It's hard to imagine snow drifts piling up while you're still enjoying warm afternoons on your deck.
But preparing outdoor areas now for colder weather later will ensure your home will be ready for winter and in much better shape by the time of next year's first thaw.
“Outdoor areas can definitely respond differently to the wet conditions that we experience in the winter, and the constant moisture and then drying out can have a derogatory effect on the wood surface if not properly protected,” said Drew Isaacman, general manager of Teak and Deck Professionals in Carlsbad, Calif.
Decks, patio furniture and the exterior of the home can all benefit from winterization.
“You want to do it before the weather starts getting cold, and ideally when there's enough sun and dry spells around,” said Dan Ivancic, director of marketing for AdvantageLumber.com, which is based in Sarasota, Fla.
Deck and patio
Keeping a deck or patio clear of debris during winter months is a top priority. Make sure to sweep off leaves, which can stain and cause more trouble in the spring.
“If you have a lot of leaves and debris in the spaces in between the deck boards, and you have a lot of water sitting in there and that freezes, you could potentially have ice damage,” Ivancic said.
Too much moisture also can lead to cupping and swelling of the deck boards.
It's a good idea to remove flower pots from the deck; any soil that spills out can stain or encourage mold growth. Softer woods should be cleaned and sealed before the winter.
“If you do that, it should be ready come springtime, even if it does need a light washing,” Ivancic said. “Overall the longevity of the deck will be a lot longer.”
If you continue to use your outdoor space throughout the snowy season, make sure to use a shovel with a plastic edge.
“I grill throughout the winter, so I shovel the snow off my deck,” Ivancic said. “Make sure you use the right shovel; don't use one with a metal edge. You don't really discover that until the spring when you see gouges in the wood.”
Wooden furniture pieces should also be cleaned, sanded and sealed to keep sun and water from aging them, Isaacman said.
"Maintaining in the fall is good for two reasons,” he said. “It keeps the wood protected from the moisture, and the sun's rays aren't too strong to break down the sealer.”
Isaacman doesn't recommend covering furniture to keep moisture out.
“It can lead to mold in the grain of the wood and the mold can go from being on the surface to being deeper,” he said. “Once it goes deeper, it's a more extensive process to get it out.”
Most plastic covers actually keep water in, he said.
“We encourage people to leave their beautiful furniture out for people to see year-round.”
The rest of your home also can benefit from a quick checkup before cold sets in.
“Some of it's really simple like switching the direction of your ceiling fans and making sure your hoses are disconnected from your hose bibs, making sure your gutters are clear,” said Jeff Knorr, owner of JKC Inc., a general contractor in Flagstaff, Ariz.
It's also a good idea to check weatherstripping on all windows and doors.
And finally, get your furnace serviced by a qualified technician before winter sets in.
“If (the furnace) goes out, it'll probably go out on Christmas Eve or two days before Thanksgiving,” Knorr said.
“It's your heat source and without heat, your pipes will freeze, and it will be mighty uncomfortable.”