You may have noticed that our annual "Winterize your Home" article is a little late this year. But, you also may have noticed that there is no snow in Walkerton yet. Don't get too comfortable Grey Bruce .. that snow and cold temperatures are bound to make their arrival sooner or later. With that said, here are the top 10 home inspections that you can do to help winterize your Walkerton home. Number 10 is our favourite.

1. Review your home inspection report

If you have had a home inspection in the past, pull it out and review it. A good report should list out items for effective maintenance and major repairs that will be needed and when they will likely be needed. Major repairs that are needed are best dealt with before the winter rather than during the winter. We have a number of reliable Home Inspectors who we use, so please feel free to give us a call if you need a reference.

2. Visually inspect the building

Winter elements can wreak havoc on the home. To make sure that the exterior of your home is ready for this includes checking for cracks and weak points to protect against water leaks, cold air breezes and pests. Areas to check are the foundation, decks, roof, crawl spaces, brick masonry, doors, windows and basically any area that forms part of the building. One handy trick is to walk around inside on a breezy day holding a lit incense stick to the most common drafty areas: recessed lighting, window and door frames, electrical outlets. Seal and caulk any weak areas, and keep in mind that it will have to hold up to the elements, including freezing and thawing.

3. Check the gutters and drains

Clogged gutters and drains can form ice dams in which water backs up, freezes and causes water to seep into the home. Once the leaves fall, remove them and other debris from your home's gutters, fix any misaligned pipes and make sure that water is being driven away from the structure of the home (at least 10 feet away is a good rule of thumb). This helps prevent costly flooding and water damage to it.

4. Get to the ductwork

A home with central heating can lose up to 60% of its heated air before that air reaches the vents if ductwork is not well-connected and insulated, or if it must travel through unheated spaces. That is a huge amount of wasted money, not to mention a chilly house. Although ducts are often difficult to see or get at, there are areas where they may be exposed such as in the attic, the basement and crawlspaces. Repair parts where pipes are pinched and fix gaps with a metal-backed tape (duct tape actually doesn't stand up to the job over time). Ducts also should be vacuumed once every few years, to clean out the abundant dust, animal hair and other gunk that can gather in them and cause respiratory problems.

5. Face your windows

With windows, you have a few options in getting them ready for winter. One cost effective option is to buy a window insulator kit, which works in keeping cold air out of the home, although aesthetically it may not be the prettiest alternative. Storm windows can also provide a very effective extra layer of protection and warmth for the homes with old, single-pane glass windows. Finally, windows can be replaced. The ROI can be significant (estimated at 89.6% as per Remodeling Magazine), but there are high upfront installation costs for materials and labour ($500+ per window plus a few hundred dollars for installation versus typically 20% savings on your energy bill).

It can be hard to tell when you need to install new replacement windows, but there are a few telltale signs: 1) condensation (that is if condensation builds on your windows on cold days it could be a sign of worn insulation); and 2) drafts such as wind blowing into your home through the closed window. To test for this, hold a candle near the window and watch the flame. You may also want to be selective as to what windows you change; changing those that are in the areas you spend the most time in.

6. Insulate

Insulation has great ROI and is something that is not very costly. Regardless of where you live in Canada, a minimum of 12 inches of insulation is recommended for attics. A simple rule of thumb on whether you need to add insulation is if you can see the ceiling joists in the attic, you know you do not have enough (i.e. because a ceiling joist is at most 10 or 11 inches). If the temperature in your area will be dropping below 0 Celsius, adding extra insulation to the attic would be wise as it will prevent warm air from creeping to your roof and causing ice dams. One final important point, if you are layering insulation atop other insulation, do not use ones with "kraft face" finish (i.e., a paper backing) as it acts as a vapour barrier that can cause moisture problems in the insulation. Check with an expert at your insulation store.

7. Check the Furnace

In terms of regular maintenance, some good tips are to have the furnaces cleaned and tuned annually (fall is best, and it will cost in the $100-$125 range), and change the filters monthly (keep a good supply on hand). A dirty filter impedes air flow, reduces efficiency and could even cause a fire in an extreme case. Toss out the dirty fiberglass filters; reusable electrostatic or electronic filters can be washed. If your home is heated by a hot-water radiator, bleed the valves by opening them slightly and when water appears, close them. Finally, if you are not using a programmable thermostat, think about changing to one.

8. Wrap those pipes

A burst pipe caused by a winter freeze is a nightmare. Start by checking your pipes. Make certain that the water to your hose bibs is shut off inside your house (via a turnoff valve) and that the lines are drained. Look for ones that are not insulated, or that pass through unheated spaces - pipes that run through crawlspaces, basements or garages. Wrap them with pre-molded foam rubber sleeves or fiberglass insulation, available at hardware stores. If you are really worried about a pipe freezing, first wrap the pipe with heating tape, which is basically an electrical cord that emits heat.

9. Remember the fire burning appliances

A common myth is that a chimney needs to be swept every year. This is not true but, a chimney should at least be inspected before use each year. Make sure no tennis balls or other debris are stuck in the chimney. You can do this yourself or get a certified inspection that includes a review. To keep cold out, keep the chimney's damper closed when the fireplace is not in use. Invest in a durable, protective cap with a screen for the chimney if you have not already done so; it is a probably the single easiest protection.

10. Enjoy a beer (or more), or some wine

If you have done all of the above, you have saved yourself a lot of money in energy bills and prevented some potentially serious outlays. Sit back and admire your hard work.