Tips For Winterizing Your Home: What Ontarians Should Know

What to Know About Home Winterizing in Ontario

Even when we're splashing around at the lake in the summer or enjoying the beautiful, changing foliage in the fall, Ontarians are well aware that winter weather is lurking just around the corner. Of course, Ontario's winters are absolutely beautiful and provide endless opportunities for outdoor recreation throughout the province—but winter can also create some major problems for homeowners and their bank accounts, especially if they're not fully prepared for the colder months.

The best way to avoid problems like too-high energy bills and major repair expenses is by winterizing your home. By going through a winter home maintenance checklist, you can give yourself the peace of mind that comes with knowing your home is protected against serious winter-related damage—not to mention save yourself quite a bit of money on heating costs.

This guide to winterizing your home offers some advice and information about why home winterization is a good idea, along with suggestions on preparing your home for winter. We've also included information on preparing for a long absence during the winter for snowbirds who are planning to escape to warmer climes.

Benefits of Home Winterization

Most Canadians are at least somewhat aware of why winterizing your home is so important, but clearly understanding how completing a winter home maintenance checklist benefits a property and household tends to make people a lot more motivated to get it done. Here are the top three advantages that come along with winterizing your home:

  • Save Money on Energy Costs: In Ontario, winter is sometimes referred to as heating season because it's when we turn our furnaces on and consequently see a big jump in the costs on our energy bills. When your HVAC system has to struggle to maintain your preferred temperature because heat is leaking out of the building, it needs to use a lot more fuel which significantly increases energy expenses. Winterizing your home helps to prevent heat loss, which can have a very noticeable effect on lowering your energy costs.
  • Avoid Insurance Claims: Your home insurance policy is there to protect you from paying major costs for damage mitigation out of your own pocket, so of course, it makes perfect sense to file a claim when necessary—that's what it's there for, after all. But the preferable scenario is one where there's no need to file a claim because you took care of winterizing your home and your house didn't suffer any damage due to winter temperatures or harsh weather conditions.
  • Prevent Costly, Aggravating Damage: Even with the right home insurance policy in place to protect you against financial loss, dealing with the type of damage that comes from not winterizing your home is extremely time-consuming and stressful—and who needs more stress in their life? The time you spend handling your winter home maintenance checklist is a very worthwhile investment that will save you a lot of time and aggravation in the future.

Your Winter Home Maintenance Checklist

The best time to handle the task of winterizing your home is well before winter sets in and the snow starts blowing. Here are some steps that can make a huge difference to the condition and comfort of your house, and give your bank account a break from high energy costs during cold weather.

Clean and Repair Gutters

It comes as a surprise to many homeowners that keeping rain gutters clean and in good shape is one of the most critically important steps you can take to avoid water damage while winterizing your home. Gutters collect all the water from the rain and snow melt on your roof and direct it away from your house where it can't cause severe moisture problems. If your gutters are clogged or broken, those tens of thousands of gallons of water can't be safely disposed of and will end up causing serious issues that can include a leaking roof, a cracked foundation and dozens of other nasty surprises for the exterior and interior of the house. While nobody really enjoys the gutter cleaning part of winterizing your home, it's a very simple step to take during the process of winterizing your home that can make a huge difference.

Clear Off Deck

In all likelihood, you're not going to be sitting out on your deck, patio or porch in mid-January when the thermostat dips way down below zero. But if your patio furniture is sitting out there without you, it's suffering needless wear and tear damage and could become mildewed. More importantly, it could cause serious damage to your house, including smashed windows, if it's blown around in a winter storm. Take the time while winterizing your home to pack up patio furniture, planters and other items from your deck and store it safely inside or pile it up securely and cover it with a tarp. It's also a good idea to unhook the propane tank from your grill and store both the tank and grill safely.

Clean Fireplace and Chimney

Unlike your deck, winter is your fireplace's time to shine. There's nothing like getting cozy in front of a roaring fire on a winter's night while the snow drifts down outside. But part of winterizing your home is making sure the fireplace and chimney are in safe condition to use, since they've probably been out of commission all summer long. Whether you handle it yourself or call a professional chimney sweep, winterizing your home involves making sure the fireplace and chimney are completely free of debris and don't have animals nesting in them. Cleaning out the soot and other stuff that may have made its way in there over the summer will reduce the chance of chimney fires and smoke inhalation, and ensure that your fireplace has the ventilation it needs to operate safely.

Heating System Maintenance

Whether you have a furnace, boiler, heat pump or some other variety of heating system, you're definitely going to need it once the cold winds start blowing so it should be near the top of your priority list when winterizing your home. Heating system maintenance may include:

  • Changing your furnace filter
  • Basic furnace tune-up
  • Checking ductwork for air leaks
  • Cleaning ductwork and registers
  • Making sure your thermostat is programmed correctly
  • Checking the temperature and water pressure in a boiler
  • Cleaning the exterior of radiators
  • Flushing boiler systems every few years

While winterizing your home, it's also important to make sure you have functioning smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors (if your system uses natural gas) on every level of your home, particularly near areas where members of your household typically sleep.

Inspect and Repair Roof

Another key step on your winter home maintenance checklist is getting a good look at your roof to make sure it's in decent condition. If you're not willing or able to climb a ladder or get into your attic space when you're working on winterizing your home, have a professional take a look around and handle any necessary repairs. If you plan to be away from your home for a winter vacation and will be turning the heat off indoors, consider having heating cables installed on your roof. They sit above the eavestroughs and provide enough heat to melt snow and ice along the edge of the roof. Heating cables can go a long way towards avoiding potential damage from ice dams that form on soffit boards and attic vents.

Plumbing System Maintenance

Winter can pose some big problems for your plumbing system if you don't give it a little extra help to stay in good condition while you're winterizing your home. Because most of your plumbing is hidden away out of sight, the best way to accomplish that task thoroughly is typically by hiring a professional plumber who has the experience and equipment to detect issues such as hidden leaks or wastewater and freshwater pipes that are not adequately insulated. There's always some water sitting in pipes, and the liquid in a frozen pipe will expand, putting enormous pressure on the line that causes it to crack. Plumbing system maintenance while winterizing your home includes steps such as:

  • Shutting off exterior faucets
  • Draining and flushing the hot water tank on your water heater
  • Professional drain cleaning with hydro jetting
  • Video camera inspection for your drain lines
  • Insulating exposed pipes with pipe wrap

If you are going to be away for a period of time during the winter, consider leaving your thermostat on and setting it to about 10 degrees, and make sure to leave under-sink cabinet doors open so air can circulate around the pipes. That's enough to help prevent freezing pipes but not raise your energy bill too much.

Seal Windows

Like everything else, window units deteriorate over time. A damaged window frame can let in air drafts that change the temperature in your house and reduce its energy efficiency, along with excess moisture that causes decay problems such as wood rot. Sometimes all it takes is a little caulk while winterizing your home to get it sealed back up so it's capable of preventing heat transfer, but if the damage is serious, window replacement is worth it for the benefits of preventing serious moisture damage and lowering your energy bill.

How to Prepare for a Long Absence

If you're a snowbird who is planning to escape Ontario's winter weather in favour of warmer climes, winterizing your home is still just as important—but there are a few additional steps you should take before your trip to make sure everything is in order, your home is secure and your insurance coverage is in full effect.

Book a House Sitter

Did you know that home insurance carriers require you to have someone checking on your house regularly while you are away for more than a couple of days? The exact length of time that is allowable between visits varies depending on the insurance company, from once per week to once per day. Your house sitter should be willing and able to take care of tasks that will make the house look like it's not vacant, such as:

  • Bringing in mail
  • Shovelling snow or raking leaves off footpaths
  • Flushing toilets and running faucets to prevent pipe freezing

Having someone actively looking after your house while you're away will help to deter burglars and prevent damage to your home.

Automate Thermostat

One way to easily take care of heating while you're away is by installing a programmable thermostat so you can program the heat to turn on and off at certain times. That helps to avoid cold-related damage to your house and plumbing but saves money compared to having the heat on constantly. There's also the option of smart thermostats that can be controlled via your smartphone, making it possible for you to change or adjust the temperature even when you're out of the country.

Install Motion or Timed Lights

Having lights either always off or always on is a giveaway that indicates to criminals that your house is unoccupied and therefore vulnerable to a break-in. Installing light timers solves that problem by automatically switching the lights on or off at programmed times. Outdoor motion lights that are triggered by movement are worth considering, as they can help deter anyone who approaches the house trying to get a better look at your property.

Speak to Your Broker at Morison Insurance

Before you board a plane to somewhere where it's permanently summertime, call your Morison Insurance broker to find out more about any requirements your insurance provider may have regarding your absence or winterizing your home. You want to make sure your homeowner's insurance is giving you comprehensive coverage for the perils you are most likely to encounter, so it makes sense to find out information such as how often your house sitter is required to stop by your property.

This content is written by our Morison Insurance team. All information posted is merely for educational and informational purposes. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. Should you decide to act upon any information in this article, you do so at your own risk. While the information on this website has been verified to the best of our abilities, we cannot guarantee that there are no mistakes or errors.

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