The fall season comes with its own distinctive chores, like raking leaves and cleaning the gutters, but fall is also a good time to perform home maintenance in preparation for winter. As a follow-up to our summer maintenance tips, the EBSCO Research team presents a list of fall projects aimed at helping you and your home withstand the winter more comfortably.

According to ENERGY STAR, up to half the energy you use during winter goes to heating your home, so many of the following indoor maintenance tips are targeted to get the most out of your HVAC system and seal your home against heat loss. The relatively temperate weeks before temperatures drop are a good time for an assortment of other tasks as well.

Maintain Your Heating Equipment and Fireplace

After sitting idle all summer, your heating system and fireplace are two of the most important things you’ll need to prep for winter, not only to maximize their efficiency and effectiveness, but to ensure their safety as well. All forced-air heating systems—whether combustion, electric, or heat pump—should be inspected by a professional, and the air filters should be cleaned or changed. The air handler, including the blower and heat exchanger, should also be vacuumed free of dust that could slow the fan blades and interfere with heat transference.

Both wood-burning and gas chimneys should be inspected to confirm that there are no blockages in the flue and no cracks that could allow carbon monoxide into the house. A cleaning may be in order as well, depending on the results of the inspection. With safety goggles, a dust mask, a flashlight, and a fire poker, homeowners can evaluate the buildup of potentially flammable soot and ash themselves; if probing the flue with the poker reveals a layer of buildup between one-eighth and one-fourth of an inch thick, schedule a sweeping.

Ceiling fans also contribute to the effectiveness of your heating systems. During the summer, your fans should be running counterclockwise, pushing air down to create a windchill effect that makes you feel cooler. When the weather turns colder in the fall, flip the switch on the fan to make it run clockwise; the blades will create an updraft and disperse the warmer air that tends to rise toward the ceiling.

Seal Your Home

According to the Southface Energy Institute, air leakage can increase a homeowner’s heating and cooling costs by over 30 percent. If you’d like to improve your energy efficiency and eliminate your exposure to drafts during the winter, fall is a great time to evaluate how well your house is sealed with a diagnostic test.

A professional energy auditor can test your home’s airtightness with a calibrated blower door, a powerful fan mounted to an exterior doorframe. The blower door fan draws air out of the house, which lowers the indoor air pressure and causes outside air to seep in through any hidden cracks; a smoke stick can then be used to locate any vulnerabilities in the home’s foundation, walls, roof, windows, and doors. Another kind of calibrated fan called a duct blaster can be used to perform a similar test that measures duct leakage. The US Department of Energy estimates that making upgrades in response to an energy audit can save five to thirty percent on your energy costs.

Insulation provides another layer of protection against winter chills, and fall is a good time to make sure you have enough. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the attic, rather than the walls, is the easiest and most effective place to add insulation for improved comfort and energy efficiency. Attic insulation should be evenly distributed and should be layered higher than the ceiling joists; if you can easily see your ceiling joists, add more insulation. You don’t have to use the same kind of insulation that’s currently in your attic; just try to select a “green” insulation made from recovered materials like recycled paper or glass.

There are many other small jobs you can do in the fall to protect your home against the elements in the winter, like checking the caulking around windows or adding weatherstripping to seal doors firmly. An added benefit of these projects is that they’ll make your windows and doors impenetrable to insects that work their way indoors as the weather gets colder.

Sundry Odds and Ends

Plenty of other jobs can keep you busy during the fall as you prep for colder days.

  • Paint a room or several rooms you’ve been meaning to redo. In the fall, the weather should be mild enough to ventilate a freshly painted room by opening the windows.
  • Test your basement sump pump before winter, which is a rainy season in many parts of the US. Simply pour water into the sump basin and watch the pump work. Take an extra moment to clean debris out of the basin and make sure nothing’s blocking the outlet pipe outside your house.
  • Organize your closets and garage—why not? The lull before the year-end holiday season offers a good opportunity to take care of this chore.

If you finish the maintenance that needs to be completed inside your home, there are still plenty of outdoor tasks that should ideally be done in the fall. Keep reading the EBSCO Research blog for another checklist that will ensure your home’s exterior is also spruced up before winter.

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Sources: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy; ENERGY STAR; The New York Times; Qualified Remodeler; Southface Energy Institute; US Department of Energy.

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