Fall is in the air already, which means that another chilly winter can't be too far behind. So before the cold weather arrives, here's your annual checklist of things to do to get your home ready for the change of season.
Inside your home
Check smoke detectors: Don't neglect that smoke detector any longer! Take some time right now to check the operation of detectors, and to change the batteries. If you have an older house with a limited number of smoke detectors, install additional ones at each sleeping room, and make sure there is one centrally located on each level of the home as well.
Install a carbon monoxide detector: As houses get closed up for winter, the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning from malfunctioning gas appliances increases substantially. If you have a furnace, fireplace, water heater, or other appliance that's fueled by propane or natural gas, or if you have an attached garage, install a carbon monoxide detector. They're available inexpensively from many home centers and other retailers, and offer easy, plug-in installation.
Service your heating system: Perform a complete system check of your furnace annually, either by yourself or by a trained furnace technician. Check for worn belts, lubrication needs or other servicing that might be required; refer to your owner's manual for specific suggestions, and follow any manufacturer safety instructions for shutting the power and fuel to the furnace before servicing. Check the condition of duct joints and insulation, and of course, change the filter.
Upgrade your thermostat: An older thermostat that's a couple of degrees off can result in a lot of wasted energy, and so can forgetting to set the thermostat down at night. You can take care of both of those problems with an upgrade to a programmable thermostat. Programmable thermostats are digital and typically very accurate, and they allow for easy, set-and-forget programming of temperatures for different times of the day, including energy-saving nighttime and workday setbacks.
Outside your home
Trim trees: Trees that are overhanging your home can be a real hazard. They can deposit debris on your roof, scrape against shingles during wind storms, and, worst of all, snap off with potentially devastating results. Have a professional tree trimming service inspect the condition of overhanging tree limbs, and safely cut them back as needed.
Check the gutters: Clear the gutters of leaf and pine needle debris, and check that the opening between the gutter and the downspout is unobstructed. Look for loose joints or other structural problems with the system, and repair them as needed using pop rivets. Use a gutter sealant to seal any connections where leaks may be occurring.
Break out the caulk: A few hours and few tubes of caulking can make a big difference in both your heating bills and your comfort levels this winter. Caulk around windows, doors, pipes, exterior electrical outlets, and any other exterior penetrations where cold air might enter. Use a good grade of acrylic latex caulk, either in a paintable white or, if you don't want to paint, use clear.
Drain sprinkler systems: In colder areas, now is the time to be thinking about having your sprinkler and irrigation systems blown out. You can rent a compressor and do this yourself, or contact a landscape or irrigation system installer and have them handle this for you. This is also the time to shut off outdoor faucets and install freeze-proof faucet covers as needed.
Adjust exterior grade: Fall is also a great time to look at the grade around your home, and make sure that everything slopes away from your foundation to avoid costly problems with ground water. Add, remove or adjust soil grades as necessary for good drainage.
Change light timers: If you have exterior lights that are controlled by timers, including low-voltage ones, check the timer settings. Change the "on" times to an earlier hour to reflect the earlier winter darkness, so that you always have adequate outside light available.