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Preparing Your Home for Winter

Winter can be hard on your house: from high utility bills to pest control to burst pipes, the cold poses multiple challenges. Getting ready can keep the problems at bay, and you don't have to spend a fortune to do it.

Winter is just around the corner, and this is a good time to go through your home improvements checklist. The season can do a rough number on anyone's house. Everything from broken gutters to busted pipes can leave you feeling like you've survived a disaster, even if you managed to escape any major storms this year. The cold could cause a whole host of problems, some caused by the weather, others by how we react to it, and the further that thermometer dips, the more likely it is that we'll run into a few problems.

Thankfully, there are some great ways to prepare that don't involve breaking the bank. Given how little free time so many working adults have these days, we'll focus on those fixes that provide you with the best value for the time you're putting in.

Areas of Your Home More Likely Most Impacted by Winter
Not every part of your home is going to need some TLC before the first snowflake falls. While certain areas of your house are more impacted by warm temperatures, others respond directly to cold weather. Here are some key areas that you should be concerned about:

Pipes. Pipes can cause significant issues in the winter. It's easy to assume that the age of your house or the type of pipes you have will make an impact on how likely they are to burst. That's not a valid assumption: even new homes with brand new brand new piping can have the age-old problem of burst pipes. The temperature to be most concerned about is 20-degree F, the temperature at which the water inside of pipes begin to freeze. As you might remember from your science classes, water expands when it freezes. That expansion will burst your pipes at the seams, causing leaks at the least, and outright breaks and heavy flows at the worst.

Unwanted house guests. Almost everyone hates being in the cold for extended periods of time, including wild animals and especially rodents. Just like humans, animals like to bundle up where it's warm. If they can find a way into your house, they will, and once they're in you can expect some trouble. The animals coming in are not the only concern: some seasonal guests prefer to stay outside for an easy meal from your trash can. Food is scarce in the winter, and animals like raccoons and possums will increasingly go for trashcans, causing a huge mess for you in the morning.

Rising heating costs. There's no way around this one. When it gets cold outside your house is going to lose heat, and you're going to have to turn up the thermostat to compensate. Heating bills can be a drag, but high heating bills? Taking a few simple steps before winter starts can help you avoid those.

All of these areas can cause you a headache or drain your wallet. Thankfully, there are quick, inexpensive fixes that you can apply to each one.

Low-Cost Pipe Winterization Solutions
Avoiding the potential for burst pipes is easier than you think. There are two main things you'll want to do when it comes to pipes:

Insulate your pipes with foam insulation. Easy to put on and take off, foam insulation should help you ward off any fears when the temperature drops below 20 degrees. You can purchase around 6 feet of foam insulation for under $2. It's good to cover all pipes, especially those in your basement or crawl space. Make sure to cover the pipes under cabinets as well, as these areas can at times get far colder than the room they're in, even when that room is heated. You won't need anything for this job except a tape measure and a good pair of scissors or shears to cut the foam. The cost of repairing a burst pipe can easily exceed $900, making pipe insulation a low-cost, high-reward investment. Better still, you won't need to buy new insulation every year. Just keep the same insulation, making sure to remove it in the summer time.

Take care of any current leaks with a sealant. If you have any small leaks in your pipes, now's the time to fix them. Leaks will hasten the loss of heat from the leaky pipe, increasing the chance that the water inside the pipe will freeze. The sealant is cheap to buy and easy to apply. There are also different types you can use that should help last you through the winter -- and then some. Methods include putties or strong adhesive tapes designed to stay on even as they come in contact with water. This low-cost venture should only set you back $5-$10 dollars.

Keeping Those Pests Outdoors - And Away from Trashcans
Pests can be a serious problem. Whether it's mice or raccoons, there are simple, inexpensive solutions to keeping unwanted visitors away.

Mice hate peppermint. Use that to your advantage. Peppermint oil is surprisingly effective at keeping mice away. One method for keeping them out of your home is to use peppermint oil infused cotton balls. Simply take some concentrated peppermint oil and apply a few drops to each cotton ball. Then, place these cotton balls in places outside of your house where mice are likely to enter. This will require you to do a little exterior investigation, but it's as good a time as any to check out the foundation, right? It's important that you get every area where they might come in. This low-cost solution comes in at under $20 for the cotton balls and the peppermint oil.

Invest in a few good mouse traps. Traps are the tried and true method of getting rid of mice. Whether you're using sticky mouse pads or old-fashioned traps, make sure you dispose of any mice you catch immediately. And by "dispose of," we do mean kill. Do not apply a catch-and-release policy here. Mice you let go into the wild will simply come right back in, returning to the warmth of the nests they've built in your walls. You'll want to purchase several mouse traps, and more than one kind. Thankfully, most traps are around $3.00 apiece, regardless of the type.

Keep raccoons and possums out of your trash with a garbage lock. These handy devices will only set you back around $30-$40. It won't necessarily save you any money, as these pests only go for your trash, but it will help prevent you from having to go out into the cold and snow to clean up piles of trash.

Saving on Heating Costs by Sealing Leaks
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save 10%-20% on your energy bills by sealing up any leaks in your home.[1] For under $100, you can keep your home warm and cozy for much less money.

Use weather stripping tape around doors and windows. Doors and windows are the two areas that are the most likely to leak in cold air. Weatherstripping tape is a cheap, easy fix to leaky windows and doors. You'll only need to apply the weatherstripping in places where the doors and windows have gaps. Good weather stripping will cost you less than $10 a roll. Installation may take an hour to two, but all you'll need is a tape measure and scissors. It's best to install the weatherstripping before the temperature drops below 40 degrees.

Use caulk to seal up air leaks in your walls. For less than $10, you can purchase enough caulk to seal up any areas on the outside of your home where air may be leaking in. You may need a ladder and a few hours of time. However, the energy cost savings will be well worth it, as they will extend to the summer months when your house is better insulated from the heat as well.

There are a thousand ways you could prepare for the coming winter. Some may need a professional contractor, but there are plenty of do-it-yourself jobs you can take care of in one weekend and for very little money. Fighting back against the cold will help you keep your home and your family warm and healthy this winter.