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12 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Winter

Dec. 1, 2020
4 mins
A man and woman in winter attire hold hot drinks and walk through a holiday market

It’s been said Canada has only two seasons: summer and hockey. As amusing as that is, it’s true to say winter is synonymous with living in Canada.

It looms large in Canadian culture and is reflected in our literature, music, fashion and pastimes. For all the wonderous things winter provides, it can also wreak havoc on our homes when snow and ice storms, blizzards, and bitterly cold wind strikes. Extreme weather swings during winter are the norm in Canada, which is why it’s wise to protect your digs and family by preparing for what’s to come.

Use this checklist of indoor and outdoor maintenance tasks to help reduce the chances of having to file a home insurance claim, and ensure you won't have any crises during the colder months:

1. Heating and cooling

Annual maintenance for your HVAC system by a professional can help reduce the chance of your furnace breaking down at the worst possible time. Even if you don't have an expert come in to inspect it, replace the furnace filter to help keep the air inside the house clear of dust, dirt, and allergens, as well as allow the furnace to run efficiently. Do you have an air conditioner? If it’s a portable window air conditioner, remove it and store it for the season. If you have an external unit that cools the entire home in the summer, wrap it snuggly with a cover made for air conditioners to protect it from snow and moisture buildup.

2. Examine the thermostat

Check the thermostat’s battery and change it annually. If yours is a programmable thermostat, set the temperature you want it at now to save money on your heating bill. As a general rule, it’s more cost-effective to set the temperature to a comfortable degree once and leave it be unless you plan on being away from home for an extended period, in which case, you might want to set it between 17 C and 19 C.

3. Inspect windows and exterior doors

To conserve energy costs, check doors and windows for leaks. Adding insulation or weatherstripping around doors (and door sweeps at the bottom of doors) and caulking around windows can prevent cold air drafts and help conserve energy.

4. Exterior wood

Wood is vulnerable to moisture damage, so take this opportunity to re-paint and re-seal if necessary. Replace any old or rotting wood to keep your home secure and to prevent any wildlife from nestling in over the winter.

5. Check your roof ventilation

Roof vents, also called attic vents, allow moisture to escape your attic, thereby preventing mould and mildew from forming. Leave these vents open year-round. In addition to ventilating moisture, roof vents help regulate the temperature inside your dwelling, and they prevent ice dams from forming on the rooftop, which can damage the shingles and gutters. Don’t forget to inspect your bathroom vents as well since they run through the attic to ensure they’re adequately insulated to safeguard against condensation from freezing. When they thaw, they may cause water damage inside the house if they’re not protected. While you’re at it, clean and check your dryer vent too.

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6. Clean gutters and chimneys

Fall is the time for leaves, but when rain becomes ice, those unkempt gutters can become heavy. Clean the out so there's less risk of ice accumulation. If you have a fireplace, get the chimney cleaned.

7. Take care of the pipes

Freezing water can lead to burst pipes. As a preventive measure, close all the water valves inside your home that lead to outdoor faucets, then drain the outside faucets. Leave those outside taps open throughout the winter. Freezing water expands, and if it has nowhere to go, the pressure that builds up can crack the pipe. Also, insulate exposed pipes to keep them at a reasonable temperature, and don’t forget to disconnect your garden hose, drain it, and store it in a dry place until spring shines upon us again.

8. Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Ideally, you should replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at least once annually. Run tests to make sure they are in good working condition, and make sure your family knows the difference between the sounds of the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

9. Keep things safe outside

Trees, exterior walkways, and cars all pose potential hazards over the winter. Trim tree branches that may be near the home’s electrical systems or wires to prevent them from breaking off and causing a power outage or fire. Regularly clear snow and ice from your driveway and other areas that people walk.

10. Get help from a neighbour

Many people take extended vacations over the holidays. Because of COVID-19, this year will likely be different. Nevertheless, if you are leaving for a while, leave the heat on in your home at a modest temperature. Ask a trusted neighbour or friend to come by every day or two to make sure everything is running smoothly.

11. Have a home emergency kit at the ready

Okay, let’s face it: putting together a winter home emergency kit doesn’t generate excitement or warm the cockles of the heart. But imagine not having one if you and your family need it because of a natural disaster or power outage. That kit should contain enough supplies to sustain you and your family for 72 hours.

12. Check your home insurance policy

Winter is an excellent time to review the details of your home insurance policy. Know your limits for things like hail and snow damage. Understand your liability coverage for slip-and-falls or personal injury. Home insurance will typically protect you in case someone is hurt while visiting your home. That's good to know during the busy holiday season when people visit, or delivery drivers arrive with packages. If you think you'll need additional coverage, talk to your insurer about updating your policy.

Enjoy the best of the season

The pandemic may have upended this year’s festive season – vacation getaways to warmer climes and hosting holiday parties are not advised – but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate and be cozy at home. Make sure your home is prepared for whatever winter weather comes your way by doing a little work around the house and taking time to review your insurance policy.

Liam Lahey

Liam Lahey is a versatile, seasoned writer and editor. He worked as both a staff writer and freelance writer for many business and technology publications as well as for several newspapers. He writes about home, auto, and travel insurance, and is a media spokesperson for RATESDOTCA.

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