How to prepare your house for winter

Hibernating isn't just for bears. Spend a weekend tucking your house in before the big freeze, and face spring singing

1. Prep your heat source

“Fall is a great time to have a service technician come in and do a tune-up on your furnace or boiler,” says Graham Clarke, a vice-president at the Toronto engineering consulting firm Carson Dunlop & Associates. There are also steps home­owners themselves can take to ensure their heating system runs safely and efficiently. If you have a forced-air furnace, change the filter to make sure the air stays clean throughout the season. If your furnace has a humidifier, open its damper (often it’s closed during the summer when the air conditioner is turned on) and make sure the humidifier pad is in good condition (free of dust and deposits). For homes with boilers, lubricate the circulating pump by putting a couple of drops of paraffin-based oil in the oil cups on top. Also, bleed the air out of radiators.

2. Turn off the air conditioner

When it’s time to cover up your outdoor air-conditioning unit, Clarke recommends turning off its power right at the house’s electrical panel. “In a lot of air-conditioning systems, there’s a little heater that’s using electricity all the time to keep the oil warm,” he says. “And in the middle of winter, there’s obviously not much point in keeping the air conditioner ready to be turned on at a moment’s notice.”

3. Maintain your fireplace

If you have a wood-burning fireplace, check the masonry or bricks for cracks, ensure that the damper is working properly, and have a look up the chimney. “You should have a clear, unobstructed view to the sky,” says Preston Meyer, co-owner of Calgary’s Hearth & Home Fireplace Specialties. If the view is blocked, hire a chimney sweep. For a gas fireplace, take out the glass and clean it with vinegar and water, removing any milky white film. Then get rid of the black carbon that may have built up on the burner. You should also take out your vacuum cleaner. “Many gas fireplaces have a top and bottom louvred system that circulates the air,” says Meyer, “and it’s important to vacuum the dust at the bottom where the blower fan is installed to ensure longevity of the fan.”

4. Clean your eavestroughs

Check that the downspouts don’t discharge against foundation walls, and clean out eavestroughs. “That’s not only to prevent a problem with the spring runoff,” says Clarke, “but also just to help the snow and ice dissipate from the edge of the roof during the winter.” If you’re feeling ambitious, install a guard in your eavestrough to keep it clear of any late-falling leaves.

5. Final checklist

When you’re outside, have a look at doors and windows to see if the weatherstripping and caulking are in good shape. Inspect your home’s siding and roof, checking for missing pieces that may cause leakage. Outside faucets should be closed at the shut-off valve; drain the water left in the pipes by opening the tap. Inside the house, replace batteries in the carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, “and make sure they’re tested and working properly,” says Clarke. He also recommends turning circuit breakers in the electrical panel off, then on again. “You want to make sure you give them a bit of exercise twice a year so they don’t seize up,” he says. “And if any of them don’t operate properly, it’s time to replace them.”

Last, head up to the attic to see if anything is blocking the ventilation openings and check that your home’s insulation is relatively uniform. Then put on your woolly socks and settle in.