Now that fall is officially past, it’s time to prepare your home for cold weather. These steps, most of which you can do yourself, will help lower your utility bills and protect your investment.
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Tune up your heating system
Preventative maintenance is the single most important factor when it comes to keeping your heating system happy and healthy. For about $100 to $160, a technician will inspect your furnace or heat pump to be sure the system is clean and in good repair, and that it can achieve its manufacturer-rated efficiency. The inspection also measures carbon-monoxide leakage.
If you act soon, you’ll minimize the chance of being 200th in line for repairs on the coldest day of the year. Look for a heating and air-conditioning contractor that belongs to the Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada or other reputable group.
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Prep the humidifier
If your home has a whole home humidifier (common with homes that have a wooden floor covering) , make sure the drain line is clean. Replace the media panel, which mixes water with the flow of hot air from the furnace. This should be done twice each season. Finally, check to make sure the solenoid valve is working correctly and clean the humidifier’s fan.
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Adequate insulation will help keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. If your insulation is insufficient, your heating system will have to work overtime this winter. By adding some insulation to your attic, walls, hot water heater and crawlspace, you can save money on heating costs.
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Reverse your ceiling fans
If your ceiling fan has a reverse switch, use it to run the fan’s blades in a clockwise direction after you turn on your heat. Energy Star says the fan will produce an updraft and push down into the room heated air from the ceiling (remember, hot air rises).
This is especially helpful in rooms with high ceilings — and it might even allow you to turn down your thermostat by a degree or two for greater energy savings.
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Prevent ice dams
If your home had lots of icicles last winter — or worse, ice dams, which can cause meltwater to back up and flow into your house — take steps to prevent potential damage this year.
A home-energy auditor or weatherization contractor can identify and fix air leaks and inadequate insulation in your home’s attic that can lead to ice dams. Your municipality or utility may offer a rebate too.
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All that snow, ice and mud can wreak havoc on your entryway floors. Place mats both inside and outside the door, along with boot trays inside the entryway. Make sure your mudroom is ready with a place to dry wet jackets, hats, mittens and gloves.
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Add extensions to downspouts so that water runs at least 3 to 4 feet away from the foundation, this prevents expensive foundation cracking.
For example, Canadian Tire sells a Flex-a-Spout extension (which extends 25 to 55 inches) for $12.
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Turn off exterior faucets
Undrained water in pipes can freeze, which will cause pipes to burst as the ice expands. Start by disconnecting all garden hoses and draining the water that remains in faucets.
If you don’t have frost-proof faucets (homes more than ten to 15 years old typically do not), turn off the shut-off valve inside your home.
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Inspect outdoor lighting
On your home maintenance checklist make sure any outdoor lights are functioning properly, including motion sensor and any other security lighting. This will help prevent falls on ice-covered walkways and driveways.
I always use LED lamps for exterior lighting to reduce my time on the ladder.
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Mulch leaves when you mow
Mow your leaves instead of raking them, say studies at the University of Toronto. The trick is to cut the leaves, while dry, into dime-sized pieces that will fall among the grass blades, where they will decompose and nourish your lawn over the winter.
Use your lawn mower without its bag, and optionally swap the cutting blade for a mulching blade (about $20 to $30). The process may take several passes.
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Don’t prune trees or shrubs until late-winter
You may be tempted to get out the pruning shears after the leaves fall, when you can first see the underlying structure of the plant. But horticulturalists advise waiting to prune until late winter for most plants, when they’ve been long dormant and just before spring growth begins.
To get advice specific to your plants and region, consult master gardeners at local nurseries or horticulturalists. One exception: You may need to hire an arborist to remove deadfall or trim limbs close to your home or power lines that could cause problems in a winter storm.
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Test your sump pump
Your sump pump will help you keep your basement dry during the wet season, so make sure it’s working properly. Slowly pour several gallons of water into the sump pit to see whether the pump turns on. You should do this every few months, but especially after a long dry season or before a rainy one.
The typical lifespan of a sump pump is 10 years, make sure it lasts this long by having it on your home maintenance checklist.
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Check for condensation in between window panes
Most windows are double-or triple-paned. Double-and triple-paned windows are made to insulate your home. The appearance of condensation between a double-pane of glass indicates that the windows are not doing their job properly. The air-tight seal holding the insulating gas inside has failed, letting all the insulating gas out. When this occurs, water vapor could get between the two panes if the temperature of the glass drops below the dew point of the surrounding air.
If you have condensation between your panes, you definitely need new windows. Replace your windows with quality, energy-efficient windows that are backed by a lifetime warranty, so you’ll never have to worry about your windows again for as long as you own your home. If your a new home owner, check your Tarion warranty, it usually covers replacement within the warranty period.
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Ready shovels, check snow blower
Make sure all seasonal tools—such as rakes, pruning shears and garden shovels—are stored inside a garage or shed way from the elements. Use a light coating of vegetable oil to help prevent rust.
Move your snow shovels to an area near the door where they will be within easy reach. Change the oil in your snow blower and replace the spark plug if needed. Some blowers require seasonal greasing of parts, check your manual and give it a test run well before the first snow flies.
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Prepare for a storm
Power outages are common during winter storms, so make sure you’re prepared with a survival kit. Your winter home maintenance checklist should include stocking up on bottled water, non-perishable food, flashlights, first-aid supplies, batteries and a smart phone charger.
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Restock winter essentials
Don’t wait for the first winter storm to restock cold-weather essentials, such as salt or ice melt. This will give you some extra traction and avoid long lineups with unprepared consumers when it’s time to shovel the sidewalk and driveway.