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Getting Ready For Winter
Fall is the perfect time to takecare of the little things that can make a big difference for you and your home.Most of the tasks listed below are well with-in the average person's ability.But even if you choose to have a professional handle them, it's worth theexpense. You'll save money -- and maybe even your life.
Here's the checklist at a glance.See the following pages for more detailed guidance.
· Get your mind in the gutters. Inspect and cleangutters and downspouts.
· Button up your overcoat. Seal gaps and cracks around windowsand doors with weather-stripping and caulk.
· Get on top of roof problems. Inspect your rooffor damaged or curled shingles, corroded flashing, or leaky vents.
· Walks the walks (and drives). Take steps to repairdamaged sidewalks, driveways, and steps.
· Chill out. Drain and winterize outdoor faucetsand irrigation systems.
· Freshen your filter. Clean or replace dirty furnacefilters.
· Give your furnace a physical. Have a professionalinspect your heating system.
· Gather round the hearth. Check fireplaces for soot or creosotebuild-up. Better yet, schedule a visit from a reputable chimney sweep.
· Keep the humidifier humming. Clean the plates orpads to ensure efficient operation.
· Head-off gas problems. If you have a gas-fired room heater,have it inspected by a pro. Also, perform any routine maintenance recommendedby the maker.
· Keep the wood fires burning brightly. Wood stoves aremaking a comeback. To avoid a deadly situation, be sure to inspect yours beforefiring it up.
· Keep your family safe at home. A home safety checkshould be an annual ritual in every household. Test smoke and CO monitors,inspect (or install) fire extinguishers, review fire escape plans, and rid yourhome of old newspapers and other fire hazards.
Get your mind in the gutters. Your roof's drainagesystem annually diverts thousands of gallons of water from your house'sexterior and foundation walls. That's why it is so important to keep thissystem flowing smoothly. Clogged gutters can lead to damaged exterior surfacesand to water in your basement. They are also more prone to rust and corrosion.Before the leaves fly this fall, have your gutters cleaned, then covered withmesh guards to keep debris from returning.
Button up your overcoat. A home with air leaks around windowsand doors is like a coat left unbuttoned. Gaps in caulk and weather-strippingcan account for a 10% of your heating bills, according to the U.S. Departmentof Energy.
· Weather-stripping is easily the most cost-effective way to rein inheating and cooling costs. This humble material also reduces drafts and keepsyour home more comfortable year-round. Because weather stripping candeteriorate over time, it is important to inspect it periodically.
· If you suspect a problem with weather stripping, you have severaloptions for checking. Close a door or window on a strip of paper; if the paperslides easily, your weatherstripping isn't doing its job. Or, close the door orwindow and hold a lighted candle near the frame. (Don't let the flame get nearanything flammable!) If the flame flickers at any spot along the frame, youhave an air leak.
· While you're at it, also check for missing or damaged caulk aroundwindows, doors, and entry points for electrical, cable, phone, gas, and so.Seal any gaps with a suitable caulk.
Get on top of roof problems. Few homeownerproblems are more vexing than a leaky roof. Once the dripping starts, findingthe source of the problem can be time-consuming. Stop problems this fall beforeice and winter winds turn them from annoyances into disasters.
· Here's how: Inspect your roof from top to bottom,using binoculars if necessary. Check ridge shingles for cracks and wind damage.Look for damage to metal flashing in valleys and around vents and chimneys.Scan the entire roof for missing, curled, or damaged shingles. Look in yourgutters for large accumulations of granules, a sign that your roof is losingits coating; expect problems soon. Finally, make sure your gutters are flowingfreely.
· Note: Roof-mounted television antennas, even if they aren't inuse, may have guy wires holding them in place. Look for loose or missing guywires. If you see some, and your antenna is no longer being used, considerhaving it removed altogether.
Walk the walks (and drives). Damaged walkways,drives, and steps are a hazard year round, but their dangers are compoundedwhen the weather turns icy. Fixing problems in the fall is also critical topreventing little problems from becoming expensive headaches.
· Look for cracks more than 1/8-inch wide, uneven sections, andloose railings on steps. Check for disintegration of asphalt, or washed-outmaterials on loose-fill paths.
· Most small jobs are well within the ability of a do-it-yourselver,but save major repairs for experienced hands.
Chill out. If you live in an area with freezingweather, take steps to ensure that outside faucets (also called sill cocks) andinground irrigation systems don't freeze and burst.
· Here's how: Close any shut-off valves servingoutside faucets, then open the outside faucet to drain the line. (There may bea small cap on the faucet you can loosen to facilitate this draining.) If youdon't have shut-off valves, and your faucets are not "freezeproof "types, you may benefit from styrofoam faucet covers sold at home centers.
· To freezeproof an inground irrigation system, follow themanufacturer's procedure for draining it and protecting it from winter damage.
· Freshen your filter. Furnace filters trap dust that wouldotherwise be deposited on your furniture, woodwork, and so on. Clogged filtersmake it harded to keep your home at a comfortable temperature, and can seriousincrease your utility bills. A simple monthly cleaning is all it takes to keepthese filters breathing free and clear.
· Here's how: Disposable filters can be vaccumed oncebefore replacement. Foam filters can also be vaccumed, but they don't need tobe replaced unless they are damaged. Use a soft brush on a vacuum cleaner. Ifthe filter is metal or electrostatic, remove and wash it with a firm waterspray.
Give your furnace a physical. Once a year, it's agood idea to have your heating system inspected by a professional. To avoidthe last-minute rush, consider scheduling this task in early fall, before theheating season begins.
· Here are signs that you should have an inspection performedsooner:
· Noisy belts. Unusual screeches or whines may be asignal that belts connected to the blower motor are worn or damaged.
· Poor performance. A heating system that doesn't seem towork as well as it once did could be a sign of various problems. Your heatingducts might be blocked, the burners might be misadjusted, or the blower motor couldbe on its last legs. One check you should be sure to conduct: Make sure yourfurnace filter is clean.
· Erratic behavior. This could be caused by a faultythermostat or a misadjusted furnace.
Gather round the hearth. Even if you use your fireplace onlyoccasionally, you should check it annually for damage and hazards.
· Inspect your flue for creosote. Creosote is aflammable by-product of burning wood. If it accumulates in a flue or chimney,the result can be a devastating fire. Have your chimney inspected annually forcreosote buildup. If you use a fireplace or wood stove frequently, have theflue inspected after each cord of wood burned.
· For most people, the best option is to have your entire chimneysystem inspected by a chimney sweep. Once you know what to look for, you canperform the inspection by shining a bright flashlight up the flue, looking forany deposits approaching 1/8 inch thick. These deposits should be cleaned by anexperienced chimney sweep.
· Look for flue blockages. Birds love to nest at the top of anunprotected flue. A chimney cap can prevent this from happening. If you don'thave a cap, look up the flu to ensure that there are no obstructions.
· Exercise the damper. The damper is the metal plate thatopens and closes the flu just above the firebox. Move it to the open and closedpositions to ensure that it is working properly.
· Check your chimney for damage. Make certain that theflue cap (the screen or baffle covering the top of the chimney) is in place.Inspect brick chimneys for loose or broken joints. If access is a problem, usebinoculars.
Keep the humidifier humming. You may know thatbone dry winter air is bad for your health, but did you also know it can makefine wood more prone to cracking? You and your home will feel more comfortableif you keep your central humidifier in tip-top shape during the months it isrunning.
· Here's how: First, inspect the plates or pads, andif necessary, clean them in a strong laundry detergent solution. Rinse andscrape off mineral deposits with a wire brush or steel wool.
Head-off gas problems. Keeping a gas heater in good shape isboth a safety and a cost issue. An improperly maintained heater can spewpoisons into the air of your home, or it may simply be costing you more tooperate. Have a professional check these devices annually. There are also somemaintenance items you should address.
· Here's how: First, shut off the heater. Then checkthe air-shutter openings and exhaust vents for dirt and dust. If they aredirty, vacuum the air passages to the burner and clean the burner of lint anddirt. Follow the manufacturer's advice for any other needed maintenance.
Keep the wood fires burning brightly. Woodburning stovesare a great way to add atmosphere and warmth to your home. But regularinspections are needed to ensure that these devices don't become a safetyhazard. Here's how to check them.
· Inspect stovepipes. Cracks in stovepipes attached to woodstoves can release toxic fumes into your home. Throughout the heating season,you should check for corrosion, holes, or loose joints. Clean the stovepipe,and then look for signs of deterioration or looseness. Replace stovepipe ifnecessary.
· Look for corrosion and cracks. Check for signs ofrust or cracking in the stove's body or legs.
· Check safety features. Make sure that any required wallprotection is installed according to the manufacturer's specifications and thatthe unit sits on an approved floor material. If you have young children, besure to fence off the stove when it is in operation.
· At least once a year, do a top-to-bottom review of your home'ssafety features. This is also a good time to get the family together for areview of your fire evacuation plan. Here's how to do this:
Smoke and CO detectors. Replace the batteries in each smokeand carbon monoxide (CO) detector, then vacuum them with a soft brushattachment. Test the detectors by pressing the test button or holding a smokesource (like a blown-out candle) near the unit. If you haven't already, installa smoke detector on every floor of your home, including the basement.
Fire extinguishers. Every home should have at least onefire extinguisher rated for all fire types (look for an A-B-C rating on thelabel). At a minimum, keep one near the kitchen; having one per floor isn't abad idea. Annually, check the indicator on the pressure gauge to make sure theextinguisher is charged. Make certain that the lock pin is intact and firmly inplace, and check that the discharge nozzle is not clogged. Clean theextinguisher and check it for dents, scratches, and corrosion. Replace if thedamage seems severe. Note: Fire extinguishers that are more than six years oldshould be replaced. Mark the date of purchase on the new unit with a permanentmarker.
Fire escape plans. Every bedroom, including basementbedrooms, should have two exit paths. Make sure windows aren't blocked byfurniture or other items. Ideally, each upper-floor bedroom should have a ropeladder near the window for emergency exits. Review what to do in case of fire,and arrange a safe meeting place for everyone away from the house.
General cleanup. Rid your home of accumulations of oldnewspapers and leftover hazardous household chemicals. (Check with your stateor local Environmental Protection Agency about the proper way to discarddangerous chemicals.) Store flammable materials and poisons in approved,clearly labeled containers. Keep a clear space around heaters, furnaces, andother heat-producing appliances.