Getting Your Home Ready for Winter

Get your mind in the gutters. Your roof's drainage system annually diverts thousands of gallons of water from your house's exterior and foundation walls. That's why it is so important to keep this system flowing smoothly. Clogged gutters can lead to damaged exterior surfaces and to water in your basement. Before the leaves fly this fall, have your gutters cleaned, then covered with mesh guards to keep debris from returning. DON’T FORGET ABOUT WINDOW WELL DRAINS AND BASEMENT ENTRY DRAINS.

Button up your overcoat. A home with air leaks around windows and doors is like a coat left unbuttoned. Gaps in caulk and weather-stripping can account for a 10% of your heating bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Weather-stripping is easily the most cost-effective way to rein in heating and cooling costs. Because weather stripping can deteriorate over time, it is important to inspect it periodically. While you're at it, also check for missing or damaged caulk around windows, doors, and entry points for electrical, cable, phone, gas, and so. Seal any gaps with a suitable caulk.

Get on top of roof problems. Few homeowner problems are more vexing than a leaky roof. Once the dripping starts, finding the source of the problem can be time-consuming. Stop problems this fall before ice and winter winds turn them from annoyances into disasters.

Inspect your roof from top to bottom, using binoculars if necessary. Check ridge shingles for cracks and wind damage. Look for damage to metal flashing in valleys and around vents and chimneys. Scan the entire roof for missing, curled, or damaged shingles. Look in your gutters for large accumulations of granules, a sign that your roof is losing its coating; expect problems soon. Finally, make sure your gutters are flowing freely.  Do not hesitate to call a roofing expert to give it a thorough inspection.

Walk the walks (and drives). Damaged walkways, drives, and steps are a hazard year round, but their dangers are compounded when the weather turns icy. Fixing problems in the fall is also critical to preventing little problems from becoming expensive headaches. Look for cracks more than 1/8-inch wide, uneven sections, and loose railings on steps. Check for disintegration of asphalt, or washed-out materials on loose-fill paths.

Chill out. If you live in an area with freezing weather, take steps to ensure that outside faucets and inground irrigation systems don't freeze and burst.  Close any shut-off valves serving outside faucets, then, open the outside faucet to drain the line. (There may be a small cap on the faucet you can loosen to facilitate this draining).

To freezeproof an inground irrigation system, follow the manufacturer's procedure for draining it and protecting it from winter damage.

Give your furnace a physical. Once a year, it's a good idea to have your heating system inspected by a professional. To avoid the last-minute rush, consider scheduling this task in early fall, before the heating season begins. For regular DIY maintenance, freshen your filter. Furnace filters trap dust that would otherwise be deposited on your furniture, woodwork, and so on. Clogged filters make it harder to keep your home at a comfortable temperature, and can serious increase your utility bills. A simple monthly cleaning or filter replacement is all it takes to keep these filters breathing free and clear.

Keep the humidifier humming. You may know that bone dry winter air is bad for your health, but did you also know it can make fine wood more prone to cracking? You and your home will feel more comfortable if you keep your central humidifier in tip-top shape during the months it is running.

Gather round the hearth. Even if you use your fireplace only occasionally, you should check it annually for damage and hazards.

For most people, the best option is to have your entire chimney system inspected by a chimney sweep. Once you know what to look for, you can perform the inspection by shining a bright flashlight up the flue, looking for any creosote deposits approaching 1/8 inch thick. These deposits should be cleaned by an experienced chimney sweep.

Check your chimney for damage. Make certain that the flue cap (the screen or baffle covering the top of the chimney) is in place. Inspect brick chimneys for loose or broken joints. If access is a problem, use binoculars.

Smoke and CO detectors. Replace the batteries in each smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detector, then vacuum them with a soft brush attachment. Test the detectors by pressing the test button or holding a smoke source (like a blown-out candle) near the unit. If you haven't already, install a smoke detector on every floor of your home, including the basement.

Fire extinguishers. Every home should have at least one fire extinguisher rated for all fire types (look for an A-B-C rating on the label). At a minimum, keep one near the kitchen; having one per floor isn't a bad idea. Annually, check the indicator on the pressure gauge to make sure the extinguisher is charged. Make certain that the lock pin is intact and firmly in place, and check that the discharge nozzle is not clogged. Note: Fire extinguishers that are more than six years old should be replaced

Fire escape plans. Every bedroom, including basement bedrooms, should have two exit paths. Make sure windows aren't blocked by furniture or other items. Ideally, each upper-floor bedroom should have a rope ladder near the window for emergency exits. Review what to do in case of fire, and arrange a safe meeting place for everyone away from the house.

General cleanup. Rid your home of accumulations of old newspapers and leftover hazardous household chemicals. (Check with your Municipal landfill site about the proper way to discard dangerous chemicals.) Store flammable materials and poisons in approved, clearly labeled containers. Keep a clear space around heaters, furnaces, and other heat-producing appliances.