Winter is coming. (Yes, we said it.) If that phrase strikes a bone-chilling dread in your core, it might also conjure up ways that a deep freeze can wreak havoc on your property. And for good reason, as the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ILCR) reports that some winter storms have cost Canadians over $5.4 billion to recover from damages!
If you own a house, cottage or vacation property, get ahead of those snowy, icy storms and start prepping for the winter months while there is still a hint of warmth in the air.
Your winter property maintenance checklist
Many homeowners can roll up their sleeves and tackle much of these tasks on their own. You might even be surprised by what you can cross off in just a day. We’ll also point out the things you might want to reserve for the pros.
Around the yard
Don’t “leaf” this one to the end
While there are plenty of reasons to let nature take its course with fallen leaves, you may still want to grab that rake. (Or leaf blower, which can surprisingly be a lot of fun!) Dry leaves are easiest to work with, so check the weather forecast and don’t delay if rain is on the way. If you’re bagging leaves, don’t put these next to a garage or building, since they can be targets for arson—as unfortunate as that sounds.
Trim the trees
Focus on trees that have dead branches and that are close to your house, garage, cars and sheds. Under the weight of snow and ice, these can break and cause major destruction. Use pruning shears for smaller branches and a pole saw for harder to reach or high up areas. Time your trimming later in the season, but before snow falls, to maximize your tree health.
When to call in a pro: If the tree is old, tall and heavy, or if it has severe lean, you may want to get an arborist on site. If the job calls for heavier machinery (or even a chainsaw), the experts are trained on how to get the job done safely.
In cold climates, some shrubs and trees need extra protection. Wrap them in burlap to prevent branches and tips from getting frostbite (yes, that’s a real thing for plants, too!) and you’ll give them a head start in spring.
Put away the patio furniture
Alas, the time to bask under the summer sun has faded away for another season. Protect your outdoor furniture by storing it in a shed or wrapping it securely under a tarp. This can help to prevent the furniture from being damaged or causing damage during high wind events.
Clean and seal your driveway
If you have a poured concrete driveway, protect that expensive investment by applying a sealant every two to five years. No matter what driveway surface you have, make sure it’s clean and level in autumn so snow and ice removal is that much easier down the road.
When to call in a pro: Purchase the right sealer and supplies from your hardware store, and set aside an afternoon to get this done on your own. But if you notice bigger cracks or shifts in the concrete, you might want to call a repair company.
Outside of the house
This one is relatively simple, albeit a bit dirty. Roll up your sleeves (literally) and remove any debris, leaves, dirt and buildup from your eavestrough and downspouts. Once free and clear, melted snow will be able to drain freely. It’s wise to have a family member or friend spot you while you’re using the ladder.
When to call in a pro: If you don’t have help or you feel a bit wobbly on tall ladders, don’t risk an injury. Call a home repair specialist to help.
Avoid ice damming
Icicles dangling from a roof’s edge are often Instagram-worthy. (#winterbliss) But when an ice dam forms near the edge of your roof, it actually holds back snow and meltwater above. This trapped water has nowhere to drain and can leak into your home—causing damage within walls and ceilings, soaking through insulation and creating a big costly mess. This ice damming is often a symptom of other issues, so preventing it in the first place is priority one.
A warm roof is often the issue, and while your ice dam inspection is on the outside of the house, your fix may be on the inside. The experts recommend three steps to cure an ice dam: 1) seal any warm air leaks escaping from inside the home into the roof area 2) add better insulation 3) make sure there is adequate venting between insulation and roof sheathing.
We discourage DIY homeowners from trying to fix ice damming issues once they’ve set in. You may be able to spot the problem, but you should call in a contractor to address it. Get an estimate on the repairs and trust it in the hands of the experts.
Sprinklers and hoses
Outside plumbing is important to protect, as it can be the first to freeze (even during crisp fall nights.) Drain your irrigation system and sprinklers, making sure the piping is well insulated as required. Remove garden hoses and drain out any standing water, then coil them up and store them in the shed.
How about your hose bibb, or spigot? Say what now? Yes, you should turn off the water to that, too, so it doesn’t freeze below zero.
Weather stripping and caulking
If you’ve never done this before, it can seem intimidating—although it’s actually a straightforward task with the right tools. Check caulking around your windows and sills to see if it’s damaged, dried out or even if gaps have formed. Likewise, check weather stripping around your windows and doors, and replace these with materials you can buy at the hardware store.
When to call in a pro: Ask your local hardware store associate for quick tips on the material and supplies you’ll need. (A good caulking gun used properly can make a world of difference!) If you give it a go and are still feeling a draft, call your contractor or home repair specialist.
Plug the holes
Plug open holes and cracks on the outside of your house with steel wool or a pest blocking foam. This will discourage vermin from making their way into your tantalizingly warm house. Aside from making nests and leaving unmentionables around, their sharp teeth can chew through wires, which can spark fires. Go the extra mile and head inside the house next to do the same interior inspection to protect from both sides.
Once you’ve tackled all of your autumn chores, it’s time to switch your ‘toolbox’ and get ready for the snow to fall. Put all your tools, equipment and summer toys into the storage shed or garage. Make use of well labeled and stackable storage containers for the odds and ends, and hang whatever you can on wall hooks. Next, bring out the winter equipment—from the obvious snow blower, shovels and ice picks to things like cold-proof extension cords and salt/gravel containers.
Inside the house
Check your furnace
Sure, you could live without a dishwasher, but the furnace is probably your most important home appliance—and it needs some TLC at least once a year. Make sure your HVAC system is ready to go by replacing filters and having a couple extra ones on standby. Cover the AC condenser outside with a tarp and board or hard cover to protect from falling icicles or debris.
BONUS! This is also a good time to check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Batteries should be changed every 6 months. While you’re at it, check the manufacturer date on your detectors. Smoke detectors generally have a life expectancy of 10 years, after which their sensors can begin to lose sensitivity. You need to replace your carbon monoxide detector every 5-7 years.
When to call in a pro: Don’t skimp on the inspection. For a relatively easy, inexpensive service call, you’ll have peace of mind that the furnace will pump out warm air through the four (or more? Oh no!) months ahead. The experts will ensure your system is in working order, and the bill shouldn’t be too hot to handle.
Signs of roof stress
Yes, even your roof can get a little stressed out—and the signs may actually show inside the house. Check for water leaks inside the house that seem to start from the ceiling or attic openings. Look for doors that may not be closing properly, or that are completely jammed. And spot any changes to drywall, as cracks could indicate bigger problems.
When to call in a pro: Some of these problems may not appear until snow and ice have already built up on your roof. This is where an outdoor inspection is also needed. If you notice that your roofline is sagging, you may want to call a contractor or roofing company to have a look.
While electric baseboards are relatively easy to maintain, give them a once over to make sure the coils are free of debris (including the common pet hair culprit) and blow off any dust with some compressed air. Also make sure no curtains, drapes, bedding or furnishings are in contact with the heater.
Sweep the chimney
A fireplace or wood stove is the perfect place to warm up in winter. But if you use solid fuel heat, do you know when your chimney has last been swept? You can do a quick inspection yourself with a flashlight to check the inside of your chimney for cracks or gaps in the brick, animal nests or other oddities. Consider burning a special chimney sweeping log (available at most hardware stores), which will help remove buildup over time.
When to call in a pro: To truly prep your fire with safety, set a service appointment with a licensed contractor who can give it the full top-to-bottom inspection. This will be money well spent.
Give your pipes a parka!
Exposed water pipes in unheated areas of the home can freeze quickly – breaking and causing major damage. Inspect your crawl space, attic, garage and any other unheated plumbing that can be exposed to the elements. Simply add insulation sleeves around these bare spots and they’ll be snuggly warm until spring has sprung.
A little time saves a lot of hassle (and money!)
Let’s face it. The last thing you want to do with the remaining nice days of autumn is a list of chores and maintenance on your house and yard. But the extra effort now will pay off in spades later, especially when it can save you from the cold and costly repair bills.
By proactively maintaining your property, you will have peace of mind to enjoy the cozy winter ahead!