Of all the seasons, winter weather can be especially harsh and it can even damage your home. It makes sense to take precautions to protect your investment. These 11 winter maintenance tips will help you and your family remain safe and warm during the cold winter months.

1. Check Your HVAC System

Your furnace is what keeps you toasty during the winter, so treat it well. An annual visit from a heating specialist keeps your furnace running at peak efficiency and detects potential problems.

Change air filters often and ensure heat vents remain unobstructed. If you have a humidifier, replace the evaporator pad. Consider buying a programmable thermostat to save on heating costs.

2. Clean Fireplace and Wood Stove

Many people rely on a wood stove or fireplace for added warmth and coziness when it’s cold outside. However, neglecting maintenance increases the risk of fire and reduces efficiency.

Have your fireplace and wood stove cleaned by a certified professional, even if you use gas. Wood-burning appliances accumulate creosote, but gas fireplaces build up residue too. A professional will also check the units for potential problems which could prevent major, costly repairs.

If your fireplace is drafty even with the damper closed, consider installing a chimney balloon to seal the flue tightly.

3. Seal Windows and Doors

Your home can lose up to 25% of its heat through and around windows and doors. Weatherstripping and caulking are very affordable and easy to apply. Use caulk for stationary spaces under 1/4” wide and weatherstripping for moving components such as doors and windows. You can also buy thermal window coverings to reduce heat loss and install door sweeps to eliminate gaps under doors. When it’s time to renovate, choose energy-efficient windows and doors to slash your energy bills.

4. Add Insulation

You can lose up to 60% of your home’s heat through a poorly insulated roof and walls. Check the recommended insulation R-Value for your zone and increase it if necessary. Professionals can blow insulation into finished areas or you can add it yourself if you have access.

You can also install insulation around electrical outlets and switches yourself using pre-made foam gaskets available at home improvement centers.

5. Protect Pipes

If you live in area where it freezes often, you’ll want to protect your home’s water pipes. When temperatures dip, water freezes and expands which can cause the pipes to burst (one of the 9 Holiday Insurance Risks to Keep in Mind). This can lead to very costly water damage repairs (see 5 Water Damage Home Insurance Scenarios to find out whether that damage would be covered).

Homeowners should insulate pipes located in unheated areas of their home and drain and shut off their outside tap. You can buy inexpensive pipe insulation in any home improvement center and it’s simple to install. If you’ll be away during the winter, set the temperature to at least 55 F/13C (and if you will be driving out of town, find out Why You Need Snow Tires This Winter).

6. Check Foundation

Walk around your home and check for any cracks in the foundation. If you find any inside or outside, mark them with tape and check them again in a few months. If they haven’t changed, inject them with epoxy or expandable foam. Have a professional look at any cracks that have expanded beyond the width of a dime or cracks that you’ve noticed expanding.

Clear snow away from the foundation, because snow melts and the water can flood your home. The soil around your home’s foundation should slope away from the house.

7. Check Roofing Components and Drainage

Your roof is the principal component protecting your home and belongings. Inspect your roof or hire a professional to check for bruised, cracked, or missing shingles. You will also want to check the flashings around the chimney and skylights and the joints between roofing components. Damaged or deteriorated roofing materials can allow water to penetrate the interior of your home.

Clear the gutters and downspouts of debris and ensure they’re securely fastened. Downspouts should extend away from your home at least 5 feet so water does not seep into your home’s basement of crawl space.

If your area receives plenty of snow in the winter, you’ll also need to remove the snow from the roof with a roof rake and clear the vents. Ice dams can form and prevent water from flowing off the roof when it melts. This accumulated water can damage the roof structure and cause leaks. Blocked vents impair heating efficiency and can cause moisture to collect in the attic, which can, in turn, lead to mold and mildew.

8. Winterize Your Yard

Tree branches can break from the weight of snow or in high winds. Trim away branches that are near your home and electrical wires.

Store your patio furniture away for the winter. Clean and stack it and put it in your garage or basement, if possible. If you do not have space, buy a cover or a tarp and anchor it well so it does do not flap in the heavy winter winds.

Also store your hoses, garden tools, and lawn mower. Spray your tools with lightweight oil to prevent rust. If you use a gas mower, drain the oil and dispose of it properly. Old oil in a mower decreases engine life because it makes it thickens and makes it work harder.

Clean your decks and handrails and treat them before winter to prevent deterioration. Debris on the deck can lead to mold and mildew growth and a shaky handrail could lead to a serious fall.

Check exterior lighting and replace defective bulbs before the weather gets cold. There’s less sunlight in the winter and a greater risk of accidents.

9. Prepare Snow Removal Equipment

Before the snow flies, move your snow shovel and roof rake to an accessible spot. Buy a bag of salt or another ice melting product to keep your driveway and walkways clear. A bag of sand is a helpful addition because it increases traction and reduces the likelihood of accidents.

If you own a snow blower, check to make sure it is in good working order and store extra fuel in a safe area, outside of your home.

10. Stock Up On Emergency Supplies

If you live in a rural or semi-rural area, you may own a generator. Check that it is functioning properly and buy extra fuel. Also make sure you have any emergency supplies you might need, such as bottled water, batteries for flashlights, first aid supplies, a radio, and a charger for your cellphone.

You’ll also want to replace the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors before the cold weather. People use their furnace, wood stove, and fireplace more often in the winter months, which increases the risk of a fire and fumes.

11. Keep It Clean

You may not feel like braving the cold to shovel your walkways or driveway, but it’s necessary. Icy areas increase the chances of an accident, an insurance claim, and increased premiums if you find yourself in a lawsuit (see Insurance and Lawsuits: What Happens When You are Sued? to learn what steps to take if this happens).

If you escape the winter cold for sunny climes, hire someone to clear away snow and ice (before leaving, read Travel Insurance: Do I Really Have To? to make sure you have all the coverage you need during your trip). Otherwise, your mail may not arrive or your municipality may fine you. A home covered in snow also signals an absent owner, which attracts thieves and vandalism (in case thieves and vandals do target your home, see Has Your Home Been Robbed or Vandalized? Here's What to Do First).

Conclusion

Winter offers additional challenges, but you’ll reduce your risk and inconvenience when you prepare. Follow these 11 tips and you’ll sail through the winter season in comfort while keeping your home protected.