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Winter Checklist: 27 Things Every Homeowner Should Get Done Right Now

You’ll definitely regret not checking these items off of your to-do list BEFORE winter arrives.

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Cut the Power to Your A/C or Waste Energy and Damage Your CompressorFamily Handyman

Cut the Power to Your A/C or Waste Energy and Damage Your Compressor

Cut the power to your central air conditioner before the weather turns frigid. Your compressor could be damaged if your A/C accidentally gets turned on in low temperatures. Also, some A/C compressors have a crankcase heater to keep the oil warm. Running this heater in the winter is a waste of money, and the warmth could attract mice. Flip off the breaker if the A/C compressor has a dedicated circuit, or rotate the disconnect block upside down into the 'off' position. The disconnect block is located in the small panel outside near the compressor. Reenergize the unit 24 hours before startup. That will give the oil time to reach operating temperature. Plus: Check out these common air conditioning mistakes you might be making.
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Protect the Air Conditioner

Protect the Air Conditioner

Even though the condensing unit is built for outdoor elements, it can still be damaged by falling icicles and other debris. You don't need to invest in a waterproof cover (in fact many manufacturers recommend against it, because it creates a warm space for critters). Just place a sheet of plywood held down by a few bricks on top and your AC should be ready to work again in the spring. Don't forget! Your winter home maintenance checklist should also include removing and storing any window air conditioner units.
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Caulk and Cover Room Air Conditioners

Caulk and Cover Room Air Conditioners

A room air conditioner keeps a section of the house cool. The problem is, it'll keep the room cool all winter long if it isn't covered properly. If you have a window unit, the best solution is to remove it so the cold air won't flow through and around it. If you decide to leave it in or you have a permanently installed wall unit, grab some removable caulk and a window air conditioner cover to keep out the cold. And if you have a central air conditioner unit, cleaning it annually can also save you energy and money.

Place the cover over the outside of the air conditioner, fitting the sewn-in corner straps over the bottom corners. Wrap the middle straps under and up the sides of the unit, then hook them over the top. Inside the house, apply removable caulk around the air conditioner where it meets the wall or window. If the air conditioner is a built-in unit, permanently seal it with latex caulk.

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Make Sure Your Heating System is ReadyGlobalphotogroup/Shutterstock

Make Sure Your Heating System is Ready

Depending on the type of heating system you have, there are a few home maintenance things you should do before the temperatures really start to dip. If you have a high-efficiency system, PVC vent pipes need to be cleared of any obstructions. And those with a boiler system should have their system cleaned every year. Those with gas should have a cleaning about every three years. Here are 15 unexpected ways to keep your house warm that could save you money.
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Protect All Fruit Trees Against Frost Cracking

In cold areas of the country, fruit trees and other thin-barked tree species are prone to frost cracking, or southwest injury. It happens when sap warms up where sunlight hits the trunk on a warm winter day, only to freeze suddenly when temperatures drop. This causes unsightly trunk cracking that hurt the tree’s ability to take up moisture and nutrients and leaves an opening for insects. Protect the bark with tree wrap and remove the wrap in spring. Here are our best tips for growing fruit trees in your own yard.

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Swap Out the Gas in Small Engines or Replace the Carburetor in the SpringFamily Handyman

Swap Out the Gas in Small Engines or Replace the Carburetor in the Spring

Standard gas at the pump can gum up a carburetor on a small engine in just a few months. I've had to replace a few carburetors for this reason. Now, when I know that it's the last time I'm going to use a tool for the season, I suck out the gas from the tank with a turkey baster and run the engine dry. Then I add a bit of nonoxygenated gas, which has a longer shelf life but is too expensive to burn all year. I also add a splash of fuel stabilizer and run the engine for a while on the good stuff before storing it. Find out what small engine mechanics say about how stale gas could be killing your small engines. — Josh Risberg, Contributing Editor
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021_FHM_WINTER18 shut off outdoor faucets frozen pipes

Shut Off Outdoor Faucets

Turn off outdoor faucets at their shutoff valves. Open the faucet and then open the bleeder cap on the shutoff valve to drain any water out of the pipe. If you don’t drain the pipe, it can still freeze and crack. Leave the bleeder cap open with a bucket underneath to catch any drips. If the dripping continues, your shutoff valve needs to be replaced.

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FH18DJF_583_07_008_ cover hose bibsFamily Handyman

Cover Hose Bibs

Insulated covers slow the heat loss from a pipe as it travels through the wall out into the cold. They provide some protection for very little cost. Buy it now on Amazon.

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Switch to Winter Wiper BladesFamily Handyman

Switch to Winter Wiper Blades

It's snowing hard and you turn on the wipers. The blade supports get packed with snow and the wiper blade either causes streaks or misses large swaths of your windshield. Regular blades often become clogged with snow and ice. The rubber covering on winter blades prevents that problem. The entire blade is wrapped in a rubber boot that prevents ice and snow from sticking or packing. They make for much better visibility and safer winter driving. Here's how to replace your wiper blades.

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Change the Furnace FilterSerenethos/Shutterstock

Change the Furnace Filter

Homeowners should change their furnace filters once a month, according to experts. And changing the filter regularly not only helps extend the life of your furnace, it helps with air quality in your home and keeps energy costs down.
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Winterize Your Pressure Washer or Ice Might Destroy ItFamily Handyman

Winterize Your Pressure Washer or Ice Might Destroy It

I once owned an electric pressure washer. I refer to it in the past tense because a few years ago, I left it in the garage over the winter without draining the pump. The water froze and expanded, and when I fired up the washer the following spring, water sprayed from every part of the machine except the end of the wand. I should have disconnected the hoses and sprayed in a pump antifreeze/ lubricant like Pump Saver from Briggs & Stratton. That forces the water out and replaces it with antifreeze and lube. Pump antifreeze/lubrication is available at home centers. And if your air compressor stalls out, here's how you can fix it yourself by replacing the unloader valve. — Mark Petersen
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Check InsulationDavid Papazian/Shutterstock

Check Insulation

Proper insulation will keep your home warm in the winter, cool in the summer and cut down on energy costs. It's also a place mice and bats like to call home. And when the weather turns cold, do a check of your insulation—especially in your attic—to ensure there are no unwanted guests.
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Clean Attic Venting or Invite Ice DamsFamily Handyman

Clean Attic Venting or Invite Ice Dams

Poor attic ventilation can cause ice dams in the winter months, increase cooling costs, create a home for mold and reduce the life of shingles during the dog days of summer.

Over time, the vents located in your soffits and on some gable-end wall vents get clogged with dust and debris and lose their effectiveness. Clean them with a leaf blower or compressed air. You could use a pressure washer, but stick to a couple quick passes because you don't want to saturate the attic insulation with water. Clean the vents every few years, unless you live near a lot of trees with floating seeds, which can clog vents in one season. For much more on preventing ice dams, check out this guide.

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Inspect Outdoor Lightingmooremedia/Shutterstock

Inspect Outdoor Lighting

On your home mainentance checklist make sure any outdoor lights are functioning properly, including motion sensor lighting. And this will help prevent falls on ice-covered walkways and driveways.

Speaking of the outdoors, browse these heated outdoor mats, too. They’re an excellent option for snow removal.

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Disconnect Garden Hoses or Risk Major Water DamageFamily Handyman

Disconnect Garden Hoses or Risk Major Water Damage

A garden hose that's left connected to a spigot will trap water inside the spigot. When that water freezes, it can bust open the spigot, the hose or both. Sometimes the pipe behind the spigot bursts and sprays hundreds of gallons inside the house. This can happen even with a frost-proof spigot and even if the water supply is off. So always disconnect garden hoses before winter arrives. To install a new frost-proof outdoor faucet, follow these five steps.

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4 Critical Places to Lube Your Car Before WinterFamily Handyman

4 Critical Places to Lube Your Car Before Winter

When cold weather is right around the corner, that's the time to get your car ready for winter driving: lube locks, latches, hinges, window channels and weather stripping. Proper lube can prevent binding and freezing and save you the cost of a busted regulator. You can lube your entire vehicle in less than 20 minutes. All you need is dry Teflon spray, spray lithium grease, a rag and glass cleaner.

Start with the window channels. Lower the window glass and shoot dry Teflon spray down the front, rear and top window channels on each door. Soak the channels. Then run the window up and down several times to spread the lube. Finally, raise the window and clean off overspray with glass cleaner.

Then shoot the door and trunk/hatch lock cylinders. Use the spray straw to force the lock 'door' open. Then inject a quick shot of dry Teflon spray into the lock cylinder. Insert your key and rotate the lock to spread the lube.

Next coat all the weather stripping with dry Teflon spray. Then spread it with a cloth. Finish the job by lubing the hood, trunk or tailgate latches with lithium grease. Then spray the door hinges. Operate the latches and doors several times to spread the grease.

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Empty Flowerpots or They Could BreakFamily Handyman

Empty Flowerpots or They Could Break

One winter, in order to save garage space, I decided to leave a bunch of clay, ceramic and glass pots outside over the winter. I figured, 'They were designed to be outside. What could it hurt?' However, that spring I found that several had cracked or broken because the moist soil inside them had expanded when it froze. I now empty the pots, or make sure the soil is dry and keep them covered, or take the pots in for the winter. When you're planting next spring, remember this tip for making sure pots don't get too heavy to move. — Beverly Petersen
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mulch hybridsojka/Shutterstock

Mulch Around Trees

Add a base of woodchip mulch around fruit trees to discourage competing grass and weeds. Wait until after a hard frost to spread the mulch so moles and field mice don’t take up residence in the woodchips beforehand. Add 2 to 3 inches of woodchips, spreading the mulch as far as the dripline (the outer reach of the tree-branch canopy). Keep woodchips several inches away from the tree trunk to avoid causing issues with insects and disease. Learn about different types of mulch in our Mulch Guide.

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Check for Air LeaksDrimaFilm/Shutterstock

Check for Air Leaks

Act now on your home maintenance checklist to save on heating costs during the winter months. And check for air leaks around windows and doors, including cracks in caulking or weatherstripping. Also, replace caulk and weatherstripping if necessary.
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Check the Roofpaul90g/Shutterstock

Check the Roof

Give the roof a good look before winter hits. Are there any loose or missing shingles that may result in leaks from melting snow? And use your home maintenance checklist as an excuse to check for any broken seals around vents and the chimney.
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Family Handyman

Insulate your garage door

If you have water lines in the garage, insulate the garage door, if not the whole garage. Consider a combination of heat cable and insulation as well. If it’s really cold, put a portable heater in
the garage.

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Clean the ChimneyCouperfield/Shutterstock

Clean the Chimney

If you use your fireplace, be sure to have it and the chimney cleaned before that first fire of the season. And this will ensure there's no buildup of harmful creosote or any debris such as leaves or bird nests, which can become a fire hazard.
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FH18DJF_583_07_005 install a heat cableFamily Handyman

Install Heat Cable

Heat cables are a perfect solution for vulnerable pipes. They have an integral thermostat that senses pipe temperature, turning the heat on and off as needed to keep the pipe from freezing. You’ll need an accessible outlet to plug in the cable. Heat cables are available at home centers for $15 to $40, depending on the length.

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Reverse Ceiling FansAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Reverse Ceiling Fans

If you have ceiling fans, there should be a switch to make the fan blades run clockwise. Running the blades in a clockwise position during the colder months can push heated air down. This home maintenance task makes rooms with high ceilings more comfortable.
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Test the Sump PumpJason Kolenda/Shutterstock

Test the Sump Pump

In the spring when the snow melts and the rain saturates the ground, your home's sump pump may be put to the test to keep water at bay. So test it during the winter to ensure you're ready for spring's big thaw.
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Seal Driveway CracksSteve Collender/Shutterstock

Seal Driveway Cracks

If your driveway has cracks that aren't re-sealed before the snow comes, the cold can cause water to freeze and expand in the cracks. And this will leave you with even more damage come spring.
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Ready Shovels, Check Snow Blowervalleyboi63/Shutterstock

Ready Shovels, Check Snow Blower

Move your snow shovels to an area near the door where they will be within easy reach. Change the oil in your snow blower and replace the spark plug if needed.

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