's in working order, too.
  • Stock up on gravel and salt.
  • After large snowfalls, check outside vents and utilities to make sure they're clear.
  • Clear snow from other areas as often as possible, such as patios, decks, walkways, or around steps or retaining walls to help prevent damage inflicted throughout a season of freeze-thaw cycles.
  • Keep an eye on your roof, if snow needs to be cleared to lighten the load (best to get professional help for this one).

Inspect your furnace, hot water tank and humidifier

  • Check and replace filters to improve air and water flow.
  • Fall is a great time to have your furnace, hot water tank and humidifier inspected for worn parts, or faulty valves or temperature regulators, so that they don't give up when the temperatures go down.
  • Wrap your hot water tank with an approved insulation blanket, to reduce standby heat loss and lower your heating costs.
  • You may be tempted to turn down your hot water tank to conserve energy, but experts recommend keeping it above a certain temperature to prevent bacteria from multiplying. Instead, install low-flow faucets and shower heads throughout your home to conserve hot water use.
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Protect against frozen pipes and winter flooding

Avoid the shock — of a burst pipe and resulting flood of water inside your house, or of the failure of equipment in dealing with floodwater outside of it.

  • Insulate indoor pipes in colder areas of your home, like the basement or garage, to prevent pipes freezing and to reduce heat loss.
  • Turn off and drain outdoor sprinkler systems and waterlines. If possible, remove outdoor faucets (or tape them off) to prevent accidentally turning them on during fall or winter.
  • When the temperature really drops, keep bathroom doors open to encourage heat circulation. But keep garage doors closed to help retain heat.
  • When it's very cold, turning down the thermostat to converse energy may result in burst pipes. When temperatures dip to extreme lows, keep your house at 21°C or above.
  • If you turn on a faucet and the water pressure is really low, turn it off immediately and check for frozen pipes. If you think a pipe is frozen, call the plumber and don't turn on your water again until they say it's okay.
  • Ensure that your sump pump is in working order to help protect your basement against winter storm floods. Consider installing a backup power system to run it if the power goes out.

Trim tree branches

Your bare trees or evergreen spruces may seem un-intimidating now, but take a careful look at their proximity to your roof, utilities, fence and power lines.

  • Strong winds, freezing rain or heavy snow may bend or even break branches or trees, which may impede power lines or cause damage to your house or property (plus add a fire risk).
  • Trim them back now, or hire a professional to create a safe perimeter.

Check on insulation and ventilation

Check your attic, roof and crawlspace to ensure vents are unblocked and that insulation is evenly distributed.

  • Consider upgrading insulation to keep warm air in and cold air out (which will also help keep your house cooler in the summer).
  • Carefully check that your roof and attic have enough vents and that they're clear (or hire a professional to check for you). Proper air flow may help prevent dangerous ice dams from forming on your roof.
  • Check your crawl space, and move items away from the walls, just in case a leak develops as a result of a winter storm or burst pipe.
  • Reverse ceiling fans (to rotate at low speed in clockwise direction) to push warm air down and draw cooler air up.

Inspect the chimney, fireplace and detectors

  • Before using your fireplace on the first frosty day, get ahead of the bookings and have yours inspected and cleaned early, whether wood-burning or gas.
  • Wood-burning fireplaces and chimneys may have creosote buildup, a significant fire risk. But gas lines and valves also need inspection to check for leaks and proper ignition.
  • Be sure to close the damper on your chimney when not in use, so that cooler air isn't drawn into the house.
  • Make a habit of checking your smoke/fire and carbon-monoxide detectors twice-annually — installing new batteries (if needed) and testing the alarms.

Stop condensation on your windows

Condensation on cold windows is a normal process: warm air carries more moisture, and has to give it up when it meets that colder window surface. However, heavy condensation will pool water at your sill, threatening water damage and mold growth.

  • Even though having a humidifier in the winter helps to keep your thermostat down, having the humidity up too high, especially in extreme temps, will increase the condensation. You may need to turn it right down during extreme dips, or improve circulation to keep your windows clear.
  • Position blinds at a slant and open drapes to encourage ventilation.
  • Make sure vents under windows and beside doors are open and unblocked to help air circulation reach your windows.
  • Consider adding moisture-absorbing products (or a rolled-up towel) to your window sills (changing them as needed).

What about your garage?

Not everyone uses their garage the same way. Whether you use yours as a hangout, for handyman work, or for storage (or to actually store your vehicles) — your garage is a rather large portal to the outside. It can affect your in-home heating, or require expensive maintenance as a result of winter weather factors.

  • Consider insulating your garage walls to reduce heat loss from your house.
  • Check your garage door-opener equipment for possible signs of failure in frozen weather.
  • Inspect the garage door and person-doors for leaks and drafts.
  • Keep the doors closed as much as possible, to prevent the transfer of warmer air from your house (or colder air into your house).
  • Clear snow and moisture from your garage floor (and driveway) to prevent condensation damage or it seeping into your house (if attached).

And just as important, have a survival kit and family escape route ready

Fortune favours the prepared, so here's a list of things to get ready in case of an outage or if a quick escape is needed.

  • Put together a survival kit. You never know when the power may go out, or for how long. Or if your furnace or water halts, you may need to buy some time before help arrives:
    • Include bottled water, candles, matches, blankets, flashlights, a radio, batteries, food and snacks (that will keep for a time), a first-aid kit, and toiletries such as hand sanitizer and tissue. Also include any special items, such as diapers and formula, or pet food.
    • Next winter, remember to double-check expiry dates on your supplies.
  • Plan out an escape route, or what to do if an emergency happens and you need to leave immediately. Make sure to rehearse with little ones in a relaxed manner, so that they'll be less nervous.
  • Have your important items in one place in case you have time to grab them, such as wills, financial papers, photos, extra keys, etc.
  • Don't forget about your pets — designate a person to be in charge of gathering your furry (or feathered or scaled?) family members in the face of chaos.

Check up on your home now — it may save you money and stress later.

Fall is a busy time of year. But blocking off a couple of hours to check up on items and systems can help you spot issues and fix them before they get worse, or result in sudden damage when you least expect it. You can also use the time to improve the energy efficiency of your home to keep monthly utility costs down.

Face the Canadian winter while being better prepared. And when you're all done your checklist, enjoy the snow!

Please note that the above tips are considered best home-maintenance practices; however, details and results may vary.

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