Fall Home Maintenance Guide to help you avoid costly fixes and save money on utility bills
With the fall and winter months upon us, now is the time to do some routine maintenance around your home to prepare for the changing weather ahead. Taking the time to do some work now may save on some major expenses later. Some of these tasks can be performed by you, and some may need to be done by a professional.
Outside the home
- Clear debris out of window wells, gutters, downspouts, and storm drains.
- Remove garden hoses from spouts. Drain and store for the winter. Wrap spouts in insulation.
- Drain in-ground sprinkler systems.
- Check windows, doors, and siding for holes and cracks. Caulk as necessary.
- Check weather stripping on windows and doors for fit and condition. Replace as necessary.
- Inspect all soffit vents and other venting systems to make sure they're clear of debris.
- Check painted surfaces for paint failure, water damage, or mildew. Repair or repaint if necessary.
- Check caulking where two different materials meet, where wood siding joins the foundation wall, at inside corners, and where the window and door trim meets the siding.
- Check for broken or cracked glass and damaged screens or storm windows. Check for loose putty around glass panes. Repair glass if necessary.
- Insulate outdoor faucets, pipes in unheated garages, and pipes in crawl spaces with materials such as rags or newspapers.
- Run all gas-powered lawn equipment until the fuel tank is empty. In doing this, you are removing flammable liquid storage from your garage. Make sure you aren't storing dirty, oily rags in a pile. They can ignite!
- Remove bird nests from chimney flues and outdoor electrical fixtures.
Inside the Home
- Have a heating professional check your heating system every year.
- Replace your furnace filter.
- Woodburning stove connector pipes and chimneys should be inspected by a certified chimney sweep at least annually.
- Make sure you have proper insulation in both your attic and basement. While checking your insulation, if you see any dark, dirty spots, it may indicate you have air leaks coming into your home.
- Remove hair from drains in sinks, tubs, and showers.
- Test all smoke alarms. Replace batteries as necessary.
- Check your home around windows and doors for air leaks. An easy way to check for leaks is to move a lighter around the window or door frame and see if the flame moves with a breeze. If you find a leak, you can caulk it or you may have to replace the wood frame. Repairing these leaks can save you money on your energy bill during the cold months.
- Check for water leaks in ceiling. Repair if needed.
- Make sure there are working nightlights at the top and bottom of all stairs.
- Protect your home from frozen pipes. See below.
- Test your emergency generator.
- Inspect and clean dust from the covers of your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
- Make sure the caulking around doors and windows is adequate to reduce heat/cooling loss.
- Make sure that the caulking around your bathroom fixtures is adequate to prevent water from seeping into the sub-flooring.
- All exterior doors should have deadbolt locks.
- All stairs of at least three risers should have a handrail.
- Make sure you have enough wood cut and stacked to burn during the winter months. This will prevent you from running out and having to pay a higher price for it later. Always make sure you have a small stack close to your home to have quick access to if there is a lot of snow on the ground. When buying wood, make sure it is not "green". Green wood will not burn.
- Make sure your snow shovels and/or snow blower are in good shape. Check your shovel handle for possible cracks or breaks and replace if needed. Have the routine maintenance performed on your snow blower.
- Review your fire escape plan with your family. If you don't have a plan, create one!
Steps to prevent your pipes from freezing
Before the cold hits
- Insulate pipes in your home's crawl spaces and attic. These exposed pipes are most susceptible to freezing. Remember - the more insulation you use, the better protected your pipes will be.
- Heat tape or thermostatically-controlled heat cables can be used to wrap pipes. Closely follow all manufacturers' installation and operation instructions.
- Seal leaks that allow cold air inside near where pipes are located. Look for air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents and pipes. Use caulk or insulation to keep the cold out and the heat in. With severe cold, even a tiny opening can let in enough cold air to cause a pipe to freeze.
- Disconnect garden hoses and, if practical, turn off using an indoor valve and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. This reduces the chance of freezing in the short span of pipe just inside the house.
When the temperature drops
- A trickle of hot and cold water might be all it takes to keep your pipes from freezing. Let warm water drip overnight, preferably from a faucet on an outside wall.
- Open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to uninsulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.
- Before you go on vacation, set the thermostat in your house no lower than 55 F (12 C). Ask a friend or neighbor to check your house daily to make sure it's warm enough to prevent freezing or shut off and drain the water system. Be aware that if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in your house, it will be deactivated when you shut off the water.
If your pipes freeze
- If you turn on your faucets and nothing comes out, leave the faucets turned on and call a plumber. If you detect that your water pipes have frozen and burst, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve in the house; leave the water faucets turned on. Make sure everyone in your family knows where the water shut-off valve is and how to open and close it.
- Never try to thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame. You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe with the warm air from a hair dryer. Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of pipe. Do not use electrical appliances in areas of standing water because you could be electrocuted.