As November comes to a close and autumn gives way to cooler (and sometimes bitter) temperatures, you may be looking to hurry up and finish your fall home checklist before winter hits.
Before the cold arrives, make sure to winterize your home with these 12 last-minute fall home maintenance tips.
Stay Ahead of the Cold With This Home Winterization Checklist
1. Call a Pro to Repair or Replace Your Roof
It may go without saying, but winter is not the best time for roof work. Aside from ice and snow creating a slipping hazard during repairs, asphalt shingles need to be installed at temperatures between 40 and 85 degrees. Any colder and the shingles can become brittle and break apart. Cold temperatures also prevent the adhesive sealant from activating, making it easy for winter winds to blow them away. So if your roof needs a little love, add a call to your local roofer to your fall home checklist.
Need an easy way to dispose of those old shingles? Our roofing dumpsters can get the job done. Learn more about roofing disposal options in your area.
2. Clean and Seal Your Deck
Another fall home improvement must-do is to perform safety checks on your deck and get it ready for spring. J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman, recommends “walk[ing] around the deck and sprinkl[ing] water on several different areas. If water soaks into the boards, it’s time to reseal the deck. If water forms a puddle or beads up, the deck is repelling water and will be safe for the winter.”
How to Protect Deck Wood in the Winter
- Check for loose nails and screws. Tighten or replace fasteners as needed.
- Power wash the deck on a day no colder than 40 degrees.
- Inspect for cracks or areas that are splintering. Fill cracks with epoxy wood filler.
- Add a water-repelling stain to protect from melting ice and snow.
3. Winterize Your Driveway and Sidewalks
Most people don’t give their driveway a second thought when winterizing the home. However, snow, ice and salt can take its toll on concrete and asphalt surfaces. Make sure they’re ready to be put to the test with these tips for winterizing your driveway:
- Pull Weeds: If grass or weeds have sprung up throughout your driveway or sidewalk, pluck them out before fixing and sealing the gaps.
- Repair Cracks: During the winter, water can collect in and worsen existing cracks in concrete and asphalt. Use concrete caulk to patch hairline cracks and concrete sealer to fix larger gaps. For cracks in asphalt driveways, applying asphalt crack sealer will do the trick.
- Seal Expansion Joints: It’s important to seal concrete expansion joints with polyurethane caulk prior to wintertime to prevent water from seeping in and freezing.
- Clean and Seal the Surface: Before the temperatures drop below 40 degrees, pressure wash your driveway and seal it with a concrete or asphalt sealer to prevent damage from snow and salt.
4. Clean and Inspect Your Fireplace
If you have a fireplace, proper chimney cleaning is an important task to add to your home winterization checklist. “If your chimney has not been inspected or cleaned this past year, the very best time to do so is now, before the heating season,” says Marshall Peters, director of the Certified Chimney Professionals.
Fireplaces produce deposits which are combustible and can burn at over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Peters. This is hot enough to destroy the chimney liner and even set your home on fire. Find a chimney professional near you to have your fireplace inspected and cleared for safety this year.
How often should a chimney be cleaned?
“The typical fireplace for most families will require cleaning every two to three years. Whether the chimney vents gas, oil, coal, pellets, corn, wood or other fuel, they all need inspecting annually and cleaned when necessary. The corrosive byproducts of each fuel type will dictate the types of problems they will cause in a chimney and which type of maintenance will be necessary. The National Fire Protection Association requires annual inspections for all solid fuel chimneys for this reason.”
Marshall Peters | Certified Chimney Professionals
5. Check on Your Home’s Heating and Air
Don’t get caught in the cold with a broken furnace – add an HVAC check to your fall home checklist. Older furnaces can be up to 50 percent less efficient than newer models, so if you’re shopping for a replacement, look for systems that sport the Energy-Star label.
If a replacement isn’t in the cards, here are a few HVAC tips for winter from Bob Burkholder, owner and president of Burkholder’s Heating and Air Conditioning:
- Check Air Filters: “Replace your air conditioning filter before shutting it down, and on top of furnace filter changes throughout the heating months to keep your system working properly.”
- Clean Up Your Outdoor Unit: “If you have an outdoor unit, double check for any debris or damage. Remove all debris around the unit to ensure the proper air flow and to prevent dirt or leaves getting on the coils or inside the unit.”
- Schedule a Tune-Up: “The number one thing a homeowner should do to make sure their HVAC system is ready for winter is to schedule a tune-up with a licensed heating & air conditioning contractor. During a tune-up most HVAC contractors inspect, clean, and test all safety controls so you know that your equipment is operating correctly and safely.”
Feeling cold? Turn up the humidity, not the heat.
“Lack of moisture in a home can cause the room to seem colder than it actually is, causing you to crank up the thermostat. In reality, it is the humidity level that needs to be adjusted. Dry air is not able to hold in as much heat, so it tends to feel colder. The humidity level in a home is as low as 20 percent in winter. On average, it should be closer to 35 percent. Portable humidifiers work well in small areas. There are also whole-home humidifiers that can be installed as part of your home’s heating and cooling system.”
Bob Burkholder | Burkholder’s Heating and Air Conditioning
6. Winterize Your Lawn by Cutting and Aerating
You’ll want to pamper your lawn one last time so that it can bounce back with ease come April. Here are a few of the last lawn maintenance tasks you should add to your home winterization checklist:
- Make One Final Cut: Give the yard that one last cut, taking it down to about two inches.
- Aerate: Aerating the lawn helps micronutrients get into the soil and feed the lawn before the colder winter months.
- Use a Good Pre-Emergent: Putting down a good pre-emergent will keep winter weeds from germinating and “stealing” the nutrition from the soil.
- Apply Lawn Winterizer: You’ll want to lay down a layer of fall lawn fertilizer two to three weeks prior to the ground freezing.
7. Winterize Your Garden
Winter is also a trying time for your trees, shrubs and flowers. In order to protect your landscaping properly from the elements, add these fall tips to your checklist.
- Water Generously: Deeply water your plants before they go dormant. The best time to water trees and shrubs in the fall is after the leaves have fallen and before the ground has frozen. Do not water when it is colder than 40 degrees outside.
- Mulch the Roots: Add a thick layer of mulch to the base of your trees, shrubs and bushes to keep their roots warm and shielded from snow and ice. Traditional mulch is ideal, but you can use dead leaves from your yard as well.
- Ward Off Pests: When it’s cold and food is scarce, deer, mice and rabbits will see your garden as an open buffet. Their grazing can be extra harmful to your plant life in the winter, so be sure to have pest measures in place by the end of autumn.
- Shield From Wind and Snow: Dense shrubs or trees can be damaged by high winds and heavy snowfall. Wrapping them in shrub covers or chicken wire can provide structure and protect them until spring arrives.
- Protect Newer Plants: When winterizing your garden, pay close attention to your newer plants. Anything that has been planted within the last year is going to be the most vulnerable and need the most care.
- Divide Perennials: Perennial plants like lemon grass or fountain grass need to be dug out and divided before wintertime to ensure that they grow healthily in the spring.
- Clean Up Debris: To keep pests from creating winter nests in your yard, be sure to get rid of dead branches, weeds or invasive plants before finishing up your garden winterization.
If you’re removing a lot of landscaping debris, having a yard waste dumpster in the driveway can be helpful. Learn more about yard waste container services available near you.
8. Clean and Repair Your Gutters and Downspouts
Cleaning and repairing gutters is not the most glamorous of home maintenance tasks, but it’s important to get it done in the fall to prevent ice dams during the winter.
To clean out your gutters, remove any leaves, twigs and other debris that is preventing proper drainage. Then, flush your gutters with water, inspect the joints and tighten the brackets if necessary. For a more permanent solution, consider using a gutter guard. They’re easy to install and will keep you off a ladder.
9. Inspect and Clean Space Heaters
By the time winter rolls back around, it may have been a while since your space heater was used last. However, it’s important to make sure any heating devices are clean and in working order before putting them back into commission.
“Heating is the second-leading cause of US home fires and the leading cause of home fire deaths,” says Susan McKelvey of the National Fire Protection Association. “On average each year, nearly half of all home heating fires occur in December, January and February.” Before you hit the on switch this season, here are a few portable heating safety tips to add to your home winterization checklist:
- Clean the Grates: While the heater is off and cooled down, use a microfiber cloth or damp sponge to wipe down the surface. You can use compressed air to loosen dirt and dust inside the unit.
- Inspect the Cord: You may be able to replace a frayed cord with an appliance cord if you have electrical experience. If not, you can contact a local HVAC technician to see if they offer space heater repair services. If they’re not able to fix it, it’s better safe than sorry – throw it away and purchase a new one.
- Have Proper Ventilation: If you have a combustion space heater, know that these are not intended for use inside the home and require proper ventilation if used to heat a garage.
10. Check Smoke Detectors
House fires are most common during the fall and winter months and smoke alarms are “your first line of defense,” says McKelvey. “Three out of five home fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.” Inspect your smoke detectors thoroughly to keep your family safe this winter.
NFPA Guidelines for Maintaining Smoke Detectors
- Install at least one smoke alarm on every level, in all bedrooms, and near all sleeping areas.
- Test smoke alarms monthly.
- Replace smoke alarm batteries any time they chirp.
- Replace smoke alarms 10 years from the date of manufacture (marked on the back of the alarm).
- Opt for interconnected smoke alarms for full-home protection.
Do you have a fire escape plan? Now is the time to make one.
“When the smoke alarm sounds, you may have as little as two to three minutes to escape safely. You need to know how to use that time wisely. A home escape plan includes:
- Everyone in the household knowing two ways out of every room.
- A path from each of those exits to the outside.
- A place out front of the home where everyone will meet upon exiting.”
Susan McKelvey | National Fire Protection Association
11. Check Carbon Monoxide Detectors
While you’re checking your smoke detectors, give your carbon monoxide detectors a once-over as well. Carbon monoxide detection is important year-round, but it is especially so in the wintertime. According to the CDC, most accidental carbon monoxide poisonings occur in January and the second most in December because furnaces and space heaters can emit this toxic gas. Replace the batteries and your detectors them to ensure you and your family will be safe through the winter.
12. Add Winter Supplies to Your Fall Home Checklist
The worst time to realize that you’re out of sidewalk salt or that your snow shovel is broken is in the middle of a blizzard. Before the first snowfall of the season, be sure to take stock of your snow removal tools and other supplies. Here are a few final inventory tasks to cross off your fall home checklist before the winter:
- Check your tire chains for rust and broken links.
- Swap in your snow tires once temperatures are consistently below 45 degrees.
- If your riding mower has a snow shovel hookup, install it right after your final cut.
- Fuel up and test all snow removal equipment ahead of time.
- Stock up on sidewalk salt, firewood and windshield wiper fluid.
Getting firewood? Choose seasoned wood to protect your chimney.
“It is very important that the wood has seasoned, or dried, for a year or two before it is used for heating. Much of the energy created by burning non-seasoned wood is used in burning off the water content in the wood which produces steam and lowers the flue gas temperature. This can create more creosote and glazed creosote, which increases the risk of a flue fire.”
Marshall Peters | Certified Chimney Professionals
Bring on the Snow – You’re Ready to Take on Winter
While you may be caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, take a little time to prepare for Old Man Winter. You’ll save a lot in winter weather repairs, and keep your family warm and dry even on the coldest nights. Once you’ve winterized your home, you can sit back and relax by the warmth of your (now cleaned) fireplace.
Now that you know which home projects to take on this fall, you will be better prepared for winter. Have another fall home improvement project you would like to share? Leave us a comment below or check out the home improvement section of our blog for more DIY tips and tricks.