Ah winter.  It happens at the same time each year, yet we never seem to be quite "ready" for it.  Do a Google search of what you need to do in order to get your home prepared for the season and you will be overwhelmed by the amount of information that is out there.  To make your life easier, I've perused list after list and have created a "master list" of the most important winter prep tasks that you need to begin doing this weekend.

1)  Have your furnace inspected by a professional.

It's difficult to pick a "most important" item regarding winter preparations because ignoring many of the items on this list can lead to major problems later on.  However, if I had to pick only one thing to do, this would be it.  Why?  Because if your gas furnace is malfunctioning, it could be leaking carbon monoxide (AKA "the silent killer") into your home.  Even if you had your furnace serviced last year, I'd recommend you get a professional to come out and check it again.  Since carbon monoxide poisoning can have such devastating affects on your family's health, it's just not worth the risk to simply assume everything is working properly.  You have an electric furnace, you say?  I'd still make sure it's in good working order since it could save you hundreds of dollars on your heating bill.  Go call a professional RIGHT NOW to schedule a time for them to come out.  I'm serious.  Go do it.  Right now. 

2)  Prepare your home and your family for a house fire.

Winter is a time for cooking delicious seasonal food, burning the Yule Log in the fireplace, lighting scented candles, and bringing evergreen trees indoors to decorate.  With all of these additional activities occurring in your home, it is imperative that you are prepared for a house fire, should one occur.  From checking the batteries in your smoke alarms to making sure you know how to operate your fire extinguisher, your best offense is a good defense.  You can read more about being fire-ready in my blog post "House Fire" by clicking here.

3)  Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector.

It's very tempting to think that a carbon monoxide detector is not necessary in your home.  Or maybe you think to yourself, "Yeah, I really need to get one of those..." but then you never do.  Gas furnaces, water heaters, stoves, and ovens can all leak carbon monoxide into your home.  Generators (which should be located outside, however, it is surprising where I have seen people put them) emit carbon monoxide in their exhaust fumes.  Even burning a fire in that wood-burning fireplace of yours can cause carbon monoxide, so make sure you really do have one or more of these life-saving detectors in your home. 

4)  Clean out your gutters and chimney.

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but we all have put off these dreaded tasks at one time or another.  It's important to do them before the winter season hits though, not only because the cold weather will demotivate you even more, but because cleaning your gutters will prevent blockages, allow you to check for loose connections, and help you spot areas that need to be directed away from your house to prevent leaks close to your foundation.  Getting your chimney cleaned will ensure you don't unintentionally roast some critters upon lighting your first fire of the season.  And, of course, you want it sparkling for Santa.

5)  Be proactive in checking the trees around your home to determine if they are a potential risk to your house or vehicle.

Wintertime can mean a lot of snow, or even worse, ice.  If you have a precarious limb dangling over your roof, be proactive in getting a professional out to remove it before any more strain is put on it.  Even though tree removal services can be expensive, it is well worth it in the long run to take care of this in advance.

6)  Drain the water from outdoor hoses and sprinkler systems.

Another self-explanatory one but make sure to cover your outdoor spouts and bring your hoses inside for the winter.  Also, make sure everyone in the family knows where the water shut-off valve is in case it becomes necessary at some point.

7)  Put that patio furniture away!

I put an exclamation point on this one because it infuriates me when people pay good money for something and then don't take care of it.  Some patio furniture can be left out year-round but many people's patio furniture can't be.  You should know which kind you have.  If there is any doubt, clean it up and bring it into your garage/carport/shed.  And please, do not leave cushions out to rot!   

8)  Seal drafty windows and gaps around pipes, ducts, etc.

This sounds like a drag and could easily be skipped...if you don't mind paying to heat the whole neighborhood.  Making sure the warmth of your home isn't going out the window (literally) is important for your pocketbook.  And if that doesn't motivate you, just remember that all those gaps will be very inviting to little critters trying to come in out of the cold...

9)  Stock up on items you will need if you become house-bound for several days.

The thought of a winter blizzard is exciting...until you realize you have no food in the house.  Then the thought of fighting the masses at the grocery store will stress you out.  Avoid the last minute rush by making sure you keep a supply of necessary items on hand, such as canned food, a non-electric can opener (yeah...that suggestion is one I give you from experience), bottled water, medicines, toilet paper, flashlights, candles, lighters, and whatever else your family will need to be comfortable for the long haul.

10)  De-clutter your home.

You are going to be stuck inside all day during the winter.  You and all of the members of your family.  Don't make it you, all of the members of your family, and all of the stuff you should have given away when you moved in.  Go through old clothes, books, kitchen wares, etc. and give away as much stuff as you can before the cold weather hits.  Whatever you can't give away should be put away in an attic or shed.  A light, airy home always feels so much better than an overcrowded one.

11)  Replace your pillows.

I bet you didn't see this one coming.  I want you to have the best winter ever.  That's difficult to do if you are having trouble breathing, and believe it or not the culprit could be your pillows!  Dust mites accumulate on the darn things and can really harm people with asthma or cause asthma-like symptoms in people that are allergic to the little buggers.  Google why you should replace your pillow if you want to be horrified by what you've been sleeping on...

12)  Clean your windows and window coverings.

Again, this doesn't seem like a "must" but Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real thing that affects 14-26% of people to varying degrees, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.  Even if you aren't affected by SAD, long winter nights seem to require the uninhibited allowance of sunlight into your home during the day.  You can't (or perhaps won't) do that if your windows and window coverings still have last season's build up on them.  Get them clean to really bring a good aura into your home.

13)  Make sure your snow shovels, snowblower, and salt are easily accessible.  Then, don't work too hard.

Again, after the two feet of snow has already fallen is not the time to begin looking for your snow shovel.  Get that taken care of beforehand so you don't waste time looking for everything you need while it's below freezing outside.  Another thing you want to make sure of is that you are not forcing an out-of-shape person to shovel snow and/or are not trying to do it yourself if you are not physically up to the challenge.  Many people have heart attacks or strokes while shoveling, not only because they are suddenly doing an intense workout without having built up to it, but because the cold air constricts our blood vessels.  Don't stay outside for long periods of time or continue working if you don't feel up to it.  It's just not worth it.