Prepare your home for Winter

I have a three page list of pre-winter tasks – which you’ll be happy to know I’m not going to share with you. I have a list because (a) I’m a bit obsessive that way (b) I like to tick things off a list and (c) I don’t trust my memory the way I used to! Anyway, I thought I’d share some of the items on it, with some hints and tips.

Why a Winter list?

I don’t have a Spring, Summer or Fall list, and I was wondering why that was. I think it’s because those seasons are more forgiving. One day in late Spring a little voice will probably tell me it’s time to bring one or two deck chairs up from the basement. Usually, the little voice belongs to my wife.The timing isn’t critical, unless the little voice gets louder. But if one day in December I find the deck chairs covered in snow, it becomes a far less pleasant job to bring them in. And the consequences are even bigger if one neglects any outdoor systems that involve water. In Winter, water tends to suddenly turn to ice.

Water tasks

So let’s start with those.

Closing the swimming pool is usually one of the first tasks. We tend to close earlier than others, because I complain about heating it and we have a honey locust tree that drops thousands of tiny leaves, so I want to get the cover on as soon as possible. Emptying the sump goes along with pool closing, not because I’m worried about it freezing, but I don’t want the water level outside the pool (in the ground) higher than the level inside. Check my post: What you have to do after a pool closing

Blowing the sprinkler system. It’s not nice, having to dig up everything to repair a burst pipe, and running sprinklers when the temperature is freezing really annoys anyone who wants to walk by your house and can’t balance on the icy sidewalk. Yes, I have seen this happen – same house, several times!

Shutting off the outdoor taps. Typically each tap has a valve inside the house to cut off water to the colder bits. Look in your basement for the water pipe coming through the wall. If you don’t see one, it may be under a dropped ceiling or have a cover of some kind – keep looking!  It’s important to not only shut the valve, but also drain the little bit of water between the shut-off valve and the outdoor tap. Typically there’s a way to let air in and release the vacuum  Here’s a picture and quick primer:

Outdoor tap winter shutoff procedure

Remove the pump from any water features. I give it a wash, turn the pump upside down to make sure it’s empty and leave it to drain before putting it away. I put the timer in the shed. The frogs in our pond have to make their own arrangements.

Disconnect, drain and store hoses, nozzles and accessories. I unroll my hoses down the driveway and start at the top lifting the hose so that no water is trapped in a loop somewhere. Actually, I also connect the blower end of a shop vac and blow air through while I’m doing the unrolling. Did I mention that I’m a bit obsessive? Be sure to open the hose nozzles so no water is caught in them.

Some of the things you need to empty


I don’t know how much of this is necessary, but I bring the smaller deck furniture to the basement, shed or pool bin, and stack the big stuff in one area of the deck.

Any liquid fertilizers, pool chemicals and bug sprays get moved to our semi-heated garage where it sits on the shelf where I keep the snow thrower over Summer.

After the last lawn-mowing, I change the oil and generally clean up the machine, making sure the underside is relatively clear of dirt. I use some of the old oil to smear on the blade and undercarriage to help keep rust at bay. I used to drain the gas, but for the last few years, I use up most of the gas, then run the last mowing on fresh gas with stabilizer added, and top up the gas tank. I also hear of people who never change the oil or do more than tap out the air filter – so make your choice!

Getting ready for snow

Winter tires are top of the list. I switch the wheels on my smaller car myself, but I no longer feel safe doing my wife’s SUV, so they get done at a dealer’s. The list helps us remember to get an early appointment, and we try to schedule it to coincide with a service so there’s one less trip and waiting room.

Put rubber mats, snow brushes and ice scrapers in each car, check emergency kits (the chocolate bars never last!), blankets, and consider new wiper blades. Fill windshield washers.

Check the snow shovels for signs of breakage. File or trim worn edges. See if spraying silicone on them helps stop snow sticking. Replace them when they’re on sale, preferably before they fail.

Look at your supply of ice melter. Don’t wait for the first big ice storm, when salt sells out in hours all over the GTA! I buy in bulk plastic bags, and then transfer it to screw-top plastic jugs, the kind they sell kitty litter in. That is easier to work with, and keeps it dry. Incidentally, we use those jugs (washed out and dried) to store wild bird sunflower seed in, for the same reasons, plus they are bug proof.

Festive lighting

Image of Christmas lights on spruce trees
Getting ready for winter may include Christmas lights

It’s no fun climbing a cold aluminium ladder (or trying to arrange a string of lights at the top of a tree) in a snow storm,  I long ago realized that you can put up lights on a sunny day in late Fall, and not turn them on until you need to. (A little voice will probably suggest the right time.) Another revelation for us was that putting up lights in the back garden lets us enjoy them too, and so we tend to turn these on first! If you choose to control your lights with a light-sensitive timer, and you don’t want dusk to dawn, but, say, dusk to 10pm, get one with a mechanical dial. The electronic ones reset to dusk-to-dawn mode after a power failure, and if your timer is now behind a snow bank, you’ll thank me for that advice.

No list is complete

I’ve summarized the main items on my list, but of course, it’s my list. Your list will be different. For instance, we don’t have a hot tub and we don’t build an ice hockey rink, but if you do, you can adapt. I would like to think that this list provides some ideas for not only those who are new to Canadian winters or new home owners, but even for seasoned Canadians. “Seasoned” – get it? OK, sorry.

Another whole sub-list is gardening, I think there’s enough to say about that to make it a separate post, so watch for: “How to prepare your garden for Winter”.


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