Tips For Winterizing Your Home: What Ontarians Should Know

Winterizing Your Home Tips

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

Winterizing your home is the best way to avoid high energy bills and significant repair expenses. 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 severe 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 winter absence for snowbirds planning to escape to warmer climates.

Benefits Of Winterizing Your Home

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 makes people much more motivated to get it done. Here are the top three advantages that come along with winterizing your home:

  • Avoid Insurance Claims: Your home insurance policy is there to protect you from paying high costs for damage mitigation out of your 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.
  • 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 in our energy bills. When your HVAC system struggles to maintain your preferred temperature because heat leaks out of the building, it needs more fuel, significantly increasing energy expenses. Winterizing your home helps to prevent heat loss, which can have a very noticeable effect on lowering your energy costs. A simple search online can find many specific winter energy-saving tips you can implement at home.
  • Prevent Costly, Aggravating Damage: Even with the right home insurance policy to protect you against financial loss, dealing with the damage from not winterizing your home is highly time-consuming and stressful—and who needs more stress in their life? The time you spend handling your winter home maintenance checklist is a worthwhile investment that will save you time and aggravation.

Your Winter Home Maintenance Checklist

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

1. Clean And Repair Gutters

It is surprising to many homeowners that keeping rain gutters in good shape is one of the most critically important steps 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 enjoys the gutter cleaning part of winterizing your home, it's an effortless step to take during winterizing your home that can make a huge difference.

2. Clear Off Deck

You'll likely not be sitting out on your deck, patio or porch in mid-January when the thermostat dips way below zero. But if your patio furniture is sitting without you, it's suffering needless wear and tear damage and could become mildewed. More importantly, if blown around in a winter storm, it could cause severe damage to your house, including smashed windows. While winterizing your home, pack patio furniture, planters and other items from your deck, store them safely inside, or pile them up securely and cover them 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.

3. 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 night while the snow drifts down. But part of winterizing your home is making sure the fireplace and chimney are in a 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 ensuring the fireplace and chimney are entirely debris-free 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.

4. Heating System Maintenance

Whether you have a furnace, boiler, heat pump or some other heating system, you will 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
  • Make 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 essential to ensure 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 household members typically sleep.

5. Inspect And Repair the Roof

Another key step on your winter home maintenance checklist is getting a good look at your roof to ensure it's in decent condition. If you're not willing or able to climb a ladder or get into your attic space while working on winterizing your home, have a professional 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 roof's edge. Heating cables can go a long way towards avoiding potential damage from ice dams that form on soffit boards and attic vents.

6. Plumbing System Maintenance

Winter can pose big problems for your plumbing system if you don't give it a little extra help to stay in good condition while winterizing your home. Because most of your plumbing is hidden out of sight, the best way to accomplish that task thoroughly is typically by hiring a professional plumber with the experience and equipment to detect issues such as hidden leaks or wastewater and freshwater pipes that need to be 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 will be away 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.

7. 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 seal it back up so it can prevent heat transfer. Still, if the damage is severe, window replacement is worth it to avoid serious moisture damage and lower your energy bill.

8. Cover Windows

While talking about windows, another method of winterizing your home can significantly improve energy efficiency over the winter months to keep your home toasty warm and reduce energy costs. This is especially true if you have single-pane windows or windows where you can feel a draft coming through the glass. Once you've sealed up any gaps around the window sill, cover the entire pane of glass with a sheet of transparent shrink film insulation (you can get kits for this at your local hardware store). Covering the window in shrink film means you can still see out, and natural light can get in, but it blocks any possible air infiltration and heat transfer. It might sound strange if you've never seen this done before, but it's astonishing how much of a difference it can make without compromising your views too much.

9. Top Up Attic Insulation

If you have a warm attic configuration, this doesn't apply. But most homes have a cold attic, meaning the space directly under your roof rafters is uninsulated and ventilated, so the roof can get wet and dry out without suffering moisture problems. In a cold attic, the "floor" of the attic (usually not an actual floor but just the upper side of the ceiling for the story below) should be covered in insulation. As we all know, heat rises—so it's vital that a layer of insulation blocks rising heat from your home. Over time, attic insulation can shift around and leave bare patches or compact into a thinner layer, reducing its effectiveness at holding in heat. While winterizing your home, it's a good idea to check out your attic space and ensure the insulation is still in good shape. If not, it should be topped up with extra material or spread evenly to eliminate bare spots. 

10. Reverse Ceiling Fans

Did you know your ceiling fan isn't just for cooling in the warmer months? It improves air circulation overall, which can be a big benefit in the winter and the summer. Here's why reversing your ceiling fans should be on your winter home maintenance checklist. In the summer, the fan should rotate counterclockwise, which produces a wind chill effect and gives you that cool breeze when you stand underneath it. But in the colder months, it should rotate in a clockwise direction. That creates an updraft that takes the warm air that has risen to the top of the room and pushes it back down into the habitable zone, making the room feel warmer. As a result, you don't have to crank your furnace up so high and can save some money on your heating bills.

11. Purchase Sand and De-Icer in Advance

When the first winter storm of the year hits, you'll need to sand and/or de-icer to take care of your driveway, sidewalk and walkways—and have to drive out to the store in post-storm conditions to get those items, only to find that they're all sold out, is not a fun experience. You can eliminate that problem by buying those items in advance when you're working on your winter home maintenance checklist so you're prepared and have the materials you need to help avoid personal injury and slip-and-fall liability situations.

12. Speak To Your Broker At Morison Insurance

Call your Morison Insurance broker to learn more about your insurance provider's requirements regarding winterizing your home or if you will be absent during the winter and require snowbird insurance. You want to ensure your homeowner's insurance gives you comprehensive coverage for the perils you will most likely encounter. Hence, finding information such as how often your house sitter must 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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