10 Winterization Steps You’re Overlooking (& What It’s Costing You)

You’ve drained your sprinkler valves, put snow tires on your car—you even got your furnace tuned up! You’re all ready for winter, right?

Here’s a fact. Winter is out to destroy your home and it does it in a million little ways that aren’t covered by the standard list of weather-proofing projects.

To truly protect your property (and your wallet), here’s a list of the 12 most overlooked steps for winterizing your home and life. We’ll walk you through how to successfully complete each and show you how much money (and trouble) they’ll save you.

1. Air Conditioners (Cost of Skipping this Step: Up to $11,000)

When you think “winterization,” one of the first things that comes to mind is furnace maintenance, and for good reason: That puppy’s going to put lots of hours in through the cold months!

But what about your air conditioning unit? Even though it isn’t actively working, winter can take a hard toll on it and cut its lifespan by years.

HOW TO DO IT

Frozen AC unit

Outdoor AC units can be damaged over time by harsh winter weather.

Here are some simple steps to follow to “winterize” your air conditioner

Turn it off

It goes without saying, but make sure your AC isn’t running during the winter (this may be easier to miss if you’re dealing with properties that aren’t your primary residence).

If you’re able, turn off the electrical circuit directly powering the AC. There might be a switch in your circuit breaker panel for this marked “AC” or “HVAC.” Flipping this switch will prevent the unit from powering up on a warm winter day.

Hose it off

Your AC pulls in all the gunk from the air around it, so you should clean it regularly. Winterization is a great chance to do this (weather permitting). As long as you’re out in the yard, give your AC unit a nice hose down.

Cover the unit

This could be as simple as placing plywood over the top to prevent ice, snow, and other debris from damaging it. You can also get an air conditioner cover; they run the gamut from about $30 to over $100.

THE COST OF SKIPPING THIS STEP

Without protection, your AC unit can rust, clog, and deteriorate.

  • Rusted evaporator coil replacement from moisture exposure – $600 to $2,000
  • AC compressor replacement (as a result of blocked airflow from debris) – $150 to $1,000
  • General AC repair – $150 to $1,000
  • Total AC unit replacement – $1,700 to $11,000

2. Overlooked Car Maintenance (Cost of Skipping this Step: Up to $5,000)

Sure, we change our wipers and tires when winter comes. We may stow some blankets in the car, just in case. But there are a few steps that lots of us skip for winterizing out cars, and it’s costing us.

HOW TO DO IT

Know your anti-freeze

Don’t make the common mistake of imagining that 100% antifreeze is the best at protecting against freezing. For the better results (like a lower freezing point), go with a 50/50 antifreeze/water mix.

Get your oil changed more often

smoking car meme

For most of us, transportation habits change in the winter. We find ourselves driving to places we might normally walk…even if they’re just a few feet down the road. We’ve all been there!

These short car trips pile up after a while, and that’s a problem for your oil, because until the engine completely warms up, oil doesn’t burn fuel efficiently. This leads to gas lingering in the cylinders where it mixes with oil and fouls up lubrication.

You can reduce damage to your engine by getting your oil changed more frequently in the winter. For example, if you usually change your oil every 7,500 miles, think about ramping it up to every 5,000.

Lubricate your car

It’s not just your engine that takes a beating in winter. Keep the body of your car in tip top shape by lubricating these three areas with Teflon spray: 

  • Door and trunk locks – Spray to get inside the locks, both where you place the key and where the lock mechanism moves inside the car.
  • Window channels – Soak with Teflon spray and then close and open the window a few times to spread it.
  • Weather stripping – Spray all weather stripping as well.

THE COST OF SKIPPING THIS STEP

Some more modern cars can get by for a bit without anti-freeze, but sooner or later you're going to be faced with major engine trouble. Same for running out of oil—obviously (yikes!).

  • Replacing a head gasket from overheating – $1,000 to $2,500
  • Replacing an engine after a seizure – $3,000 to $5,000 (may cost more than the car’s value)
  • Repairing a car lock – $50 to $200 (as much as $600 at the dealership)
  • Repairing a power window – $150 to $300

3. Carbon Monoxide Control

check your furnace, water heater, stove, and fireplace every year

To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, check your gas water heater, furnace, gas oven, and fireplace every year for leaks.

Admittedly, installing and checking carbon monoxide alarms is something most of us do. But for as harmful and shockingly common as carbon monoxide poisoning is (20,000 to 30,000 Americans are poisoned every year), it’s worth paying extra attention to.

HOW TO DO IT

Know your risk

Apart from fireplaces, fuel-burning appliances are the biggest sources of carbon monoxide in the home: your gas water heaters, furnaces, gas stoves, etc. These are typically stored away in basements and closets, well-distanced from sleeping areas.

But did you know that research has shown carbon monoxide can seep through drywall? A research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) highlights the danger:

"There are numerous media reports describing simultaneous CO (carbon monoxide) poisonings in different units of multifamily dwellings," the researchers wrote. "Even though CO might have traveled through ventilation ducts, hallways, or stairways, the building configurations in many such cases are inconsistent with this explanation, raising the possibility that CO passes through walls."

In other words, being in a different room than your appliance does not necessarily mean you’re safe from it. Place detectors in every room, especially bedrooms and areas where you spend lots of time.

Check fuel burning appliances

You can protect yourself and your family with more than just alarms. Have your fuel burning appliances checked by a professional for leaks in joints, pipes, pilot lights (a common source), and more.

And remember: don’t use your gas stove for supplemental heat!

THE COST OF SKIPPING THIS STEP

hyperbaric oxygen chamber

Besides the significant costs to health and lifestyle, treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning comes at a high dollar price.

The first cost of skipping this step is your health, which you can’t put a price on. Thousands of people die from carbon monoxide poisoning every year, and those who survive can suffer from long-term memory problems, vision and hearing loss, and more. 

Recovering from poisoning can require oxygen treatments that include spending time in a pressurized oxygen chamber.

It may be a little crass to put a dollar value on your health, but as a helpful FYI, here’s the cost of one session of hyperbaric oxygen therapy:

  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (generally but not always partially covered by insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid) – $250 per session
  • Emergency room visit (typically partially covered by insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid) – $1,096

4. Reverse Your Ceiling Fans (Cost Savings: About $131 per year)

Here’s a fun fact! When you’re using a ceiling fan, temperatures can actually vary depending on the direction it’s moving.

HOW TO DO IT

change ceiling fan direction

Homes can save up to 15 percent a year on energy by simply switching the direction of their ceiling fans in the winter and spring.

Here’s how energystar.gov explains the process:

In the summer, use the ceiling fan in the counterclockwise direction. While standing directly under the ceiling fan you should feel a cool breeze. The airflow produced creates a wind-chill effect, making you "feel" cooler. In the winter, reverse the motor and operate the ceiling fan at low speed in the clockwise direction. This produces a gentle updraft, which forces warm air near the ceiling down into the occupied space. Remember to adjust your thermostat when using your ceiling fan — additional energy and dollar savings could be realized with this simple step!

THE COST SAVINGS

Ceiling fan manufacturers claim that switching the direction of your fan can reduce your energy bill by as much as 15 percent a month. With the average American household spending $875 on heating/cooling annually, here’s what you stand to save: 

  • Switching ceiling fan direction seasonally – $131 per year

5. Empty Out Flowerpots (Cost of skipping this step: a few bucks to hundreds of dollars)

This is a pretty simple step compared to some of the others, but it can you save a few headaches.

HOW TO DO IT

Protect the perennials

If you’ve got pot-grown perennials, fill a plastic bag with peat moss and then dig up the tender roots of your tender perennials to store in the bag. Keep them at at least 40-degree Fahrenheit.

For hardy perennials, keep the soil in the pots, cover them with a couple inches of mulch, and move them into a garage.

Empty pots

No need to drag these around to different locations for storage! You can keep empty pots outside without fear of cracking if you just turn them over. This keeps water out of your pots, preventing the thawing and freezing cycles that account for most breakage.

THE COST OF SKIPPING THIS STEP

It depends on what you’ve got on-hand. The cost of a flowerpot ranges from just a few bucks to hundreds of dollars.

6. Focus on Heart Health

You may have heard this before, and it’s true: there are more heart attacks during the winter. Studies now confirm it.

One of the more recent of these (conducted in Sweden) found that among 274,000 subjects, heart attacks indeed occurred at higher rates on days the temperature was below freezing.

WHY IT HAPPENS

Higher blood pressure and plaque

There’s good science behind this. As the temperature drops, your body responds to keep you warm by tightening the blood vessels. This increases flow, causing your blood pressure to go up.

Winter also triggers the body to produce more blood-borne immune system compounds that help fight off viruses. Unfortunately, those compounds also produce more plaque that can attach to artery walls and increase your risk of heart attack.

Winter/holiday eating

hand reaching to grab food at dinner table

Science has shown what most of us already know: we eat worse and we eat more during the winter.

Here’s a little factoid that will surprise no one: we eat more during the winter!

Some experts argue that it’s our “primitive” brains triggering our bodies to stock up on calories when the days get shorter. Combine that with the deluge of fatty, sugary foods that invade our tables from October to December, and you’ve got a recipe for heart attacks.

Snow shoveling

All of these extenuating conditions make it a lot easier to understand why heart attacks also spike after large snow falls that require shoveling. With your blood pressure up and your eating habits out of whack, heaving giant mounds of snow can suddenly become a dangerous endeavor.

Here are some heart-healthy tips to keep you safe while you’re clearing off your driveway.  

First, pick up a snow blower if you have the means. They can be a pain to service, but they’re a heck of a lot easier on your heart than shoveling.

If can’t get a snow blower, your next best option is to take extra care in planning your snow shoveling routine:

  • If you’re vulnerable to heart trouble, avoid clearing your driveway early in the morning. Instead, give your body a few hours to warm up.
  • Warm up. Once you’re ready to work, do some light cardio (jumping jacks, etc.) and stretching.
  • Go small. Make sure to use a smaller shovel to lighten your load. It will add a few minutes to the job, but it will help keep your heart-rate down throughout.
  • Take a break. And for heavens sakes, take a break if you need it. Finish up the job later if you feel worn out.
  • Know the signs of a heart attack—tightness or pain in the chest, neck, back or arms; fatigue; lightheadedness; abnormal heartbeat; and anxiety—and immediately get medical help if needed.

THE COST OF SKIPPING THIS STEP

Just like with carbon monoxide poisoning, skipping this step puts your health at risk, and you can’t put a price on that. With heart disease edging out cancer as the leading cause of death in this country (655,381 deaths in 2018) this is an issue to take very seriously.

Having said that, the actual monetary costs of a heart emergency can be astronomical. Even if insurance pays for the vast majority of it, you’re looking at a maximum out-of-pocket-sized bill that could continue to stretch out over years.

  • Total cost for a severe heart attack (typically partially covered by insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid) – About $1 million
  • Total cost for a less severe heart attack (typically partially covered by insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid) – About $760,000

7. Spring Cleaning? Try Winter Cleaning. (Cost of skipping this step: $250 to $400)

Looking to get warm this winter? You’re not alone! The hundreds of insects and spiders lurking around your property want the same thing.

It’s why in a lot of ways, “winter cleaning” is actually more important than “spring cleaning.” It keeps those little unwanted visitors out.

cleaning a dresser drawerWinter cleaning is every bit as important as spring cleaning because it helps keep pests out through the cold months.

HOW TO DO IT

  • Clean your home thoroughly as part of your winterization routine to help discourage new “residents” from moving in during the cold months.
  • Focus on clearing food—especially from the little corners where it tends to settle, including the bottom of your oven.
  • Give your fridge and freezer a nice defrost and cleaning to prevent mildew from forming.
  • Close up the holes that pests enter though, like seams of doors and windows, holes for plumbing and electric, cracks in walls, etc.
  • Clean your chimney and place a guard screen cap to make sure birds and rodents can’t get in.

THE COST OF SKIPPING THIS STEP

If you find your bug problem is too much to handle alone, you may have to hire a pro.

  • Average cost of pest control per year in the US – $250 to $400

8. Get COVID-Ready—It’s About More than Just Masks and Social Distancing

You’ve got your masks at the ready. You’ve squirreled away as many disinfecting wipes as you can. But there’s one more big step to getting ready for this winter COVID season, and that’s preparing for life alone, indoors. 

HOW TO DO IT

If you’re in a vulnerable group, chances are you’re going to find yourself indoors and away from family a lot more this winter.

Frustrating and sad as that is, here are a few tips to help keep up your spirits.

Optimize for virtual interactions

Weather damage and heavier-than-usual usage tends to slow Internet connections during normal winters, and this winter should be much worse than usual. This will make video chatting on platforms like Zoom harder than its been up to now.

What to do? Short of upgrading your Internet to a higher speed, we would suggest getting an Internet booster (like this).

Get creative with holiday traditions

You might also consider tweaking your holiday traditions. This can be difficult, but lots of people just like you are doing it successfully. Here are some examples.

Grown-ups need to watch their screen time too

Anyone with kids or grandkids knows how important it is to limit screen time for little ones.

Come to find out, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Studies are showing that “adults who spend four to six hours a day on a computer or in front of the TV have a higher rate of depression than those who spend less than four hours a day in front of a screen.”

If you find yourself in this group, the Internet is (ironically) awash in fantastic advice for curbing screen time for adults.  

THE COST OF SKIPPING THIS STEP

Good therapy, talkspace, and betterhelp logos

For those stuck indoors this winter: getting mental health support online is easier than ever.

The biggest cost here is to your mental health, and like your physical health, you just can’t put a price on that.

If you find yourself alone and needing help, please reach out to a family member, friend, neighbor, or clergy member.

If none of these are available, here are a couple other great options:

  • Sites like GoodTherapy can point you toward mental health workers – It’s partially covered by most insurances.
  • Try Talkspace online therapy – It’s also partially covered by most insurances (FSA/HAS approved)

9. Winterizing Your RV

RV owners are probably well aware, but it bears repeating: there’s a little mini-home out in your driveway that needs the same winterizing TLC your big home does. Follow the steps below to thoroughly winterize RV and you’ll add years to its life.

HOW TO DO IT

Like a house, the first and most obvious step is to hunt down and eliminate any standing water. That includes:

  • Filters – Remove and bypass all water filters.
  • Tanks – Drain fresh and grey water tanks and wash them out with a hose while you’re at it.
  • Heater – Drain your water heater, if you have one.
  • Faucets and toilets – Open your faucets and let them drain. Flush the toilet.
  • Antifreeze – Pour a cup of antifreeze down each drain, especially if you haven’t been able to winterize with compressed air.
  • Close all faucets, now that you’ve drained the water.
  • Icemaker and washing machine – If you have an icemaker or washing machine, check your owner’s manual on how to best shut them down.

With the water taken care of, here are some other steps you ought to consider:

  • Clean – Bugs would be thrilled to nest in your RV for the winter. Keep them out by cleaning top to bottom, especially the refrigerator, oven, cupboards, and any other places food has been stored.
  • Close entries – Close outlets and check the edges of doors, windows, and seals along the roof to make sure everything’s shut up tight.
  • Unplug electronics
  • Shut off propane
  • Stabilize and cover – Now it’s time to stabilize and cover your camper till next season!

THE COST OF SKIPPING THIS STEP

Costs of repairing a motorhome

Boy oh boy, is there ever financial incentive to winterize your RV. Insurance isn’t cheap and the costs of repairs can be enormous! 

BONUS! Winterize Your Emergency Kit

We’ve found that most 72-hour kits—even in places where it snows half the year—aren’t winterized. That may not be a big deal if you end up sheltering at home under a pile of blankets, but what if you’re forced to evacuate and brave the elements?

HOW TO DO IT

Winterizing your 72-hour kit is easy. Start with obvious items, like:

  • A warm coat, head covering, gloves, and a scarf
  • Boots or warm shoes and socks (extra of both if you have room)
  • A wool blanket for you and for babies and small children
  • This year especially, don’t forget masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes 
Winterize your emergency kit with boots, scarf, gloves, sunglasses, beanie

Some of the essentials for your winterized emergency kit include gloves, socks, boots, sunglasses, a beanie, and a scarf.*

And then items you might not think of, like:

  • Sunglasses (light reflecting off snow can actually burn your eyes)
  • A poncho—any skier can tell you that snow is just as wet as rain
  • A waterproof bag to keep your essentials dry
  • Silicone or wax-based treatments for waterproofing boots

Click here for a deeper dive into winterizing your grab-and-go kit

Now go out there and stay safe!

These steps may look like a lot, but trust us, they’ll save you money and headaches over the long term.

Do you have advice on how to complete the steps we’ve listed? Is there anything we missed? Sound off in the comments below!

 

*Image Credits:

"gucci-logo-designer-sunglasses-gray-gg1563s" by queenbeeofbeverlyhills is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

"Army boots" by liftarn is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

"aran scarf" by qusic is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

"Hardcast Beanie" by Hardcast65 is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

Car preparednessCarbon monoxide poisoningCovid-19Emergency kitHolidayHome hacksHome preparednessPrepare for winterWinterize

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