The leaves are still on the trees, the weather outside alternates between stifling and sweltering and the Buckeyes football season has barely begun, but for homeowners, it’s time to begin prepping for the fall and winter months.
From professional inspections to ordinary maintenance, a few simple steps taken now can help stave off problems — not to mention frantic calls for service when the furnace stops working — when temperatures start to drop.
In anticipation of the coming months, The Dispatch spoke with central Ohio home experts across several fields to highlight 10 easy things you can do now to keep your home in tip-top shape.
Service your furnace
Who wants to crank up their furnace on the first super-cold day (or night) of the year only to find that it’s missing the requisite hot air? To avoid pulling out the blankets and mittens, Atlas Butler Heating and Cooling in Columbus reminds homeowners to change furnace filters regularly. The frequency depends on each system as well as lifestyle choices, including the presence of pets or cigarette-smokers in the home.
The best bet, though, is to get your furnace checked on an annual basis. “It’s just like your car, where it needs regular maintenance,” said Sara Oliphant of Atlas Butler. The average modern, high-efficiency furnace, she said, lasts between 12 and 15 years; furnaces older than that might be better off being replaced than repaired.
De-clutter your gutters
Everybody’s gutters fill up with leaves and debris over time, though the amount — and the frequency with which they need to be cleaned out — will depend on the foliage present around your home. For most homeowners, it’s best to call in a professional to clear and inspect gutters at least once a year to avoid problems such as water coming into the basement or damage to exterior wood.
The months of November and December are optimum times, says Andrew Johnson of Professional Gutter & Drain in Columbus, because whatever leaves likely to fall will have fallen by then. But don’t dilly-dally. “You always want to beat the snow, because once the snow does fall and get into the gutters, it freezes up that system, especially if it starts to stay below freezing,” Johnson says.
In addition to removing what has collected in the gutters, downspouts should be checked, too. “We also make sure the end caps and miters are all sealed (and) the gutters are pitched correctly and secured properly to the home,” Johnson says. “That pitch is pretty important because over periods of time, houses start to settle.”
Keep the air in (and out)
Houses are built more tightly than they once were. “Typically today, more modern homes are definitely tighter than old ones,” said Monica Lewis of the remodeling firm J.S. Brown & Co. in Columbus. “Even with that, you still lose an awful lot (of air) through all your openings.”
Most vulnerable to escaping air (or incoming drafts) are windows and exterior doors, which should be given a once-over to assure that seals are tight and weatherstripping is in good shape.
Lewis also suggests checking the seal around the fire door between the house and an attached garage, which, although technically an interior door, is usually subject to substantial wear and tear.
“(People) like to warm up their car and get the heater really going before they get in,” Lewis said. “You don’t want all of that exhaust getting into the house, so you want to make sure you’ve got a good seal around that.”
Check the chimney
No one wants to see Santa Claus’ suit get grimy, right? If your home has a fireplace, the experts recommend having it evaluated and cleaned on an annual basis. In the case of wood-burning fireplaces, a substance called creosote can accumulate over time. “The buildup of soot (and) creosote can ignite if the fire escapes the firebox and goes up into the chimney,” said Debbie Wiedwald of Blackburn’s Chimney Services in Columbus.
The end of each season is a great time to give your fireplace a once-over, but right now, before the fireplace is likely to be in use, is also a popular choice. “People tend to think of their fireplace just before it gets cold,” Wiedwald said.
Gas-log fireplaces should be looked at annually, too. “Just to make sure that they’re burning properly and that they’re venting as they should,” said Wiedwald, adding that homeowners should make sure that fresh batteries are installed in the fireplace remote and the receiver (which can be found behind a heat shield along with the gas logs).
Chimneys should be monitored for the presence of water or critters.
Change batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Being proactive about replacing batteries in these life-saving devices is always a good idea. “Change your batteries in all those when you change your clocks,” Oliphant said.
Dryer vent clean-up
Depending on how often you use your dryer, a substantial amount of lint can accumulate in your dryer vent and that can be a potential fire hazard. Homes that have vents close to the ground could be blocked when snow accumulates, Lewis said, making this a good time to hire a professional to remove clogged-up lint. “You want to make sure there’s no lint in there getting heated up and fried,” Lewis said.
Prepare lawn equipment
To keep gas-powered lawn equipment in good working order for the spring, homeowners should either drain their mowers, trimmers and other devices of gas or, when you fill up one last time, add fuel stabilizer (following manufacturer instructions). “Then you run the equipment for a few minutes. If it’s a lawn mower, about 10 minutes,” said Matt Drayer of BLADEZ Outdoor Power Equipment in Westerville. “If it’s a handheld, like a trimmer (or) chainsaw, just about a couple of minutes.”
The result: “Adding fuel stabilizer keeps the gas fresh enough so it will start the next season,” Drayer said.
While we’re on the subject of garages, plenty of grimy things can accumulate there over the summer. Unused cans of gasoline should be safely disposed of, and dirty rags should be cleaned or tossed. “Give them a wash or get rid of them,” Lewis said.
For upcoming drop-off events for hazardous materials, visit the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) wesbite, http://swaco.org/Residents/HouseholdHazardousWaste.aspx. And SWACO’S, vendor, EEI, operates a Household Hazardous Waste Center located at
645 E. 8th Ave. (the corner of East. 8th and Essex avenues). For more information, call 614-294-1300.
When your lawn has had its final drink of the season — but no later than Thanksgiving — don’t forget to disconnect hoses to avoid pipes freezing. “If you don’t disconnect the hoses, the hoses will remain full of water and that water will freeze but it will also freeze back into the house,” said Tommy Cox of Calhoun Plumbing in Columbus. “It will cause the spigot to break and also the pipeline inside the house to break.”
Cox recommends shutting off the outside faucet from inside the house. “A lot of times there will be a shut-off valve in there,” he said. “That’s just a little added safety.”
And when it gets really cold …
On exceptionally cold nights, it’s a good idea to run a trickle of water in sinks on exterior walls and open kitchen and bathroom cabinets, Cox said. “As long as that water is moving,” he said, “it doesn’t have a chance to freeze.”