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Preparing Your Home for Late Fall and Winter 

Fall is here. The days are shorter, and we are well on our way to the dreaded (for some) Winter months. There are a number of things you can do to prepare your home, your property and yourself for the next several months.

Rhonda Kayson, from The New York Times offers the following tips. To read the full article, click here.

FALL

Preparing Your Property

Garden. You may be weary of gardening by early fall, but it is a great season to plant perennials, like peonies, columbine or hydrangea. Fall is also a good time to plant trees and shrubs and reseed your lawn. Be sure to give new plants plenty of water before they go dormant, and by spring you may get a first bloom, depending on the variety. Plant bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinth anytime before the ground freezes. Those hours spent digging little holes and burying bulbs will be well worth your sore knees when they bloom in all their glory in early spring.

Raking leaves. If fall could be summed up in a word, it would be “leaves.” Once the leaves start falling, the season of raking begins. Aside from annoying your neighbors, a thick bed of leaves atop your grass could smother your lawn and lead to mold growth. But do you need to scorch the earth clean of any remnants of leaves? No. A light layer of leaves under your shrubs and trees will provide a natural mulch, protecting the roots over the winter and providing refuge for insects and wildlife. If you plan to rake and bag the rest, enlist the kids to help, luring them with a chance to jump on the pile when they’re done. But there are alternatives to raking. Researchers at Michigan State University have found that mowing over the leaves once a week breaks them down, provides nutrients and does the job. Some communities now encourage mowing rather than bagging leaves.

The Outside of Your Home

Gutters. Once the leaves fall, call your gutter company to get those gutters cleaned and inspected. Any repairs that need to be done on the gutters or downspouts should happen before winter sets in. Your workers should also inspect the roof for any loose or broken tiles. Schedule the job before you get a heavy snow, which could leave frozen leaves and debris in the gutters.Faucets and hoses. Before the first freeze, drain and shut off your outdoor faucets so that they do not freeze. Roll up your hoses, and store them for winter.

Sprinklers. If you live in a cold climate, you need to shut your sprinkler system for the winter to protect it from harsh weather. Skip this step now, and come springtime you could have a hefty repair bill.

  1. Shut off the water supply to your irrigation system before freezing weather arrives.
  2. Insulate the main shut off valve and any above- ground piping.
  3. Shut down the timer, if you have an automatic system.
  4. Drain the remaining water from the system.

Firewood. If you plan to use your fireplace this winter, stock up on seasoned firewood in the fall. Stack it on pallets, so it does not sit on the moist ground. Don’t pack the wood to tightly, or fungus could grow. Cover the wood with plastic sheeting, making sure it does not touch the ground, either. Wood can be stored in an unheated garage, but don’t keep logs in your house for more than a week, as they could attract insects, according to Michigan State University Extension.

Pool. Once the sweaters come out of the closet, it is time to accept the fact that pool season is over. Clean, close and cover your pool for winter, or call your pool maintenance company to do the job for you.

Inside Your Home

Air-conditioning. If you have central air, get the system serviced (you can do this at the same time that you service your furnace). Window units can stay in the window year round if they are sealed with no gaps. Cover the inside and the outside of the appliance to prevent drafts, provide insulation and protect the equipment from the elements. There are even some decorative options out there. But if you’d like your window back, or have concerns about drafts, remove the unit and store it for winter. A window unit is heavy and unwieldy, so take it slowly. Store it upright, not on its side.

Furnace and HVAC. Get your furnace and ductwork serviced. A clean system will be more energy efficient, and an inspection will alert you to problems. Check and replace air filters, as necessary. Test your thermostat to make sure it works properly. Make sure heating vents are open and nothing is blocking them.

Boilers and radiators. For homes heated with steam heat, the boiler is the tank that holds and heats the water. Call the plumber for its annual checkup. You should also drain water from the boiler to remove sediment that has collected and settled in the tank. Make sure the tank is refilled before you turn it on. A plumber or heating specialist can also check your radiators to make sure the valves are working properly and have not worn out. Check your thermostat, too.

Chimney. If you did not get your chimney cleaned and inspected in the spring, call a chimney sweep now and have it done before you start using your fireplace or your furnace.

Windows and doors. Walk around the house and check windows and doors for drafts. Caulk door and window frames where necessary. In late fall, install storm windows and the glass panel on storm doors to keep the heat in and the cold out.

Dryer vent. Clothes dryers cause 2,900 fires a year, with many fires happening in the fall and winter, according to the United States Fire Administration. Lint is a major culprit, so have your dryer vent inspected and cleaned annually by an HVAC specialist who specializes in ductwork or dryer vents.

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. There’s no harm in checking your detectors twice a year, so when you turn your clocks back to standard time, check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, too. Change the batteries as needed.

Inside projects. Planning to update the bathroom, or paint the living room? Fall is a good time to get moving on those projects: The temperature is usually moderate and many contractors have wrapped up their outdoor projects for the year.

WINTER

For the most part, we hunker down in the winter, as the weather is often too cold and unpredictable to tackle major home improvement projects. Make sure your home is prepared for the harsh weather.

Your Grounds

Bring out the snow blower. Make sure your snow blower is in good working order before it snows. You do not want to be caught in the first major storm with only an orange shovel to dig you out, Send the snow blower to a small-engine repair company for a tune-up. Some companies will pick up and drop off your equipment for you. Expect to spend $60 to $200, depending on the size of your blower, according to Angie’s List. Make sure you have gasoline and motor oil. 

Stock up on supplies. Stock up on ice melt before the Weather Channel tells you a storm is coming. Pet owners and parents should shop carefully, as the chemicals in ice melt can harm pets and people alike, if ingested. Look for brands free of salt or chloride. But even products billed as “pet safe” can still harm your pet, so wipe their paws and don’t let them lick treated snow. Ice-melting products can also damage your foliage, so use sparingly. Make sure your shovel survived last winter because you will need to dig out of stairways and narrow pathways, even if you have a blower.

Ice dams. When ice accumulates along the eaves of your roof, it can cause a dam that can damage gutters, shingles and siding. As water leaks into your house, it can wreak havoc on your paint, your floors and your insulation. Throughout the winter, inspect the exterior of your home regularly for signs of ice dams. Look for icicles, because the same forces create dams. Consider buying a roof rake. The $30 tool will help keep ice off your roof in the first place by removing fresh snow from your roof after a storm. Do not hack away at the ice, as that could harm you or your roof

Inside Your Home

Heating systems. Check and change filters on your heating system, as filters need to be replaced anywhere from twice a year to once a month.Keep an eye on the water levels in your boiler to make sure they do not fall too low.

Frozen pipes. When water freezes in pipes, it expands, damaging or cracking the pipes. When the ice melts, and the pipe bursts, your home fills with water. Pipes near the outside of your home are at greatest risk, like outdoor faucets, pipes in an unheated garage or swimming pool supply lines. A few tips:

  • Shut off and drain outdoor faucets before the cold weather hits.
  • Insulate pipes where you can.
  • On cold days and nights, keep the cabinets below sinks open to let warm air in.
  • You can also run the faucet at a drip to keep water moving.
  • Keep the thermostat set at a steady temperature.
  • If you go away, set the thermostat to a minimum of 55 degrees, according to the American Red Cross.

Generator. A portable generator can provide you with a lifeline in a blackout. Power it up every three months, and have it serviced twice a year (even if you never use it). Keep fuel and motor oil on hand in the event of a storm. Do not let fuel sit in the tank for long periods of time, as that can damage it. Check it regularly for corrosion and wear.

Winter storm prep. A heavy winter storm can leave you housebound for days. Stock up on wood for the fireplace, gas for the snow blower and canned food and bottled water, in case you lose power. Check your emergency supply kit for batteries, a radio, a first-aid kit and any medicines you may need. Check in on neighbors who may need help shoveling out (a little camaraderie in a storm goes a long way).

 

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