- Fan the fires. Even if you live in a warmer region, fall presages cooler outdoor temperatures. Your forced-air or water 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 be sure that all registers and grilles are clean and clear.
- Get out of the gutter. Falling leaves and evergreen needles can block downspouts and cause rainwater to overflow gutters. Come winter up north, clogged gutters can cause ice dams, which push water under shingles into your house. Clean your gutters after most of the leaves have fallen. Check for and repair any problems you find. To prevent ice dams, you may need to add insulation in the attic or apply heat tape along the roof edge above the gutters. To keep gutters clear for next fall, install mesh or perforated leaf shields.
- Caulk the cracks. Caulk can help keep out dirt, moisture, sound, and radon gas, and 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.
- Insulate and ventilate. 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 may 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.
- Weather-strip doors and windows. Part of your fall buttoning-up should be checking your home's moving parts. Your goal is to make them draft free, and you do it 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.
- Protect your plumbing. 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 that run through exterior walls. Also note 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.
- Raise the roof. Inspecting the roof twice a year should become a routine. From the ground, use binoculars to look for missing, loose, or damaged shingles. Then trace any leaks from inside the attic. In fall, you may need 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.
To many lucky homeowners, fall and winter mean time to curl up before a cozy fireplace or stove. But, if you put safety before snuggling, you may avoid dangers such as chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Here are some tips from the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).
- Have your chimney checked every year. "Whether your house is old or new, an annual chimney inspection by a professional chimney sweep can ensure that both your chimney system and venting system are working properly and safely," says JoAnne Calderone, executive director of CSIA.
- Burn only well-seasoned hardwoods to reduce creosote buildup.
- Install a chimney cap to keep out debris and to prevent birds and animals from nesting.
- Install a carbon monoxide detector to warn if harmful gases are entering your home because of a blocked or damaged chimney.
- 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 CSIA at 800-536-0118.