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4 moves to winter-proof your home before cold weather hits

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Add winter-proofing your home to your list of must-do fall tasks.

There are "all kinds of ways that winter weather can wreak havoc on your home," says Dan DiClerico, a smart home strategist for HomeAdvisor. "Between the heavy snowfall, fierce wind, and cold temperatures, it's a recipe for disaster for a home that's not properly maintained or winterized."

Here are five preparations to make before winter sets in that can help you avoid a costly unexpected bill.

1. Insulate your pipes

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When the temperature drops, pipes can freeze and burst, causing water damage to your home. "A single burst pipe can cause $5,000 in water damage at least," says DiClerico.

The best way to prevent your water pipes from freezing is with proper insulation, he says. Pipe insulation can cost as little as 50 cents per linear foot, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

2. Clean out your chimney

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If you have a fireplace, clean out your chimney before starting your first fire of the season, says DiClerico. Dirty chimneys can cause fires that damage your home, which is why it's important to get your chimney inspected and cleaned out at least once a year, he adds.

Hiring a chimney sweep costs between $100-$300, according to HomeAdvisor. If you try the do-it-yourself route, you'll spend about $71, a total that includes $20 for a 2-pound tub of cleaner, $24 for fireplace scrubbing pads, $9 for brick cleaner, and $18 for a chimney brush.

3. Clear and inspect your roof

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Snow on your roof can easily turn into water damage in your home. Before winter sets in, do a quick inspection of your roof to look for missing or loose shingles that can allow water inside, says Sean T. Keating, a certified financial planner at Patriot Financial Advisors in Long Branch, New Jersey. You'll also want to clear your gutters and drains so melting ice has a clear path off your roof. If you're not comfortable inspecting the roof yourself, you can hire a roof inspector for $205 on average, according to HomeAdvisor.

You might also consider adding insulation to the attic, a project that can run as little as $150-$200 if you do it yourself. That helps head off ice dams, which occur when heat from your home causes ice to form along the eaves — which causes melting snow to trickle into your home instead of off the roof, says DiClerico.

4. Replace your HVAC filters

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Last winter, average household heating costs ranged from $492 to $1,886, depending on location and heating fuel, per data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Keeping your furnace or heater running efficiently can lower your bills.

That's why DiClerico says it's important to clean out or replace the air filters in your home's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (aka HVAC) system, a project that can cost under $10. A dirty filter reduces the unit's efficiency, can cause air circulation and quality problems, and may even lead to a fire, he says.

There is "one bit of good news" about energy costs, says DiClerico. The EIA expects the average cost of major home heating energy services to decline compared to last year. The EIA expects gas and electric bills to drop by 1%, home heating oil by 4%, and propane by 15%. DiClerico says "energy prices are predicted to go down, so homeowners can save a few bucks there."

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