Fall is upon us and that means cooler weather is setting in. With this colder weather comes higher energy costs when heating your home, additional chores to take care of around the house, and the potential for damage to your home thanks to the weather. So, before the really cold weather arrives you should use this time to do some fall maintenance to ensure your home is ready for the winter. This can not only help you save money by making your home more efficient, but it could also prevent significant and costly damage if a problem goes unnoticed through winter.
1. Clean the gutters.
Your gutters are important part in keeping your home in good working order. Did you know that clogged gutters can lead to everything from roof damage to a flooded basement? The gutters should be collecting the water from your roof and safely diverting it down and away from the house. Clogged gutters mean the water will not flow away from the house and will fall right next to your foundation. Heavy rains could then lead to water entering your basement. Even worse, this could pose a significant problem in freezing weather when the water freezes and you end up with heavy ice dams on your roof. The weight and leaking water can also cause significant roof damage.
Cleaning your gutters is as easy as getting a ladder and going up and pulling out all of the junk that has collected in there. A pair of gloves makes this job a little more enjoyable. If you live in an area surrounded by trees you may have significant buildup in the fall as the leaves drop, so you might want to do this chore a few times. And don’t neglect the downspouts. These can also get clogged and they are vital in moving the water away from the house. If you can’t see if they are clogged you can take a small bucket of water up and dump it down the spout and see how fast the water flows out at the bottom. If it doesn’t rush right out there might be some blockage. You can try using a long pole or pipe of some sort to dislodge what’s in there. If you can’t reach it you might want to opt for replacing the downspout. The materials are fairly inexpensive and it’s usually a simple job.
2. Repair driveway and sidewalk cracks.
If you live in an area that experiences temperatures below freezing, then you should look to repair cracks in your cement before the cold sets in. When water gets into these cracks and freezes it expands. This expanding ice can not only make the existing crack worse, but it can create even more cracks and even lift portions of the cement up and make it uneven. You can find various sealers to apply to the cracks at your local hardware store and it’s relatively cheap and easy to apply. Replacing concrete can be costly, so if you can prevent damage and make it last as long as possible you’ll save money in the long run.
3. Inspect your chimney.
If you have a wood stove or fireplace it’s important you inspect and clean your chimney before using it. A clogged or dirty chimney or flue can be extremely dangerous and it could result in dangerous gasses filling up your house to starting a fire. If this is a job you’re not equipped to do on your own it’s well worth the money to pay a professional. Your life and home is far too valuable to skip this annual task.
4. Remove hoses and clutter from your yard.
As the cold weather settles in you’re probably going to be spending less time outside so it’s a good time to start picking up around the yard. If you have hoses, make sure they are drained and properly stored. If left attached and full of water they can freeze and burst, thus requiring you to buy a new hose next spring. You’ll also want to take some time and go around the yard and clean up the fallen debris, but also take some time to retrieve any tools that may have been left behind. Especially if you have kids, you don’t want to let them go play out in the snow only to have them accidentally stumble onto a misplaced rake or other item left hidden under the snow.
1. Test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
Since the weather will be colder that means you’ll be spending more time with all of the windows closed and possibly even running the heat. That means there is a chance of carbon monoxide buildup. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer so don’t take a chance. A basic detector can be had for as little as $20 and it could save your life. And don’t forget to check the batteries in your smoke alarms. Again, batteries are cheap and it’s a small price to pay when it comes to protecting your family.
2. Clean out the dryer vent.
Did you know that the U.S. Fire Administration estimates that dirty dryer vents are responsible for at least 15,600 home fires each year? Since you’re already checking other areas of your house for fire prevention it’s a good idea to add the dryer vent to your list. Make sure it is free of lint buildup and there are no other obstructions. It is also a good time to make sure your vent is properly sealed where it exits the house. Large gaps around the vent can be a significant area of heat loss.
3. Check and replace furnace filters.
Before firing up the furnace for the first time of the season you should check the filter. Dirty filters are inefficient since air flows less freely. This results in your furnace running longer and using more energy just to keep the house up to the right temperature. You’ll usually have to replace the filters at least twice a year so if you can, see if you can buy filters in bulk or in a multi-pack. This way you’ll not only save money, but you’ll have the filters on hand so that you’re more likely to change them again when they get dirty.
4. Inspect and/or flush the hot water heater.
As time goes by sediment collects in your hot water heater. This sediment forces your water heater to work even harder and could possibly even lead to leaks. If you’ve never drained your heater and have been using it for years you’re way overdue. Generally, it’s as simple as hooking a hose up to the bottom valve and opening it and the water is drained away along with most of the sediment. In addition to eliminating the sediment you might want to consider additional insulation if your water heater is in an unfinished part of the house like a cold basement. They make special insulation to wrap around your heater and you should also insulate the pipes that are attached to the heater to minimize heat loss.
5. Check the remainder of the house for energy leaks.
When was the last time you looked up in your attic? You might want to take a peak up there and see what type of insulation you have. Losing heat through the roof of your house is the number one source of heat loss so having inadequate insulation up there can be costly. Check the R-value and see if that is sufficient for your needs. You can actually look up R-values and see how effective each is for certain climates and usage at energy.gov.
It’s also a good idea to inspect all of your doors and windows for possible leaks. Over time the weatherstripping can wear down and create gaps that is a prime source of heat loss and drafts. Usually a leak can be fixed with just a new piece of stripping or some caulk so it’s an easy and cheap fix that could save a lot of money on your heating bill.
6. Consider a programmable thermostat.
If you’re like most households and aren’t at home all day every day it can make sense to install a programmable thermostat. This allows you to specify the times and temperatures to keep your house at. For example, if nobody is home between 8am and 6pm there’s no need to keep the whole house at 70 degrees. With a programmable thermostat you can tell it to keep the heat off or at least at a much lower temp during those hours and then automatically kick back up right before you get home in the evening. Since your furnace will be running much less with this setup it will pay for the cost of the thermostat in no time.
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.