Winter Prep Guide: Your home

Ask the Expert


  • Check for loose shingles, damage from branches, and leaks around vents, skylights, and chimneys. Clean off leaves and debris.
  • Carefully inspect flashing at dormers, plumbing stacks, and valleys.
  • Have a flat roof? Look for blisters and bubbles.
  • Trim bushes (to at least 1 foot away from the house) and trees back from roof edges.
  • Examine your eaves, checking the soffit and fascia boards for loose and rotten spots, as well as squirrel damage. Paint failure is a sign of early trouble.
  • Replace the batteries in your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. Test them. Vacuum out the dust, and replace your devices if they are old.
  • Have a heating, air conditioning, and ventilation company give your furnace an annual checkup and cleaning, replacing filters.
  • Check wooden deck or porch elements for rot and insect infestation. Paint or stain as needed.
  • Check door weather seals and replace as needed. Test them by closing the door over a dollar bill. If you can pull the bill out easily, the latch may need to be adjusted or the seal may need to be replaced.
  • Repair locks so windows and doors seal tightly. If you have storm windows, lower them.
  • Check the landscape grading adjacent to your home to ensure it has a slope of 1 inch per foot for the first 6 feet away from the house. This keeps water out of your basement.
  • Clean drain basins of debris.
  • Look for cracks, holes, and chips in your siding or paint. Replace caulk if necessary.
  • Check window and door flashing.
  • Shut off outside water, disconnect hoses, and have your irrigation system serviced for winter.


  •  Clear gutters and drain pipes and make sure they usher water away from the house.
  • Inspect for water stains on the underside of the roof sheathing. Also look for rot, mildew, and fungus, which would indicate high humidity levels in the attic.
  • Make sure insulation is not wet or missing.
  • Make sure the attic vents are open and unobstructed. If you don’t have soffit or ridge vents, keep your gable vents open year-round to ensure proper ventilation. Look for vermin, bird nests, and insect infestations.
  • Remove the ashes from the fireplace firebox, store them in a metal container with a lid, and have your chimney professionally cleaned and checked before the winter heating season starts.
  • Lubricate your snow blower, change the oil and the spark plug, put in fresh gas, fill the tires, and keep extra shear pins on hand.
  • Run all gas-powered lawn equipment until the fuel is gone and store them in a dry place. When your mower’s tank is empty, carefully remove clippings from the underside. Clean or replace the air filter.
  • Remove combustibles that are near heat sources.
  • Set your ceiling fans to run clockwise.
  • This is the most comfortable time of year to do backyard projects that require heavy labor. Do your cutting and hauling now, but don’t cut wet wood with a chain saw.
  • Shut down and drain irrigation lines.


  • Check for leaky fixtures in the kitchen and bathrooms. Replace washers or cartridges if necessary.
  • Inspect caulking around sinks, bathtubs, and showers.
  • Make sure the door seals on your refrigerator are airtight. Test them by closing the door over a dollar bill. If you can pull the bill out easily, the latch may need to be adjusted or the seal may need to be replaced. Clean the coils (at least twice a year if you have pets).
  • Check and clean the dryer vent, air conditioner, stove hood, and bathroom fans. Inspect exterior hoods for insect infestations and bird nests. (Make sure the vent is free from snow during and after major storms.)
  • Protect your home from frozen pipes by sealing air leaks and insulating rim joists with spray foam and ridged insulation.
  • Locate and mark the shut-offs for the heating, electrical, and plumbing systems.
  • Check the electrical panel for rust or water marks. All breakers should be turned off and on to ensure none have seized. Is the panel warm to the touch, or does it smell like burned insulation? Call an electrician. All circuits should be labeled.
  • Test all ground fault-circuit interrupters monthly and have a licensed electrician review the whole system every 10 years.
  • Clean vents and radiators of debris. Vacuum radiator fins.
  • Exercise your generator monthly. Keep the tank full and the fuel fresh with a stabilizer. (Make sure you always operate your generator outside at least 5 feet away from the house and facing away from doors, windows, and vents.)

Rob Robillard is a general contractor, carpenter, editor of, principal of a carpentry and renovation business, and the Globe’s Ask the Carpenter writer.