How to winterize a house


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When prepping for winter, it makes sense to seal cracks and holes around doors and windows no matter where you live.

If you’re bracing for a big chill, or worse, a blizzard —  predicted to become more intense in the coming years, despite shorter winters — you’ll be glad you protected or checked the pipes, roof, chimney, heating system and water heater.

What an Alaskan would do isn’t necessarily what a Texan would, of course. Plus, the timing of the first frost can vary from state to state. (If you’re new to an area, the National Weather Service uses historical data to predict when the first frost, on average, arrives for each state.)

Here are general tips, along with ways to finance projects.

Related: Tips for buying a home in winter

1. Protect Pipes or Pay the Piper

When deciding how to winterize a house, plumbing issues are ones to consider.

Burst pipes can cause $5,000 or more in damage, according to Consumer Reports, citing information from the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, which has a page of recommendations to help prevent frozen pipes.

Pipes in unheated places inside a home, including basements, attics and garages, are among the most likely to sustain damage. But pipes running through exterior walls can also freeze in certain conditions, and so can those running through kitchen or bathroom cabinets.

Protecting the plumbing is clearly a situation where being proactive may save a homeowner money.

Pipe insulation can be as inexpensive as 50 cents per linear foot. Compare that to the $5,000 figure above, and the rewards of winterization can quickly become clear.

Adding insulation to attics, crawl spaces, and basements can help to keep those areas warmer, which can also help to keep pipes from freezing.

If sinks are located on exterior walls, it can help to keep the cabinet doors open during frigid temperatures (after removing any dangerous chemicals, including cleaners, if there are children or pets in the home).

Allowing cold water to drip can also help prevent pipes from freezing and can make sense in especially cold temps.

2. Address HVAC Maintenance and Repair

Nobody wants the heating system to perform poorly during the winter, much less have it break down.

It’s a good idea to schedule a professional maintenance appointment, which should include a filter change before freezing temperatures arrive. Then it’s best to change the filter at least every 90 days.

Have any repairs made to the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system and clean out vents for improved airflow.

For some people, this may be the time to consider a new HVAC system. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star program provides guidance to help homeowners decide if a new one makes sense.

Signs that it might be time to replace the unit include:

  • The heat pump is more than 10 years old.
  • The furnace or boiler is more than 15 years old.
  • The system needs frequent repairs, and energy bills are increasing.
  • Rooms in the home can be too hot or too cold.
  • The HVAC system is noisy.

If people in a home are away during reasonably regular times of the day, it can make sense to ask the HVAC professional about a programmable thermostat to save on energy costs.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Home Energy Yardstick can help a homeowner determine if replacing an HVAC system makes sense.

3. Check the Roof, Gutters and Chimney

Before winter hits, clearing the roof and gutters of leaves and other debris will help prevent snow and ice from building up and damaging the gutters — or worse, the roof.

If ice or snow gets beneath roof shingles, it can lead to leaks and interior water damage. Do any parts of the gutters need to be replaced? Do any shingles need to be glued down or replaced? Any small leaks need to be repaired before they become big ones?

Plus, a chimney inspection can make sense. A chimney could have an animal nest lodged within, and there can also be structural problems.

If the home has a wood-burning fireplace, creosote buildup can create a fire hazard. With a gas fireplace, a blocked chimney could lead to carbon monoxide backup, which can be life-threatening.

4. Examine the Water Heater

To avoid a chilly shower in the midst of winter, check your water heater before temperatures plunge.

Are areas rusting or corroding? If so, this can lead to a leak. A professional can examine it, bleed the system to remove trapped air and mineral deposits, clean the pipes,and recommend and do repairs.

5. Think About Outdoor Equipment and Plants

To protect your lawn mower and other power tools used outside, winterize them as well. Drain the oil and take what is collected to a local recycling or hazardous-waste site.

Take care of general maintenance on equipment, including replacing old parts. That way, when spring rolls around, all should be repaired and ready to go.

Inspect gas caps to make sure O-rings are intact. If not, get replacements from the manufacturer. Also replace filters and lubricate what needs lubricating.

Indoor plants taken outside to enjoy the summer sun will need to be brought back in when temperatures drop.

Before doing so, check the plants for mealybugs, aphids and other insects. Remove them so they don’t spread to other plants.

Some people prefer to prune plants before transitioning them back into the house. If so, prune no more than one-third of each, pruning an equal amount off the roots. When repotting, pick a container that’s two or more inches bigger than the current one.

Gradually transition your plants to the new environment, which has different light and humidity levels. For a few days, bring the plants inside at dusk and put them back outside in the morning.

Over a period of 14 days or so, increase the indoor time until the process is complete and they’ve become indoor plants again, finishing the transition before temperatures go down to 45 degrees.

What’s the Cost of Winterizing a Home?

Pipe insulation, as noted earlier, can be quite cheap, perhaps 50 center per linear foot.

If a homeowner decides to insulate further, perhaps an attic, costs can range between $1.50 and $3.50 per foot, or a total of $1,700 to $2,100.

An attic insulation installer may charge, on average, $70 an hour. If electrical work needs to be done for safe insulation around cables or junction boxes, figure about $85 an hour.

To hire someone to clean gutters and downspouts, the average can range from $118 to $225. An HVAC inspection might cost $300 and up, while a new system could cost between $5,000 and $10,000, depending upon the size of the home, among other factors.

What each of these services costs will depend on locale, what types of repairs or unusual circumstances exist, and so forth.

There are websites, such as the ones we’ve cited, that allow a homeowner to enter a ZIP code and get an estimate of what a winterizing activity may cost. To get an exact price, it makes sense to get quotes from local professionals.

Financing Winterization Projects

Some people pay for their home winterization costs out of pocket, while others may decide to get a home improvement loan. If you’re leaning toward a loan, it can make sense to compare a home equity line of credit and a personal loan.

A HELOC uses the home as collateral. So, for this to be an option, there needs to be enough equity in the property to borrow against it. If there is, and the loan amount needed is large, then it could make sense to apply for a HELOC.

Interest rates may be lower than those for a personal loan. Also, you can typically take draws from a HELOC, up to the loan’s limit.

So, if winterizing is coupled with indoor projects done through the cold season, for example, this might be a practical solution. In some cases, interest payments could be tax-deductible.

A personal loan can make sense for recent homebuyers who haven’t built up enough equity or for people who are planning smaller projects. Home winterization often fits into this category.

Applying for and receiving money from an unsecured personal loan is typically much faster than with a HELOC, in part because no appraisal is required for the loan.

Having a great credit score and cash flow can help a borrower get approved or receive better loan terms.

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