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Before the snow falls, prepare your home and yard for the winter ahead

What a wonderful fall we've had! With the chill in the air and the predicted rain, only a couple of degrees are separating us from snow. So don't forget to do those fall chores before it gets too cold.

Yard

After you've planted the springtime bulbs and put all the cuttings into the pink organic recycle bin (if you have one), make the most efficient use of your time by blowing (or raking) those colorful fall leaves onto the perennial beds for a winter blanket. That way, insulation covers your plants if there is a late snowfall.

Even though faucet handles are outside the home, the actual shutoff valves can be 8 to 14 inches into the home. Remember to also remove the quick-connects from faucets and hoses because those can also trap water in the pipes. A faucet freezeup can potentially rupture the pipe. These ruptures usually occur behind the sheetrock, where damage may go undetected for a while.

Also don't forget to spray your garden tools with WD-40 before storing them to lessen the chance of rust and prepare for the spring.

Wash windows and vacuum screens

To bring in extra sunlight during the dreary parts of the winter, remove and vacuum the screens and wash the windows. If window screens are on the inside and stay up during the winter, the screens create a slight insulating layer that causes condensation on the windows and sills. Excess condensation can freeze windows shut and damage window frames.

Washing windows will also allow you to check any areas that need caulking, inside and out, so you don't have cold air leaking in. Don't fret if you think it might be too cold to wash windows — just use windshield-washing solution with a few drops of dish soap.

Have furnace checked and clean wood-burning flues

Remember to have the furnace serviced and cleaned to catch problems early. Potential furnace issues show up as the weather changes and demands on the furnace increase. In gas forced-air systems, a dirty filter impedes airflow, dramatically decreases efficiency and reduces the amount of heat reaching colder spots in the home. During servicing, also have the heat exchanger, humidifier and/or air cleaner checked. A cracked heat exchanger could let potentially deadly amounts of carbon monoxide into the home, especially at night when the temperatures dip.

During this temperature transition, humidifiers can be problematic. As the outside temperature drops, the dew point inside also drops. Too much condensation on windows is a sign of high humidity in the home, so adjust accordingly.

For hot-water baseboard heating, have an extra zone valve on hand just in case one decides to quit during a cold spell. A zone valve works as an automatic on/off switch for the hot water that flows through the tubing. A failed zone valve sticks in either the "on" or "off" position. If stuck in the "on" position, too much heat comes into the home. In the "off" position, no heat is sent to that zone.

If you use a wood-burning stove or fireplace, when was the last time it was cleaned? Creosote buildup can cause chimney fires, but this hazard is easily avoided with regular cleaning.

Prepare for snow!

After you tune up the snowblower, here are a couple of other things to consider:

Use long, fiberglass stakes to outline the driveway perimeter before the ground freezes as a guide for how far to clear the snow. Otherwise, as the winter progresses, the snow border slowly encroaches and narrows the driveway width.

Use silicone spray on snow shovels, snow blower blades and chute; then leave them outside for a few minutes to chill before use. The silicon helps prevent snow from clinging to the metal.

Did you remember to replace batteries in digital thermostats (including the fireplace switch) when you changed the batteries in the smoke detectors in the fall? Date the batteries with a marker, so you know when you last changed them. Most homeowners don't realize that digital thermostats have batteries until after the expense of a service call.

Check weatherstripping around the doors to the exterior and garage. Of course you shouldn't see any daylight, but another way to check is to close a piece of paper in the door entry. If you can slide it back and forth, time to change the weatherstripping!

Take advantage of the current lack of snow and really cold weather to tackle these chores, so you are ready to play when winter comes.

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