Prep for the holidays and the changing season

Friday, November 9, 2012

Whether you are a new homeowner bursting with excitement over thoughts of spending this year’s holidays in your first home or a long-time homeowner with dozens of holidays behind you, the approaching holidays should signal something more than a celebration. The changing of the seasons from fall to winter should be a time to take care of home maintenance before your home fills with company and the snow falls.

The Washington, D.C. region experiences both extreme heat and, in some years, extreme cold and high levels of snowfall. If you are a homeowner in this area you need to do a little preventative maintenance so that your home weathers each season gracefully. While some of these tasks are simple ones that you can do on your own, you may want to call in a professional for others.
Exterior maintenance tasks
Before it gets too cold and especially before the first snowfall, you should take care of the following tasks for safety and to improve your home’s appearance during the winter months.
•    Clean up your landscaping. Pull out your remaining annuals, prune your roses and shrubs, rake your leaves and spread a fresh layer of mulch for a neat appearance.
•    Pressure clean and seal your deck before it gets too cold.
•    Clean your gutters or hire someone to handle this for you if you’re not comfortable with heights.
•    Inspect your roof for missing shingles and to be sure the flashing is sealed.
•    Inspect your bricks and masonry including sidewalks and steps for cracks. Sealing a small crack before winter comes can prevent a bigger problem come spring.
•    Winterize your lawn equipment and store it.
•    Disconnect your exterior hoses and turn off your outside water supply. If your hoses stay connected and have water in them, this could freeze and cause problems to your home.
•    If you have a sprinkler system you should drain the water out of this system before the threat of a freeze.
•    Before the first snowfall, make sure you have a shovel and deicing material such as rock salt.
Interior maintenance tasks
Indoors, your home maintenance tasks before winter revolve around keeping your home warm, dry and safe.
•    Have your chimney cleaned and inspected. Even if you rarely use your fireplace, be sure to have it checked annually for cracks.
•    Have your heating system professionally inspected and service. Many homeowners opt for a relatively inexpensive heating and air conditioning maintenance contract that includes a fall and spring check as well as discounts on any needed repairs.
•    Change your furnace filters as often as recommended, typically monthly depending on the type of filter.
•    Check your smoke alarms and replace your smoke alarm batteries.
•    Check the weather stripping and caulking around your windows and doors and replace if needed.
•    Turn off the circuit breaker to your air conditioner so your system isn’t damaged if it’s accidentally turned on.
•    Check your fire extinguisher to make sure it works.
•    Consider adding insulation to your attic. If you have attic access, one of the best ways to improve your energy efficiency and to keep your home warm in winter is to add some extra insulation around the ceiling joists.
•    Make sure you know how to shut off your water in case your pipes freeze.
•    Clean your dryer vent. You may want to have this professionally cleaned because vents clogged with lint or other debris are a fire hazard.
•    Vacuum your floor register vents and air return ducts. When these vents and ducts are clogged with dust your heating system has to work harder to warm your home.
•    Add a carbon monoxide detector to your home. A relatively inexpensive detector ($30 or so) should be installed in any home with a gas or oil-burning appliance or heating system or with a fireplace that is in frequent use.
•    If you’re worried about energy bills, you can inexpensively install a blanket around your water heater that can keep the water warmer and save you money.
•    Purchase a programmable thermostat. You can regulate your use of your heat and set the temperature so you don’t waste heat while no one is home.
One of the most important steps to take and often unknown to homeowners who have moved from a single level apartment or home to a two or three-story home is to manage your heat. Many homes have a duct damper lever on their furnace that adjusts the heat so that it goes to the lower level in the winter and then rises through the house. If your home doesn’t have this, you can accomplish the same thing by opening air registers on the lower level in winter and closing some of your upper level air registers. Then you can reverse the process in spring.
While this list may look daunting, most of these activities will take just a few moments of your time. Isn’t that worth it to have a warm and comfortable winter?

Michele Lerner is a freelance writer with twenty years of experience writing articles and web content for newspapers and magazines on topics related to real estate, personal finance and business. Her clients include,,, The Washington Times, Urban Land Magazine, NAREIT's Real Estate Portfolio, and numerous Realtor association publications. Michele's first book, "HOMEBUYING: Tough Times, First Time, Any Time" is available now at or from