How To Winterize Your Home: 21 Things You Can Do To Prepare

secure Editorial Standards

SmartFinancial Offers Unbiased, Fact-based Information. Our fact-checked articles are intended to educate insurance shoppers so they can make the right buying decisions. Learn More

To effectively winterize your home, begin in the fall before the first frost, focusing on crucial tasks such as checking for air drafts, cleaning gutters and servicing your HVAC system. This preparation is essential for maintaining comfort, energy efficiency and safety throughout the winter season.

Learn other tips on how to winterize your home and whether homeowners insurance will cover you for weather-related losses.

Key Takeaways

  • Early winterization enables homeowners to perform maintenance tasks comfortably and effectively, often with the added benefit of off-season discounts and availability of professional services.
  • Failure to winterize can lead to increased heating costs, structural damage and health risks due to inefficient insulation, frozen pipes and potential pest infestations.
  • Key tasks to prep your home for winter include checking for air drafts, cleaning gutters, inspecting and maintaining the fireplace and HVAC system, insulating pipes and installing monitoring systems.
  • Other important steps involve stocking essential supplies, clearing the yard and having an emergency plan in place.
  • Installing smart home devices and reinforcing your windows may qualify you for a discount with your homeowners insurance company.

When Does the Winter Season Begin?

Officially, winter begins with the winter solstice, which occurs around December 21st.[1] This marks the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year.

When Is the Best Time to Winterize a Home?

The best time to winterize a house in the U.S. is during the fall, before the first frost and the onset of cold weather.[2] This allows homeowners to efficiently perform winterization tasks in more comfortable conditions and avoid the challenges of cold, snowy or icy weather. Additionally, this period often offers easier access to professionals like HVAC technicians and roofers, who might provide off-season discounts, enabling homeowners to prepare their homes for winter while saving on costs and avoiding last-minute rushes.[3]

What Does It Mean to Winterize Your Home?

Winterizing your home involves preparing it for the cold season by insulating, enhancing energy efficiency and protecting against winter elements. The main objectives are to keep the cold out, retain heat and prevent damage from freezing temperatures, ice and snow.

What Happens if Your Home Is Not Winterized?

If you do not winterize your house, it can lead to increased heating costs, potential for leaks and water damage and the risk of pipes freezing and bursting come the first blizzard. This lack of preparation also results in discomfort, health risks from mold growth and increased likelihood of pest infestations due to drafts and cold spots.

If you fail to winterize your home when leaving for the winter, then emergencies that could have otherwise been avoided if you did proper maintenance may occur while you’re out. If a pipe burst because it was not insulated, you could be facing substantial financial losses if you discover it only after you return after your weekend trip.

21 Things You Need To Do to Winterize Your Home

We've compiled a comprehensive checklist you can use to prepare your home for winter.

1. Check Your Home for Air Drafts

To identify air leaks in your doors, windows and attic, use the hand test for cold air or the candle or incense stick method, watching for smoke movement in drafty spots (cautiously handling wax, ash or flame). You can seal these leak sources with weather stripping, caulk or expanding foam insulation, depending on the gap's size and location.

2. Clean the Gutters

Cleaning gutters before winter is vital to prevent water damage and ice dams. Blocked gutters can't divert water, increasing the risk of roof leaks and damage. Ensure gutters are clear, fastenings are secure and consider installing gutter guards to minimize debris buildup.

3. Clear Off Your Roof

Leaves and branches that accumulate on your roof can cause moisture buildup, risking leaks and damage over time. Hiring a professional for this, especially for steep roofs, is safer and more effective. Regular maintenance extends your roof's lifespan.

4. Check Your Fireplace

Since fireplaces are often primary heat sources during the winter, you’ll want to make sure it’s well-maintained. Check for damage or wear, such as cracks or damper issues. Clean the chimney to prevent smoke backup or fires. For gas fireplaces, ensure the pilot light functions to avoid gas buildup and potential explosions. Also, keep the hearth and surrounding area clear of combustibles and maintain fireplace tools and safety screens.

5. Protect Your Plumbing

Before winter starts, you’ll want to insulate pipes in unheated areas like basements, attics and garages, especially along exterior walls. Check and maintain your sump pump for efficiency, crucial in areas prone to basement flooding. In addition, you should install an emergency pressure release valve to prevent bursting if pipes freeze and for homes with sprinklers, drain the system and shut off the water.

Finally, be sure you know how to turn off the main water supply to reduce damage in case of a burst pipe.

6. Inspect and Insulate Your Attic

Ensure that your attic insulation is up to the recommended level, which is typically 10 to 14 inches of fiberglass or cellulose, to prevent heat loss.[4] Check for and repair any damaged or missing insulation, as these areas can significantly reduce the effectiveness of your attic's thermal barrier. Proper ventilation in the attic is also essential to prevent moisture accumulation and ice dam formation.

7. Have Your HVAC System Serviced

Servicing your HVAC system, including a furnace check, is essential before winter. A professional technician should inspect for wear and tear, cleanliness and proper functioning, boosting efficiency and safety while reducing risks like carbon monoxide leaks. Filter replacement and leak checks are crucial for optimal performance. Regular maintenance enhances heating efficiency, lowers energy bills, prolongs unit lifespan and maintains good indoor air quality.

8. Reverse Ceiling Fans

Reversing your ceiling fans is an effective winterizing step. Change the blade rotation to clockwise to push warm air down, improving heat distribution. This is especially beneficial in high-ceilinged rooms where warm air gathers at the ceiling. This method can lower heating costs by evenly distributing heat and possibly reducing the need to run the heater.

9. Install Monitoring Systems

Installing monitoring systems in your home before winter sets in can significantly enhance your home's safety and prevent damage from various hazards. Leak detectors can be particularly useful, alerting you to water leaks early on, which is crucial for preventing major water damage. Freeze sensors are another valuable addition, warning you of temperatures low enough to freeze pipes.

Smart thermostats enable remote monitoring and adjustment of your home's temperature, ensuring consistent warmth, preventing problems like freezing pipes and reducing strain on your heating system.

10. Remove and Drain Your Garden Hose

Water left in hoses can freeze and expand, causing the hose to crack and potentially causing damage to the outdoor faucet or connected plumbing inside the house. Before the first freeze, disconnect garden hoses from outdoor faucets, drain them thoroughly and store them in a dry place, such as a garage or shed. It's also advisable to shut off the water supply to outdoor faucets and drain the pipes to prevent any residual water from freezing.

Homes with sprinkler systems should be winterized as well by draining or blowing out the lines to remove any water that could freeze and damage the system. Covering outdoor faucets with insulated covers can provide additional protection against freezing temperatures.

11. Stock Up on Essential Supplies

Essential supplies include rock salt or ice melt to keep walkways and driveways clear of ice and a reliable snow shovel or snow blower for efficient snow removal. It's also important to have a stockpile of non-perishable food, bottled water, medication and warm blankets in case of power outages or severe weather conditions that might trap you indoors. Ensure you have a well-equipped first-aid kit, as well as flashlights and extra batteries for emergency lighting.

For homes with fireplaces or wood stoves, having an ample supply of firewood or pellets is essential for maintaining warmth. Don’t forget to plan for alternative heating sources, such as a fireplace or portable heaters. Regularly review and practice this plan for safety and readiness.

12. Clear Your Yard

Begin by removing any debris, such as fallen branches, leaves and garden tools, which can become hidden hazards under snow. Store outdoor furniture, grills and other summer equipment in a shed or garage to protect them from the elements and prevent any damage. If you have a deck or patio, clean and secure any items that cannot be stored indoors, such as large planters or built-in furniture.

It’s also important to clear and prepare your patio and pathways for snow and ice removal. Make sure you have easy access to these areas for regular clearing throughout the winter. Additionally, clear snow and ice from both your front and back yards to ensure safe passage around your home.

13. Divert Water Away From Your Home

Start by ensuring that your downspouts are directing water at least four to 10 feet away from your home’s foundation and drain properly.[5] This helps to prevent water from pooling around the base of your house, which can lead to basement flooding or foundation weakening, especially when the ground is frozen.

It's also important to ensure that the land surrounding your home slopes away from the foundation, promoting proper drainage.

If necessary, consider installing additional drainage solutions like a French drain or extenders on your downspouts.

14. Move Plants Inside

Identify plants in your garden that are not cold-hardy and prepare them for the indoor environment. Check them for pests and diseases to prevent infestations inside your home. Gradually acclimate them to indoor conditions by first placing them in a shaded area outdoors, then moving them indoors to a well-lit spot. Once inside, consider each plant's specific needs for light, temperature and humidity and adjust their care accordingly if possible.

15. Prep Your Lawn

In the fall, continue to mow your lawn until it stops growing, keeping the grass at an ideal height, not too short, to protect the roots from frost. Applying a winter fertilizer can provide essential nutrients that will help strengthen the grassroots. Strange as it sounds, dry leaves should be mowed and mulched. You can then use them on your lawn to help nourish the landscape during the winter.

16. Don't Trim Trees Right Away

Delaying tree trimming until late winter is a recommended practice in home winterization. Trimming trees in the fall or early winter can be harmful, as freshly cut limbs can be more vulnerable to damage from freezing temperatures and winter weather. Waiting until late winter, just before the spring growth starts, is ideal as trees are still dormant but the coldest part of winter has typically passed, reducing the risk of frost damage to new cuts. Trimming at this time also minimizes the risk of spreading diseases, as many tree diseases are less active in late winter.

17. Prevent Infestations

To keep rodents and critters out in winter, inspect your home's exterior for cracks or openings, especially around windows, doors and utility entries, sealing them with caulk or steel wool. Eliminate potential food and water sources by keeping kitchens clean, storing food in sealed containers and fixing leaks. Trim tree branches and shrubs away from the house to reduce access points. Installing a chimney cap can also prevent animals from entering through the chimney. These measures are key for a comfortable, pest-free home during winter.

18. Ensure Snow-Related Tools Are Easily Accessible

Organize and place tools like snow shovels, snow blowers and ice scrapers in an easily reachable location, such as a garage or a shed near your home. This preparation allows for quick response to snowfall, keeping driveways, walkways and entrances clear and safe. It's also a good idea to inspect these tools for any damage or wear and repair or replace them if necessary.

In addition to basic snow removal tools, keep a supply of rock salt or ice melt and a spreader handy to treat icy surfaces and prevent slipping hazards.

If you use a snow blower, ensure it's in good working condition and that you have enough fuel for it.

19. Check Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

With increased use of heating systems and fireplaces in the winter months, the risk of fire and carbon monoxide exposure rises. Ensure that all detectors are functioning correctly by testing them and replacing batteries as necessary. It’s also important to clean around the detectors to remove any dust or debris that could affect their performance. For comprehensive coverage, detectors should be placed in key areas, particularly near bedrooms and living areas.

20. Check Your Home Insurance Policy

While most standard policies will cover you for losses caused by burst pipes, fires and collapse from sudden accumulation of snow on your roof, that may not be the case for all homes. For example, some older homes may only have limited coverage and insurance companies may exclude protection for weight of snow or ice and sudden tearing or freezing of your HVAC system. Winterizing your home becomes particularly important if you have such coverage exclusions.

In addition, assess whether the coverage limits are adequate relative to the current value of your home and belongings. Consider additional coverage options if your area is prone to specific winter risks, such as flooding insurance.

21. Have an Emergency Plan in Place

Create an emergency plan with important contacts like family, neighbors and emergency services and establish a meeting place for evacuation. In addition, make sure your emergency kit is prepared and ready to go. Regularly review and practice this plan for safety and readiness.

Also, consider choosing a trusted local friend or neighbor for assistance in winter emergencies. This person can help with grocery shopping, snow clearing or transportation if needed. Give them a spare key and inform them about essential items like medication or emergency supplies. Be prepared to offer reciprocal help if they need it.

Can I Save on Insurance if I Winterize My Home?

Insurance companies don't typically offer a winter insurance discount. However, there are several discounts that can indirectly relate to winterizing your home, such as a smart home discount by having a low-temperature sensor installed or safety features discounts for installing reinforced and energy-efficient windows to hold up against the winter winds.

Alternatively, you can save on homeowners insurance by shopping around. With SmartFinancial, you can fill out one questionnaire and we’ll use your answers to match you with an insurance agent who can help you find the coverage you need. Get started on your free homeowners insurance quote today.

Start Shopping for Homeowners Insurance Today!


Does home insurance cover winter storms?

Your home insurance may cover damage caused by winter storms if the damage was sudden and not due to your negligence. It's best to contact your insurance company to verify how you're covered.

Can pipes freeze in one night?

Yes, pipes can freeze in one night with the likelihood increasing when the temperature drops below 20 degrees.[6] It can take as little as six to eight hours for pipes to freeze under these conditions.[7]

Should you turn off the water if the temperature outside is freezing?

Turning off the water in freezing temperatures, especially for pipes that lead to outdoor faucets or are in unheated areas, may prevent them from freezing and bursting as long as you turn off the water quickly. The more time you let the water sit, the more time it will have to freeze and potentially cause damage to your home.


  1. Columbus Dispatch. “When Does Winter Begin in 2023? What To Know About the Snowy Season.” Accessed January 4, 2024.
  2. Travelers. “Snowbirds: How To Winterize Your Home While You’re Away.” Accessed January 4, 2024.
  3. Fire & Ice. “Is There a Best Time of Year To Buy an HVAC?” Accessed January 4, 2024.
  4. Energy Star. “Adding Attic Insulation.” Accessed January 4, 2024.
  5. Boggs Inspection Services. “How Far Should Downspouts Extend From the House?” Accessed January 4, 2024.
  6. International Code Council. “Build It to Code To Minimize Damage From Frozen Water Pipes.” Accessed January 4, 2024.
  7. Family Handyman. “Signs of Frozen Pipes (And How to Unfreeze Them).” Accessed January 4, 2024.

Get a Free Home Insurance Quote Online Now.