Falling leaves and evergreen needles can block downspouts and cause rainwater to overflow gutters. Depending on where you live, the coming of winter can mean clogged gutters. This can cause ice dams, which push water under shingles and into your house. Clean gutters after most of the leaves have fallen, and do so by removing the debris with a plastic scoop or with a special curved wand attached to your garden hose. To keep gutters clear for next fall, install mesh or perforated leaf shields. In addition to cleaning gutters, you might need to install insulation in the attic or apply heat tape along the roof edge above the gutters to prevent ice dams.
If you live in an area where the winters are full of ice and snow, ensure that gutters are securely attached to the house before winter hits. Check for any loose gutter spikes (8-inch-long nails that secure gutters to the eaves) and replace them with gutter screws, which hold better. Simply remove any loose spikes and drill gutter screws into the same hole.
Prepare gas-powered lawn mowers for the winter by cleaning dirt and grass clippings from the exterior. To prevent fuel from gumming up the engine, drain the tank into a gas can and run the engine until it stops. Another option is to add fuel stabilizer to the gas tank, which will keep the gas from oxidizing and causing corrosion.
Caulk can help keep out dirt, moisture, sound, and radon gas, and it can improve the general appearance of your home. Caulk before painting for a more finished look. Caulk where masonry meets siding, where pipes or wires enter the house, around window and door frames, and at corner joints formed by siding.
Inspecting the roof twice a year should become a routine. From the ground, use binoculars to look for missing, loose, or damaged shingles. Then note any leaks from inside, which might include checking your attic. Fall is a good time to replace missing shingles, cement down curled edges, and recaulk where plumbing stacks, cable brackets, or antennae penetrate the roof. If you're hesitant about scaling the heights, hire a reputable roofer.
Wash your home's exterior and windows to start fresh for fall and prevent the growth of mold and mildew that feed on dirt. Make the task easy by renting a pressure washer for $50-$100 per day. Find out exactly how much pressure the washer will exert and whether the surface you plan to wash can withstand it.
Common sense tells us that because heat rises, insulation counts most above living spaces. Indeed, insulating attic floors and sealing air leaks will keep your house warmer in winter and cooler in summer. If there is no flooring over the ceiling joists, adding loose insulation is as easy as emptying the bags and spreading an even layer. If your attic has flooring, you might need to insulate between the roof rafters. Don't block vents in the soffit, gables, or eaves. These vents let air flow above the insulation to prevent overheating in the summer and moisture buildup and condensation in the winter.
Even if you live in a warm region, fall will likely bring cooler outdoor temperatures. Your forced-air heating system deserves an annual checkup, and it might as well be now. Electric heating systems require only that you vacuum the baseboard units and check the thermostats. With a forced-air furnace, get a professional tune-up, replace dirty filters, and clean and clear all registers and grilles.
Part of your fall buttoning-up should be checking your home's moving parts. Your goal is to have draft-free windows and doors, and you do that by maintaining or upgrading your weather stripping. All sorts of do-it-yourself materials are available: felt strips, metal-back strips, self-stick foam, and plastic channels. The idea is to ensure that your windows and doors are snug but still operative.
If you've got an entry light that's out, replace it before the cold weather sets in. Also, consider changing out your existing incandescent light bulbs with high-efficiency compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) that use less energy and can save you money.
Even if your pipes have never frozen before, it could happen this winter after you simply lower the thermostat a few degrees or fix a dripping faucet. Inspect the hot and cold supply lines as well as exposed pipes that run along exterior walls in an unheated basement or crawlspace. One way to safeguard them is to wrap electric heat tape around them, but keep in mind that the tape won't work during power outages. You can also wrap pipes with fiberglass insulation or ready-made pipe jackets.
Carpets harbor dirt and musty smells, so give them a good cleaning before the cold weather arrives. Rent a steam cleaner for a day from a home improvement center and open the windows for a few days to help it dry.
Regular testing of your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms is a must. Test alarms every month and change the batteries at least once a year. Replace alarms that are more than 10 years old. Dust can affect alarm response time, so vacuum or blow out any dust.
To many homeowners, fall and winter are seasons to curl up before a cozy fireplace or stove. You can avoid dangers such as chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning by putting safety before snuggling. Here are some tips from the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA):
-- Have your chimney checked every year to ensure both your chimney system and venting systems are working properly and safely.
-- Burn only well-seasoned hardwoods to reduce buildup of creosote, a flammable compound.
-- Install a chimney cap to keep out debris and to prevent birds and animals from nesting.
-- Install a carbon monoxide detector to warn you if harmful gases are entering your home -- a blocked or damaged chimney can cause this.
-- Have your chimney waterproofed to prevent long-term corrosion and masonry damage. Avoid rebuilding old chimneys by replacing damaged clay liners with stainless-steel chimney liner pipes.
-- Inspect and maintain your chimney flashing (the seal between the chimney and the roof).
-- Install a sealing damper in your wood-burning system to save energy and eliminate off-season odors.
-- If you own, or are planning to install, a high-efficiency gas furnace, ask your chimney sweep to check that the unit is vented according to the National Fuel Gas Code.
For a list of certified chimney sweeps in your area, call the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) at 800/536-0118.