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    Winterize Your Home: 10 Tips

    By Leslie Petrovski
    WebMD Feature

    Like raking leaves and planting bulbs, installing storm windows and cleaning gutters are telltale fall rituals. But what else can you do to prepare your home for sweater weather? Which steps can you take now to make this winter safe, comfortable, and healthy?

    To prepare your property for snow, cold, and inclement weather, buckle down and tackle these home safety chores:

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    • Deal with dead tree limbs. The No. 1 thing most homeowners fail to do before winter sets in is eliminate dead tree branches, says Nick Gromicko, founder of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. Falling limbs -- or trees -- can harm roofs, siding, gutters, porch railings, decks, and cars, not to mention unsuspecting passersby.

    “Clear out any overhanging limbs that could fall on homes and cars,” he says. “In late summer or early fall go around and take off any branches that are hanging over the corner of your house."

    • Be proactive about plumbing.If you live in colder climates, make sure that your plumbing isn’t vulnerable to the cycles of freezing and thawing that can cause pipes to burst -- a disaster that can result in water damage or the growth of mold.

    To weatherproof your plumbing, shut off the supply of water to outdoor spigots, swamp coolers, and sprinkler systems, then drain them. (Depending on your irrigation system, you may also need a contractor to blow out any excess moisture with compressed air.) Also cover the outdoor components of your air conditioner or swamp cooler to protect them from the elements.

    • Seal leaks and save money. Check your roof for loose or missing shingles and gaps around your chimney, flues, and other openings and do the same for your home’s exterior. Be especially watchful of the areas around windows, doors, and your foundation. Once you identify areas where water might intrude or ice could form, address these problems. Caulk cracks or install weather stripping where appropriate. Shoring up any leaks will provide a more comfortable and trouble-free winter. Ask a professional to handle repairs that are outside your comfort zone and be sure to request project estimates up front.
    • Check out your chimney. If you plan to use your fireplace this winter, make sure your chimney is clean and no critters have made themselves at home there. The last thing you need when cozying up to your hearth is a disaster waiting to happen in the chimney. Call a chimney sweep to inspect your chimney and clean out soot and other hazardous debris.
    • Invest in a home energy audit. “The best thing to do is get an energy audit, which provides an assessment that can help you save money,” explains Robert DeSoto, branch chief with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program. A home energy audit helps you make your home more comfortable and energy efficient. An audit will tell you where you’re losing energy and provide recommendations on ways you can improve. This can involve anything from installing additional insulation to replacing poorly performing appliances.

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    How do you stay warm at home during the winter months?