A Complete Guide to Preparing Your Home This Fall Season

As the seasons change, Cincinnati area homeowners have a lot on their plates! Before winter arrives, there’s a lot to do around the house to prepare for colder weather. Thomas & Galbraith Heating, Cooling & Plumbing shares our handy homeowner’s guide to help you cruise through your household fall to-do list over the next few months.

Inspect Home Exterior

Before outdoor temperatures plummet and the snow and ice set in, enjoy balmier days outside and take the opportunity to assess your home’s exteriors for potential damage. Fix problem spots and fix them now so they are protected come winter.

  • Carefully examine the foundation of your home, looking for cracks. If you notice hairline cracks that run vertically, these usually aren’t anything to worry about – if you’re concerned about cosmetics, it’s ok to simply paint over them. For slightly larger cracks that are still less than 1/8-inch wide, they don’t pose structural damage now but it’s a good idea to start monitoring them – mark each end with a pencil line and the date so you can more easily observe any expansion next time you look. Any larger cracks to the foundation should be sealed to limit the possibility of moisture intrusion. If you do notice moisture actively moving through a crack into the foundation, thoroughly seal the crack and implement a solution to route water away from the area and the home so you don’t increase the risk of mold.
  • If you have paint on exterior walls and surfaces, check its condition. If you have any areas that are blistering or peeling away, remove them and repaint to protect the surface. To make sure exterior paint dries correctly, paint on a low to no wind day with temperatures over 60 degrees and humidity levels between 40 to 70%.
  • Look over your home’s roofline to identify areas of damage, such as missing, cracked, or buckling shingles, missing or broken vent caps, and rusty spots on flashing. Missing shingles and those that are damaged need to be replaced now to prevent roof leaks and damage to decking as well as insulation and contents in the attic. Replace damaged and missing vent or chimney caps to keep pests and debris out of the home. Clean rust from flashing and reseal it to prevent leaks along your chimney or replace the flashing entirely.

Clean Gutters and Check Condition

Toward the end of the fall season once the majority of leaves are off nearby trees, take time to clean out and remove debris from gutters across the home. With gutters in good shape, melting snow and ice will properly drain off your roof and away from the home, and won’t spill over the edges to form icicles that can tear gutters away from the roofline or cause ice to form on outdoor air conditioners or heat pump units.

  1. Scoop out all leaves, seed pots, twigs, and other matter that has collected in the gutters.
  2. Once debris are removed, spray out your gutters with a garden hose to clean away mud and muck left behind from decomposing organic matter. Spray the hose through downspouts to wash away blockages that have formed as matter has washed into the downspouts.
  3. As you clean out the gutters with the hose, observe water drainage. Your gutters should be pitched so that water doesn’t pool in areas of the gutter run. Water should wash through downspouts unobstructed to ground level. Adjust the position of gutters to correct pitch issues for proper water drainage – contact an exteriors contractor for assistance if needed.
  4. Make sure all gutter runs are firmly secured to the gutter boards behind them. Check for missing, bent, and loose gutter hangers and repair or replace them as needed.
  5. If your downspouts have extensions, make sure they are positioned to empty where you want them to – this should be at least four feet from the home’s foundation, and they shouldn’t be emptying in an area that slopes back toward the house. If your downspout extensions direct water runoff directly into a nearby storm drain, make sure all extension pieces are secure and the end of this discharge line is positioned into the drain.

Maintenance for Heating Equipment

Fall temperatures are mild, so during this time between air conditioning and heating system use, perform maintenance for your heat pump, furnace, or boiler so it is in peak condition to start the heating season ahead.

  1. Remove the old air filter and replace it with a new one. With less HVAC system use, furnace filters typically don’t need changed as much in the fall as they do in the winter or summer.
  2. Contact Thomas & Galbraith to schedule a heating maintenance tune-up for your furnace, boiler, or heat pump now. Fall is the best time to do this, so you can be sure your heating equipment is in good shape going into the heating season that’s coming up.
  3. Think back to last winter and early spring – did you notice any problems with your heating system’s performance or comfort levels inside your house? If so, schedule heating system repairs now so your technician can identify the sources of problems you felt and fix them before it’s time to turn on the furnace, heat pump, or boiler for heating this season.

Maintain Chimneys and Fireplaces

If you’ll be using your fireplace for ambiance as well as warmth this winter, have your fireplace and chimney serviced in the fall so it’s safe to use when you’re ready for it.

  1. Set an appointment with a professional chimney sweep for an inspection of your chimney, vents, and fireplace. If you don’t have a relationship with a chimney sweep in your area, as local friends and family for recommendations, or look for a company certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).
  2. In addition to a safety inspection, it may be necessary to have your chimney and fireplace cleaned out before the start of the season. Chimney sweeping is typically recommended when you have an eighth inch or more of creosote or soot buildup along the walls of the chimney, although some say it’s wise to have the chimney swept if there is any noticeable buildup no matter how thick. This service is important to prevent chimney fires when your fireplace is in use, as creosote from burning wood is very flammable.

Seal the Home’s Air Leaks

Areas with openings that allow heated air to escape the home waste energy through air loss and increased energy consumption by your heating system, due to the need to make up for this loss to keep your living areas at a comfortable temperature. Sealing these openings helps your home retain more heat so your furnace, heat pump, or boiler runs more efficiently, and your loved ones stay warmer.

  • Address common drafty spots around windows and doors by testing for air leaks. Simply open the door or window and stick a small strip of paper against the frame, then close the door or window. Try to wiggle the paper while the door or window is closed – if it moves easily, there is too much space between the door or window and its frame. Apply weatherstripping at the bottom of windowpanes and around doors.
  • Search for other areas of air leakage by visually looking for wide openings or feeling for drafts – air leaks are common around the exterior frame of doors and windows, exterior wall openings where pipes or wires run into the home, and even cracks in the foundation. Use silicone or foam caulking to fill these gaps, depending on the building materials in place in these areas.
  • Further, help your heating system run more efficiently by scheduling duct sealing service with Thomas & Galbraith. Our duct sealing services close gaps between duct sections, loose joints, and other areas of damage that allow air to escape into chilly spaces where it isn’t needed, like your attic or crawlspace. In the average home, duct sealing can improve energy efficiency 20 to 30%, as duct leaks are incredibly common.

Inspect and Test Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Every month, test the function of the carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms throughout your house. Batteries should be replaced every six months, so spring and fall when the time changes are good times to remember to do this. Also, check to so if it’s time to replace the unit entirely.

  1. A carbon monoxide detector is typically good for five to seven years before it needs to be replaced. As you remove each unit to replace its batteries, check the backside of the carbon monoxide detector for an expiration or manufacturing date. If the unit has an expiration date that is within the next six months or has already passed, go ahead and replace it now. If the date of manufacture shows the carbon monoxide detector will be more than seven years old by spring, replace the unit.
  2. A smoke alarm lasts for 10 years before it should be replaced. Take down each smoke detector, flip it over, and look for the expiration date printed on the back. If the date has passed or is within the next six month, replace the smoke alarm now.
  3. Take the existing batteries out of all your carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms and replace them with brand new batteries in each unit. Often, these existing batteries will not be dead, but placing fresh ones into the unit helps to ensure it has access to power for the next six months – you can save these batteries for other household uses if they’ve still got some charge.
  4. After batteries have been swapped, reinstall carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms in the appropriate positions on walls throughout your house. Test smoke alarms by pressing the test button and holding it down until you hear the loud testing alert. Press the test button on carbon monoxide detectors unit the unit gives its warning alert. If a unit’s test or alert noise is low or unsteady, go ahead and replace it.

Plumbing System Maintenance

Certain parts of your plumbing system are vulnerable to damage in cold weather if not properly maintained. Your home could be at a higher risk of water damage in the winter too, if plumbing equipment isn’t well cared for. Take time now to perform the following plumbing maintenance steps.

  1. Remove garden hoses that are attached to outdoor faucets. Drain water out of the hoses, wrap them up, and put them away until spring.
  2. In homes without frost-free hose bibbs, winterize the home’s outdoor faucets once hoses are removed. Find the shutoff valve to the hose bibb inside the home, basement, or crawlspace and close it. Open the outdoor spigot to allow water to drain out, and leave the tap open over winter so if water does happen to freeze within the pipe or fixture, it will be less likely to cause a burst pipe.
  3. Inspect all taps and plumbing fixtures throughout the house for leaks and repair them immediately if found.
  4. Install insulating pipe wraps or add insulation to areas where exposed pipes are at the highest risk of freezing – close to windows and doors, along exterior walls, and in unheated areas of the house are prime locations for frozen and burst pipes in the winter.
  5. If your tank water heater receives an annual draining, go ahead and do this now to remove excess sediment buildup. If you’ve never drained your hot water tank before and the water heater is a few years old or more, don’t start doing this maintenance task now as it can actually cause problems, such as leaks.
  6. Make sure your sump pump is maintained and working properly so it will be able to remove excess water should your basement or crawlspace take on water due to heavy snow melt over the winter. Unplug and remove the sump pump from the sump pit and check it over for damage, corrosion, and rust – repairs or replacement may be needed if you find damage. Remove debris gathered along the pump’s inlet screen. Check the sump pit for sludge and debris, and remove this matter if you see any. Reinstall the sump pump in the pit and plug it back in. Test the sump pump by pouring enough water into the pit to raise the float switch and activate the pump – watch to make sure the pump works as needed and the float falls with the water level to shut off the sump pump. Check the discharge lines that drain this water away from the house – make sure the pipes are in good condition and routed to keep water from flowing back toward the home’s foundation. Remove any clogs from the end of the pipe and make sure there’s nothing sitting directly in front of it that could cause drainage water to remain stuck in the pipe and back up into the sump pit, flooding the surrounding area.

Prepare Your Cincinnati Home for Fall with Help from Thomas & Galbraith

With the tips above, the important elements of your home will be protected and ready to work throughout the winter season. For all home maintenance tasks that require a professional’s help such as furnace maintenance or duct sealing, contact Thomas & Galbraith today.

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