How to Winterize a Home for the Cold Season

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated January 5, 2023
The exterior of a house with landscape
Photo: Iriana Shiyan / Adobe Stock

Winterizing for the season prevents headaches in the springtime

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If you split your time between two residences, knowing how to winterize a house ensures you have a fully functional space when you return in the spring. With the proper tools and a little elbow grease, you can knock out this project over a weekend before you take off for the season. This guide will walk you through some winterization steps—so you don’t have to worry when temperatures start to dip.

Why You Should Winterize Your House

Most people winterize their homes when planning to leave for the season, but even if you’re staying put, winterization can help prevent damage to your plumbing, furnace, and roof. The main benefits are:

  • Safeguarding against burst pipes, which can happen when water freezes in plumbing

  • Preventing ice dams, which can damage your roofing 

  • Ensuring roofing does not have leaks that will get worse with winter weather

  • Reducing heating costs by adding insulation and repairing weatherproofing

  • Ensuring your furnace or fireplace is running safely and efficiently

  • Prepping outdoors so winter weather doesn’t damage your pool or sprinklers

Basically, winterization prepares your home for harsh winter weather, so it can handle the elements whether you’re sitting by the fire or enjoying warmer weather somewhere else.

How Much Does It Cost to Winterize a House vs. Hire a Pro?

Luckily, most of the tasks involved with winterizing your house can be done yourself in a relatively short amount of time.

Most chores involve cleaning and tidying different parts of the home as well as remembering to shut off the water, adjust the thermostat, arm the security alarm, lock the doors, etc. These come at virtually no cost other than your time and effort. However, there are a few aspects that might need a professional inspection.

While you don’t absolutely have to hire a pro for this project, you should have your sump pump and furnace inspected at least once a year, whether you migrate between two homes or not. Hiring an HVAC contractor near you to come service the heater can cost about $50 to $100, while the cost to hire a plumber to look at your sump pump is around $45 to $200 per hour.

How to Winterize a House

There are quite a few things to get done before your house is ready to leave for the season, but luckily, it’s doable in just a day or two. Make sure to cross all these tasks off your to-do list before settling into snowbird mode.

1. Insulate the Pipes

Making sure to winterize a house’s plumbing is one of the first things most homeowners think about when it comes to preventing wintertime disasters—and for good reason! It’s definitely one of the most important tasks to get done before leaving your house empty, especially if the weather gets below freezing.

Start by winterizing your outdoor plumbing and irrigation systems, including hoses, faucets, and sprinkler systems. Shut off the water supply to these pipes if you can and drain the water from them before the freezing cold weather hits. If you’d rather not take any chances for damage and want to lean on an expert, a local irrigation specialist will be able to help you get the job done.

To winterize your indoor pipes, start by cutting off your water supply if you don’t need it on while you’re gone and drain your faucets. For more susceptible pipes in the attic or outdoor walls, you can pick up insulation materials at your local hardware store and wrap your pipes in fiberglass or polyethylene. It’s also a good idea to leave your thermostat at a temperature above freezing so that your house never gets cold enough for most of your pipes to freeze in the first place. State Farm recommends keeping your thermostat set to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.

2. Winterize Your Outdoor Space

A gutter clogged with autum leaves
Photo: trongnguyen / Adobe Stock

The yard can be the most labor-intensive part of the home winterization process, so save the bulk of time for this. To start, grab a rake and clean up any fallen leaves or branches so you can give your yard one last mow before you leave (if needed). You’ll also want to cut any dead branches from trees to avoid any roof damage if storms blow by while you’re gone.

Winterize your pool if you have one by draining it partially and put a cover over it to keep out pests and debris.

Have your ladder on hand to clean out the gutters. Clogged gutters can leave your roof and your home open to damage during rain or snowstorms. Don't leave the gutters clogged. Downspouts should be secured to take heavy rain away from your house. If you need help with this part, you can always hire a local gutter cleaner to make sure the job is done right.

Last but not least, winterize your sprinkler system by turning off the water and timer, draining it, and adding insulation to the sprinkler system parts above ground.

3. Secure Your Home’s Exterior

If you’re leaving for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to secure your home so whatever is outside can’t come inside. Something as small as a cracked window can lead to pretty significant water damage during a winter storm. 

First, you’ll want to inspect the weatherstripping around windows and doors. Worn down weather stripping can let in rain, pests, and cold air (the latter lowers your home’s energy efficiency and can lead to freezing pipes); replace it if necessary. If you live in an area prone to storms, you can install storm windows or secure plywood over your windows as an extra safeguard. Beyond that, right before you leave, make sure to:

  • Close and lock all windows and doors.

  • Close all shutters.

  • Store outside decor and furniture safely inside a garage or shed for the season.

  • Cover furniture that can’t be stored with weatherproof covers.

4. Have Your Heating Inspected

Make sure your furnace is working properly so your pipes don’t freeze while you’re gone. You can hire an HVAC contractor near you to inspect the heater, flush the water heater, and replace filters if needed.

5. Check Smoke Alarms, Carbon Monoxide Detectors, and Your Security System

Grab your ladder and test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they don’t need a change of batteries before you go. Make sure your security system is in working order and don’t forget to set it before you leave for the winter.

A break-in ( or worse, a dangerous house fire or gas leak) is a homeowner’s worst nightmare. These alarms can give you some peace of mind while away. Better yet, set your home up with smart device alarms so you’ll be alerted via cell phone if anything goes wrong and you can have a trusted friend or neighbor go check on the place.

6. Inspect Your Fireplace and Chimney

The interior of a living room with a fireplace
Photo: New Africa / Adobe Stock

Close the damper or flue on your fireplace to prevent snow, rain, or animals from finding a way into your home. The last thing you need when you come back in the spring is some uninvited visitors.

7. Hold Your Mail

If you have been receiving mail at this location, be sure to look into holding your mail or forwarding it on to the residence you will be moving to for the next few months. USPS allows you to hold your mail for up to 30 days, so if you will be gone longer than that, you can sign up for the USPS Forward Mail service to receive it at your seasonal residence.

8. Adjust Your Thermostat

If you have been running the AC all summer long, you are going to want to flip it over to the heat setting. You don't need to keep your home cozy and livable temperature, but you do need it to stay around 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit or so to prevent pipes from freezing. Investing in a programmable thermostat can be a convenient way to control the temp in your house from afar while you’re away.

9. Check the Sump Pump

Make sure your sump pump functions properly. You can do this yourself or hire a plumber near you to inspect the sump pump for you and make any necessary repairs to keep it in working order. A wet basement will make for a bad start to next season's fun.

10. Cut Off the Water Supply and Gas Line

The last thing you want to come back to next spring is a flooded home from a leaky or burst pipe. It is a good idea to open up all your faucets and drain your toilets of water—also, keep the faucets open to prevent pressure buildup from the little bit of water that remains in your pipes.

This will help prevent a burst pipe as the water expands with changing temperatures. A plumber can also help you with winterizing if you are unsure how to prepare your pipes for winter. Don’t forget to turn off the gas line to prevent a dangerous gas leak or other gas-related incident.

11. Unplug All Appliances

Not only will this save you money as your unused appliances will not be using phantom energy, it also protects the house from an appliance shorting out and causing a fire or a surge of energy ruining your appliances.

12. Clean Out the Fridge

Man in gloves cleaning an empty refrigerato
Photo: Monkey Business / Adobe Stock

Get rid of any perishable items, wipe your fridge down, unplug it, and be sure to keep the door to your refrigerator and freezer open. Closing it up will lead to a stinky fridge and promote mold and mildew growth from residual moisture.

Any food you leave behind should be in air-tight containers to prevent pests from feeding off it all winter long. If bugs and rodents are a concern, place traps or use insecticides to keep them away.

13. Throw Out All the Trash in Your House

Trash is a breeding ground for yucky mold and bacteria, and no one wants to return home to a stinking house come spring. Make sure to gather up the garbage from every room and put it out on the curb on trash day, or take it to the dump before you head out.

14. Give Your House a Last Clean Sweep

Whether you hire a housecleaner or you do it yourself, make sure to vacuum, wash bedding, and wipe down surfaces from the house before closing up. It also doesn’t hurt to put some bleach in your toilets to keep mold and mildew from growing in the bowls while you’re gone.

15. Pack Up Your Plants

Take your plant babies with you wherever you’re heading for the winter. Unless you have a house sitter coming to water them, you could come back to a house full of dead plants.

16. Lock the Doors and Arm the Security Alarm

If you have a security system, ensure that it is working and engaged when you leave. Otherwise, double-check that all door locks are in working order—and be sure not to leave any valuables behind.

17. Tell Trusted Neighbors You’re Leaving

Make sure your neighbors are aware of your move, so they can keep an eye on your property. Just be sure to let them know if someone will be stopping by to check on the place, so they don't think you are being robbed.

Now that you know how to winterize your home, you're ready to enjoy the long winter without worrying about the house you left behind for the season.

Tips for Winterizing Your Home

Winterization can feel overwhelming—especially if you’re also packing up to leave for a whole season. These tips can help you organize your tasks so no stone is left unwinterized.

1. Make a Checklist

Winterizing a home involves many steps—from caulking drafty window frames to draining garden hoses. A lot of small things add up, so making a list will ensure that you don’t miss anything important. The last thing you want is for a forgotten attic window to cause a massive leak.

2. Consider Installing Smart Features

Smart features—like smart thermostats, lights, and cameras—can help save electricity costs and allow you to safeguard your home from a distance. For example, if an unexpected cold front is in the forecast, you can use an app to set your smart thermostat to a warmer temperature, so pipes don’t freeze while you’re away. You can also install a smart camera to alert you if someone is on your property when you aren’t home.

3. Considering Installing an Emergency Release

If you live in an area with extreme cold, consider hiring a local plumber to install an emergency release in your plumbing. This safeguard will help protect your pipes against increased pressure, so if your winterization fails and your pipes freeze, they’re less likely to burst.

4. Don’t Skip Inspections

You may not notice any red flags in your plumbing, roofing, fireplace, or HVAC system—but that doesn’t mean they won’t appear while you’re away. Harsh weather has a habit of unearthing small problems, and if you’re away, you may not catch them until it’s too late. Inspections help prevent costly (and dangerous) damage, so make sure you don’t skip out.

DIY vs. Hiring a Pro

Most homeowners can winterize their houses on their own, but you'll need a pro to do certain tasks. Have your furnace inspected annually by an HVAC technician, as well as your fireplace and roof. Generally, this costs $70 to $150 per inspection, though a roof inspection can cost more than $325.

If you’ve had issues with pipes in the past, you may want to hire a pro to check your plumbing. Professional home winterization costs $200 to $1,000 depending on what you need done, while a burst pipe can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Ideally, you’ll winterize your home before freezing temperatures (below 32 degrees Fahrenheit) arrive for the season—but the exact timing depends on the task. For example, you should winterize your pool as soon as temperatures consistently drop below 65 degrees Fahrenheit. You probably won’t use the pool at that point, and you'll want to prevent algae growth. 

You can generally wait to winterize your sprinkler system and the rest of your home until a week before you expect the first hard freeze. Since this can be quite an undertaking, you may want to start early.

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