Home Survival Guide to Get Through Winter

Stop winter home woes before they happen.

By Katy Read; Christy Desmith


Here’s how to get through this winter without burst pipes, broken furnaces, heat loss, ice dams, house fires, flooded basements, unwanted critters, huge energy bills, cold feet, and other problems that can plague the frigid-weather homeowner.



Have it inspected by a professional chimney inspector every year.

Have it cleaned every year or two, or more if you have a lot of fires or tend to burn softer woods.

A chimney cap with a rain hood and screen will minimize rain damage and keep critters out.


Stock up on clean, dry firewood. A fireplace store can recommend someone to deliver and stack it for you. Store it away from your house to keep mice and other vermin at a distance.


Close the damper when the fireplace is not in use. When you’re using it, turn down the thermostat and open a window near the fireplace to prevent warm air from being pulled from other parts of the house.

Install glass doors on the fireplace to keep warm air from being drawn up the chimney.

If you use the fireplace frequently, a fireplace insert improves efficiency by blowing heat into the room and limiting heat loss up the chimney.

Keep the cold out

Reducing air leaks and properly insulating walls, crawl spaces, and floors can cut energy bills by up to 10%. Seal leaky ducts with metal-backed tape or aerosol sealant. Consider having your insulation updated to save money, improve comfort, and lower the risk of ice dams.

Set your thermostat between 65 and 70 degrees when you’re home; lower it when you’re sleeping or away from home for more than a few hours. Use a programmable thermostat to make the switches automatic.


On sunny days, open curtains and blinds to let the sun’s heat in. Close them at night to trap the warmth inside.

Close or install storm windows, which reduce drafts and frost formation and can cut heat loss through the window by 25% to 50%. For a cheaper alternative, cover windows with plastic.

Keep rooms toasty

Run your ceiling fan at low speed in reverse direction (clockwise) so the blades drive warm air down into the room.


Change your furnace filters per the manufacturer recommendations. Most homes are built with a 1-inch filter that should be refreshed every month.

Clean your furnace before the first cold spell. If your furnace isn’t too dirty, you can save money by vacuuming the blades yourself.

Get acquainted with your house’s duct work  Most homes are equipped with dampers, allowing you to change the volume of heat delivered upstairs, downstairs, and all rooms in-between.


Disconnect your garden hose, shut off the water valve and drain the spigot — even if you have a frost-free faucet.

Drain the sediment from your water heater. This should be done once or twice every year.

Water Heater


Repair any exterior damage that might invite pests. Carpenter ants like leaky pipes, warped storm windows, and tattered roof shingles, whereas frayed screens and chewed-through door sweeps attract rodents.

Clear your garage of mice-magnets, especially if you have an attached garage. This isn’t the place to stash woodpiles and unsealed birdseed.


Clean debris from gutters and downspouts. Open any roof drains or vents.

Sources: Crystal Manik, senior marketing business consultant for Xcel Energy; Eric Siedow, technician for Chimney Guys; Rodney Pierce, salesperson for Genz-Ryan Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning; Colleen Cannon, staff entomologist for Plunkett’s Pest Control; Bill Yares, president of Twin Cities Home Evaluations; Stacy Reese, manager of Walker Roofing.

Originally published by KATY READ & CHRISTY DESMITH Star Tribune (Minneapolis).


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