Fall Fix Ups!

Here a 10 things you can do to tune up your home for the winter!

1. Fireplace:  Proper inspection of a fireplace is vital to ensuring its safe operation -- even if it is rarely used. An experienced chimney sweep will check wood fireplaces for flammable buildup (known as creosote) and chimney blockages such as bird nests. A chimney or fireplace professional should also check for these red flags: improperly functioning dampers, damaged brickwork and masonry, and missing or damaged flue caps (the screen covering the top of the chimney).

2. Touch up:  No time for a full-blown exterior painting project? Hit the trouble spots, such as the cut ends of all boards, especially fascia boards, where paint peels first. If you have a little more time, apply a coat of fresh paint to all trim pieces.

3.  Clean your carpets:  If your wall-to-wall carpeting harbors dirt and musty odors, throw open the windows to let it dry before the weather gets too cold. Also consider renting a steam cleaner to get out ground-in stains and odors.

4.  Drainage:  Perhaps install french drains at the end of your gutters down spouts.  If you live in an area that gets more rain than snow during the winter, dig a French drain to prevent a downspout-fed lake from forming in your yard. A hole that's 4 feet deep and 4 feet wide should do the trick. Dig it under your downspout, line it with heavy plastic sheeting (or whatever your local building code requires), and fill it with gravel.

5.  Lighten up:  Yes, it's true: replacing even some of your lightbulbs with high-efficiency compact LED lightbulbs this saves you money and, depending on where you live, earns you a utility rebate.

6.  Scub up:  Washing your home's exterior, including the windows, makes it look better and helps prevent growth of mold and mildew that feed on dirt. And all you need is a pressure washer, which you can rent at a hardware store for $50-$100 per day.

A word of warning: Find out how much pressure the washer will exert and whether the surface you plan to wash can withstand it. Avoid pressure-washing vinyl because it can bend and let water seep behind it. Research pressure-washing before you get the machine, and don't be afraid to ask a knowledgeable store employee about appropriate nozzles.

7.  Tune your furnace:  A finely tuned furnace is almost like a musical instrument, humming along as efficiently as possible while keeping your family warm and cozy during chillier months. But remember to leave this yearly furnace tune-up to a professional.

8.  Replace problem windows:  f you have a problem window or two, replace them with more energy-efficient models. What makes a window energy-efficient? Look for low-E glass, multiple glass panes, warm-edge spacers between the panes, and gas fills such as argon or krypton.

9. Repair Roof:  Autumn is a great time of the year to check your roof for leaks. And if you already know one exists, make sure you fix it -- or call in a professional to fix it -- before the snow starts to fall. 

10.  Get Programmable:  Switch out your old manual thermostat for a programmable one, which will be more convenient and accurate. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and are better for the environment because using less energy reduces greenhouse-gas emissions associated with energy production. Because the thermostat will do the thinking for you and never forget, it will save you money on your utility bills -- to the tune of about $150 per year -- when used properly.