In the dead of winter, a fire might seem like a cozy comfort. It won't be one, though, if the fire is your beloved home going up in flames. This is the time of the year to prepare your home for the cold days ahead. Doing so will not only prevent damage, but can also save you some big bucks. (After all, heating costs are rising these days.)

Here are some tips:

  • Have your furnace and furnace filter inspected and cleaned. Check for gas leaks. Make sure your heating system is working properly -- ideally by bringing in a pro to do so. Remove any stuff that's crowding the heater, lest it burst into flames.

  • Examine your windows and doors and seal up any sources of drafts. You might apply some caulk or weather-stripping, or perhaps some insulation.

  • Clean out gutters and drainpipes. And while you're on that ladder, inspect your roof, looking for loose or damaged shingles or flashing or leaking vents.

  • Make any necessary repairs to your steps, driveway, and sidewalks.

  • Drain any outdoor faucets and irrigation systems.

  • Give your favorite chimney sweep a jingle and have your smokestack cleaned out before you use it. Keep the damper closed when you're not using the fireplace.

  • If you have an outdoor swimming pool, it's time to close it.

  • Make sure your home safety equipment is in place and in working condition -- this means fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors. Replace any old batteries before they fail you. Review safety and emergency procedures (such as an escape plan) with your family.

Get a few more tips in this article and drop by our Building and Maintaining a Home discussion board (painless free trial available) to share any suggestions and experiences of your own or just to gather the advice of others.

Another great resource is our Home Center, which offers lots of guidance on buying or selling a home, as well as mortgage and refinancing advice.