Fall is the best time to get your house in order because come winter, small problems can turn into expensive nightmares. This money-saving autumn checklist for your home covers many things, including your yard and furnace.
With a small investment, and in some cases, just your time and effort, this minor preventive maintenance now will avoid big hassles and expense in the future.
Follow these tips to potentially save you thousands of dollars in repair costs.
Fall Chores That Save Winter Money
Once the winter freeze-thaw cycle kicks in, a tiny leak in your roof can turn into a crevasse—and a $10,000-plus repair job.
Clogged gutters and dribbling spigots can also do a lot of damage, so take advantage of the cooler weather to do these home and yard repairs and spruce-ups.
Fallen leaves can kill grass when they’re matted down by snow. Leaf piles can also attract rodents. But using leaf bags means work, and waste if they go into a landfill.
What to do: Make use of your lawn mower’s mulching mode. Ground-up leaves feed your lawn and save money. You might need to make a few passes to slice the leaves small enough to decay.
What you save: Along with saving the cost of leaf bags (Americans spend millions of dollars a year on them), you sidestep the back-breaking stooping and bending of raking and bagging.
Check Your Roof
Leaks can eventually damage the wood sheathing and rafters below your shingles, leading to thousands of dollars in repairs.
Look for Dark Patches
If some areas of your shingles look darker than the rest, you’re likely seeing the substrate that’s usually covered by protective granules. With time and exposure to the elements, the granules can come loose and get washed off when it rains.
If you discover asphalt granules in your gutters and downspouts it is definitely cause for alarm. Those little granules may not seem like an issue, but they play a formidable role in protecting your roof from damaging UV rays that can dry out your shingles and cause them to crack.
These granules should lead you to look for other, more serious, signs of damage on your roof.
Protecting Shingles from Granular Loss
While replacing the damaged shingles is really the only way to restore your roof’s integrity, there are some steps you can take to keep your roof from losing the granules.
Trim Tree Branches – It may be true that tall trees provide shade that cools off your home, but they can also remove granules as the branches swipe over the roof. For this reason all overhanging branches should be trimmed at least 3 ft. from the house.
Manage Pest Control – Squirrels and raccoons on the roof can be annoying but more importantly they can tear up asphalt shingles and leave your roof susceptible to leaks. Keep a close eye out for nests or scratching on the roof that can be a sign of infestation.
Don’t Walk on the Roof – Walking on your roof too often can lead to granule loss. The friction between your shoes and the shingles can knock off the granules. Be careful when walking on the roof and only go up when absolutely necessary.
Remember, the older the shingles, the more granules you will probably discover.
If you notice exposed substrate or other signs of damage, be sure to contact a reputable roofing company immediately. The last thing you want to do is let a damaged roof go unnoticed until it’s too late and water begins to leak into your home – causing significant damage.
What to do: Exposed substrate is more vulnerable to UV damage, so any shingles with bare patches should be replaced before they fail and your roof starts to leak.
Damaged or Missing Flashing
Flashing serves the critically-important purpose of redirecting water away from transitional areas of your roof, such as the valleys and around the eaves, as well as dormers, skylights, plumbing stacks, ridge vents and the chimney.
If you spy even one or two spots with damaged or missing flashing, they should be promptly fixed so rainwater doesn’t get underneath the shingles and start to rot the underlayment or make its way into your attic.
Moss on Your Roof
Moss is a destructive plant that prefers damp and shaded locations, like the north-facing sides of your roof.
As moss gets established, its roots pull in moisture that can lift and curl your shingles and decay the roof decking.
If you see patches of moss growth up on your roof, contact a skilled roofer for advice about having it safely removed and to check for damages that need repair.
If you want to remove the moss yourself, BobVila.com provides a good guide.
What to do: Use binoculars to spot cracked, curled, or missing shingles safely from the ground.
Consider having a roofing pro check flashing around chimneys, skylights, and roof valleys for leaks, and the rubber boots near vents for cracks that can let moisture seep in.
What you save: Megabucks! At roughly $3 per square foot installed, new sheathing would total $6,900 for a 2,300-square-foot house if you had to replace all of it.
And figure on an additional $7,000 to $10,000 to install new shingles, plus added costs if the roof rafters need replacing(!)
Water in the Attic
Whether or not you discover any roof issues outdoors from ground level, you should also check up in the attic a couple of times a year.
Pick an early morning while it’s still cool, then head up to the attic with a flashlight. Shine the beam over the underside of the roof sheathing to look for obvious leaks or fresh or dried water stains. Then, turn off the light and examine the ceiling for any visible pinpoints of light.
Finally, check the attic floor insulation for dampness, mold or mildew.
Clear Gutter Clogs
Gutters stuffed with leaves, pine needles, and other debris can let water spill over the side, pool around your home’s foundation, and seep inside. Water that freezes in gutters can force snow and ice into roof shingles, causing damage and leaks.
What to do: Consider a gutter-guard system to keep debris out and water in. Make sure that gutter drains extend 5 feet from the house—and that soil slopes away from the foundation 1 inch per foot for 6 feet or more.
What you save: It costs about $300 per year for a pro to clean gutters in the fall and spring. That might be worth it rather than risking a fall off a ladder if you do the job yourself.
Close Your Hoses
Pipes can burst when water inside expands as it freezes, creating an expensive mess in your home.
Water leaks are never fun and definitely messy. The sooner you learn where your water shut off valve is and how to turn them off, the better.
Sometimes your plumbing will spring a leak because a pipe or connector splits. Winter is more challenging if you live up north where temperatures drop below freezing.
You need to shutoff exterior faucets to avoid problems if/when the temperature drops below freezing. Typically you’ll have one or more outside faucets for watering the lawn, washing the car, etc.
Each exterior faucet should have a shutoff valve inside the house where you can turn off the source of water to the outside faucet.
Not Sure Where Your Shut-Off Valve is?
- First, look for your main water shutoff valve near your water meter. This will be found inside in climates where temperatures fall below freezing. Otherwise, the shutoff valve will be outside your home, most often near an outside faucet. As this is often the biggest challenge, you might find the video above helpful.
- Look along an exterior wall near the front of the house if you have a basement or crawl space.
- With a slab foundation, look for your water shutoff valve near the hot water heater or garage.
- With older homes, the shutoff valve may be near the street and buried in the ground.
What to do: Shut off inside valves that control water flow to hose spigots. Then briefly open the spigots to drain any leftover water in pipes and hoses.
Also drain water from supply lines for water sprinklers and pools, and shut off inside valves that control them. And help prevent freezing by insulating pipes in unheated areas.
What you save: Literally thousands of dollars in plumbing repairs and water damage, especially if pipes burst and cause a flood while you’re away.
If your house is drafty and your furnace needs maintenance, you’ll be paying more to keep warm this winter than you have to. With a little caulk and some elbow grease you can tighten the building envelope of your home.
Your furnace is much less likely to fail on a cold day if you do some quick maintenance now.
Put Energy Savings on Autopilot
Simply lowering temperatures by 10° F to 15° F while you’re at work or asleep can trim 15 percent from your heating bill.
Use a Programmable Thermostat
The idea of the programmable thermostat is that you will reduce energy usage when you are away at work or when you are sleeping.
When used correctly, programmable thermostats can facilitate considerable savings on your heating (and cooling) bills.
The defining elements of success seem to be attitude and consistency; you’ll have to get into the money-saving mindset, and make some adjustments even when you’re home and awake.
Don’t touch! Get into the habit of leaving the presets for occupied and unoccupied rooms where they need to be, because large swings in thermostat temperatures and constant changes will use more energy.
A good guideline for winter is to set your programmable thermostat to about 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) when you are home, and lower (about 10-12 degrees Fahrenheit or 6-8 degrees Celsius) when you are sleeping or away. And get your thermostat to turn on the heat about an hour before you get up or get home.
What to do: You can lower temperatures manually on any thermostat or install a programmable thermostat (about $40 to $250) to do it for you.
What you save: Setting temperatures back can save you up to $100 per year, based on average heating costs. That’s $500 in your pocket after just five years.
Plug the Leaks
The swiftest savings come from sealing air leaks in your home’s walls, windows, and especially its duct work.
What to do: Sealing and insulating your home’s air ducts are jobs best left to a professional. But you can use a combination of caulk, foam board, expandable sealant, and weather stripping to plug leaks around windows, doors, electrical outlets, and other openings in your home.
What you save: Plugging leaks could lower your annual heating and cooling bills by $400.
Replace Furnace Filters
How to Replace Your Furnace Filter
Start by turning off the furnace. Remove the existing furnace filter, which will be located inside the furnace or inside the return air vent. Look for an arrow on the filter indicating airflow direction.
Using a permanent marker, draw the airflow direction on the outside of the furnace, so you’ll always know the right way to install the filter. Then note the furnace filter size, which will be printed on the cardboard frame.
Note that a filter that has a plastic frame is a reusable model. That means you have clean it only periodically with a vacuum and water, ideally outdoors. Let it dry completely before reinserting.
Look for the markings that tell you which side of the filter should face the furnace. Then slide the filter back into place and replace any cover that goes over it. Keep a record of the date so that you’ll know when it’s time to change the furnace filter again.
Consumer Reports’ top-rated –
- 5-inch furnace filters: Lennox Healthy Climate CarbonClean 16.
- 1-inch furnace filters: Filtrete Healthy Living Ultimate Allergen Reduction 1900 MPR
What to do: Check the air filter in the furnace or heat pump each month. And have a pro check the system annually (about $120), tightening electrical connections, lubricating moving parts, and checking drains, controls, and connections for oil and gas systems.
What you save: About $200 to $300 or more for service calls and repairs, plus the discomfort and risk of frozen pipes if your home’s heating system shuts off.
Clean Your Chimney
A wood-burning fireplace or stove may be cozy, but creosote buildup can impede the flow of smoke and cause chimney fires and carbon-monoxide poisoning. And even unused chimneys can develop cracks that weaken the structure.
For anyone who uses their fireplace, the presence of creosote is unavoidable. Every time you burn wood, some creosote is deposited in your chimney lining.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the result of failing to remove the creosote could be a deadly chimney fire. It’s also important to note that you can do things that will help to reduce the amount of creosote in your chimney.
You can slow down the creosote buildup, which means your chimney stays safer and cleaner for a longer period of time. Less creosote also means less pollution, since it is clean burning that reduces a buildup of the flammable substance.
Stages of Chimney Creosote
Creosote is tar-like, black, and sooty; and it has three stages. The second stage is more difficult to clean and more hazardous than the first; and the third stage of creosote is the most dangerous and is extremely tough (and expensive) to remove.
First Stage – Creosote in its first stage looks like flaky soot. It is easy to remove, using a basic chimney brush.
Second Stage – The second stage of creosote looks like hard, shiny black flakes. Hardened tar is in the flakes, and it can’t be brushed away easily. A rotary loop is usually required to remove second-stage creosote. A rotary loop is a powerful drill that turns metal rods and does a good job of removing the tarry substance.
Third Stage – Homeowners really should avoid having to deal with third-stage creosote because it is terribly difficult to remove, but it is also very dangerous because it is a highly concentrated fuel. This stage of creosote looks like a thick coating of tar is dripping down on the inside of your chimney flue. This glazed creosote hardens and thickens, layer upon layer. The creosote can easily be ignited with a hot fire in the fireplace. This type of creosote leaves an easy-to-remove spongy residue behind after catching fire, but a chimney fire is not safe to use as a solution for creosote. In fact, cleaning the chimney is largely for the purpose of avoiding a chimney fire.
Chimney fires produce intense flames which can cause a fire on the roof, damage the flue, and cause nearby combustible parts of the home to ignite.
Chemicals are used by chimney sweeps to remove stage three creosote, but sometimes the best solution is to replace the chimney liner.
How to Minimize Creosote Build-Up
- Burn hot, clean fires as opposed to slow-burning, smoldering fires. With slow-burning blazes, a greater amount of combustion by-products is left in the chimney, as opposed to being released out of the chimney.
- Burn only seasoned firewood, which means that the logs have low moisture content.
- Do not burn artificial logs because they leave behind a lot of creosote in the chimney.
- If the chimney is filled with cold air, it will result in poor combustion in the fireplace. The way many people dispel the cold column of air is by rolling newspaper and lighting it as a torch and holding it up through the damper. (Please use extreme caution, if you try this method, to avoid being burned.)
Use Cresosote Sweeping Logs
The Chimney Safety Institute of America, which educates and advocates for industry professionals, gave their Accepted Product Status to the creosote sweeping log several years ago after the Joseph Enterprises product underwent a thorough testing and approval process.
“The creosote deposit can easily become a very slick, hard glaze, which is difficult to remove,” says Ashley Eldridge, CSIA director of education. “The compressed chemical mix in the creosote log changes the nature of the deposits into a dryer, flakier form, so that when we come to provide the service to sweep the chimney, we can do a better job.”
The product has been on the market for more than a decade, and Eldridge notes that professional chimney sweeps were hesitant to recommend the product. “People felt it was being marketed as a replacement for chimney sweeps, which isn’t the case,” he says.
“A chimney sweep does more than just clean the chimney,” Eldridge says. “It’s about inspecting the chimney and knowing all the things you need to be aware of. And the manufacturers were very accommodating about changing some of their advertising language and providing third-party lab verification that their product was doing what they claimed it would do.”
He says the creosote sweeping log works effectively to improve the nature of the creosote deposits.
“It’s a great tool as long as you don’t have unrealistic expectations of it,” he says. “It’s not a substitute to sweep the chimney, but when done properly, it makes it easier for the chimney sweep to do a better job when they sweep the chimney.”
What to do: If your chimney hasn’t had a recent inspection, now’s the time. Figure on roughly $150 to $300 for an inspection and a sweep. Go to csia.org for industry-certified chimney sweeps and check bbb.org for complaints.
What you save: Up to $5,000 if the chimney flue liner cracks; thousands more if there’s a fire.
Get started now with these fall maintenance tips to avoid potentially costly hassles over the winter. It’s always better to be proactive in advance, than to deal with an emergency later!
Did I miss anything? Please share your fall maintenance tips!
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