25 Amazing Home Upgrades to Do This Winter
The weather outside is frightful, but you can make your home delightful with easy winter upgrades.
With cold weather setting in and snow blanketing the ground, the onset of winter inevitably means that people spend more time in their homes than during any other time of year. And while holiday movie marathons, gift wrapping, and ugly sweater parties will be keeping you busy this season, there's still plenty of time that could be spent transforming your home for the better. From minor protective measures that'll keep your home safer to major cosmetic changes, these are the smartest winter home upgrades.
Create a faux fireplace with LED candles.
While cozying up in front of a crackling fire can be nice, you may not be ready for the commitment that comes with adding a real fireplace to your home. Thankfully, you can always enjoy a similar aesthetic by creating a candlelit vignette to add warmth to any room.
"I like to mix Moroccan and Mexican pierced metal containers [and] purchase battery-operated candles in gold or red to add the element of fire to the container," says Kim Depole, the New York-based creative director of Depole Design LLC.
Or convert your existing wood fireplace to gas.
And if you already a real fireplace, you've probably discovered that having expensive cords of wood delivered to your home—or chopping them yourself—takes away some of the pleasure of the experience. If you want to upgrade your home this season, take the legwork out of enjoying a fire and convert your wood-burning fireplace to gas, suggests Leslie Saul, president and founder of Leslie Saul & Associates, Inc., an architecture and interior design firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Not only will this keep the whole home cozier—it may facilitate some fun, too: "A fire may draw you out of the TV room and into the living room for conversation, games, or reading by the fire," says Saul.
Add a fireplace cover.
Even if you're not ready to fully swap out your existing fireplace just yet, adding a fireplace cover can make a major difference in how comfortable your home is.
"Without a fireplace door or cover in place, you are letting cold air in and paying extra for heating," explains Brett Elron, lead designer at New York-based interior design consultancy BarterDesign.co. If you're really hoping to up your home's interior appeal, Elron suggests opting for a glass fireplace door, which is typically a bit more expensive than a similar metal surround, but has a more modern look.
Turn your old coats into new pillows.
Have some older coats that aren't in good enough condition to donate to your local coat drive? Try turning them into pillows, suggests Depole.
"They can also be transformed into throws with the lining in ultra-suede for extra warmth," she adds.
And have your existing blankets relined.
Want to upgrade your home without inviting a construction crew into the house? Simply relining your favorite blankets can make a world of difference in the visual appeal and functionality of your space.
Depole suggests browsing thrift shops for wool blankets and "adding a trim and lining in velvet" to up the coziness factor in any room.
Update your window treatments.
Itching to swap out your window treatments? The winter is the perfect time to do so. "Velvet is cozy in the winter," says Saul, who also recommends installing new wood blinds or solar shades in the wintertime to keep your home looking modern while mitigating draft issues.
Replace any worse-for-wear gutters.
If you've been thinking about upgrading to new seamless or copper gutters—or simply mending your existing gutter system—there's no time like the present to check that task off your to-do list.
"Plugged gutters and downspouts can cause ice backing under the shingles," potentially contributing to leaks and mold growth inside your home, says Thomas B. Adams, a general contractor with Chicago-based Thomas Adams & Sons Construction Co.
Add some insulation to your attic.
Even if you don't have the budget to fully finish your attic, simply adding some insulation can make a major difference in the comfort and functionality of your home.
"Proper insulation keeps you warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer," says Adams. And while there are some upfront costs associated with taking a DIY approach as well, Adams says it's well worth it: "You'll recoup any losses in the years to come by saving on energy," he says.
Replace your gapping siding.
If your siding is gapping, broken, or warped, that means one thing: moisture from snow can easily get under it, causing structural damage in no time. If you want to keep your home safe from this potentially costly problem this year, have any damaged panels of siding replaced, and make sure there's appropriate insulation on the interior of the siding to keep your home warmer all winter long.
Install hand rails on your steps.
According to the CDC, more than 800,000 Americans are hospitalized due to fall-related injuries each year—and the risk of a fall only increases with the accumulation of ice and snow in winter. If you want to make your home not only more functional, but safer, add hand rails to any staircases or exterior steps that don't already have them, and you might just save yourself a trip to the hospital along the way.
And some stair treads, too.
Similarly, adding some stair treads to your outdoor steps—especially to ones that don't get much sunlight and are more likely to develop icy patches—can help you stay safer, too. Textured treads can also help you reduce the amount of salt and snow on your shoes, meaning you don't have to worry about ruining your floors once you come inside.
Recaulk your windows.
Looking to upgrade your home this winter? You don't need a huge budget—all you need is a little caulk.
"During winter, cold air tends to seep in through cracks," says Daniel Quindemil, CEO at Miami-based construction company I AM Builders. He suggests re-caulking around all the edges of your windows to keep those drafts out.
Or add new windows entirely.
If you have a bigger upgrade budget, consider swapping out those windows entirely. "They make triple pane, energy-efficient tinted windows that make a huge difference in your home's overall energy rating," says Gordon Jones, owner of G I Jones Home Inspection in San Antonio, Texas.
Add weather stripping to your doors.
Old doors in houses that have settled are notorious for letting drafts in. Worse yet, if they've become misaligned in their frame, they can actually let in snow or rain, which can cause damage to your flooring and walls if it's left to sit. To help reduce your risk of water damage, "make sure the exterior doors have a weather strip and a draft stopper," suggests Quindemil.
Or replace them.
If weather stripping just isn't cutting it for your draft problem, it's probably time to replace your doors entirely.
"As technology improves, R-values and insulation of door materials also improve," says Quindemil. Luckily, this is one project that's well worth the investment: According to Remodeling magazine's 2019 "Cost vs. Value" report, a new steel entry door will net you a 74.9 percent return on investment (ROI), while you can recoup up to 97.5 percent by replacing your garage door.
Clean your furnace filters.
Before you're using your furnace daily to keep the cold at bay, make sure those filters have been changed to keep your system working effectively—and to reduce your risk of clogged vents creating a fire risk.
However, even the most diligent cleaning won't cut it on occasion: "Sometimes you need to change the filter since often it hasn't been used in almost a year," says Quindemil.
Upgrade to smart technology.
Want an easy upgrade that'll save you serious money in the long run? Replace your traditional thermostat with one like Nest, which learns your temperature preferences and can keep your home comfortable all year.
"They'll end up paying for themselves," says Elron. In fact, an independent study commissioned by Nest suggests that learning thermostats can save people up to 12 percent on heating costs.
Install a chimney balloon.
If you're looking to keep those drafts to a minimum—and you have a fireplace that won't be in use this season—it pays to install a chimney balloon, an inflatable, heat-resistant balloon that blocks off your chimney's opening.
"You will be amazed at how much you save on your next heating bill," says real estate investor Benjamin Ross of San Antonio, Texas-based Mission Real Estate Group.
Install a new deck.
While you probably won't be dining al fresco for a few months, the winter is a surprisingly good time to start some of those exterior upgrades you've been putting off, like installing a deck.
Not only will more contractors be available to take on the job during the low season, but doing so also means "it will already be up by the time it is barbecue weather again, and you can even possibly get it done for a cheaper rate," says Rhianna Miller, home and garden design and improvement expert at Rubber Mulch.
Repaint your cabinets.
Though exterior painting may have to wait until the temperature warms up slightly, winter is the perfect time to tackle those smaller interior painting projects, like repainting your cabinetry.
"Do this in the winter, since you are likely to be home more often because of the cold," says Miller, who suggests complementing those freshly-painted cabinets with a new backsplash if you have the budget for it, or new knobs and drawer pulls if you don't.
Upgrade your fire prevention system.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, more fires happen during the winter than in any other season. If you want to keep your home and family safe this winter, now's the time to test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, says Quindemil, who notes that portable heating sources are frequent sources of home fires. If they're not working or you haven't tested the batteries in some time, you should swap them out.
And if you have more money to spend, upgrading to a home security system that alerts first responders in case of smoke can add another layer of protection.
Trim back your trees.
"Large branches can carry a lot of snow and weight," cautions Quindemil, who suggests that homeowners trim back their trees before heavy snow causes branches to snap. This will help keep you out of harm's way, and can reduce costly repairs to your home or car that falling branches might otherwise cause.
Protect your plants with winter-weight covers.
If you want to keep the exterior of your home—and all the hard work you've spent in the garden—looking lovely come springtime, it's worth your while to invest in a set of winter-weight plant covers.
"Young trees can be insulated with the use of a tree cover or tree wrap," says Jones, who notes that flowers and bushes can be protected using old bed sheets. If you've got a bigger budget in mind, you can also buy winter cold frames to protect raised beds and narrower patches of land.
Buy a set of outdoor furniture covers.
Protecting your outdoor furniture now will make you a lot happier in the long run. Properly covering your outdoor furniture sets with snug-fitting accessories will allow you to keep moisture from making contact with your furniture and causing rust and eventual degradation.
Invest in a few seasonal accessories.
Of course, no winter upgrade would be complete without adding a few holiday-themed accessories to your list. This year, instead of simply buying ornaments and other kitschy extras, "go with a couple bigger or more substantial pieces and avoid a lot of small décor, which will end up making your space feel cluttered," suggests New York-based interior designer Gale Sitomer of G Sitomer Design.