Monday, October 19, 2009

It's Fall: Time to Prepare Your Home for Winter

Fall maintenance is important because it helps make homes more energy efficient during the winter months, and will safeguard homes against potential seasonal 'disasters' such as leaking roofs or home fires caused by neglected chimneys. Here are ten tips to a safer, warmer winter.

TIP #1 -- Check the heating system. Check the filter, pilot light and burners in a system fueled by gas or oil. Fireplaces, boilers, water heaters, space heaters and wood burning stoves should also be serviced every year. Have the specialist inspecting your unit show you how to change the filter and then you should change it at least once every 2 months. Clean ducts in the heating system. Clean and vacuum dust from vents, baseboard heaters and cold air returns. Dust build-up in ducts is a major cause of indoor pollutants. Ducts should be professionally cleaned about every three years.

TIP #2 -- Have the chimney inspected by a qualified chimney professional. Chimneys should be checked and cleaned, if necessary, on an annual basis. If you are using a wood stove this season, be sure that the stovepipe was installed correctly according to the manufacturer's recommendations and local codes. If there is any doubt, a building inspector or fire official can determine whether the system is properly installed. If you have a chimney that will not be used, consider having it sealed shut.

TIP #3 -- Test fire alarms, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, and vacuum out the dust. Batteries should be checked every six months to ensure that they're working.

TIP #4 -- Remove excess leaves and damaged branches from trees surrounding the house. Dead branches have the potential to break and fall, ruining roofs, decks, or vehicles and the possibly causing injuries to people.

TIP #5 -- Maintain gutters. Remove all debris that can slow or impede the ability of water to drain effectively from the roof. Trapped water can be destructive not only to the gutters themselves but to the adjoining roof as well. Make sure gutter water drains away from your home.

TIP #6 -- Inspect the roof. Look for damaged or loose shingles, gaps in the flashing at joints with siding, vents and flues, as well as damaged mortar around the chimney.

TIP #7 -- Inspect exterior walls, doors and windows. Check walls and window sills for damage such as cracks, gaps, loose or crumbling mortar, along with splitting and decaying wood. Caulk exterior joints around windows and doors, which helps keep the home weather tight and lower heating bills. Check windows and doors to make sure locks work properly and that they are in good condition. Clean tracks and lubricate hinges. Repair or replace any cracked windows.

TIP #8 -- Maintain steps and handrails. Repair broken steps and secure loose banisters and handrails. Broken steps can cause a dangerous fall. Similarly, a person slipping will grab a handrail for support.

TIP #9 -- Inspect the attic and basement or crawlspace. Insulate voids in the attic - the entire attic floor above a living space should be insulated with at least six inches of insulation, except around electrical fixtures such as recessed lights that aren't rated for contact with insulation. Damp basements and crawl spaces can become mold and mildew problems. Watch for leaks from your water heater, plumbing system and seeping rain water from the roof. Locate and maintain a clear access to your main water shut off valve. If you have a sump pump, test, clean and lubricate it.

TIP #10 -- Shut down sprinkler systems and outside faucets. Homeowners can shut down outside faucets, however weatherizing the underground sprinkler system is best performed by industry professionals who will flush the system before the cold sets in, preventing cracked pipes.

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