The Winter Solstice arrives on December 21, which marks the season’s official start. So far, the winter has been relatively mild, but the Farmers’ Almanac indicates we’re in for a potentially harsh season. Are you and your home ready?

That said, it’s time to think about weatherizing your home, keeping you warm and reducing your energy bills. Here are some expert tips to help you get this project done so you can enjoy the peace of mind of knowing you’re prepared no matter what Mother Nature throws our way:

1. Schedule an Inspection

First things first. An efficient furnace will spell trouble on several fronts. If you suspect something is amiss, it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s understandable that people often put off replacing their heating system until it’s inevitable due to finances. But you don’t want to risk your family’s health by prolonging it.

Additionally, an older furnace can be costing you more in terms of energy bills each month. So investing in a new one can result in immediate savings. Calling in one of our expert technicians to troubleshoot, identify any issues and make recommendations ensures that your unit will be ready to handle a cold spell. Plus, you won’t have to worry about a breakdown at an inopportune time.

2. Insulate Water Pipes

It’s an unpleasant thought but under the right conditions, pipes can burst and cause flooding or water damage. To get in front of this issue, you can winterize pipes by insulating them. The price tag will vary depending on whether it’s a DIY project or you enlist the help of a trades professional. If you decide to go it alone, be sure to wrap the insulation around your water pipes, prioritizing those in unheated spaces such as attics, basements and garages. Of course, we recommend you call on our team of plumbing experts to get the job done, as doing the job wrong can cause you stress and a potential disaster.

If you suspect problems with pipes, you should turn off the water at the valve. Keep taps on to curb pressure while any ice melts. You can also use a hair dryer or a heat gun to thaw frozen pipework. An immediate and temporary fix is to bind the pipe tightly with a cloth or heavy-duty tape while you wait for a plumber to arrive.

3. Add Weatherstripping

Weatherstripping packs a mean punch when it comes to keeping your home better insulated. The idea is to stop cold drafts around your doors and windows in their tracks. Doing so will keep your home warm and lower your energy bills by as much as 30%. It’s recommended to seal gaps from 1/16 of an inch to 1/4 of an inch with caulk to stop drafts. For gaps larger than 1/4 of an inch, you’ll want to use spray foam sealant or expandable foam tape.

4. Apply Window Film

Although windows can add a nice visual element to homes, they can be major sources of lost energy. However, insulation can improve the efficiency of windows by up to 90%. First, you’ll need to apply weather stripping to seal gaps. Then you can look to applying window film to further limit energy loss. You can window insulation kits, or window film, at your local hardware store. Packs with enough film for 5 to 10 windows are relatively affordable, at less than $20. One word of caution: Measure your windows before buying; kits vary in size, and they work only with wood, aluminum and vinyl-clad molding

5. Change Your Furnace Filter

This one might seem obvious, but it’s an important factor and should be on your monthly home maintenance checklist. Check your air filters for any visible issues. A clogged filter restricts airflow, forcing the unit to work harder. When this happens, it places additional strain on the air handler fan motor and could ultimately burn out the motor and cause your system to overheat and fail.

Bottom line: Regular filter replacement is a small price to pay to extend the life of this critical appliance. And you might be able to save money by purchasing them in bulk at stores like Costco.

6. Install a Programmable Thermostat

A programmable or smart thermostat is a win for homeowners because you can save on energy bills year-round. Estimates suggest you can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7–10 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 hours a day. For most families that means adjusting the temperature when you’re away or asleep.

Going on vacation? Set the thermostat to a lower, constant temperature if you plan to be gone for more than a weekend. One caveat: Don’t turn it off or set it too low, though, to prevent burst pipes.

7. Cover Water Heater Tanks

Water heater tanks that are located in unheated spaces, like a basement or garage, may require more energy to heat the water during colder periods. A water heater tank cover can give your tank a boost in efficiency and decrease heat loss by about 25%.

The good news is that the investment is minimal: A water heater tank cover usually costs around $20, depending on the material. You can even pair water heater tank blankets with pipe insulation for greater impact (and comfort).

8. Clean the Gutters

Are you behind on outdoor maintenance? Organic matter like leaves can clog gutters and prevent snow and ice from melting and draining properly. Water buildup can lead to water spots or water damage, so it’s best to remove any foliage before heavy snow starts to accumulate. You’ll thank us later!

9. Check Your Roof

Just like clogged gutters can be bad news, loose or missing shingles invite roof leaks due to melting snow. Dedicate some time for a quick visual inspection. If you notice any glaring issues, it might be time to call a roofing company. Roofs should be repaired promptly and only by an experienced roofer. Never use quick fixes, such as spray foams or liquid waterproofing.

10. Set Ceiling Fans to Rotate Clockwise

This hack is perhaps not widely known yet it’s free and easy to implement! Ceiling fans can be adjusted to rotate clockwise and better circulate warm air in the winter.  All you need to do is flip the lever or switch located near the motor housing in the opposite direction to change directions. This means the fan pulls cool air upward and pushes warm air downward. To save even more energy, set the fan on its lowest speed and only turn on ceiling fans in heavy-traffic rooms.

Do you have a cold-weather-related question or concern? We’re happy to help you sort it out. Trust the opinions of hundreds of area homeowners who have hired us for HVAC work year-round. Give us a call at (800) 621-6679 to learn more. Here’s to a cozy winter!