Winter makes life more expensive. The season requires its own wardrobe of coats, scarves, gloves, hats, sweaters and boots. But your biggest concerns for winter are likely your house and your car.
The goal for both is to stay warm and safe — and hopefully save some money on heating costs and vehicle repairs.
Winterizing can sound daunting, but experts have a few tricks to make a smooth transition into winter. Planning ahead is important: It can be helpful to put together a checklist specific to your home and vehicles that can be consulted annually, and homeowners should generally start winterizing before the snow flies or the ground freezes.
Some winterizing can be do-it-yourself projects. For more complicated issues the state's mechanics, contractors and service providers are all deeply experienced and battle-tested in dealing with the elements.
A home's windows and insulation are the first two big considerations for winter. Both are important for optimal heating in the home as temperatures outside drop below freezing.
"Just checking for drafts, that's the main thing," said Scott Hansen, sales manager with Osseo-based Minnesota Exteriors.
Homeowners can use weather-stripping or caulking for a do-it-yourself fix on drafty windows and doors.
As for insulation: "Go up in your attic and look," Hansen said. "See what you have for insulation. Most times you can just add more."
Energy Star guidance says if the insulation is "just level with or below your joists" then more is probably needed. If the joists aren't visible because the insulation is above them, "you probably have enough and adding more may not be cost-effective."
The total square footage of your attic will determine how much insulation you need.
Hansen said that doing a ventilation calculation — making sure air is properly flowing in and out of a home — can be a key part of the process. Many roofing and insulation companies also offer formulas online to make the calculation.
Empty homes especially need winterizing
Some homes might sit unoccupied during the winter due to people traveling south for the season or the house being on the market for sale. It still needs to be winterized.
"Water pipes are the biggest concern," said Dain Brooks, senior plumbing estimator with Burnsville-based Minnesota Plumbing and Home Services. "We get a lot of calls from Realtors."
When water freezes, it expands. That raises the risk of pipes breaking and causing water damage. Brooks said that the weather sets the deadline for taking pipe precautions.
"Once the ground's frozen, that's when you need to be concerned," Brooks said. "If you don't have any heat in the house the pipes will freeze."
He said a home should be kept at least 55 degrees, though some recommend 60 degrees minimum through the winter.
Budgeting for home winterization
Hansen said that homeowners should budget anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $1,000 every year for winterizing. Newer homes generally have fewer issues. Hansen said that there's less demand for storm windows now that replacement double-pane windows can work well in all seasons.
Winterizing can include a range of projects including cleaning gutters and chimneys, inspecting HVAC systems, checking insulation and weatherstripping and replacing furnace filters. The largest costs can be for adding insulation and replacing windows.
Brooks said that getting professional help with plumbing winterization can cost about $500 for a home with two bathrooms.
That covers the cost of shutting off the water, draining the water pipes, putting antifreeze into drains and disconnecting the water meter.
For vehicles, start at the ground
"You want to make sure your tire depth is accurate. Many of the accidents are caused by heavy wear on the tires," said Aaron Swanson, compliance coordinator with LaMettry's Collision.
A worn tire doesn't have as much tread, which can be riskier in winter driving conditions.
Swanson said that electric vehicles can be harder on tires due to the weight and torque of the cars.
"They tend to go through tires faster," Swanson said.
While snow tires can be helpful, they are not needed on every vehicle, Swanson said. All-season tires will work for many cars.
"Go to a tire store and ask them. Each vehicle's a little different," he said.
Living farther north in the state could make snow tires more essential.
"We definitely get more snow," said Mike McLynn, owner of Grand Rapids-based Automotive Electric. "Snow tires make a big difference. Just having a good tire is very important in the wintertime."
McGlynn said that a set of four snow tires will cost about $1,000. Winter tires should last four to five seasons.
The dreaded dead battery
In the mid-1970s the DieHard battery brand ran TV ads featuring a car sitting on a frozen lake in International Falls. The announcer said that the car sat on the lake from January through March, then started in April — a testament not just to the battery brand but to Minnesota's reputation for unforgiving winters.
One of the biggest issues with vehicles in winter is a battery drained of its energy by low temperatures.
"I would recommend having the battery tested before winter," McLynn said. "We recommend battery replacement if it's over five years old."
Another task to add to the winterization checklist is simply cleaning the battery.
"If your battery is dirty, make sure you're cleaning the terminals. A lot of stuff just wears out in the cold," said Jordan Parada, general manager of Minneapolis-based Vidal Auto Service.
"Make sure that the coolant is at the right level," Parada said. Every winter you want to be safe."
Easier than the old days
"Modern cars don't need nearly as much winterization as cars once did," said William Lender, service manager at Minneapolis-based Alexander's Import Auto Repair. "A lot of it has to do with cars being completely computer controlled."
Lender said that some service basics such as checking tire pressure can be helpful.
"Tire pressure always changes with the decrease in temperature," Lender said.
The old adage that you need to use motor oil with a lighter weight in the winter is no longer a rule of thumb, he said.
"It's not like the old days. The oil is very specific to the vehicles now," Swanson said. Drivers should be familiar with the car's manual and the specific manufacturer recommendations, which can guide decisions on any changes needed for winter.
A standard inspection of your car to check tires, brakes, wipers and fluids can offer some peace of mind. Lender said that a basic inspection should cost $60 to $100.
And while you're at the shop, just ask flat out: Is my vehicle ready for winter?