Your Winter 2019 Home Maintenance To-Do List
We won’t sugarcoat it: The thought of doing home maintenance right now is pretty blah—especially with the holidays looming and weeks of gloomy winter days on the horizon. Who wants to do housework when you can curl up and binge-watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” instead?
So you’re forgiven if this is one article you don’t want to read. But before you take up permanent residence on the couch, you should at least skim it. That’s because winter chills bring a number of home-related ills—and if you don’t keep up with a little maintenance now, you could be in for catastrophic repair costs later.
So pull yourself out of hibernation mode and get started. The good news? We’ve done the heavy lifting for you, identifying the top tasks to tackle—and what professional help will cost you if you find yourself in over your head.
Give your gutters one last scrub
Hopefully, you’ve been clearing out your gutters on the regular. But once every tree is bare, it’s time for one final cleaning session to “avoid moisture building up against your house—and ice dams,” says Derek Christian, the owner of Handyman Connection in Blue Ash, OH.
Ah, ice dams: winter’s favorite boogeyman. These troublemakers happen when warm air meets a cold, wet roof, creating supersized icicles. Eventually, that ice and moisture can find their way underneath your shingles, rotting your roof, and leaking into the living spaces below.
But ice dams are easily avoided—as long as you do a little prep.
DIY: Cleaning out your gutters is simple enough to do yourself. For extra protection, Jason Metzger, the head of risk management for PURE Insurance, recommends installing heat strips on your gutter or roof edges to keep frozen precipitation from building up.
Call in the pros: Have you been really lackadaisical with your gutter cleanings? An expert can scoop out all the gunk. Expect to pay $100 to $250.
Turn on your humidifier
Is your furnace prepped for winter? While this might vary based on your specific model, Christian advises homeowners to check their furnace for a “winter” and a “summer” switch, which controls your humidifier.
“In the summer, the airflow to the humidifier needs to be cut off; but in the winter, you want air going through it,” he says.
That keeps your skin from drying out, your eyes from itching, and your floorboards from creaking.
DIY: Switching your humidifier on is an easy task. If your furnace lacks this feature, a stand-alone humidifier, like this Honeywell model, will do the job.
Call in the pros: Adding a humidifier to your furnace is simple. Costs start at about $370.
Insulate (and inspect) the attic
House always feel drafty? Your attic could be to blame. Check to make sure this space is sufficiently insulated. And while you’re up there, make sure no rodents can shimmy in and create their own winter retreat. (Eek!)
“Make sure any gaps and holes into your attic are sealed tight,” Christian says. “As winter approaches, critters will be looking for somewhere to spend it.”
DIY: Stuff gaps with insulation, and fill cracks with caulk to keep the critters—and the cold—out.
Call in the pros: If you’re noticing a severe lack of insulation (or you require six blankets just to keep your body temperature normal), hiring a pro to add insulation will be worth the cost. The national average to install blown-in insulation is $1,400.
Create a cleaning schedule for the new year
With 2019 rapidly approaching, now’s the time to institute good home habits that will keep your space clean and organized year-round. And what better time to tackle the mountain of grime that’s accumulated over the year than the frigid winter months when you can’t go outside?
DIY: Creating a regular cleaning schedule makes a huge difference in keeping your home tidy and organized.
“Hang a calendar in your kitchen where your whole household can see it,” and assign tasks to the household, says professional organizer Kacy Burns.
Take it one step further with weekly, monthly, and quarterly reminders.
Call in the pros: Just can’t bear the thought of starting a new year with chores? If you’ve ever considered a cleaning crew, now’s the time. Figure on paying $200 to $300 for a one-time cleaning, but you may be able to negotiate that price down with a regular cleaning schedule.
Fireproof your home
With temps plummeting, you’ve probably already switched on your heat a few times, gathered around the fireplace, or lugged out a portable heater to warm your feet on chilly nights.
“With all these heat sources in use, homeowners must take precautions to protect themselves from house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning,” says Sophie Kaemmerle, a home improvement expert with NeighborWho, a property information website.
DIY: If you haven’t done so recently, replace those smoke detector batteries.
Call in the pros: If you smell gas or your carbon monoxide detector starts beeping, leave the house and call 911, followed by your utility company, which will send out a team to investigate the problem. Still feeling wary? Most fire departments will do a home safety check if you request one.
Maintain a smart temperature
Consider installing a smart thermostat to keep your home’s temperature even. Today’s models —like the über-popular Nest—will alert you if the temperature inside your home suddenly falls. That can be a lifesaver when you’re on vacation, preventing frozen pipes and other winter disasters.
DIY: If you’re not ready to upgrade your thermostat, you can do your part to maintain an even temperature.
“Leave interior doors, cabinets, and vanities open to keep the whole home heated,” Metzger says.
Call in the pros: Is your thermostat struggling to keep temperatures even? Are cold spots in your living room bugging you on snow days? A whole-home energy audit, which costs about $400, can identify the cause.
Hunker down for winter storms
In most parts of the nation, the first snow has already fallen—and more is surely on the way. Before the next bomb cyclone/polar vortex/sharknado blizzard (hey, it could happen), make sure you’re prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“Heavy snows and ice can take down power lines and leave you in the cold and dark,” says Krystal Rogers-Nelson of home safety and security company SafeWise.
DIY: Make sure you have a (working) generator, and stock up on batteries for flashlights and lanterns. Invest in a solar-powered or battery-operated radio to stay up to date with news in case you lose cellphone reception. Store wintry weather supplies—such as snow shovels and window scrapers—somewhere you can access them easily.
If you live in an area particularly prone to snow, mark the sides of your driveway and other key places with reflective poles to help snow plowers see where to go, suggests home maintenance expert Laura Gaskill.
And remember: A buildup of heavy snow on tree limbs can make them more prone to breaking, Gaskill notes, so brush snow off tree limbs after each big snowfall, using a broom to extend your reach.