Winter Checklist: 15 Things Every Homeowner Should Do Before Winter
Protect your possessions from the ravages of Old Man Winter or risk costly repairs in the spring.
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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, once i’ve used a tool for the last time before storage, I suck the gas out of the tank with a turkey baster and run the engine dry. Then, I add a bit of non-oxygenated 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. — Josh Risberg, Contributing Editor
Find out what small engine mechanics say about how stale gas could be killing your small engines.
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 wastes 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 outside in a small panel near the compressor. Reenergize the unit 24 hours before startup. That gives the oil time to reach operating temperature. Plus: Check out these common air conditioning mistakes you might be making.
Disconnect Garden Hoses or Risk Major Water Damage
A garden hose left connected to a spigot traps water inside. 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 with the water supply turned off. So, always disconnect garden hoses before winter arrives. To install a new frost-proof outdoor faucet, follow these five steps for a frost-proof faucet.
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. And if your air compressor stalls out, here’s how you can fix it yourself by replacing the unloader valve. — Mark Petersen
Protect the A/C Compressor or Risk Damage From a Falling Icicle
You shouldn’t wrap your entire air conditioner for the winter. Many manufacturers advise against it because it can invite rodents and cause condensation, which can lead to early corrosion. But you should consider setting a piece of plywood on top of the unit to protect the fan from damage caused by falling icicles. And see our maintenance guide to learn how to clean your air conditioners in the spring.
Lube Your Car in 4 Critical Places
When the calendar calls for cold weather, 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 any overspray with glass cleaner.
- Then shoot the door and trunk/hatch lock cylinders with dry Teflon spray. Use the spray straw to force the lock ‘door’ open. Then inject a quick shot 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.
Drain Garden Hoses or Waste Money on Replacements
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 wasted money because draining hoses takes little time and effort: 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
Drain Mechanical Sprinklers or Buy a New One in the Spring
I bought one of those sprinklers that looks like a little tractor. Rather than sitting stationary, it follows the path of the hose on the ground. It was expensive, but it worked perfectly for my irregularly 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. — Editor Ken Collier
If you’d like to find out how to save time and money on lawn watering, check out these 11 clever tips.
Switch to Winter Wiper Blades
The season’s first winter snowstorm hits 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. A rubber boot encloses the entire blade and 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.
Clean Attic Venting or Invite Ice Dams
Poor attic ventilation can cause ice dams in the winter months and 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 walls 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 for preventing ice dams.
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.
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.
Empty Flower Pots 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
Winterize Your Gas Grill
If you’re not a winter griller, pack away your grill now, 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 store 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 you store tank 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 there.
Protect Your Battery From Seasonal Storage Damage
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 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. You leave a battery maintainers engaged for the entire offseason by design. 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.