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Winter Checklist: 15 Things Every Homeowner Should Do Before Winter

If you want to protect your possessions from the ravages of Old Man Winter, you might have to bring them in, empty them out, clean them up or shut them down. None of these tasks take much time or money, and they will help you avoid costly repairs in the spring.

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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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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. (Already got mice? Here's our best advice on how to get rid of them.) 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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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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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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Protect the A/C Compressor or Risk Damage From a Falling IcicleFamily Handyman

Protect the A/C Compressor or Risk Damage From a Falling Icicle

There's no reason to wrap your entire air conditioner for the winter, and many manufacturers advise against it because it can invite rodents and cause condensation, which can lead to early corrosion. But it's not a bad idea to set a piece of plywood on top of the unit to protect it from falling icicles. And see our maintenance guide to learn how to clean your air conditioners in the spring.

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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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Drain Garden Hoses or Waste Money on ReplacementsFamily Handyman

Drain Garden Hoses or Waste Money on Replacements

Due to circumstances (laziness), I sometimes neglect to drain garden hoses before putting them away for the winter. Usually it's not a problem. But every once in a while, freezing water splits a hose open. I've lost a few cheap hoses this way and a super-expensive one (ouch!). That's just dumb because draining hoses is so quick and easy: Blast out the water with an air compressor or stretch them out on a sloped yard or driveway. If you need to buy a new garden hose, learn how to do a simple test, right in the store, to see if the hose will be kink-free! Gary Wentz, Editor-in-Chief

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Drain Mechanical Sprinklers or Buy a New One in the SpringFamily Handyman

Drain Mechanical Sprinklers or Buy a New One in the Spring

I bought one of those sprinklers that looks like a little tractor. It's designed to follow the path of the hose on the ground. It was expensive, but it worked perfectly for my irregular-shaped yard; that is, until it spent the winter in my unheated garage. The residual water froze and destroyed the gears inside. The following spring, all it did was dribble water and make a clicking sound. I should have drained it before storing it. Just to be safe, I'll keep the new one on a shelf in the basement. If you'd like to find out how to save time and money on lawn watering, check out these 11 clever tips. — editor Ken Collier

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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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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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Check Your Chimney or Risk a FireFamily Handyman

Check Your Chimney or Risk a Fire

Creosote buildup causes chimney fires. You should have your chimney professionally inspected or cleaned after every 70 fires. If you burn wet wood (which you shouldn't), have it inspected or cleaned every 50 fires. Don't remember the last time you had it cleaned by a pro? A quick way to tell if your chimney needs cleaning is to run the point of your fireplace poker along the inside of your chimney liner. If you find a 1/8-in. layer (or more) of buildup, call a chimney sweep. For additional expert chimney maintenance advice, check out what two certified professional chimney sweeps have to say.

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Winterize Your Sprinkler SystemFamily Handyman

Winterize Your Sprinkler System

You don't have to pay someone to blow out your sprinkler system. You can do it with your own compressor, but be aware that even the largest home compressor isn't powerful enough to blow out the entire system at once. If you like number crunching and you have the original irrigation layout showing the gallons per minute (gpm) of each sprinkler head, divide the gpm of each zone by 7.5. That'll give you the cubic feet per minute (cfm) you need to blow it out. Otherwise, rent a 10-cfm compressor and hose from a tool rental center. Set the compressor air pressure regulator to a maximum of 80 psi for rigid PVC pipe systems, or 50 psi for flexible black polyethylene pipe. Then turn off the water supply and set the system timer to open just one zone. Next, open the manual drain valve at the end of that zone (if equipped). Then, connect the air line to the blow-out port, as shown. Close off both valves on the backflow preventer. Then remove the plug on the blow-out port and screw in a quick-connect hose adapter. Snap on the air hose and connect the other end to the compressor. Now blow out the line. The heads should pop up and spit out water. Disconnect the hose as soon as they run dry. Don't overdo the blow-out—without water cooling the plastic gears, they can melt in less than a minute. Move on to the next zone and allow the heads to cool. Then go back and blow out each zone a second time.

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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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Winterize Your Gas GrillFamily Handyman

Winterize Your Gas Grill

If you're not a winter griller, now's the time to pack away your grill before it's covered with a foot of snow. In addition to giving your grill a thorough cleaning to remove grease and food scraps, take these steps to help prevent any unpleasant surprises when you fire up your grill again next spring.

Shut off the gas at the LP tank, unfasten the burner, slip the gas tubes off the gas lines and lift out the unit. Coat the burners and other metal parts with cooking oil to repel moisture that can build up over the winter and to prevent rust. Then wrap the burner unit in a plastic bag to keep spiders and insects from nesting in the gas tubes during the winter. This is a common problem that can make for balky starts, uneven flames or even a one-alarm fire the next time you light your grill.

If you're storing your grill outside during the winter, just keep the propane tank connected (but shut off) and put a protective cover over the entire grill when you're done cleaning it. If you're storing the grill indoors, don't bring the tank inside, even into the garage or a storage shed. A small gas leak can cause a huge explosion if the tank is stored in an enclosed space. Instead, disconnect the tank and store it outside in an upright position away from dryer and furnace vents and children's play areas. Tape a plastic bag over the grill's gas line opening to prevent insects from nesting.

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Seasonal Battery Storage

Seasonal Battery Storage

You've emptied the gas, sealed the exhaust and prepared the engine for seasonal storage. But before you throw the tarp over your boat or roadster for the long winter sleep, think about how you're going to care for the battery. Batteries lose their charge when they sit idle, and when that happens, you could wind up with a worthless battery in the spring. To keep batteries healthy, they should be charged every six weeks. But leaving a standard battery charger connected for the whole season isn't a good idea—that will overcharge the battery and shorten its life. Instead, invest in a 'battery maintainer.' Battery maintainers are designed to be left on for the entire offseason. They monitor battery voltage and automatically adjust the charge to avoid under- and over-charging. For more on how to winterize your inboard/outboard motorboat, check out our instructions which include an oil change, draining the engine block, lubing the lower unit and more.