It is hard to believe that summer is but a distant memory and we are well into fall in New Hampshire. As the weather is still nice, it is the perfect time to do a little home maintenance to get your home ready for long winter that is soon to be upon us. A little preparation can not only make you feel warmer this winter, it may also prevent you from having to file a homeowners insurance claim that could ultimately raise your rates.
1. Service Yard Equipment
This would not normally be at the top of my list, but given that last year New Hampshire was hit with a major snow storm in mid-October, it is a good idea to have your snow blower tuned-up or serviced. As the snow blower will be replacing the lawn mower, be sure that you drain the gas from your lawn mower, leaf blower, and any other gas-operated machinery that will be sitting for a few months without use.
2. Prepare Your Fireplace or Stove
According to the US Fire Administration, heating fires account for 36% of all residential fires in rural areas every year. Often these fires are due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes. Because of this, it is critical that you get your chimney cleaned to remove the soot and creosote. It is also a good idea to cap or screen the top of your chimney to keep out unwelcome rodents or birds. The chimney sweep should also inspect your chimney to ensure it is crack-free and the damper is opening and closing properly.
3. Prepare Windows and Doors
Check around your windows and doors to see if there are any exposed entry points and seal them. Use weather stripping around the doors and caulk the windows to prevent cold air from making its way into your home. It is a good idea to check for dry rot, prime, paint or replace exposed wood if necessary. Also be sure to switch out the summer screens and install storm windows if available.
4. Inspect Your Furnace
Schedule an appointment with an HVAC professional to inspect and clean your furnace and heating ducts. This may prevent a puff-back claim that is a sudden explosion of soot that can travel throughout your home and is very damaging given its difficulty to clean. It is a good idea to stock up on furnace filters and be sure to change them monthly. You will also want to remove all flammable material from the surrounding area of your furnace in an effort to prevent a fire.
5. Inspect Your Roof, Gutters and Downspouts
Ice dam claims are one of the most frequent homeowner claims we see filed at HPM Insurance. This may be prevented if you add extra insulation into your attic. This can stop warm air from heating your roof and have the melting snow accumulate onto the eaves and gutters. This is what causes an ice dam. You will also want to replace worn roof shingles and check the flashing to ensure water can not enter your home. Once the leaves are off the trees, clean out gutters and consider installing leaf guards on them. It is also a good idea to have a gutter extension or downspout to direct water away from your home.
6. Maintain the Yard
With the prevalence of freezing rain over the last few years, it is a great idea to trim trees and branches that may fall on any car or structure. If the tree or branch is too large or high, or hanging over electrical wiring, be sure to hire a professional. If you have a sprinkler system, be sure to have it drained along with all garden hoses.
7. Inspect Your Foundation
Rake all debris and vegetation from around your foundation to prevent animals from nesting. Seal foundation cracks to prevent rodents from getting in. Please be aware that damage caused by rodents is typically excluded from most homeowners insurance policies and the damage can be extensive.
8. Winterize Plumbing
Insulate pipes that are exposed to the elements and drain any air conditioner pipes. If your air conditioner has a water shut-off valve, turn it off. A burst pipe that goes undetected can cause more damage than a house fire. If you go on vacation be sure to leave the heat set to at least 55 degrees.
9. Store Yard Furniture and Yard Games
Put away your deck furniture and grill before the snow falls to prevent damage. Also be sure that all toys and yard games (like horse shoe stakes) are put away. A few years ago my brother-in-law nearly impaled himself with a forgotten horse shoe stake as he fell backwards to make a snow angel with his young daughters.
10. Pull Together an Emergency Kit
Don't wait for the power to go out before you realize that the candles are nubs, the batteries are dead and the generator is gummed up. Restock and test necessary equipment in advance. Also stock up on extra water and non-perishable food in case you are unable to leave your home for a few days.
Fall is a beautiful time of year in New Hampshire, but we all know that winter is not far behind. Take advantage of the warmer weather by making sure your home is ready. For more great ideas on preparing your home for winter, visit Bob Vila's web site, or Martha Stewart's web site. Happy fall!