Pumpkin spice lattes, football, shorter days and colder nights — it’s that time of year again. Fall is in the air.
Use this time to take care of some important home maintenance projects before winter sneaks up on you. Save money, prevent disasters, and live more comfortably by following these 10 tips to prepare your home for fall and winter.
Prepare Your Home for Fall and Winter
1. Eliminate air leaks
This is a great mild weather task. By sealing air leaks around the home, you can increase comfort and save a lot of money on heating and cooling bills.
Test for air leaks around windows, doors, and other areas in your home with a lit incense stick or thin piece of toilet paper. If the paper or smoke begins to move, you have air movement nearby.
Make sure you turn off fans, HVAC systems, and close all windows and doors before conducting your air leak investigation.
Inspect the following areas around your home for air leaks:
Make sure the flap that prevents air from entering the vent is closed and working. If the flap won’t close on its own, replace the vent. Contact a professional if you have any questions.
It’s a good idea to insulate your electrical boxes with a foam gasket or expandable foam spray. Make sure you turn power off to the circuit before unscrewing the outlet plate and insulating the box.
Leaky and inefficient windows are probably the biggest energy loser in your home. Test for air leakage around the perimeter of all your windows.
If you don’t anticipate opening some windows this winter, you may want to seal them up for added energy savings. Sealing up your windows for the winter is especially beneficial when it comes to leaky basement windows.
To seal the entire window, you have two options: caulk or plastic film.
- Caulk around the perimeter of the window, in between the moveable parts (sashes) and the stationary parts (jambs). Keep the bead between 3/16 and 1/2 inch wide. Do not smooth the caulk over because this will make it much more difficult to remove later. Clean up any caulk residue with mineral spirits.
- Plastic film insulation kits can also help seal up your windows for winter. Simply follow the manufacturer instructions and use them to cover and seal any windows you want.
Both the caulk and plastic film options are removable, but keep in mind that they are semi-permanent solutions, meaning you should only use them if you don’t intend on using those windows for a while.
For windows you actually want to be able to open and close during winter, you may want to replace the old weatherstripping. First, remove the weatherstripping, then replace it with the weatherstripping of your choice.
If you are noticing high energy bills, sealing issues, condensation, and other window problems, you should consider window replacement. We usually recommend double-pane windows for Northern California homes, but single-pane and triple-pane options are also available.
Whether it’s a window upgrade, installation, or replacement, contact Bell Brothers to ensure a tighter seal, reduced moisture, and increased security and soundproofing. Best of all, all custom windows come with a lifetime guarantee.
Unlike windows, you probably want to be able to use your doors over the winter season. Instead of permanently sealing them off, replace old, worn weatherstripping and make sure you have working door sweeps on all doors that lead outside. Invest in quality, permanent door sweeps that get installed at the bottom of the door.
2. Basement and Attic Air Leaks
Heat rises right through your ceilings and into the attic. As the warm air escapes through the top part of the building, cold outdoor air gets drawn in through leaks in the basement. This is known as the “stack effect.”
This suction effect created near the bottom of the building is why it’s so important to seal attic and basement air leaks. Sealing air leaks at the top and bottom of the home is the best way to combat the stack effect.
Common attic air leaks:
- Behind and under kneewalls
- Attic hatch
- Wiring holes
- Holes for plumbing and pipes
- Dropped soffits that are open to the attic
- Recessed lights
- Furnace flue or duct chaseway (the hollow box or wall feature that hides ducts)
Common basement air leaks:
- Between rim joists and under the sill plate
- At wiring holes
- Plumbing pipes
- The door to crawlspace, if attached to outside of house
- The foundation at the sill plate, if not sealed properly
For help winterizing your attic, check out the EPA’s Attic Air Sealing Project.
3. Seal Gaps Around Plumbing
Take some time to seal gaps around your plumbing pipes and other areas where utilities enter or leave a building. If you see gaps around you pipes, use some expandable foam spray to seal the leaks.
Simply shake up the can and squirt inside of the gaps. Be careful not to overfill the gap as the foam will expand larger and faster than you might expect. After the foam has expanded, use a utility knife to cut it flush with the wall.
4. Clean Gutters
Gutter and downspout maintenance is important to prevent water and flood damage. Make sure your French drains and gutters are clean and clear so water can properly drain away from your home. Consider contacting a professional to clean your gutters for you. Ask about gutter guards and screens to keep leaves and debris out of your gutters.
Additionally, observe your downspouts and consider installing downspout extenders if water isn’t being diverted far enough away from the foundation.
5. Clean Your Drains
If you haven’t scheduled professional drain cleaning in the last year, consider doing so now. While you can try DIY drain cleaning solutions, annual professional drain cleaning is the quickest and most effective way to prevent blockages, limit smells, and ensure a healthy, sanitary plumbing system.
It’s important to make sure your plumbing system is in good shape before the holiday season begins. Contact a professional plumber for your annual plumbing inspection in the fall before you start inviting friends and family over for celebrations.
6. Trim Plants and Trees
Fall is the perfect time to inspect your landscape for dead or dying tree limbs. Heavy winds can cause branches to scratch and rub against the home and even fall and cause property damage and personal injury.
Pay attention to trees and plants around your outdoor HVAC unit. You want to make sure there are no branches above the unit that could fall and cause damage. Additionally, make sure there is a minimum 3-foot clearance around the entire unit for proper airflow.
If there are plants encroaching on the unit, the unit gets a lot dirtier and won’t have the space to operate efficiently. It’s also a good idea to trim back trees and shrubbery to eliminate potential hiding spots for burglars.
If you have any questions about the health of your trees, we recommend speaking with a tree expert. For advice on hiding and shading your outdoor HVAC unit without limiting airflow, contact Bell Brothers.
7. Fireplace and Chimney Cleaning and Inspection
If you have a fireplace, schedule a professional cleaning and inspection in the fall. This will make sure there is no dangerous creosote build-up or accumulated debris and pest activity.
Also, make sure you have a sturdy fireplace screen/cover and that the damper opens and closes properly.
8. Program Your Thermostat
When the seasons change, it’s a good idea to reassess your programmable thermostat (or buy one if you are still using a mechanical thermostat).
Consult your owner’s manual to make sure you have the thermostat programmed correctly.
Remember, you can save 5% to 15% a year on your heating bill by setting your thermostat back 10° to 15° for 8 hours at a time (U.S. DOE).
9. Change the Air Filter
Change your furnace filter before the heating season begins. Make sure you have plenty of filter replacements on hand so you can quickly change the filter when needed.
As a general rule, inspect your HVAC air filter every 30 days and wait no longer than 90 days to clean or replace it.
To see if your filter is dirty, remove it and hold it up to the light. If dirt and dust are blocking light from passing through the filter, you should replace it.
A clogged air filter not only reduces airflow, it can also cause indoor air quality problems for your entire household.
10. Schedule a Professional Heating Tune-Up
Before you start relying on your heating system, schedule a professional heating tune-up with a certified HVAC company. This is the best thing you can do to prevent breakdowns and extend the lifespan of your heating equipment. In addition to lower utility bills, you will also experience increased comfort, reliability, and safety.
Heating equipment is one of the leading causes of home fires and home fire deaths. You also have to worry about electric shocks, burns, and carbon monoxide poisoning. To ensure the safety of your heating system, it’s crucial to have your heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
Consider signing up for a Home Maintenance Club to make sure you get the proper HVAC maintenance every year.
Contact Bell Brothers to schedule your fall furnace tune-up. While we’re there, let us inspect your home, windows, and insulation to recommend ways to increase comfort while decreasing energy bills. Rest easy knowing your home is taken care of by Bell Brothers.