Fall and Winter Home Preparation
Every fall most Americans turn their clocks back one hour, marking the end of Daylight Savings Time (DST). When it comes time to “spring forward” or “fall back” and change the hands on the clock, Americans are reminded that it’s also a good time to replace smoke alarm batteries thanks to massive awareness campaigns by agencies such as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC),
According to the CPSC fire is the second leading cause of unintentional death in the home. Each year, nearly 2,700 people die in residential fires, and there are more than 330,000 residential fires reported to fire departments.
Manufacturers and fire-safety experts say if your unit is 10 or more years old, an alarm that sounds when the button is pushed just means it’s getting electricity and not necessarily that the sensor chamber is activating properly. Experts say to be certain, either test older units with a smoke device or replace them. Sensor chambers can become dirty and ineffective or non-operational even if the button test works. For safety’s sake replace an older unit; then you’ll know it’ll be working when you need it.
Though safety is job one, there is a laundry list of other home maintenance tasks that should be performed as we move through fall and on into winter. The following tasks will help save money on utilities and prevent the need for major repairs, improve comfort and safety, save energy and preserve the integrity of your home.
Gutters & Downspouts: Wayward water is one of a home’s biggest enemies – especially rainwater that is shed off of the roof of an average home. When allowed to collect at the perimeter of a foundation, excessive water can result in a damp and musty basement or cause foundation movement that produces cracks over windows and doors. Thus, if your home doesn’t have gutters and downspouts, install them. If it does, be sure that they are clean before heavy rains begin. Consider installing a gutter protection system to prevent leaves and other debris from clogging gutters.
Drainage: Having clean gutters and downspouts is only piece of the “water damage prevention” puzzle. A mistake that many make is to allow downspouts to discharge at the base of the foundation. This condition is worse than not having gutters at all due to the high concentration of water. To avoid this problem, all downspouts should discharge into a subsurface drainage system and into a municipal storm drain or other water collection facility. Further minimize ponding around the foundation by ensuring that all soil immediately surrounding the house is graded to drain away from the foundation.
Landscape Irrigation: Throttle back on the amount of water used to irrigate landscaping by adjusting automatic timers and use the “rain-off” switch when weather dictates. If you live in a part of the country where the mercury dips below freezing, use compressed air to blow water out of irrigation lines and prevent freeze damage.
Water Heater & Plumbing Pipes: You can maximize your water heating dollar by removing sediment at the base of your water heater’s tank. The sediment that collects over time greatly reduces burner efficiency and can even cause damage to the interior lining of the tank when allowed to “super heat.” Adjust burners for the most fuel-efficient and safest combustion. Remember, when it comes to flames, blue is good and yellow isn’t. Uninsulated water pipes are an energy waster and a burst pipe waiting to happen. Insulating cold water lines will prevent a burst pipe during freezing weather while welll insulated hot water lines will improve both energy efficiency and comfort as hot water will be delivered more promptly.
Roofing: The time to find out that you have a leaking roof is NOT during the middle of a rain storm. Replace damaged shingles, patch damage flashing and remove surface debris to facilitate proper water shed and prevent leaks. Binoculars provide a safe means of inspecting shingles and flashings with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
Attic Insulation and Ventilation: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a well insulated attic is one of the best ways to improve energy efficiency, save money and increase comfort. A well insulated attic combined with a properly ventilated attic will also prevent ice dams from forming.
Weather-stripping & Caulking: Gaps around windows and doors are leading cause of drafts that rob a home of comfort and result in high utility bills. All exterior doors should be weather-stripped and have an adjustable door shoe and threshold. Weather-stripping and vinyl gaskets at door shoes and thresholds that have become brittle over time should be replaced with new supple material. Trim surrounding windows and doors (at both the interior and exterior) should be caulked to prevent drafts. Gaps and large penetrations such as made to accommodate plumbing pipes or conduit should be filled with expandable foam sealant.
Siding: Gaps and cracks in siding should be caulked and patched to prevent leaks and the subsequent damage. Raw siding should be primed as a means temporary waterproofing until spring and a more thorough job can be done. Brick exteriors should be sealed with a high quality masonry sealer to prevent freeze/thaw damage.
Fireplace: Creosote-lined fireplace flues are a chimney fire (and potentially hazardous explosion) waiting to happen. The National Chimney Sweep Guild recommends that a fireplace flue be inspected prior to each season of burning. In addition, the guild recommends that a fireplace be cleaned after each cord of wood is burned. Inspect the condition of the spark arrestor that sits atop that chimney to ensure that are no tears in the fabric that could allow embers to escape and result in a nasty house fire. Before making your first fire for the season, be sure to open the damper and leave it open whenever there is a fire in the fireplace.
Heating: Give your home’s heating system the once over to be sure that all components are in good working order, clean and well lubricated. Be sure that the burners are clean and the flame is properly adjusted. Replace dirty filters to improve air flow, efficiency and lower utility costs. Also, consider installing one or more decorative ceiling paddle fans to move heated air trapped high up at ceilings. Doing so will make your home more comfortable and lower your heating bill. A side benefit is reduced condensation at windows and glass doors.
A little seasonal home maintenance can prevent big problems down the road and saving you lots of money, which will give you a bigger nest egg to “fall back” on.
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