It’s getting into the Fall season and every homeowner knows what this means in the months ahead: heating system check up, caulking, weatherproofing, etc. The following bulleted checkpoints touch on a few of the most obvious areas that should be checked before winter sets in. Later, there will be some suggestions about materials and supplies you should have stocked for the winter months as well.
Let’s start at the gutters and downspouts. When winter comes on full force, it’s important to make sure that the debris and snow will not wreck havoc on these systems. Fall means leaves-and plenty of them. You will certainly need to clean out your gutters. If you don’t have a gutter deflector to shed leaves off of the gutter you will have problems. Cleaning gutters is nobody’s idea of a safe and fun way to spend an afternoon, and a one-time solution to this is installation of a system, like the patented Gutter Helmet or one of the other systems available to allow your gutters to shed heavy leaves and branches while the water flows into the gutter to be siphoned off by the down spouts. A serious word of caution however: most of these guard systems only screen out large leaves while allowing gunk and small sediment to accumulate. You still will have to routinely clean the nasty rotting gunk out of your gutters! So an alternative is to have your roofer regularly come and clean your gutters every fall. It will be very cost effective if they are reliable.
-You should make sure that the drainage area around the downspout is functioning properly as well.
-Close any hose bibs and drain them.
-Clear away all debris from around the foundation of the house and the outbuildings. It will only sit and cause moisture to leach into the foundation materials and cause serious problems later on down the line.
-The roof area should also be checked for any leaks around the flashing at the chimney and around the vents for the heating or sewer system. If there are leaks they can cause serious water damage on the roof and the decking. Repair them yourself of have a roofer do the job.
While you’re at the roof area it’s important to check for any holes or access spots where squirrels, raccoons or rats can enter your home and make themselves a vacation home for the winter. Check in the attic for telltale signs of critters. It may be worth while to hire a professional to check and to capture or poison pests that can and will damage valuables stored in the attic as well as insulation. The last thing you want to worry with in the cold months ahead is a family or rats rumbling around in the attic, creating havoc and damage.
While you’re in the attic area, also check and replace heating system air filters. This should be done on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, but be sure to do it while you’re completing your Fall maintenance.
I strongly suggest that you have your heating/air service people come and do a complete inspection of your system, looking for rust, odors, leaks, proper drafting. They’ll check for leaks and look at the drain pan. They will examine valves and test if you wish. If you use a wood-burning fireplace, make sure that you examine the attic chimney for loose or leaky caulk and tuck point if any areas are found which need attention.
Moving to the outside of the home, caulking around all exterior areas is a must. You probably won’t find but a few areas where the caulk needs replacing, but it’s not a big job to peel off old cracking caulk and replace with a fresh bead where needed. Weather stripping also should be examined and replaced if you find any that is curled or coming loose. Neither the caulking nor weather stripping replacement is a heavy job. It just takes some care and close examination. This can usually be done in a day for a moderate-sized home.
-Now for the deck or patio areas. You certainly need to clean and blow decks clear of all debris and rubbish. It is a good idea to treat the wood with a weather/moisture sealant if you haven’t done this in several years. It will save headaches a’plenty in the long haul.
-Next we come to the inside of your house. Fall maintenance is much like spring house-cleaning, but more preventative and less “cleaning.”
First, be sure to vacuum and check smoke alarms and their batteries. This is so basic and yet so important for the safety of your family and home. And make double sure that you have a large supply or replacement batteries as back-up.
Your home is much more closed up in the winter, so I suggest some cleaning to prepare for this condition. It’s much easier to do it now rather than wait till the weather turns nasty.
-Clean the bathroom thoroughly-the faucets (aerators), the showerheads, the sink. Make sure that everything is draining properly and that there are no leaks or drips. If there are, these are incredibly easy to fix with replacement washers. You will need to check the bathroom tile and grout to make sure it is not cracking or chalky. Replace any defective areas with clean, new caulk. You should also seal the shower grout. Leaks in this area can cause huge damage through the months without your even being aware. You might want a good plumber to inspect for leaks in the bathroom and use him for repairs that require professional tools and expertise.
You will want to clean all the exhaust fan systems in your bath and your kitchen. Clean the filters and the vent covers. This will prolong their life and make them function more efficiently. Next, check the spray arms in your kitchen sink to make sure they are functioning properly. Take out the dishwasher and sink food filters and replace if needed.
It is a good idea to check all the shut off valves each year and make sure that you have the keys in a ready-to-access place in case there’s an emergency. Know where and how to shut off the water to your commode and sink, the hot water heater and other systems. It’s crucial to practice shutting off the main water valve to your home. It is outside and you should know how to do it at a moment’s notice. Know where and how to cut off the main gas supply as this could save your family’s life in an emergency. Clean out the vent duct to the dryer, too. If you are really committed to having a clean, fresh-smelling home in the winter, I would suggest that you check out a service which can clean all your ductwork in your heating system. But be careful and check with the BBB and with friends. Make sure you get a company which has references and can give them to you with phone numbers. Be sure to get some verifiable information from them on the effectiveness of their service in reducing pollutants, mold and allergens in your home. A good cleaning may just cut way down on trips to the doctor this winter!
Now to some measures you can take just to be prepared for emergencies or for difficulties that pop up from time to time. It is much easier to have on hand what you need rather than to have to run out in snow and ice to make a purchase.
I have already mentioned having a ready supply of batteries on hand for your smoke detectors. This is true of any other tool that may need batteries: flashlights, outdoor motion detectors and your burglar alarm system. Make sure to also have proper light bulbs handy for replacement near the item that uses a bulb.
I always have two large bags of rock salt or some solution to use to melt ice on drive and walkways. These are so easy to store in a pantry and can prevent some nasty falls very easily in the event of an unexpected icing overnight. A snow shovel is also a must for those in colder climates where the snow piles up several feet.
Buy two emergency lanterns. I have two Coleman lamps that are filled with propane and can be lit in case of a power outage. There is no more helpless feeling than floundering around in a dark house while the cold seeps in. Candles can help out but these lamps are invaluable.
I also strongly advise every person to make sure they have an emergency radio. Sometimes, a tower is disabled for radio stations broadcasting in your area. That’s where the emergency radios come in so handy. These are obtainable over the Internet and though they’re not cheap, they are indispensable for getting emergency information in your area until the regular stations begin broadcasting.
Once you’ve done these few maintenance chores, they should become second-hand next season, and, consequently, easier and easier to finish. Preparing your home for winter in the fall can make life so much easier for you in the cold, dark winter weeks ahead. And you’ll rest easier knowing that you won’t have to fight the elements when the inevitable emergency or problem crops up, as it always does. You can sit back in front of your fireplace with your family and enjoy those cold months secure in your well-protected home!