The leaves are turning, the mornings are getting chilly, and winter isn't too far away. It's time once again for my annual checklist of important things that I recommend you do to get your home ready for the coming change of seasons.
On the inside
1. Check smoke detectors: Change your smoke detector batteries, and check for proper operation. Also, check the date on the bottom of the smoke detector. Smoke detectors have a life span, and if yours is more than 10 years old, it may not work properly in a fire, so replace it with a new one. Also, make sure you have a smoke detector at each sleeping room, and one centrally located on each level of the home.
2. Install a carbon monoxide detector: If you have a furnace, fireplace, water heater, or other appliance that's fueled by propane or natural gas, or if you have an attached garage, install a carbon monoxide detector. They just plug in, and you can get them inexpensively from most home centers and other retailers. If your existing carbon monoxide detector is more than 5 years old, replace it with a new one.
3. Check gas appliances: Speaking of gas appliances, consider having your utility company or heating contractor inspect flues, fittings, and other components of your natural gas or propane appliance and heating systems for potential problems.
4. Change furnace filters: Always put in new furnace filters in the fall. It's a simple and inexpensive way to add to your home's efficiency and your family's comfort.
5. Check and seal heating ducts: Crawl a little, save a lot. Check the ducts in your attic, basement, and crawl space for gaps between ducts and fittings, and seal them with a quality metallic tape, not regular duct tape, which doesn't last. Also, check to be sure that all of the ducts are off the ground and adequately supported.
6. Check insulation levels: Increased insulation can make a huge difference in both your comfort and your heating bills, so don't put off having your insulation levels inspected. Call your local utility company or building department to learn what levels are optimum for your area. Check the attic, underfloor, kneewalls, skylight shafts and ductwork. Upgrade underinsulated areas as needed, either as a do-it-yourself project (home centers and hardware stores have all the supplies you need) or with the help of a licensed insulation contractor.
On the outside
7. Check the roof: A roof that leaks not only has the potential to cause significant structural damage, it also wets insulation, which causes a drop in the insulation's ability to resist heat loss. Examine roofing shingles and flashings, and repair or replace them as needed. It's much easier and safer to take care of these problems now than during winter's ice and rain.
8. Seal masonry surfaces: Apply a sealer to concrete driveways and walkways, brick patios and other exterior masonry. Masonry sealers prevent water from penetrating into cracks and crevices where it can freeze and cause serious damage. You can find sealers at home centers, paint stores and masonry supply retailers. Apply with a brush, roller or sprayer.
9. Check weatherstripping: Gaps around doors and windows waste expensive heated air and create chilling interior drafts. Check and replace or adjust weatherstripping and door sills to create an airtight seal. Everything you need can be found at home centers, hardware stores and many other retailers.
10. Handle yard chores: Many plants require pruning this time of year, and lawns should be fertilized with a fall/winter fertilizer to feed them through the winter and get them ready for a fast green-up when spring returns. Clean up all your yard tools and put them away for the season.
11. Close foundation vents: You should have opened your foundation vents for the summer to allow any accumulated crawl space moisture to escape, so now's the time to close them up again for winter freeze protection. Also, install exterior faucet covers.
12. Trees: Overhanging trees deposit debris on your roof, scrape and damage shingles, promote the growth of mildew, and, worst of all, have the potential for devastating damage if they snap during a wind storm. Consider having a professional tree service inspect overhanging trees, and safely cut them back as needed.