10 Home Winterization Mistakes You're Making

Get ready for the cold by avoiding these common winterizing blunders.

September 27, 2016
winter scenery
gokcen gulenc/shutterstock

You can’t live in denial any longer: It’s going to get cold soon, and you’ll be spending a lot more time indoors. Sigh. So in the next couple of weeks, prep your home for, well, quasi-hibernation. Experts explain the most common to-dos people overlook when getting ready for Jack Frost. 

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replacing a filter on a furnace
1. You didn’t give any TLC to the furnace.

After six months or so of downtime, you can’t assume the furnace is working as well as when you last used it, says Cameron Martel, owner of Action Furnace in Canada. At the very least, change the filter and inspect the pilot light, ignition system, and heat exchanger (or get a professional to do it for you). Every other year, consider a thorough cleaning of your furnace and heating ducts—more often if you have pets. “Cleaning a furnace that is really gunked up can improve the efficiency by 12 percent,” says Martel. Basic furnace maintenance can potentially reduce your winter heating bill—and is also a smart way to conserve natural resources.

Related: Which Furnace Is Best For The Environment: Gas Or Electric?

fall leaves
Sergey Peterman/shutterstock
2. You blew off raking the rest of the leaves.

You thought the snow would cover them anyway—and you'd catch the rest in the spring. Not so fast: leaves can smother the grass, resulting in a dead lawn, points out Craig Jenkins-Sutton, co-founder of Topiarius, a landscape design firm. Spend the time to rake up the last of the leaves and save them for a compost pile, he suggests.

smoke detector
3. You didn’t check the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector.

More than 400 people die and 20,000 go to the ER every year because of unintended exposure to this odorless, colorless gas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since carbon monoxide is found in the fumes from faulty fireplaces, stoves, gas ranges, and furnaces, cases peak in December and January. Check the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector, and replace the entire device if it’s more than five years old, says Jonas Sickler from ConsumerSafety.org. Old batteries are a big problem: Nearly 80 percent of people don’t replace the batteries at least every few years—or at all—in their carbon monoxide detectors, according to a survey by Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning.

ceiling fan
4. You didn’t adjust your ceiling fan.

Most fans have a remote or wall control that allows you to change direction of the blades. In the winter, you’ll want heat to circulate downward in a room for a little extra warmth, says Mady Dahlstrom of porch.com. Do that by pressing the “reverse” button so your fan goes clockwise. If your fan doesn’t have a remote or wall control, look for a switch just below the blades. You’ll either want to push it to the right or up, depending on whether it’s a horizontal or vertical switch. 

snow covered patio furniture
Tony Moran/shutterstock
5. You leave out the patio furniture just in case you have one mild day.

Unless it’s made of aluminum (which likely has been powder coated) or synthetic wicker, bring patio furniture inside to prevent rust and other winter hazards. For instance, freezing temps could dislodge the tiles on your mosaic table (yikes!) or crack your plastic chairs. If you don't have storage space, at least put on a cover, suggests Dahlstrom.

Related: 8 Things You Should Do To Get Your Home Ready For Winter

cozy window
Alena Ozerova/shutterstock
6. You assume your pricey windows won't let in drafts.

“Even the best windows on the market offer relatively little resistance to extreme outdoor temperatures,” says Scott Fischer, author of #Home: 101 Ways to Improve Your Home’s Comfort and Energy Efficiency. Check to make sure your windows are completely closed and latched. If any gaps or seams are visible, he suggests applying a bead of caulk. Layered window treatments—that include insulated drapes—will also help keep out cold air. “Or if you have blinds, switching from vinyl to wooden ones can reduce heat loss through your windows by 10 to 20 percent,” says Phil Van Horne, CEO of Blue Rock Energy. “Keep them facing upward to block cold air.”

7. You don’t play Santa.

Take a look at your roof and chimney. Even if your roof isn’t leaking, you may have damaged shingles with curling edges that could spell trouble in a big snowstorm. While you’re there, remove any debris that could add further weight to a snow-covered roof. Unclog the gutters to ensure that rain and snow have an easy path off the roof, reducing the chance of damage.

old school decor
Zastolskiy Victor/shutterstock
8. You keep the same lighting and décor.

Fill your home with more vibrant, clear light to compensate for the lack of natural daylight, suggests interior designer Jack Menashe. Opt for light bulbs with a higher number of lumens, an indictor of brightness. Also add shine with pillows, throws, or lampshades in warm colors, like red, orange, and yellow. “Place fresh flowers or plants around the house to bring the colors of spring inside when the outdoors is lacking it,” he says. Reflective metals will also make your space feel more vibrant.

9. You use your fireplace without an insert.

“Standard fireplaces sap more warmth from a home than they provide,” says HGTV host Jeff Wilson, author of The Greened House Effect. By having an insert installed, Wilson says, you'll vastly increase the amount of heat provided by the fireplace and lower the amount of warm air that it sucks out of the house. 

Related: The Right Way To Use A Fireplace

gated front step
10. You forget to fix that crack in the front steps.

It’s never good to let it go, but damaged walkways, driveways, and steps are much more dangerous in icy weather, points out Menashe. Make a list of repairs you need to take care of—and a schedule for completing them—before the temperatures drop even more.

Related: 8 Things You Should Never Eat In The Winter