The calendar has officially turned to fall and many parts of the country may get their first frost this weekend. In no time we’ll have our first round of flurries and then the big wait for a serious snowfall.
Why not try to be a smarter homeowner this year and take some time now to get ahead of the coming cold weather and all the havoc it can wreak on your house and yard?
Here are 10 things that should be on your to-do list, to get your property ready for winter.
1. Order firewood. Ask friends and neighbors for suggestions on good sources in your community. Any hardwood, such as oak, maple, beech or elm, will work fine for firewood. You want seasoned firewood that’s at least a year old. Ash is the only wood that you can burn “green,” right after it’s cut down.
2. Clean gutters. If you can’t get on a ladder yourself, hire someone. Wait until all the leaves are down, then do it once (unless, of course, they’re already overflowing when it rains). So many water-in-the-basement problems are because of clogged gutters.
3. Get water away from the house. Same as above. Even if your gutters are clean, rainwater may be pouring down the leader pipes and emptying right at the corner of your house (and into the basement). You may need to hire someone to dig trenches and install underground drain pipes to pull roof water away from the house. Make sure that all landscaping is pitched away from the house.
4. Seal up masonry. Repair any broken joints or cracks in walkways, steps and stonework. Make sure you have clear, shovel-friendly paths to all doors.
5. Cut down on heating costs. Make your house more energy-efficient by adding insulation, caulking around windows and doors and new storm windows. Maybe you have enough sun and space for solar panels. Repair any cracked or broken windows.
6. Don’t rake your leaves. Instead, just leave them where they fall and run them over with a mulching lawn mower. You’ll be amazed at how one of these powerful machines can turn a pile of leaves into a million little pieces. Plus, they add valuable organic matter to your lawn. Similarly, leave grass clippings on the lawn.
7. Hire a chimney sweep. If you haven’t had your chimneys cleaned in a while, it’s probably time.
How often should you have your chimneys cleaned? “If you have 40 to 50 fires a winter, or about three times a week, you should clean it every year,” said Bob Pelaccio of the Mad Hatter Chimney Sweep in Montrose. If it’s a couple of times a week, every other year is fine. Only on Sunday? Then every third year will do.
Tedd Cuttitta of New City-based NY Fireplace Designs (and formerly High-Tor Chimney Sweeps) is more of a stickler for an annual checkup.
“According to every code in the world, chimneys should be cleaned or inspected on an annual basis,” he said. Even if they look fine, there may be internal water damage to the bricks that you can’t see.
“I never recommend that any of my clients go beyond every third year, no matter how infrequently they use their chimneys,” Cuttitta said.
8. Call in an arborist. Many winter tree catastrophes are preventable. Get a certified arborist to walk around your yard with you to look for rotting trees or damaged or dangling limbs that may come down in the next storm.
9. Get your furnace and boiler inspected. Instead of begging for service when your boiler blows on a dead-cold January night, sign a contract now with a reputable heating company. Many oil and propane suppliers are happy to bring you on board with an annual service contract. It’s worth it.
10. Time for a generator? Raise your hand if you spent a week in a dark, cold house after Superstorm Sandy tore through the Northeast. If a big storm is forecast or upon us, no one will have a generator with your name on it. So think long and hard now about whether it’s time to finally spring for one. But consider your neighbors, too, and where you’re going to put it. Generators are LOUD.