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Fall Checklist to Prepare Your Home for Winter

Get Your Furnace Checked

One of the most important things to do before winter sets in is get your furnace checked before you need to rely on the heat. A regular checkup for your furnace will prolong its life, prevent carbon monoxide leaks and ensure everything is in working order. This tune-up will also ensure you’re getting maximum efficiency from your unit and not wasting your money.

Change Furnace Filters

A visit from your HVAC professional can tell you if it’s time for your furnace filters to be replaced. However, if you aren’t able to fit in an official visit, you can replace the filters yourself. Changing the filter allows you to keep the furnace from clogging, keeps it running more efficiently and stops it from circulating allergens and other harmful particles. How often the filter needs to be replaced will vary depending on what type of filter you get, so a little research may be needed.

Keep the Pipes Warm

Frozen pipes can burst, which can be a major debacle. They can require complicated fixes and result in serious flood damage if you’re not careful. To prevent this from happening, don’t completely turn off your heat when you leave the house. According to the Red Cross, keeping the temperature around 55°F will be enough to ensure pipes stay sufficiently warm.

If you’re going to be gone for an extended period and don’t want a high gas bill, you can turn off the water and drain the water pipes.

It’s easy to forget the outdoor hose spigot, but the water can freeze up and cause problems in your pipes. In order to prevent this, you can buy a foam covering that goes over the spigot and creates an air pocket around it. If you’re looking for a more low-tech option, put a towel around the faucet, although it may not seal as well.

If possible, you can also turn off the outdoor faucet’s water supply and drain the remaining water. This will eliminate the need for extra insulation.

Put Away the Gardening Supplies

Remember to disconnect and bring in all of your garden hoses. If water freezes inside of them, it can cause the hose to split. A connected hose can also make your outdoor faucet more susceptible to frozen pipes.

Ceramic planters that still contain plant life should be brought inside to warmer temperatures. If the plant was seasonal, empty the pots of all soil and store them out of the cold. This is also a good time to oil and clean metal tools before you store them in the shed. This will ensure they’re all ready for you once spring rolls around again!

Protect Your Plants

Perennial outdoor plants can really benefit from some added protection in colder areas.

The type of protection needed depends on the plant. Wrap burlap around young tree trunks, and add 12 to 18 inches of soil in a mound around the base of rosebushes.

If you really want to get fancy, you can invest in special tents that go around plants and shrubs. They protect the plants from the elements while letting sunlight and water in.

Guard the Gutters and Air Conditioning

Right after most of the leaves have fallen is the perfect time to clean out your gutters. Without this maintenance, you can have major problems over the course of the winter. Water won’t be properly directed away from the house and can create serious foundation issues in your home.

If you’re able to get to this before the leaves fall, gutter covers can help prevent future buildup.

You also want to be sure to cover your air conditioning unit to keep leaves and snow from getting in. Covers made specifically for this purpose can easily be picked up from stores like Home Depot or Lowes.

Get the Chimney Cleaned

If you have a chimney and enjoy using it during the winter months, then scheduling an inspection is a must. When you burn wood in your fireplace, there’s a chance you’re creating a buildup of what’s called creosote. It’s essentially condensed smoke that clings to the side of the flue. This can ignite when you burn wood in the fireplace and cause a dangerous chimney fire. These fires burn at super-hot temperatures and can weaken the structure of the chimney, leading to damage. With brick chimneys, this can cause the brick to break down and give the fire access to the wood structure of your home.

Install a Chimney Balloon

After you’ve had your chimney inspected, consider investing in a chimney balloon. Chimney balloons (also called pillows or dampers) are essentially plugs that go into your chimney to prevent snow, bugs or drafts from entering into your home through the gap. If you don’t plan on using your chimney during the winter season, a chimney balloon can really help lower your heating bill.

Invest in a Carbon Monoxide Detector

As we seek to heat our homes in the winter, the sources of carbon monoxide (CO) begin to increase. These include any appliances that work by burning fuel. If you have a fuel-burning (i.e., not electric) clothes dryer, furnace, water heater, fireplace, stove or generator, you have a source of carbon monoxide. As higher concentrations of carbon monoxide in the air can be deadly, invest in a CO detector. This will monitor the levels and alert you with a noise and light when they get too high. Carefully read the instructions on the monitor to ensure the device will cover the entire span of your home. You may need to purchase more than one.

And while you’re at it, check to make sure your smoke detectors are still functioning as well.

Check Your Insulation

There are numerous areas where cold weather can make its way into your house. Before the weather starts to get too chilly, take a look around your home to make sure certain areas are still in prime condition.

First, check the seals around your windows. If you find the seals to be lacking, use weather stripping or caulk to seal around the frame. If you’re not satisfied with the amount of insulation this provides, you can remove the trim and put in an expanding foam.

You can also seal your doors by putting self-stick foam around the doorframes. Another easy way to weatherproof doors is to simply stick a door sweep at the bottom of the frame between the door and the floor.

One place you might not think about air escaping is through your outlets. Any hardware store will sell easy-to-install foam outlet covers (known as gaskets) that will prevent the cold air, which can get in around your electrical box, from coming into the home.

Keep It Humid

By closing everything up and keeping the heat in, you’ll have taken your house into a state of hibernation. It’s important to remember that everything will dry out due to a lack of humidity in the air.

This can cause a number of problems, including ones that affect your health. Warm air tends to dry out the sinuses. As gross as it sounds, that mucus in your nasal passages actually helps trap viruses and other nasty stuff before it can get into your system.

If you want to stop your house from becoming too dry, consider using a humidifier to keep your sinuses happy and the rest of you more comfortable.

by Bridget Hillyer of Quicken Loans

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