While spring may be the time for cleaning, fall is surely the time for fixing. Simple improvements can save money in utility bills as well as prevent costly repairs in the future. Like a well-played game of football, the homeowner needs a good playbook to get ahead in the game. The trick is, by the time it is October many areas might be into the first quarter — well on the way to frigid temperatures – so prioritize and use this valuable time to the best advantage.
Play it Safe
A good bet is “Safety First.” Start simple: look at entrances and exits in and around the home and consider how they may be affected by the change in seasons. Look at safety issues around moisture, temperature and light. Are there areas that are particularly dark that need more lighting? Would motion-sensitive or timed lighting options be beneficial? Are there areas where debris collects and creates a safety hazard? Identify issues and resolve them now to minimize risk of injury later.
During fall and winter months pathways, entrances and exits can become compromised. Sometimes the paths or stairways might become slick with ice, snow, water, leaves or even moss or algae growth. Be sure to clear and clean these areas, making repairs to cracked or uneven walkways, securing loose boards, ensuring safe passage. Additionally, having a place for shoes and gear when people enter a home so entrances and exits remain clear can prevent unnecessary trips and falls. In cooler climates, this is a good time to create space in hall closets for bulkier coats and to put out the umbrella stand. Perhaps providing a basket for gloves and a tray for wet shoes and boots, along with an absorbent entry mat to ensure that surrounding floors don’t become wet and slick.
Fall is an ideal time to clean gutters ensuring that water will not build up and overflow and either puddle or freeze. Additionally, while the ladder is out, look at the eaves and assess the roof. Look for signs that wildlife might have tried to gain access, and consider putting up hooks for holiday lights – after all, the ladder is out, and holiday lights will provide more light around the home in the dark months. Change any burnt out or flickering bulbs in outdoor areas, putting in energy saving bulbs so that lights may be left on longer without regard to cost.
In areas prone to snowfall, ensure that supplies are stocked and functional. Snow shovels should not be buried behind all of the items accessed since last winter. A snow blower should be checked to see that it is in working order. Consider stores of sand and/or salt or kitty litter to help melt ice or gain traction. Any generators should be in good working order with fresh fuel that is properly stored.
Fixing anything to do with climate control is like getting first pick of the best players – it’s money in the bank. Many homeowners attend to issues around heating as a means of saving money on energy bills – and rightfully so. In many areas, heat is typically one of the largest winter expenses. The trick is to minimize drafts and to utilize the heat as effectively as possible. Begin by checking attic insulation levels and fill gaps with insulation appropriate for your climate.
Next, windows and doors with cracked or broken glass or that are poorly sealed should be fixed. Additionally, if the seals at the bottom of exterior doors are not tight, consider replacing thresholds and/or door bottoms. Weather stripping is inexpensive and easy to install along the top and sides of doors. Interior doors may benefit from “draft dodgers” that stop air from cooler rooms from coming under the door, especially consider doors to basements and garages.
Get that furnace or heat pump serviced, clean or change any filters, and ensure that all thermostats are in working order. Consider installing a programmable thermostat to optimize your energy consumption. Additionally, heating hot water and keeping it warm is a big energy draw. Ensure that the hot water heater is working well and that it is insulated if it is located in a cold location.
Woodstoves and chimneys should be clean and ready for use – employ a chimney sweep to check and clean them. Creosote build-up or debris from animals can start a fire in the chimney or stovepipe, which could ignite the roof.
Drying clothes in a dryer also consumes a high level of energy. In cool and damp climates dryer vents tend to collect lint and may become clogged, making these machines much less efficient. Cleaning dryers thoroughly with a lint brush can also prevent fires from starting.
Rain, Snow and Going with the Flow
Regardless of temperature, water is one of the most damaging influences in a home. It can impact foundations, floors and walls, and introduce mold into the structure. Many areas experience increased precipitation in the fall and winter months which can open the door to unnecessary problems if preventative steps have not been taken.
Visually inspect the roof for signs of damaged shingles and repair them prior to a leak. Check and clean skylights, inspecting the flashing and clearing leaves and debris. When cleaning gutters, remember that it is also important to see that water is directed efficiently away from the foundation, so be sure to install drainpipe extensions or other solutions that move water away from the foundation. And, not all water may be coming from the roof. Survey the area around the foundation for signs of standing water or run-off that brings water close to the house, driveway or walkways. In some cases changing the flow of water that comes onto a property might include installing a curtain drain or other water management plan.
Protecting water pipes within the home is of key importance. If pipes freeze they may crack and leak, causing extensive damage throughout the home. Ensure that hose bibs are covered and that pipes in cooler areas of the home are protected with insulation or heat tape. In climates that are prone to winter storms or hurricanes, consider storm windows or shutters. If the home is in a low-lying area and has a basement, consider keeping a sump pump on hand in the event of a flooded basement.
Take a good look at the paved areas. Repairing small cracks and holes in driveways and walkways in the fall will ensure that freezing water will not penetrate the asphalt or concrete and cause further damage.
Engage the Grounds Crew
Fall is a great time to tackle the vines that might be climbing a home, ruining the mortar between bricks or damaging the wood siding. Climbing vines hold moisture against walls which can rot wood clapboards, and the moisture can cause swelling of the wood and further damage when vines get between boards. Cut these vines back or remove them at the root.
This is also a great time to trim those hedges or trees that might be potentially threaten the home or power lines if they fell. Trees that hang over roofs should be removed so that they don’t provide a bridge for small animals to get onto the roof, as well as to protect from damage should branches break and fall.
Pest Control: Defense or Offense?
During cooler months, it is common for wildlife to want to move in to a home for warmth and shelter. Teams of mice and rats, squirrels and other animals can do damage to insulation and wiring, create unclean living situations, contaminate food, and keep people up at night with scratching and scampering. Carefully inspect possible sources of entry in the fall months and seal up any places where pests might gain access to the home.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has vast information about preventing and resolving rodent infestations. They recommend looking for any evidence of uninvited guests and possible access from inside the home in the following locations:
- Inside, under, and behind kitchen cabinets, refrigerators and stoves
- Inside closets near the floor corners
- Around the fireplace
- Around doors
- Around the pipes under sinks and washing machines
- Around the pipes going to hot water heaters and furnaces
- Around floor vents and dryer vents
- Inside the attic
- In the basement or crawl space
- In the basement and laundry room floor drains
- Between the floor and wall juncture
The CDC also recommends checking the following areas outside the home:
- In the roof among the rafters, gables, and eaves
- Around windows
- Around doors
- Around the foundation
- Attic vents and crawl space vents
- Under doors
- Around holes for electrical, plumbing, cable, and gas lines
Defend the home by filling holes with steel wool, held in place with caulk. Squirrels and raccoons require larger holes and do even more damage, so cover larger holes with lath screen, metal, cement or hardware cloth to stop entry into the building.
Assess the perimeters of buildings, inside and out, sweeping and raking debris away from walls. Remove woodpiles and leaves from around buildings. These areas are prime habitat for rodents and other pests, including termites and carpenter ants. In areas where problems persist, take the offense. Trapping or baiting with poison may be advised. Larger infestations may require the attention of trained professionals for control and cleanup.
Finally, when checking to ensure that the home is equipped with emergency supplies for seasonal storms, assess both the items stored and the storage area itself. Move seasonal items to where they will better serve in an emergency.
Storage areas often are taken for granted, sometimes becoming damp or wet, or experiencing wide ranging temperatures. Consider making changes that might benefit the area including heating, cooling, lighting, ventilation and moisture control. Replace containers that are damaged or non-functional, and ensure that stored items are not in the way of heaters (a fire hazard) or entrances and exits. When storing items in a place that might be blocked as the result of stormy weather, be certain to have a plan for getting in should the need arise.
The End Zone
Making fall fixes part of an annual cycle ensures that a home is in healthy working order and ready to play the rest of the year; it is easy to see how simple preventative measures can pay off in the end. And like fall football – the best defense against trouble in the future is a good offense right now.