Oh, and it’s time to think about getting your house and yard ready for winter. With that in mind, let’s talk about some fall maintenance tips for your home.
There’s a lot of stuff to do to prepare for winter, both inside and outside your house. Hopefully, this list will cover the basics and provide some helpful tips to get things done easier, cheaper, and faster.
Fall Maintenance Tips For Your Home #1: Get an energy audit
An energy audit is an affordable way to identify the weaknesses in your home’s energy efficiency. An auditor will come out and inspect your windows and doors, attic, foundation, etc. and give recommendations for improvements. Most of the time, they will offer both costly recommendations (such as replacing your windows) as well as inexpensive recommendations (like sealing air leaks, insulating pipes, etc). If you really want to go all out with an energy audit, they will even seal and pressurize your home and use special equipment to look for air leaks.
Cost saving note: Questar Gas will do an audit of your home for $25 (or for free if you do the legwork… Trust me, it’s worth the $25). I had mine done this spring and they gave a comprehensive breakdown of recommended upgrades and their cost, energy savings, and cost recapture time frames. Most of their recommendations were easy and inexpensive, and they even gave me about $50 worth of materials (shower heads, sink aerators, pipe insulation, etc) to get me started. Check out their energy savings website at www.thermwise.com for more information or to schedule an audit. While you’re there, look at their various rebate programs to see how you can save on upgrades you might be considering.
Another awesome tip: Questar may offer to have a supervisor come do a safety inspection on your furnace while they do your audit. If they do, take them up on it. It won’t replace the usefulness of a furnace tune up (see #2), but they do a comprehensive check to make sure your equipment is in good working order.
Fall Maintenance Tips For Your Home #2: Tune up your furnace
Did you know you’re supposed to do this every year? Until 2 years ago, I didn’t. However, an annual tune up will help your furnace run cleaner and last longer, and it will also help prevent it from leaking carbon monoxide or other potentially hazardous issues. Finally, it will make it run more efficiently, saving you money on gas bills.
Call your Heating and Air Conditioning company and set up an appointment to get your furnace tuned before the weather turns cold and they get bombarded with calls! While you’re doing that, think about getting your air ducts cleaned as well. This helps control dust, germs, and odors. It also helps your furnace perform at peak efficiency.
Money saving tip: There is ALWAYS a deal for furnace tune-ups on Groupon or Citydeals. I’ve gotten it done as cheap as $25 before. Standard book rate for a furnace tune up is about $80.
Fall Maintenance Tips For Your Home #3: Inspect your roof
A leaking roof will create a nightmare for you in the middle of the winter. You can help avoid this by taking the simple step of visually inspecting your roof before the first snowstorm. Look for damaged or missing shingles and any missing or damaged flashing or edging. If you find something out of line, get it fixed. Most shingles can be easily matched at a shingle supply store (there are several around Utah), and if it’s out of your skill set, you can hire a handyman to fix minor roof problems, likely for less than $100. (Start making a list of projects for your handyman from this blog. You’ll save a ton of money by giving them a task list upfront, rather than making individual trips for multiple tasks)
Fall Maintenance Tips For Your Home #4: Inspect your attic
Inspecting your attic is one of the most important parts of preparing your house for winter. First, shine a light all around the roof joists, looking for any sign of water intrusion. A roof leak may not be bad enough to get all the way into the livable portion of your house. Identifying them early will save you a lot of cost in repairs. After inspecting the roof, inspect your insulation, particularly at the edges of the house. Often, the design of your attic will allow summer winds to disrupt the insulation and create gaps. These gaps allow air to penetrate your home more easily. They also help to create cold spots on your roof where ice dams can form. Ice dams are one of the leading causes of roof leaks.
You might also consider hiring a contractor to come inspect your insulation (already handled if you had Questar Gas do an energy Audit) and let you know if you should consider adding insulation. There are federal tax incentives an energy company rebates for improving the insulation value of your home, and the work is quick and easy and not terribly expensive. Plus, it will make your home more comfortable and save on your utility bills.
Fall Maintenance Tips For Your Home #5: Caulk around doors and windows and weatherstrip door openings
Did you know that a crack the width of a nickel (about 1/16″ can raise your heating bill by as much as 10%? Caulking your doors and windows is a cheap way to save a ton of money on your bills. It’s also easy for nearly anyone to do. This video provides good instructions about how to re-caulk your windows. Also note, many windows are caulked on the inside as well. This caulk will not need to be re-done as often as exterior caulking, and is often mainly cosmetic. However, it should still be checked and replaced as needed.
Also, inspect the weatherstripping on your exterior doors. Make sure that the weatherstripping is still intact and in good condition, and make sure it forms an effective seal around the door. Remember what I said about gaps in the last paragraph. If the weatherstripping is damaged or not forming an effective seal, replace it. You can buy weatherstripping in a variety of different sizes at most home improvement stores.
Fall Maintenance Tips For Your Home #6: Clean rain gutters
While you’re inspecting your roof, take a few minutes and clean your rain gutters. Debris in your gutters prevents water from running effectively. This is of extra importance in the wintertime, because you want all the excess water to run off your roof whenever it is warm enough to thaw ice. Water blockages lead to ice dams, which lead to damaged roofs.
If your gutters are relatively clean, simply use a hose to push any small debris towards the downspout and then rinse downspout thoroughly. If they have larger debris in them, you may want to remove it by hand first.
Again, if this is outside of your skills or physical abilities, you can hire a handyman to do this task for relatively cheap.
Extra tip: Extend your downspouts to 10+ feet away from your house to prevent flooding or other moisture issues with your house. You can buy extension pipe at your home improvement store for just a few dollars. This is of extra importance if you have a downspout within 10 feet of a basement window or other opening below ground level.
Fall Maintenance Tips For Your Home #7: Winterize sprinklers and outdoor faucets
Guess what? It’s mid-september and you probably don’t need to be watering the lawn anymore! Time to shut your sprinklers off for the season and make sure the pipes are drained.
Unfortunately, this blog can’t tell you how to do this as each system has a different design. If you haven’t done it before, you may have to find a sprinkler contractor to give you some advice on your system (contact me and I may be able to put you in touch with someone in your area).
Also, make sure your hoses are disconnected from outside hose bibs and that the spigots don’t leak. A leaking outdoor spigot/hose bib is an interior water leak waiting to happen in the winter time. Most outdoor faucets are serviceable with replacement seals to correct leaking problems.
Hassle saving tip: If you are fixing leaks in your system or if you haven’t installed a sprinkler system yet but are planning to, consider using passive drains in your lines. These drains will drain your sprinkler lines any time they are not under pressure, so you shouldn’t have to blow out the lines at the end of the season. They only cost a dollar or two each, and they’re worth every penny.
Fall Maintenance Tips For Your Home # 8: Prepare your lawn mower for storage
As you probably know, the quality of gas deteriorates over time, so it’s a bad idea to store your lawn mower full of untreated gas. So at the end of the season, you should either run your mower (and other power equipment) completely dry, or fill them with treated gas. I recommend filling them with treated gasoline, because it’s pretty hard to know when you’ll be done mowing for sure. It just happens eventually.
This is an easy process. Just buy some fuel stabilizer at a home improvement or auto parts store, and mix it into your gas can at the appropriate ratio. Then run your mower for about 5 minutes to make sure the treated gas gets mixed throughout the system.
Bonus tip: Gasoline with ethanol is really bad on small engines. Prolong the life of your lawn mower, snow blower, weed eater, and any other gas-powered tool by always treating your gas. Fuel stabilizer helps prevent damage from the ethanol, which is now federally mandated in gasoline.
Fall Maintenance Tips For Your Home #9: Don’t prune that tree yet!
It makes sense to want to prune your trees and shrubs after the leaves have fallen, but don’t do that! Many horticulturists believe that cutting trees just before winter adds extra shock to them and increases the chances of death or disease. They suggest pruning in early spring, just before your tree comes out of winter dormancy.
Fall Maintenance Tips For Your Home #10: Clean your chimney
If you have a wood burning fireplace, you should know that chimney fires are one of the leading causes of house fires. Old soot and creosote can reignite and cause problems. Additionally, birds and other small animals often nest in chimneys during the spring and summer. Their nesting material is usually combustible, and could present a fire hazard. It is recommended that you inspect chimney’s once a year, and clean them any time soot accumulates more than 1/8″ thick or any time it has a glazed appearance.
You can hire a chimney professional to inspect your chimney for about $50, and generally cleaning will cost $200-300.
Fall Maintenance Tips For Your Home #11: Get ready for winter storms
Don’t wait for the first snowstorm to find out you have bad gas in the snow blower. Pull out your snow removal supplies now and make sure they’re in good working order. Restock any consumables like ice melt, and be ready for that first storm. Don’t be one of the people making a mad dash to Home Depot for a snow blower in the middle of the storm!
Fall Maintenance Tips For Your Home #12: Test Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Every bedroom in your house should have a smoke detector, and there should be a carbon monoxide detector near every gas appliance you have. Winter is the time you are most likely to need these! They should be tested twice a year, but if you only remember once, do it now! Just press the test button until it screeches, letting you know the batteries are still good and the detector is in working order. Do this for every detector in your house!
Helpful hint: Ear plugs.
Fall Maintenance Tips For Your Home #13: Reverse the direction on ceiling fans
A ceiling fan is a great help to cool your house, but did you know it’s also a big help in the winter? Nearly all ceiling fans have a reversible motor. One direction pushes air down towards the center of the room to help with cooling, the other direction pulls air up from the center to distribute the warm air near the ceiling throughout the room.
Generally speaking, if your fan is turning counter-clockwise (blades rotating right to left when looking at the top of the circular pattern) it is in cooling mode, and if it is turning clockwise, it is in heating mode. If you are unsure, look at your fan blades. If the fan is turning towards the side of the blade closest to the ceiling, it is in cooling direction.
Helpful hint: Run your fans on low or medium in the winter. Running them on high can make the room feel cooler due to the air movement.