Tips For Winterizing Your Home

Another Chicago deep freeze is coming… so what does that mean for homeowners? Here are some ideas to protect your home over the coming days.


Raise the temperature in your home, 2 to 4 degrees above your normal setting. 

Take all programmable thermostats out of setback mode and set on a permanent HOLD. 

Keep garage doors closed.  

Make sure air vents and radiators are not blocked or obstructed. 

If you have a 90%+ furnace and boiler: You must keep the intake and exhaust clear of ice and snow. During these cold temperatures, ice can build up. A 90%+ furnace and boiler have 2 white PVC pipes; an exhaust pipe and an intake pipe that are generally on the side or back of your home. In some instances, they are on your roof, do NOT go on your roof to clear the pipe.

 If the temperatures drop in your home, it will not be able to recover until temperatures rise and the windchill diminishes. Our heating systems cannot overcome temperatures -20 to -30 with wind chill up to -50+. They are sized to operate at 0 degrees outdoor. Put your thermostat on hold 70 degrees or higher.

If you’ve followed the above tips, you’re ready to face the coming freeze! However, there are plenty of other aspects of winterizing the home. Here are some less pressing, but still useful aspects of winterizing to consider.

Insulate pipes

Make sure that there is warm air circulating in any area where there are water pipes. This includes garages and unheated areas of the home. Pay special attention to those outside or on the perimeter of the building.

Detach your hoses from any outdoor faucets and drain them of water. Cover hose bibs with Styrofoam hose bib insulating caps. If your home is equipped with interior shut-off valves leading to outside faucets, close them and drain water from the pipes.

Run a trickle of cold water on each floor of the home at the points furthest from the location of the main water service into the home.

According to the DWM, a hair dryer or heating pad can be used on pipes if they do freeze.

Drain your A/C pipes

You’ll need to address your air conditioning just like you do your hoses or your sprinklers. Remove window units and store them until you need them again, and ask a professional about draining any pipes for your central air system to keep it safe while temperatures drop below freezing.

Blow out your sprinkler system

If you happen to have a sprinkler system in your house, you’ll definitely need to winterize it. There are tutorials for blowing out your sprinkler system online, but your best bet is usually to hire a professional who can do it quickly and efficiently for you.

Check the sump pit

Inspect and clean the sump pit. Remove any rocks and debris from the pit, then dump a bucket of water into the sump pit to test the pump. If it turns on and pumps water out, then turns itself off, it is operating properly.

Clean your gutters

If water from melting snow can’t make its way down the gutters, it can instead collect on your roof, freezing again and causing damage to your roof, up to and including leaks… which you definitely don’t want to discover when the snow starts to melt again in the springtime, or during your first April shower of the year.

Flush your water heater

Over time, sediment collects in water heaters, and when there’s a lot of it, the sediment can start to affect the efficiency of your water heater. To avoid any inefficiencies as a result of sediment, an easy fix is to flush your heater.

Add a blanket to your water heater

Pipes aren’t the only place in your water system where heat can escape. Many manufacturers make blankets specifically designed to fit your water heater.

Tune your furnace

Check your furnace filter. If your furnace isn’t performing to the best of its ability and you’ve already checked the filter, call in a professional and ask them to take a look at your furnace and make any necessary small adjustments to get it running in peak condition.

In addition, make sure your furnace is set no lower than 55 degrees during the winter to prevent pipes from freezing. 

Get an energy audit

The first thing to know about winterizing is that the more drafty or leak-prone your house happens to be, the more work you’ll have to do to get it ready for the coldest season of the year. One way to figure out whether your house needs a lot or a little bit of work is to get an energy audit. 

Energy audits are often provided for free by your utility company. They involve a visit to your house from a licensed professional, who will comb over your doors, windows, heating and cooling systems, and many other parts of your house, then give you an assessment of how much energy you’re wasting (or saving) every month, in addition to a list of ways you can improve your home’s energy efficiency. So if you’re really not sure where to start when it comes to winterizing your place, asking for an energy audit and then implementing their suggestions can be a great way to get your foot in the door.

Reverse your fans

You may remember from science class that hot air tends to rise while cool air tends to sink. Believe it or not, your ceiling fans operate according to the laws of physics — when you look up at your fans in the summertime, they should be running in a counter-clockwise direction in order to correctly redistribute the cold and warm air in the room.

Ideally, you want your fans to do the opposite in the wintertime than what they do in the summer. They should be pushing the warm air that’s hovering up near your ceiling down toward the ground, where you can enjoy it. Many ceiling fans have a switch on them that you can flip to have them run clockwise in the wintertime; if you can flip this switch, now is the time to do it.

Wrap tree trunks

Not all trees require wrapping, but those with thin bark that are susceptible to colder temperatures could need a little extra care, especially if they’re not normally native to the area where you live.

Caulk windows

One major source of drafts and air leakage in your home is through its windows, perhaps not surprisingly. Recaulk your windows if the caulking is cracked or peeling in places. It’s cheap and pretty easy to do yourself, and you’ll be glad you took the time when the wind starts howling at your windowpanes in a few weeks.

Seal your ducts

These might need to be sealed up entirely during the wintertime in order to keep your warm air from escaping. If you’re not sure how to handle your ducts, ask for an HVAC consultant to come take a look and tell you what they think; a real estate professional has also seen all kinds of heating and cooling systems and may be able to give you an (unofficial) opinion about how to treat your ducts for the wintertime.

Replace weatherstripping on doors

Weatherstripping usually doesn’t last nearly as long as your door does, so if you see that it’s cracked or patchy, it could be time to replace it and ensure that your door’s seal is seamless.

… Or just eliminate the drafts

Of course, you don’t necessarily need weatherstripping; there are other ways to keep the drafts from seeping around your door edges. Placing a fabric draft strip at the bottom of your door can work wonders to keep the warm air in — even a blanket or towel will work in a pinch. 

Close your fireplace flue/install doors

Not everyone uses a fireplace in the wintertime, and if you aren’t using it, then the chimney is just another place where cold air can seep into your house and warm air can escape. You can put a simple stop to this by closing the flue of your fireplace to make sure that there’s no air moving out through this channel. Another option is to install glass or metal doors in front of your fireplace, leaving the flue open; the doors will block enough air exchange that your house should stay noticeably warmer, and you can still use the fireplace in the wintertime.

Add a chimney balloon if not using your chimney

A chimney balloon is exactly what it sounds like: An inflatable piece of plastic that blocks your chimney when you aren’t using it. (Do not use a chimney balloon if your fireplace will remain operational in the wintertime!) You might be surprised by how well the plastic keeps cold air out and warm air in, so if you know you won’t be lighting up the fireplace until springtime, plug it up with a chimney balloon and save some money on your heating bills.

Put up your storm windows and doors

Many older homes have storm windows or doors, which add a literal extra layer of protection to your windows and doors, making air exchange more difficult between outside and inside. If you have storm windows or doors to install, before winter hits is the perfect time to set them up so that you can stay nice and warm when the temperature really starts to drop.

… Or use plastic

Plastic sheeting doesn’t work on doors, but you’d be surprised what a thin layer of plastic over your windows can do in terms of trapping heat inside and cold air outside. You can buy kits to cover your windows at the hardware store; they’re relatively easy to install yourself, covering your windows and preventing too much air exchange in this notoriously drafty area of the house. They’re a cheap and effective way to keep your house more energy efficient in the wintertime, especially since they still let in plenty of sunlight to warm your house organically.

Change drapes and rugs for heavier versions

Years ago, it was very common to have two sets of curtains and rugs for your home: One for the summer months and one for the winter months. You can tap into the brilliance of those who lived through many winters before you were even born by taking a page out of their book and buying a second set of drapes or rugs that are thicker and heavier for the wintertime. This will help trap more heat inside and keep the cold air out in terms of the drapes, and provide more cushion and heat for your feet in terms of the rugs, so if you’re interested in seeing how much old-timers really did know about staying snug in the wintertime, give it a try.

Check your insulation

The insulation in your house could be in perfect condition, or it might need an upgrade — but you won’t know which is the case unless you have it checked. An energy audit usually also includes a look at the insulation and recommendations about how to treat it, but you can also call in an expert for a consultation and ask for an official opinion. Older homes typically have less-robust insulation, especially homes that were only used in the summertime (for example). Depending on when your home was built and when the insulation was last updated, it might be time to address it.

Consider lowering your water heater temperature

Can you really tell the difference between water that’s 120 degrees F and water that’s 140 degrees F? Most people can’t, so it might be a good idea to lower the temperature of your heater 10 to 20 degrees to help save energy. Homes with small children especially should really consider lowering the water temperature as it’s also a safety precaution in case a kiddo sneaks to a sink and turns on the hot water.

Get a programmable thermostat

Programmable thermostats can help you manage the temperature of your home for the times when you aren’t there during the day, or overnight when you don’t need the house to be as warm as it is when you’re awake and moving around inside. If you and the rest of your household are gone during the morning and early afternoon hours, then you can program the thermostat to drop the temperature a few degrees and slowly kick it back up just before you arrive home. And maintaining a cooler house at night can promote better sleep, so if you don’t want to adjust everything by hand, programming your thermostat to power down around the time you usually go to bed can be an easy way to manage everything automatically.

Replace inefficient windows/doors

If you’ve been dealing with drafty windows or doors for several winter seasons, it might be time to go ahead and think about replacing some of those scofflaws with newer, more tightly sealed versions that will ensure you’re not leaking all your warm air outside the house. This is definitely a more expensive fix, but new windows and doors (especially high-quality ones) can last for years, so it’s worth it if you’re tired of sealing and re-sealing those outlets to the outside and want them to stay sealed up for a change.

Get baking

Baking — whether you’re baking bread, pies, cakes, cookies, or something entirely different — not only smells great, but it can be a lovely way to use ambient energy to heat your home during the winter months. Obviously, you don’t want to leave the oven on 24/7, but if you’re already baking regularly, then you can open the oven door when your goods are finished to let the heat permeate through the kitchen and the rest of the house. And if you don’t already have an established baking habit, maybe it’s time to start a new hobby.

Winterizing is different for every property and every homeowner, so not all of these tips are going to apply to everybody, but if you get started now, you’ll be safe and warm inside when those cold winter winds start to blow in earnest.

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