Whether you embrace the change of seasons or cringe at the mention of that four-letter word in the forecast, it's time to start thinking about readying your home for winter (as sad as it may sound).
There are several things you can do yourself before the first snowflake falls to save on utility bills and keep your home and family safe.
Keeping your furnace or heat pump in top condition is vital during the colder months. To reduce the risk of failure, call in a professional heating contractor for a tune up. For under $100, he'll make sure the unit is clean, replace filters and check for any carbon monoxide leaks. Replacing an older thermostat with a programmable one is something you can take care of to save on heating costs. For hot, forced-air units, adjust dampers to pump more heat to lower levels and away from unused rooms.
Outside central air conditioning units should be covered to protect against snow and ice. Window units should be removed or covered with inexpensive, insulated liners to eliminate drafts.
Windows & Doors
Preventing air leaks around windows and doors will increase comfort and lower heating bills. Examine and replace any rotted wood frames, add or replace weatherstripping and caulk inside and out. Storm doors and windows should replace screens, and repair or replace any broken glass.
Roof, Gutters & Window Wells
Water leaks and ice dams can cause devastating damage. Replace damaged or missing shingles, clean leaves and debris from gutters and make sure you have adequate insulation in the attic. Accumulated snow, combined with attic air leaks, can cause icicles to form or dam. Warming temperatures can allow melting water to flow into your house and cause structural damage. Consider installing an electric ice melt system to prevent ice from forming and allowing water to safely drain off the roof into gutters and downspouts. Don't forget to add extensions to downspouts to carry excess runoff away from the foundation.
Falling leaves and branches can plug window well drains and overflow through basement windows. Remove all debris, make sure the drain is clear and install clear, plastic covers to provide additional protection.
Maintaining a perfectly dry finished basement starts in the fall with preventative basement waterproofing. In areas where the concrete is exposed, start with a thorough inspection of the foundation walls and floor. Look for excess moisture or cracks with water infiltration. Plastic injection tubes, polyurethane and fast-curing epoxy can be used to repair interior wall fractures. This tight, yet flexible seal is resistant to further cracking. Concrete coatings, sealers, paints and panels can also provide optimum waterproofing for interior applications. Hydrostatic pressure, settling and the freeze-thaw cycle can all contribute to basement leaks. If you're not sure, there are a number of guides that will help you determine what to look for when examining your foundation cracks and when to start worrying.
It's also important to make sure your sump pump is working properly, especially after a long dry season. Check it by pouring several gallons of water into the sump pit. It should activate quickly and pump water away from the basement. Adding a battery back-up system will provide an extra level of security during winter power outages.
Exterior Faucets, Hoses & Sprinkler Systems
Don't forget to disconnect all garden hoses, drain water from the faucets and turn off the shut-off valve in the basement (for faucets older than 10 years). This will prevent your pipes from bursting as the ice expands. Your sprinkler service should turn off and drain your sprinkler system to ensure it is protected from freezing.
Fireplace & Gas Stove
Just like your furnace, your fireplace or gas-burning stove should be checked to be sure vents are clean and are in good working order. Wood-burning fireplace chimneys should be cleaned by a professional "sweeper" to remove excess creosote. This will prevent chimney fires and carbon monoxide leaks.
Yard & Landscaping
Fall is an excellent time to trim overgrown branches away from your home and electrical wires. This will prevent property damage or power outages during heavy storms.
Your lawn needs some TLC before winter to promote deep-root growth for spring. Fall is the time to aerate the lawn, reseed and apply a winterizing fertilizer. A little extra effort now will be rewarded with a lush, thick lawn next spring.
Check the grade of the property slops away from the house. This will allow the rain or snow to melt and drain away from the foundation. You may need to add some extra soil to low spots to level it off.
Store patio furniture, covered, inside a shed or garage. Make sure any fabric cushions are stored inside your home and away from damaging rodents.
Ceiling Fans & Electrical Outlets
With many homes including paddle fans in their homes to provide a comfortable temperature year-round, you'll want to reverse the blades to operate in a clockwise direction. This will allow the updraft created by the fan to push the hotter ceiling air down, into the room. This will help in areas with cathedral ceilings and may even allow you to reduce the room temperature.
Reduce outside drafts by installing foam insulation behind exterior wall electrical outlets and switch plates.
Winter weather can cause havoc on your home and property. By spending a little extra time incorporating these tips into your winter preparation routine, you and your family should be safe and comfortable through the harshest conditions ahead.