Change of Season - Home Maintenance Tips

Before it gets too nasty to work outdoors, take the month to button up your home for the rough weather to come. Here is a handy checklist of home maintenance tasks that need to be completed this month, plus tips for how to do them faster and easier, or with the help of a pro.

1. Weatherproof the house  - 
Locate and seal cracks and spaces that let heat out and cold air in—along baseboards, wall/ceiling junctures, windows, and doors, lighting fixtures, switches, and electrical outlets. Your wallet will thank you because energy savings from reducing drafts range from 5% to 30% per year. For tips on doing an energy audit on your home go to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Tip: At night, ask a partner to walk outside while you turn off all lights and shine a flashlight along doors and windows (tell the neighbors not to call the police). The light will illuminate large cracks. Small ones won’t likely show up, however. For those, light a candle or incense stick and pass it along potential leak areas. If the flame or smoke wavers, you’ve got a leak.

A home audit that finds all the nooks and crannies where energy escapes costs $375 on average. Painters ($25 to $100 an hour) will seal gaps with caulk. Handymen ($30 to $50 an hour) can install weatherstripping.

2. Check fire alarms - Dead batteries cause 24% of smoke alarm failures, putting your family at greater risk of a fire. You should replace batteries or test hard-wired fire alarms twice a year. You knew this, right? Fine, we don’t mind reminding you.Check those batteries for safety, and to stop the beeping.

Tip: Don’t remember when you tested your detector last? Get into the habit of testing the alarm and changing batteries on a specific date like the start of the new year. 

3. Service the HVAC system - Make sure your heating system is running safely and efficiently so you’ll stay toasty during cold weather and save money on energy bills.
Tip: You can unclog and clean HVAC grilles by popping them in the dishwasher. (Leave out the dishes, preferably.) Also make sure you dust heating returns and change filters every one to three months.
An HVAC expert ($60 to $85 an hour) is the best person to inspect and tune up your system, which will include checking controls, lubricating moving parts, and making sure no carbon monoxide is leaking.
4. Clear dead leaves - Dead leaves aren’t just unsightly—they’ll also kill your lawn. Rake and bag ’em for removal.

Tip: Mulch leaves in place by running your mower over them and letting the pieces decompose and nourish your lawn all winter.

Lawn maintenance services charge on average $50 to rake leaves. While they’re raking, have them aerate and reseed your lawn so it will green up faster in spring.

5. Clean patio furniture - Before storing your outdoor furniture for the winter, take this opportunity to give them a good cleaning so you don’t have to do it in the spring, at which point the dirt and grime will be way harder to remove.
Tip: Brillo is a great scrubber to remove crud from plastic patio furniture. Just scrub and rinse. Or, train a power washer onto the furniture for a quick clean.
A professional pressure washing costs about 8 cents to 35 cents per square foot. You probably won’t persuade one to clean only your patio furniture, but you can always add this task to a bigger job—such as pressure washing a fence or driveway—for extra productivity points.
6. Secure the home from pests - Critters are just like you: When it’s cold outside, they want to go where it’s warm. “An attic offers a fantastic retreat for rodents like rats and mice to spend the winter,” says Nancy Troyano, director of technical education and training for Rentokil Steritech, a pest control company. But unlike you, mice and snakes can get through a hole the size of a quarter. Don’t let them! Replace all damaged roof tiles and attic vents before it snows, and seal up holes around plumbing pipes and cables that enter your house.
Tip: There really aren’t any shortcuts to patching holes, which you’ll have to cover or fill with something such as wood putty, flexible brick, or concrete caulking. Just make sure you don’t wait too long to make the repairs, because the colder the temperature, the longer the filler will take to cure.
Painters ($25 to $100 an hour) and handymen ($30 to $50 an hour) will patch holes in your home’s exterior.

So, are you prepared for winter after checking off this list? Anything else you'd like to suggest?