TORONTO – Whether you’re ready for it or not, fall has arrived. As the days get shorter and the temperature more brisk, it’s time to put away the lawn furniture and get your house prepared for what’s in store over the next six months.
Here are some tips on things you should do now to help make your home more comfortable during fall (and winter). If you’re not comfortable handling any of these tasks yourself, hire a professional to ensure you don’t get hurt or cause unnecessary damage to your home.
1. Clean your eavestroughs and downspouts
Anyone who watches Mike Holmes knows that water is your home’s worst enemy. As leaves begin to fall they will undoubtedly fill your eavestroughs and downspouts, blocking water from making it off your roof and away from your house. While time-consuming, cleaning them out regularly until all the trees in your area are leaf-free is a good idea to help stop water from finding a way inside.
Full gutters and downspouts are also an invitation for critters, who will nest in them before eventually attempting to get into your attic and potentially causing a lot of damage.
If you’re not comfortable cleaning them yourself, check with contractors in your area, as many offer services to do this for you. There’s also many products on the market that can be installed on your eavestroughs to keep leaves and critters out while still letting water through. Check with your local home improvement store or a local contractor for recommendations on what works best on homes in your area.
2. Caulk around windows, doors and other openings
Caulking around windows and doors prevents cold air from getting in and your conditioned inside air from getting out. Even if you did this in the spring, it’s a good idea to do a perimeter check to see if you need to add more caulking in spots. Having a good seal around these openings will not only make your home more comfortable, but will also help you waste less energy and save you money.
Besides windows and doors, caulking around vents (such as your dryer and bathroom exhaust fan) and cables and pipes that run outside of your house is also a good idea.
3. Check/replace weather stripping
Weather stripping loses its effectiveness with age and needs to be replaced every few years. Do a visual check of the stripping around exterior doors and windows (including your garage door) and replace if it appears worn or cracked.
If the stripping appears fine but you can feel air moving when your doors and windows are closed, check that the stripping has been installed properly or that you’re using the correct stripping (there is a difference between door and window stripping, and a difference between foam and rubber stripping).
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Attic openings should also have weather stripping added (and rigid insulation attached to the back). Adding special insulating gaskets to power outlets and wall switches located on exterior walls is also a good idea to help block drafts.
4. Inspect your roof and chimney
You’ll be very thankful if you catch a problem with your roof now before water starts dripping on your head in the middle of a November downpour. The average lifespan of an asphalt shingled roof (the most common in North America) is between 15 and 20 years if installed properly. Factors such as critters, severe weather and whether you’re in a highly populated tree area will speed up the deterioration process.
From the outside look for signs of worn, loose or missing shingles and shingles with mold or rot on them. Check eavestroughs for granules from the shingles (a sign of heavy wear) and ensure that your eavestroughs and flashing (the metal lip between your shingles and eavestroughs) are securely attached. If you have a metal, tiled or roof with solar panels it’s best to have a professional do an inspection.
You should also inspect around vents for missing caulking and broken seals and do a visual check of your chimney to ensure there are no crumbling bricks or bird or squirrel nests inside.
From inside your attic check the underside of your roof for water damage and holes. Also make sure there are no nests in your attic insulation and that vents in your soffits are not blocked. (Soffits connect the overhang of your roof to the top of your exterior walls and help vent unconditioned attics. Keeping these vents clear is important in having a healthy home).
If you are not comfortable going onto your roof or into your attic you should hire a professional to inspect it. If you do find signs of an infestation call animal control or an exterminator immediately.
5. Put your air conditioning unit to rest
Removable A/C window units should be removed and properly stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions before winter in order to protect the unit and help keep cooler outside air from getting inside.
Whole home A/C units should be powered down from the breaker in your main electrical panel. If you have a safety shut-off switch located outside by the A/C unit that should be turned off as well.
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There is much debate over whether you should completely cover a whole home A/C unit for the winter. A cover that goes all the way down to the bottom can trap moisture inside the unit as well as invite critters to nest. A better option is a short cover, which protects the unit from debris and leaves getting inside the top while letting the unit “breathe” (a piece of plywood cut to size on top of the unit works well, too).
6. Shut-off and drain outside faucets
The faucets you use outside in the summer to wash your car, soak your garden and hose down your kids are susceptible to freezing. If proper care is not taken to shut-off and drain these lines before winter, it can lead to pipes and faucets bursting or cracking and can create a huge, potentially expensive, disaster.
All faucets that exit your home should have a shut-off valve located inside. These shut-offs are usually located close to where the faucet exits the basement to the outside, but can also be located further back in the home closer to where the pipe for the faucet branches off from the main water source. If you don’t have shut-off valves or can’t find them, contact a licensed plumber to have them installed.
Once the water is turned off inside, open the outside faucet to let it completely drain. If the inside shut-off valve has a drain plug — a small cap on the side of the shut-off — open it while the outside faucet is still turned to the on position (make sure to have a bucket under it when you open it as water will come out). Once all the water has completely drained from the line, close the drain plug on the shut-off valve and turn the outside faucet back to the off position.
If you have access to the run of pipe that goes outside, adding pipe insulation around it is bonus protection and will also help keep condensation down in the summer months as well.
7. Clean and inspect your furnace
Even if it was pumping out air conditioning to keep you cool, most people neglect their furnace during the summer months. Now that you’re about to turn the heat back on and spend most of your time breathing the air it pushes around, it’s recommended you do some general maintenance to keep it running in top form.
The first thing you should do before kicking on the heat is to clean or replace your furnace filter. This not only helps the quality of your inside air, but also keeps your furnace running more efficient (and the more efficient your furnace runs the less money you waste heating your home).
If you have a permanent filter, follow the directions on how to clean it and only use the recommended cleaning solutions (you breathe the air that passes through the filter so cleaning it with harsh chemicals will only contaminate the air and could be potentially dangerous, especially if the cleaning solution is flammable).
Replaceable filters come in all different sizes and ratings. Ensure you’re getting one that is the correct size to fit your furnace and then choose the level of filter protection you want.
Filters are rated using the MERV system, or “Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value”. The higher the MERV rating the more particles the filter will remove from the air. If you have allergies or pets, a filter with a higher MERV rating will help keep your air cleaner. Of course, it’s not that simple as a higher MERV rating also means less airflow, which in turn could end up doing more harm to your furnace than good. Check with your furnace manufacturer to see what the highest level of filter you can use is before going for maximum protection. Filters should also be replaced every 90 days.
Doing a good vacuuming around your furnace and inside your floor and air intake vents also helps keeps air moving better so your furnace doesn’t have to work as hard. If you have pets (or have just moved into a newly built house) having your ducts professionally cleaned is highly recommended.
If your furnace is over 15-years-old you should have it inspected by an HVAC professional to make sure everything is still in proper working order before firing it up (HVAC stands for heating, ventilating and air conditioning). A good HVAC professional will be able to detect potential problems and will also be able to give you advice on running your furnace more efficient.
If your home is heated with baseboard or radiator heating, they should be cleaned and inspected for potential hazards as well.
And don’t forget to…
- Clean and inspect your fireplace
- Clean and inspect your dryer vent
- Change the batteries in your smoke detectors
- Check that carbon monoxide detectors are working properly
- Inspect fire extinguishers
- Inspect and test sump pumps
- Empty and store rain barrels
- Winterize outdoor lawn equipment
SOUND OFF: Do you take the time to prepare your house properly for fall? Did we miss an important tip? Have a home-related question? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.