As the temperatures start to dip, the leaves fly and we all get ready for colder weather, there are some essential to-dos all homeowners should be aware of. It’s time to tune up your home before winter; focus on these simple weekend projects to help ensure your home stands up to the season and weathers the coldest months of the year in tip-top shape..
Check Your Fireplace
Proper inspection of a fireplace is vital—even if it is rarely used—to ensure your home is safe throughout the winter. An experienced chimney sweep will check wood-burning fireplaces for flammable buildup (known as creosote) and chimney blockages such as bird nests. A chimney or fireplace professional should also check for these red flags: improperly functioning dampers, damaged brickwork and masonry, and missing or damaged flue caps (the screen covering the top of the chimney).
Touch up Trouble Spots
No time for a full-blown home exterior painting project? No problem! Hit the trouble spots, such as the cut ends of all boards, especially fascia boards, where paint peels first. If you have a little more time, apply a coat of fresh paint to all trim pieces.
Clean Your Home’s Carpets
If your house’s wall-to-wall carpeting harbors dirt and musty odors, clean it now when you can throw open the windows to let it dry before the weather gets too cold. Also consider renting a steam cleaner to get out ground-in stains and odors.
If you live in an area that gets more rain than snow during the winter, dig a French drain to prevent a downspout-fed lake from forming in your home’s yard. A hole that’s 4 feet deep and 4 feet wide should do the trick. Dig it under your downspout, line it with heavy plastic sheeting (or whatever your local building code requires), and fill it with gravel.
You can add plants on top of the French drain, but cover the gravel with landscape fabric before adding dirt. Another option is a trench-type French drain, which will move water away from your house rather than directing it deep into the ground.
Lighten Up Your Home
Yes, it’s true: replacing even some of your home’s incandescent lightbulbs with high-efficiency compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) saves you money and, depending on where you live, earns you a utility rebate.
Give Your Home’s Exterior a Scrubbing
Washing your home’s exterior, including the windows, makes it look better and helps prevent growth of mold and mildew that feed on dirt. And all you need is a pressure washer, which you can rent at a hardware store for $50-$100 per day.
A word of warning: Find out how much pressure the washer will exert and whether the surface you plan to wash can withstand it. Avoid pressure-washing vinyl because it can bend and let water seep behind it. Research pressure-washing before you get the machine, and don’t be afraid to ask a knowledgeable store employee about appropriate nozzles and what will work best for your home.
Look for Air Leaks
Looking to save money on home costs this winter? Check for one of the biggest energy-wasters: air leaks. Inspect the caulking and seals around your home’s windows and add or replace the weather stripping around your exterior doors to prevent heat-sucking drafts. Check for leaks around outlets and switches, and add easy-to-install outlets or switch gaskets as needed. Even floor registers can leak air from a cold crawlspace or basement into ground-floor rooms; ask your local home center representative for an insulation kit designed to fix this.
Schedule Your Yearly Furnace Check-Up
A finely tuned furnace is almost like a musical instrument, humming along as efficiently as possible while keeping your home warm and cozy during chillier months. But remember to leave this yearly furnace tune-up to a professional.
Upgrade to Energy-Efficient Windows
If your home has a problem window or two, replace them with more energy-efficient models. What makes a window energy-efficient? Look for low-E glass, multiple glass panes, warm-edge spacers between the panes and gas fills such as argon or krypton.
Repair Your Roof
Autumn is a great time of year to check your home’s roof for leaks. And if you already know one exists, make sure you fix it—or call in a professional to fix it—before the snow starts to fall.
A word to the wise: if the leak is located at a ridge, a valley or underneath the roofing, leave it to the pros.
Reprogram Your Thermostat
Switch out your home’s old manual thermostat for an updated programmable one, which will be more convenient, accurate and energy-efficient. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and are better for the environment because using less energy reduces greenhouse-gas emissions associated with energy production. Because the thermostat will do the thinking for you and never forget, it can save you money on your utility bills, too.
Add insulation to your home’s attic and watch your heating bill drop. Check your current insulation level by looking across the span of your attic. If the insulation is just level with or below your floor joists, you should add more — enough to bring your attic to an insulation R-value of 38, or about 10-14 inches, depending on insulation type. When adding insulation, you don’t have to use the same type that currently exists in your attic.
Prepare Your Lawn
To ensure your lawn’s health and beauty come spring, there are several important yard projects to complete in the fall. Raking leaves and aerating will prevent your lawn and garden beds from suffocating, while fertilizing and winterizing grass, trees and shrubs will allow your greenery to enter its winter slumber comfortably and properly nourished. Professional lawn-care services will make quick work of these projects.
Clean Your Home’s Gutters
Your home’s gutters divert thousands of gallons of water each year. To keep the water flowing smoothly away from your house instead of into it, inspect and clean your roof’s drainage system. Better still, protect your gutters with mesh guards to keep leaves and other debris from causing blockages in the first place. Hire a pro to complete this project, or be prepared to spend a damp-and-dirty day climbing up and down the ladder.
Repair Driveways and Walks
Small cracks and gaps in your home’s driveway or walkway can quickly expand during winter’s freezing temperatures. Cracked cement and disintegrating asphalt can also create treacherous conditions for visitors (an important consideration if you’re showing your home over the winter months). Hire a pro to ensure these cracks are fixed properly and that they don’t return or get worse.
Winterize Your Home’s Faucets & Sprinklers
Most exterior plumbing in areas with temperatures below freezing must be winterized to prevent freezing and bursting. If you want professional help, contact a plumber, who can make quick work of winterizing exterior faucets, which are known as hose bibs. Winterizing more complex plumbing, such as sprinkler systems or water features, is best left to a professional.
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens. Used with permission. © Meredith Corporation. http://www.meredith.com. All rights reserved.