The new year is a good time to get serious about your home’s maintenance.
“We tend to think of the snow-blowing and the shoveling” when it comes to winter maintenance tasks, says Angi Orbann, vice president of personal insurance product at Travelers Insurance. However, there are other chores that should be done ASAP.
Start 2018 off right by checking these 12 items off your to-do list.
1. Clean out gutters. If you live someplace like Erie, Pennsylvania – which saw more than 5 feet of snowfall in two days over the holidays – you’ll need to wait to do this chore. However, if you don’t have any snow accumulation, it’s time to clean out the gutters.
“While cleaning your gutters is often thought of as a fall project, showing them some love again over the winter is a smart idea,” says Tim Manni, mortgage expert with personal finance website NerdWallet. “Plenty more leaves could have fallen since the last time you cleaned them.”
In snowy climates, ice dams are the main hazard associated with clogged gutters. “Frozen water goes up under shingles and leaks into the house,” says Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors. However, keeping gutters free of dirt and debris should help you avoid the problem.
2. Change the furnace filter. This isn’t an annual task, but one that should occur every couple months during the heating season. “As dirt accumulates across the filter, it makes the furnace run harder,” Lesh says. That means less efficient heating, higher utility bills and potential health hazards due to air pollution.
3. Clean the heat pump. In warmer climates, houses might be equipped with a heat pump. Like furnaces, these have filters that need to be replaced regularly. Plus, outdoor coils should be cleaned to remove leaves, pet hair or other debris that has accumulated.
4. Test GFCI outlets. Kitchens, bathrooms and other areas that may be exposed to moisture should be equipped with ground-fault circuit-interrupter outlets. These outlets are designed to avoid electrical shocks and minimize the possibility of fires by shutting off the flow of electricity when a ground fault occurs.
Homeowners should test the outlets regularly to ensure they are working properly. The easiest way to do this is to plug in a radio, turn it on and push the test button on the outlet. If the radio shuts off, the outlet is working as it should. If not, it should be replaced.
To restore power to the outlet after testing it, push the reset button.
5. Add insulation. Orbann says insulation is important not only for comfort but also for protecting the integrity of your home. “Insulation is important to avoid a couple losses,” she says. It can prevent ice dams and pipes from freezing and may protect against fires.
However, be careful not to add too much insulation. Lesh notes that people naturally create moisture in a house through cooking, cleaning and bathing. “If an attic has too much insulation and not enough ventilation, the moisture can’t get out,” he says. If that happens, a wet attic could lead to mold growth.
6. Protect pipes. Water pipes in crawl spaces, attics or basements may be prone to freezing in the winter. Adding insulation to a house is one way to prevent that from happening. Other ways to prevent freezing include plugging drafty cracks or holes in walls near pipes or wrapping them with foam or another insulating substance.
7. Touch-up interior paint. Manni says now is the perfect time to complete indoor painting projects. “Not only is the weather not a factor, your heat can make the drying process go a lot quicker,” he explains. Just be sure to properly ventilate the room and wait for a sunny day or set up extra lighting to ensure you don’t miss any spots in dark corners.
8. Winterize windows. Drafty windows can make living spaces uncomfortable and lead to expensive heating bills. The ideal solution is to replace them. If that’s not possible, caulking or weatherstripping can be an inexpensive way to temporarily fix the problem.
“Some people might not like it, but the clear film that goes over windows is relatively effective,” Lesh says.
9. Clean out dryer vents. While dryers have lint filters, some material might still make its way to the dryer vent. Over time, lint can accumulate and even ignite.
“According to our data, fire claims tend to be more prevalent in the winter,” Orbann says. Cleaning out dryer vents is one way to reduce the risk of fire during cold months.
10. Update alarm and alert systems. Although they won’t prevent a fire, alarm systems can minimize damage and save lives in the event of one. Homes should have a smoke alarm outside every bedroom and on every level of the house. Lesh recommends photoelectric alarms since they are best at detecting smoldering fires that can fill a home with carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. “The way people get hurt isn’t roaring flames,” he says. “They die from carbon monoxide poisoning.”
Now is also a time to ensure carbon monoxide detectors are in working condition, and Orbann says households may want to look into smart systems that will send phone alerts in the event a fire or a carbon monoxide or water leak is detected.
11. Look for tripping hazards. Since your family is likely spending more time inside during the winter, check for potential tripping hazards. This is particularly important if you have seniors in the house frequently. “Falls are the No. 1 cause of death and injury in homes,” Lesh says. Removing area rugs or taping down edges can help remove the danger.
12. Review insurance coverage. Not all home maintenance chores involve manual labor. “From an insurance perspective, it’s a good time to think about your coverage,” Orbann says. If you’ve made improvements in the past year, make sure those will be adequately covered and consider shopping around for a better deal if you haven’t compared insurance costs recently.