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Prep Your Place for Extreme Weather

Winter is coming — and so are freezing temperatures and potential blizzard conditions. Follow these tips to be ready.

Growing up, I thought my parents were the most fearless people ever. They were never afraid to take an impromptu drive to Toronto, get lost around Lake Tahoe, or visit Los Angeles’ ultrafancy mall The Grove during the holiday rush. Challenges never seemed to shake them — except for rain.

As soon as it would begin to pour, my mom and dad would be sent into semipanic mode over the basement of my childhood home in Queens, NY. The subterranean part of the house had a tendency to flood big time, whether from a light drizzle, a torrential downpour, or a blizzard. As I got older, I realized this panic was more about rushing to prevent another giant pool of water and another call to Roto-Rooter than the weather.

Their prevention tactics — including a sump pump — totally eased the flooding over the years. But when it rains, there’s still a tiny bit of family anxiety. Old habits die hard, after all.

Preparing your home for winter’s extreme cold, fluffy white snow, or a bone-chilling downpour should become your newest habit.

1. Secure your plumbing

To face winter’s cold temperatures, many experts emphasize that you should prep your pipes. Water expands when it freezes and when that ice thaws, the pipes around it could burst, flood, and lead to mold (gross, right?).

A plumber once told Pennsylvania and New Jersey–based real estate agent Denise Baron to turn off her water completely if she was going to be away for more than seven days in the winter. But if you’re home and don’t want to turn off your H2O, you can still prevent pipe-related catastrophes by making sure outside hoses and faucets are empty.

“Insulate pipes in your home’s crawl spaces and attic, since exposed pipes are most susceptible to freezing,” says Robert Weitz, founder of RTK Environmental Group. “Open faucets that are vulnerable to freezing; let them drip slowly. A trickle of water can prevent your pipes from freezing, and don’t lower the thermostat dramatically at night or when you leave for the day — sudden drops in temperature can cause your pipes to freeze.”

2. Maintain the HVAC system

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning — collectively known as HVAC — is an important unseen, but often felt part of your home. And even though you can’t see it every day, you still need to take care of it.

“HVAC systems are just like automobiles and require yearly tuneup and service,” says Brandi Andrews, founder of National Air Warehouse. “Without regular maintenance, a system’s operation cost increases approximately 5 percent per year.”

Experts say you should get your HVAC system inspected often to make sure it’s in working order and change/clean filters regularly. Baron recommends removing air-conditioning units from windows (if possible) to prevent cold air from coming into those semiopen windows. If you find any leaky cracks or drafts, experts are fully in favor of weather-stripping and caulking.

3. Keep warm inside

Most people focus on keeping the cold air outside, but you also should shift some of your focus to keeping the rooms inside toasty. Have a fireplace? Go ahead and burn that fire, but remember to close your damper when the flame is out. An open or leaky damper can let lots of cold air right inside.

Don’t have a fireplace to burn a yule log? Heat can still fill your home with a fan. “Having a fan turned on in the room can actually maximize the heater’s use by spreading the heat evenly throughout the room,” says Dan Traversi, division vice president of ARS Air Conditioning, Heating, and Indoor Quality.

Even something as simple as moving your plants, trees, bushes, or anything else to block your windows could keep more heat inside. “You will be amazed at how much warmer it will make your home feel,” says Erin Davis, lead designer with Mosaik Design & Remodeling.

Being warm and toasty feels good when it’s brisk outside, but you should be aware that all that heat goodness will also be drying. Traversi suggests using a humidifier to help add some moisture to your home if needed.