Spending a day or two this fall on a few annual maintenance tasks can help prevent common winter emergencies like home heating system breakdowns, roof leaks, and burst pipes.
Complete these 14 routine tasks to make sure your home stays safe and comfortable this winter.
1. Check Smoke Alarms & Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Press and hold the “test” button on smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they’re working properly. Replace the batteries in any battery-operated devices if you haven’t replaced them with sealed, 10-year units.
2. Clean Your Gutters & Downspouts
When gutters and downspouts are clogged in fall and winter, water can overflow and soak into the foundation, causing damage as the water freezes and expands. Excess moisture lingering near the roof also encourages mold growth in the attic and invites pests to move in.
There are several ways to clean your gutters safely, such as scooping out debris by hand, using a long tool to displace the gunk from ground level, or hiring a professional to do it for you.
TIP: If you decide to remove debris by hand, follow the instructions in task #7 to inspect the roof while you’re up on the ladder.
3. Schedule a Heating System Tune-up
Scheduling an annual heating maintenance appointment in the fall can help prevent unexpected breakdowns this season and extend the lifespan of your equipment.
The technician will replace the air filter, clean and inspect the burners, check electrical and gas line connections, and more. This will help your system operate more efficiently, which can lead to lower energy bills and fewer repairs.
4. Plan for Air Filter Replacement
Air filters in heating systems need to be replaced at least once every three months (more often if you have pets or severe allergies). With that in mind, make note of the approximate dates when you need to replace your system’s filter. Find out which air filter type you need and where to purchase it.
5. Store Lawn Tools & Furniture
It’s time to put away tools and furniture that could get damaged or create a hazard when covered in snow. Clean and stow your lawn mower, move gardening tools and seating to a shed or garage, and remove your hose from the hose bib.
6. Drain Your Sprinkler System & Insulate Outdoor Plumbing
Shut off the water supply for sprinklers and follow the instructions in the owner’s manual to drain the water from the system. Then, cover outdoor spigots and exposed pipes with insulation.
7. Inspect Your Roof & Interior Ceilings for Signs of Water Damage
Walk around your property and do the following:
- Inside.Scan the ceiling and walls for water stains or bubbling drywall in each room.
- Outside Stand at ground level and do a quick inspection of the roof. Look for lichen growth, missing or sagging shingles, and visible holes. You can also complete this step while standing on a ladder, but it’s not necessary. (NOTE: Never crawl or stand on your roof unless you’re a licensed roofing professional.)
If you notice anything unusual, you may have roof damage or a plumbing issue that will need to be repaired as soon as possible.
TIP: Schedule a professional roof inspection if it’s been more than four years since your last inspection.
8. Seal Air Leaks to Improve Your Home’s Energy Efficiency
Purchase weatherstripping, caulk or sealant and use it to seal any gaps or cracks around windows and doors that lead outside. According to the U.S. Department of Energy,,sealing leaks can help lower energy bills up to 20%.
If you’re thinking about replacing your windows, consider installing low-e (low emissivity) storm windows to improve your home’s energy efficiency.
9. Review Your Fire Safety Plan
Review how to escape your home with your family in the event of a fire. Every bedroom should have two exit paths, and upstairs windows should have a rope ladder stowed nearby. Decide on a safe meeting place away from your home.
10. Make Sure Your Drainage Directs Water Away from the Foundation
Downspouts should empty into a drainage area that’s sloped away from your home. If you see remnants of dirt or soil pressed against the siding, it’s a sign that water has been pooling near your home’s foundation and will need to be redirected.
11. Remove Loose Tree Branches
Large branches that hang over your roof are dangerous because they could cause significant damage when weighed down with ice and snow. Even smaller branches can be dangerous because they can form bridges for critters seeking shelter in your attic. Remove any loose tree branches that could fall on your roof to be safe.
12. Inspect Your Fireplace
Carefully open the damper and shine a flashlight up the flue. You should see daylight. If you see any obstructions or creosote (a flaky or tar-like residue) buildup, hire a chimney sweep to clean your chimney and fireplace.
13. Gather Cold Weather Supplies
Find your shovel and deicing materials and prepare them for routine use. Stock up on these supplies if you’re running low.
14. Flush the Water Heater
If it’s been over a year since you flushed your water heater and checked the pressure valves, take care of it now before your water heater sees more consistent use. Schedule a maintenance appointment if you notice anything unusual or prefer a professional to flush your water heater for you.