If you're pressed for time to tune up your home before winter, focus on these simple weekend projects to help it stand up to the season while saving you money.
Proper inspection of a fireplace is vital to ensuring its safe operation -- even if it is rarely used. An experienced chimney sweep will check wood 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).
No time for a full-blown exterior painting project? 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.
If your wall-to-wall carpeting harbors dirt and musty odors, 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 for as little as $25 per day.
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 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.
Yes, it's true: replacing even some of your incandescent lightbulbs with high-efficiency compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) saves you money and, depending on where you live, earns you a utility rebate.
Replace tired flooring as a way to give your home a new look that will last beyond the fall season. Watch this video and learn more about choosing flooring for your home.
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.
Look for one of the biggest energy-wasters: air leaks. Inspect the caulking and seals around 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 for a fix.
A finely tuned furnace is almost like a musical instrument, humming along as efficiently as possible while keeping your family warm and cozy during chillier months. But remember to leave this yearly furnace tune-up to a professional.
If you have 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.
Autumn is a great time of the year to check your 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.
Switch out your old manual thermostat for a programmable one, which will be more convenient and accurate. 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 will save you money on your utility bills -- to the tune of about $150 per year -- when used properly.
Add insulation to your 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.
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, freeing up your time for family, friends, and football.
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.
Small cracks and gaps in a driveway or walkway can quickly expand during winter's freezing temperatures. Cracked cement and disintegrating asphalt can also create treacherous conditions for pedestrians. Hire a pro to ensure these cracks are fixed properly and that they don't return or get worse.
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.