We just had our first cool snap of the year. While it will be hot again by the end of the week, the cool weather reminded me of the things I need to do to get my home and family ready for the colder months ahead. Some simple preparation and prevention efforts now will save me money, hassle, and discomfort in the long run. Many of these items will cost some money up front, but they are usually cheaper when done before it gets too cold. The first night the temperature drops to freezing is not the time to find out that the heater doesn’t work and that the tech charges 50% extra for emergency service. Get your stuff tuned up and prepped for winter now, before you really need it.
Winterize the cars: Cold weather means it’s time to put the no-freeze window washer in the car. It’s also time to throw the tire chains in the trunk, as well as the sand or kitty litter for getting you out of slick spots. If you live in super cold climates, it’s time to drag out the battery charger or engine heater and make sure it works. Check your car’s heater to make sure it’s working. A good tune up, oil change, new spark plugs, and brake check can also get your car in top shape to weather the cold.
Check the heat: Turn on your home’s heater and make sure it’s working properly. If you hear any funny noises or if it seems like it’s not getting hot enough, call the repairman for a tune up. Arrange for a tune up if you haven’t had the unit looked at in a while to make certain it’s operating at peak efficiency. Repairmen are less busy when the weather is still nice and you won’t have to pay for an emergency call. If you need major service or a replacement unit, you have more leverage to negotiate a deal if it’s still warm outside. When it’s twenty degrees outside they’ve got you over the barrel and they know it.
Disconnect the hoses: Take a minute and disconnect your garden hoses from the outside spigots to prevent frozen pipes. If you have room, bring the hoses inside to keep any water trapped inside from freezing and bursting your hose. If you have to leave the hose outside, drain it thoroughly and try to cover it with something.
Check your insulation: Look around your doors and windows. Notice any gaps and feel for drafts. If you find any leaks, get some weather stripping or expanding foam insulation and fill the gaps. If you live where frozen pipes are a possibility, buy some foam insulation tubes and wrap your pipes.
Clean up the storm windows: If you use storm windows, now is the time to drag them out, check for breakage and give them a good cleaning. Go ahead and put them up before the weather gets too cold. It’s no fun standing on a ladder hanging windows when it’s freezing outside.
Check the leaf/snow blower: If you use a leaf blower for leaf patrol or a snow blower for snow removal, fire it up and make sure it’s working. Once the leaves and snow start to fall, repair kits and shops get hard to find.
Close the crawl space vents: Take a minute and close your crawl space vents (but leave one on each side of the house open to provide some ventilation). This keeps your crawl space warmer which means less chance of frozen pipes and warmer floors on those cold winter mornings.
Critter prevention: When the weather gets cold, the little animals start looking for warm places to spend the winter. If you have any entrances in your foundation or attic, that may be your house. While it’s still warm check for any holes in your screens, crawl space vents, attic vents, or chimney screens. Stop the critters before they move in.
Get the chimney swept: If you use your fireplace in the winter, have your chimney professionally cleaned to prevent fires. Get out all the accumulated debris, sap and critters before you light up for the first time. Chimney sweeps are often bored in the early fall and you can probably get one to come out quickly. Wait until it gets cold and you’ll be on a waiting list.
Check the generator: If you use a generator as back up in snowstorms, get it out now and fire it up. Give it a tune up and make sure it’s all in working order. Repair and replace as needed now, before the stores run out.
Lay in supplies: If you live in an area where you get enough snow or ice to keep you homebound or without power for a few days, go ahead and get your supplies together. Flashlights, batteries, extra blankets, gasoline, non-perishable food, and other emergency items are all much easier to find before they’re really needed. Plus you have a chance to shop sales and use coupons to minimize your costs.
Buy your winter clothes: It seems silly to buy coats, hats, gloves, and jackets when it’s still eighty degrees outside, but go ahead and get them now. Look for sales. Retailers know it’s hard to get people to buy winter things now and some of it is decently marked down. You could wait but the way the retail world works, by the time it’s really cold outside, the stores are full of bikinis and shorts.
Get snow day supplies for the kids: If you know the kids will have snow days, go ahead and get some extra games, art supplies, hot chocolate mix, and other goodies to keep them occupied. Stash it all in a secret place so they can’t get to it now and have it ready to stave off the, “Mom, I’m so bored” complaints that will ensue after two days at home.
Check the sleds, skis, snowshoes and other winter fun gear: If you love winter fun, go ahead and get your gear down and make sure it’s in good condition. Nothing stinks more than having the first snow fall, only to discover that broken sled that you meant to repair or replace. Get your winter fun gear in shape now.
Paint and seal exposed wood: Now is a good time to seal your wooden decks, fences, and porch rails or to paint/seal the whole house if necessary. If you live in wet winter climates, all that snow and water can wreak havoc on exposed wood so protect it.
Start Christmas shopping: I’m not kidding. Go ahead and get your ideas together. It’s not only less stressful to start early, it gives you time to find the items you want and at good prices. No competing for the last of something, paying a premium because of scarcity, or getting beaten up in the holiday rush.
Put your lawn and garden to bed: Clean out dead or weak trees/limbs that may come down in an ice storm. Fertilize and seed your lawn. Take down old garden plants and flowers and put down a layer of fine mulch or compost and let it enrich the soil over the winter. Empty flower pots and put them away to keep water from freezing and breaking them.
Winterize the summer fun: If you have an RV or boat, it’s time to drain and winterize the holding tanks and put in the fuel stabilizer. Put the cover on to protect from ice and snow. If you have a pool, it’s time to drain and cover it and to check for cracks that need repair. Put bikes and toys in the garage or shed to protect them from winter damage. Put away lawn chairs, umbrellas, and other outdoor items that don’t handle weather extremes well.
Stock the medicine cabinet: Go ahead and stock up on cold and flu relief, hand sanitizer, tissue, cough suppressant, and pain killers. Lay in some chicken noodle soup, juice, and ginger ale. There are lots of coupons available in the fall for medicines. Try to prevent illness, but at least if you get sick you’ll already have supplies on hand rather than having to drag your diseased carcass to the pharmacy.
A little time spent cleaning up around your house and seeing to some basic maintenance will allow you to weather the winter without fear of damage, discomfort, or expensive repairs. Do these things now and you can benefit from lower prices, coupons, no wait times for repairmen, and nicer weather to work outside.