It’s time to start getting your home ready for fall. Once the first day of fall has come and gone, the seasons turn, the holidays are just around the corner and the weeks fly by. Is your home ready for the cold months?
Whether you are learning the ins-and-outs of your first home or you are about to experience your first winter in colder climates, our fall home maintenance checklist can provide you with the guidance and information you need. Remember that winter conditions like ice and snow can prevent you from leaving your home, so it’s essential to plan ahead. Use these guidelines to stay safe and comfortable.
Inside the Home
- Make sure that all of your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are in working order with fresh batteries. While this is a precaution you should be taking year-round, know that fire and CO risk increase in the winter months.
- While you are doing that, go ahead and ensure that all dryer vents are clear of debris, as such clogs can become a fire hazard. Don’t wait for the first day of fall; this is something that you should be doing regularly, but it can be hard to remember if it isn’t grouped with other routine tasks.
- Next, you’ll want to check all of your doors and windows to make sure that they are secured against the outdoors. Verify that the locks are operational and in good condition. If they aren’t, perform the necessary repairs and reinforcements to secure them.
- Once you’ve finished with the locks, it’s time to add any insulation or weather-stripping that may be missing from the edges of your doors and windows.
- While focusing on insulation, it’s vital that you insulate any exposed water pipes that could be in danger of freezing.
Heating System Maintenance
If you’re new to cold weather climates, you’re likely unfamiliar with the ins and outs of heating systems. No matter what type of heating you have, understand that some seasonal maintenance is required. We recommend hiring a professional to check up on things the first time around, especially if you have a fireplace, wood stove or an older furnace. Heating equipment that doesn’t function properly may contribute to fires, carbon monoxide leaks and overloaded electrical outlets.
Stay safe: Before you start working on your heater, furnace or any other HVAC equipment, always make sure that you disconnect it from electrical and fuel sources. If you have any doubts, don’t hesitate to call a licensed professional to inspect your heating system.
- Electric Furnaces: Make sure your furnace has a clean, undamaged air filter. The filter is located at your air intake vent (which may be on the furnace itself or somewhere else within your home. If you’re unsure of where to locate your intake vent, you can check the model number and brand of your furnace online to find out). This filter may need to be changed as often as every month—especially if you have pets that shed—but should never go longer than three months. You’ll also need to check the ductwork for leaks, debris buildup, and contaminants such as mold.
- Oil Furnaces: Again, make sure you have a clean oil filter installed. You should also check or top off your fuel level at the beginning of the season and monitor it closely all winter. There’s nothing worse than running out of heating fuel in the middle of a storm or cold snap. Not only can this be dangerously uncomfortable, it usually involves a hefty emergency refill fee.
- Gas Furnaces: Remove the combustion chamber door and check for any buildup of dust or foreign debris. With caution, use a shop vac to vacuum up any debris or dirt that should not be there. Again, monitor your fuel levels and schedule refills as necessary.
- Wood Stoves: Common advice to increase the efficiency of wood stoves is to install a surface thermometer and aim to keep the temperature, when in use, within the 300-400 degrees Fahrenheit range. Make sure to check for leaks, cracks, and material buildups within the stove and flue. After you (or a hired professional) have inspected the stove, it’s time to clean the stove and remove any debris or buildup while also repairing any leaks.
- Fireplaces and Chimneys: Ensure that your chimney cap is secure and free of nests and wildlife. Assess the visual structure of both the chimney and the fireplace to make sure that the bricks and other materials aren’t loose or cracked. Open the flue and check for buildup of soot, then clean it out to open the airflow. Then do the same for your fireplace.
- Smart Thermostats: If you want to make your heating system easier to use - and potentially save money at the same time - consider adding a smart thermostat to your current system. By letting you configure custom heating and cooling settings, smart thermostats can keep your home comfortable without wasting energy on unoccupied spaces.
Outside the Home
One of the first and most straightforward steps when getting your home ready for fall is to rake the leaves and trim your trees and shrubs.Outside of the annual raking chore, remember these details:
- Trim trees: Unhealthy and weak tree limbs can crack and fall under the weight of snow and ice, leading to potentially severe damage. While safety is the main reason for trimming these branches away, it will also benefit your yard in the spring by opening it up to sunlight. If you’re uncomfortable operating the required tools (usually gas or electric-powered saws of one type or another) or using a ladder, then don’t hesitate to hire a professional.
- Locate and turn off exterior water supplies to avoid icing and leaks. Bring in your hoses and sprinklers, as well as any other warm-weather lawn equipment, after draining them of any residual water.
- Check your gutters and make sure they are clean of leaves and other debris so that melting ice and snow can pass freely through your drainage system.
Essential Supplies for Ice, Snow, and Storms
Snow removal is difficult. It’s even more difficult if you’re not prepared. When getting your home ready for fall, it is essential to stock up on supplies ahead of time as many of these items go fast and become scarce as winter progresses. If you wait until a big storm is looming, you may find yourself competing for picked over goods at the local store.
Heads up: If you don’t keep access cleared to your mailbox or mail slot, the mail carrier may not be able to deliver your mail and newspapers. And even if you hire a plow to clear your driveway, you may still have to deal with clearing the walkways and stairs yourself.
- Snow shovels are non-negotiable. Consider purchasing an ergonomic snow shovel to ease the labor and reduce the back strain of using it. If you have kids and want to get their help with this chore, then consider grabbing a few kids’ sized snow shovels as well.
- Ice melt can save time and reduce the risk of falling or slipping. Salts may be traditional for this job, but some ice melt products are more pet-friendly—such as this one—and better for the environment.
- Depending on your climate and the size of your driveway, consider buying a snow blower or contracting a snowplow to clear your property all season long.
Home Emergency Kit
One of the most important items on any fall home safety checklist is a general home emergency kit. Some ideal items to consider for your emergency kit are listed below. For a complete overview, check out this comprehensive article on home emergency kits.
- First aid kit: It’s always smart to keep a first aid kit around but these can become literal life-savers when bad weather increases the time for emergency response services.
- Reliable flashlights like this one, or this one: Hand crank flashlights save the need for fresh batteries and ensures the device will always work when you need it.
- Backup chargers or batteries: With so many things powered by USB, especially smartphones, these can be an essential tool during unexpected power outages.
- An emergency radio: When the power’s out and you can’t get online, a battery-powered emergency radio will still work. It will keep you connected to the news and weather reports if you need to shelter in place.