1. Clean the gutters:
You’ll want to get up on a ladder and clean out your gutters at least once before winter – probably after the leaves fall. This will prevent leaves, twigs, acorns, and other debris from clogging up the gutters and causing rainwater to sit and not flow properly, possibly causing damage. If you get a lot of falling debris from trees, you can try capping your gutters with gutter guards.
2. Check your roof:
While you’re up on the ladder checking gutters, it’s a good idea to safely climb up onto the roof (if your roof has a steep pitch or you’re high up, you might want to leave this to the pros.) Check for missing, cracked, or damaged roof shingles and replace them. Check the flashing around your chimney, skylights, and vents. Before the cold and rains come, you’ll want to fix those yourself or have a roofer come out to take care of it.
Trim tree branches or shrubs that are getting too close to the house, roof, or electrical wires. Also, try to spot dead or weak branches that could fall once they get heavy with rain. Thoroughly rake your lawn of leaves after they all fall, and you might want to aerate your lawn and adjust your sprinklers to reflect the rainy season, if you’re still watering your lawn and haven’t already shut them off completely.
4. Check your detectors:
While you’re going over your fall/winter home checklist, it’s a great time to check those smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that are often forgotten. Replace the batteries in your smoke and CO2 detectors whether you think they need it or not, and hit the test button to make sure the units are still functioning properly.
5. Address drafty windows:
If you have an old home, a lot of heat and AC is being lost right through your windows. If you have thin single-paned glass and are losing expensive heat right through the panes, hang heavy curtains to keep the heat inside (you can get a curtain that also repels sunlight to keep your home cooler in the summer). Make sure to check the edge of the windows and reseal any dried or cracking caulk so there is a complete seal and drafts won’t come in.
The U.S. Department of Energy reports that sealing up drafts will save you to up to 30% of energy use annually.
6. Seal up doors:
If heat is leaving and cold air entering right under your door, you’re throwing good money out. Installing a storm door on the outside will help, but often isn’t needed in temperate climates like in northern California. So a simple temporary solution is a draft snake, a sandbag-like roll that you can place at the crack of doors, keeping hot air in and cold air from entering.
7. Check your furnace or heating unit:
For those of you in older homes, you may still have a furnace that should be checked by a professional once a year, preferably before the cold season. For most people who have standard heating units, make sure they are tuned up, operating properly, free of debris on the outside, and the vents and filters are all cleaned.
8. Change the direction of your ceiling fans:
Most people forget you can even do this, but with a simple flip of a switch (usually up on the side or base of the unit) you can reverse the direction of your ceiling fan’s blades. In the summer, you’ll want a counter-clockwise rotation, which produces cooling breezes, but in the winter you’ll want clockwise rotation, which will push the warm air back down into the room and not have it trapped at the ceiling.
Simply by adjusting your ceiling fans, you can cut our heating costs by up to 10% every winter, according to The Daily Green.
9. Fight the freeze:
It doesn’t happen every night, but there is always a spell where we reach freezing temperatures at night in the Sacramento and Placer County areas – sometimes down into the 20s. To make sure your pipes don’t freeze (and then burst) wrap pipes around water heaters, any outdoor pipes, or exposed pipes under crawl spaces in the cheap and effective foam sleeving they sell at any Home Depot.
Drain your garden hoses and turn off the spigots before a freeze is coming, and you might want to drain the air conditioner pipes as well. Bring potted plants that aren’t fit for freezing temps inside and cover rose bushes or other fragile flowers with tarps just for the cold nights.
You might also want to lower your water heater’s presetting down to 120 degrees in the winter, as most people keep it at the standard 140 degrees but that can waste a whole lot of energy.
10. Ready your fireplace and chimney:
For those of you lucky enough to have a fireplace, regular maintenance will not only keep it working great but safe. In older wood-burning fireplaces, creosote builds up, a highly flammable substrate that’s hard to see. You’ll want to make sure to have your fireplace cleaned regularly, the chimney checked to see if it needs repairs and is safe, and also know how to operate your flue so cold air doesn’t escape when you don’t have a fire roaring.