If you thought last year’s mild winter was the new norm, think again. While Canada posted the third warmest winter on record in 2011-2012, meteorologists with AccuWeather are predicting a healthy dose of snow and cold across the nation this season. Alberta and British Columbia, in particular, are expected to experience colder and drier conditions than usual. But homeowners need not fear; by winterizing areas in and around the house, you can easily keep Jack Frost’s icy grip at bay. Gold Star Cleaning offers these six tips to get your started. 1. The Furnace and fireplace Preparing your home’s heating system for winter won’t just save you money on your heating bills – it could also save your life. A build-up of dust or debris over the summer months can turn your furnace or fireplace into a potential fire hazard, so it’s important to make sure they’re functioning properly. Here’s a quick to-do checklist: -Have your furnace inspected annually by a qualified HVAC technician. Have your ducts cleaned every three years. -Clean or replace your furnace’s air filter. -Clean your vents, and ensure that vents are not obstructed by furniture or debris. -Have your chimney cleaned, and cap the top of your chimney. -Remove any flammable objects from around your furnace and fireplace. Star tip: remove glass from gas fireplaces with a screwdriver, lay flat on a drop sheet and wipe away stubborn mineral deposits using a gas fireplace glass cleaner. 2. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors While we’re on the topic of fire safety, now is a good time to ensure you have a working fire detector in your home, as required by law (the Office of the Fire Commissioner of British Columbia has a break-down of the new requirements for smoke detectors in private dwellings, which have been in place since 2010). If your smoke detector is battery-powered, replace the batteries in your smoke detector and test it. Replace smoke detectors every ten years. If you haven’t yet installed a lifesaving carbon monoxide detector in your home, get one. 3. Doors and windows Keep the warm air in your home by identifying and sealing leaks. An easy way to find leaks is by holding a candle near the edges of a window or door frame; if the flame flickers or goes out, you have a leak. Caulk your window frames inside and out and weatherstrip around doors. Remove your summer screens and install storm windows (or use good ol’ fashioned shrink wrap). 4. Roof, gutters and downspouts Take it from me – you don’t want to be climbing on your roof in the dead of winter to fix a leak. Take the time now to replace any damaged roof shingles or tiles, clear out of your gutters and install leaf guards. If necessary, add piping to your downspout so that it transports water at least 10 feet away from your home. If your home has an attic, add additional insulation to keep warm air from escaping and forming condensation or ice dams in your home. 5. Pipes and Plumbing A burst pipe can cause untold damage to your home. Avoid this potential catastrophe by targeting pipes where water is likely to freeze. Turn off the water to your hose bibs via the shutoff valve inside your home. Look for exposed pipes in your house – likely locations include crawlspaces, basements or garages – and wrap them with foam rubber sleeves or fibreglass insulation. If you’re going away for the holidays, keep the temperature in your home above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) to reduce the risk of freezing. Star tip: Check that sump pumps are working and ready for the spring thaw. If you do have flooding problems later on a cleaning company that does restoration cleaning is a number you will want to have on hand. 6. The Great Outdoors Spring may seem like a distant memory, but that’s no reason to neglect your yard. Trim any tree branches hanging close to your house or near electrical wires. Protect garden tools and outdoor appliances by cleaning and storing them. Drain your garden hose. Remove the gas from your lawnmower – and while you’re at it, fill up the tank in your snowblower and test it. Finally, make sure you’re prepared for the inevitable snowfall with a sturdy shovel and bags of sand or salt. Star tip: Insist that people remove their shoes at the door and keep a rubber boot tray at each one to prevent the outdoors coming indoors.