Winters are increasingly harsh, and a single winter storm can cause over $1 billion in damages.

If you want to avoid costly repairs, make sure that your home is ready for the winter. But isn't always easy to know what you can do now to help prepare and protect your property from the cold weather.

Don't worry, we are here to help. Read on for our top 10 winter home maintenance tips.

1. Check Your Gutters and Drainage

With winter comes increased rainfall, so you want to be ready. While cleaning out the gutter isn't a fun job, it can save you money in the long run. Well maintained gutters can reduce the need to replace them, and the chance of roof damage.

A clogged gutter can overflow and break, putting strain on the roof itself. It can also fill with ice, which will cause thawing damage and strains the guttering.

Whether you have special tools or are doing it the old-fashioned way, here's how to go about it:

Firmly set your ladder against the side of the house. Preferably have someone hold onto it and make sure it is on even ground.

Scoop out the dirt with a small shovel. Dump it into a bin bag or onto tarp -- don't put it on your lawn.

Flush out the gutters with a hose for a full clean.

Gutter guards often aren't worth bothering with. They can make your gutters impossible to clean, which is more hassle than it's worth.

Once clean, give a check for any other signs of drainage issues.

Check your basement for water damage stains and your attic for mildew. Both mildew and water damage indicate that your drainage system isn't taking the water far away enough from your house, particularly in older homes.

If water is getting back into the foundation, your attic and basement will start showing signs of damp. To fix this, try extending your downspout to direct the water further away.

2. Test Your Sump Pump

Sump pumps act as the last line of defense against condensation buildup, floods, and water from drains. Test the pump before winter hits. You want to make sure it works; otherwise, you could end up with a flooded basement and foundation damage.

Once you locate the exit pipe, check it for any dirt and debris. If there are any clogs, remove them. Make sure that the water is being directed well away from your home's foundation.

If you have a dual cord pump, both cords should be unplugged. If you can hear a humming sound when you plug in the pump cord, this means that it's working as it should. Remember to plug everything back in though after testing.

If you have a single cord pump, pour 20 liters of water into the pump pit until the float rises. You should hear the pump turn on. While on, make sure the water is pumping out as it should, and the pump turns itself off when the water is removed.

It may be worth investing in a water detector to further protect your basement from moisture.

3. Check Your Window Wells

Window wells are a great way to let natural light into your basement and provide ventilation. They also help keep soil away from the window fixtures. But if they are not maintained well, they can put your basement at risk.

One of the major reasons for window well flooding in liner failure. If your liner becomes detached from the foundation wall, soil pressure can widen the gap between the loose liner and the wall. This gives water an opportunity to penetrate when the soil becomes over-saturated.

Before winter sets in, check your window wells. This is the time of the year where the problem can be at its worst. Inspect the liner and replace any that have become loose.

4. Clean Your Dryer Vents

As the colder months set in, your dryer is likely to get more use. Dyers can be a fire hazard, causing over 15,000 fires each year, so it is important to reduce this risk.

Make sure to remove built-up lint from the dryer in order to reduce the fire risk and improve your household energy efficiency.

First thing, clean the lint filter. You can often find this component toward the front of the dryer.

Slide the filter out and scrape off any lint. You can use a vacuum to take out any lint caught in the lint trap too. Replace the filter after cleaning it.

Next, clean the lint vents. You can find these at the back of most dryers. If you have any trouble locating them, check the manufacturer's instructions.

Take a flathead screwdriver and loosen the clamps. This will allow you to pull the vent away from the wall and the dryer. Next, hold the vent upright and use a dryer vent duct brush to brush down the piping.

Twist the brush when you pull it out, but make sure to be gentle. Repeat this until all the lint in the vent has been removed.

Then reconnect the vent and turn your dryer on for around 15 minutes. This forces air through the vents and will blow out any lint that may have been in the tubing or stuck in the outer vent.

5. Check Your Electrical System

With the winter months bringing cold weather and days that stay dark for a longer time, the last thing you want is your electrical system to fail.

Before that cold weather sets in, make sure to schedule an electrical maintenance tune-up. Check the main service panel for sparking, and inspect the breaker wires for bad insulation and any discoloration.

Use a multi-meter to test power flow through the electrical circuits. Check things like extension cords and wall sockets as well as your heating systems.

While doing this, test your ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) too. All you need to do is press the test button and use the multi-meter to determine if there's any power flowing through it.

In case you experience problems, hire a reputable electrician to investigate further. This isn't exactly something you should yourself.

6. Bleed Your Radiators

Your radiators will need bleeding each winter to ensure they run at full capacity and efficiency. They won't maintain themselves, after all.

Even if you haven't done it before, bleeding your radiators won't be difficult for even the least handy.

Turn on all your radiators to the maximum temperature they can reach. Wait a few minutes, turn off the central heating, and let them cool down.

Handle one radiator at a time, and start with the one closest to your boiler.

Turn off the radiator and open the bleed valve. Put a tray under the valve and let out all the air. The tray will catch the water that comes out, so don't worry -- this is normal.

Once all the air is out, close the valve and repeat this process for all the other radiators.

Next, check if the air pressure in the heating boiler is at the correct level. This is the green section of the manometer.

7. Avoid Ice Dams

In freezing conditions, ice dams can form at the edge of your roof. They prevent melting snow from draining properly. The water can leak into your roof and cause damage to ceilings, insulation, and walls.

Ice dams can form when heat collects in the attic and warms the roof, apart from the eaves. This melts the snow on the warm parts of the roof, but it freezes on the cold eaves, which forms the dam. The melt-water from the warm part of the roof backs up and flows under the shingles into the house.

To prevent ice dams from forming, keep the entire roof at the same temperature. To do this, increase ventilation and add insulation. Make sure to seal off every possible air leak that might warm the underside of the roof.

8. Seal Leaky Doors and Windows

Check your windows and doors by opening and closing them. When you close the lock, do you notice a gap between the seals?

If you have old windows, you can add new weatherstripping. There is a variety you can choose from:

  • Bronze weatherstripping can last for decades, but it can be time-consuming to install
  • Self-stick plastic is easy to put on, but they will need to be changed often as they don't last long
  • Adhesive-backed EPDM rubber meets in the middle, and it can last up to 10 years at the least

Once you have changed the weatherstripping on your windows, you'll need to do the same with your door -- and check for air leaks. There are some options here too that you can choose from:

  • Foam-tape that has an adhesive backing
  • Felt - this is cheap and easy to install, but has a low durability and will need replacing more often
  • Tubular rubber, vinyl or silicone; these are more expensive and trickier to install but will provide a superior seal

Check the exterior trim for any gaps between it and the door frame. Caulk any gaps with exterior latex caulk.

If a draft comes through the bottom, check the condition of the threshold gasket. If worn, replace it. You can also install a weather-resistant door sweep designed for exteriors.

9. Weatherproof Exterior Pipes

Freezing temperatures can cause serious problems for your external pipes. Frozen pipes can crack, and once they thaw they can release hundreds of gallons of water in a single day. This can lead to serious structural damage.

Check all of your pipes for signs of weakness. And moisture on faucets and connectors can point to wear and tear. If there is moisture, replace these parts immediately.

Turn off your external pipes at the mains, and make sure they're fully drained. It may be useful to double check a few days later to ensure that all the water has fully drained.

For extra protection, you can also buy insulating tape to wrap around any exterior pipes and any other pipes that are found in the basement.

If you don't have your plumbing plans at hand, it may be useful to paint your exterior faucet handles a bright color. This will make them easier to spot against snow or at night. It also means that a plumber can find the faucet for a faster repair if there's an emergency in winter.

10. Prepare for Winter Storms

Winter brings freezing rain, sleet, and blizzards. Get prepared ahead of time so that the next big storm doesn't leave you in trouble.

If you have a generator, you want to make sure that it's working. Also, keep a stash of batteries for lanterns and flashlights in case of power outages and blackouts.

Another good tip is to keep a solar-powered or battery-operated radio in your home. This means that if cellphone reception goes out, you can keep up to date with the news and weather.

Check the condition of your snow shovels, gloves, and window scrapers. Store any heavy snow supplies near the door when you can get quick access to them.

Finally, a buildup of heavy snow on a tree limb can increase the risk of them breaking off. This poses a threat of injury to people and property damage.

Also, brush snow off tree limbs after each big snowfall. You can use a broom to extend your reach.

Your Essential Winter Home Maintenance Guide

As you can see, there are plenty of things you can do when performing winter home maintenance to protect yourself from a harsh winter. By weatherproofing, checking your home, and performing preventative maintenance, you can ensure that the cold and wet stays outside.

If you think it would be useful to have professionals perform maintenance checks on your plumbing, heating, and electrical system, contact us at the Happy Hiller Club!