A Checklist of Chores

26 Sep 2012

Autumn to-do’s to get your house winter worthy

choresHere are fall maintenance to-do’s to get your house winter worthy. Some you can do yourself; others will require a pro.
By Wendy Underhill Add this item to the list of reasons you’re glad you live in Boulder County: Fall home maintenance is easier here than in most places. Mold? Not too common in our dry climate. Hanging up storm windows? That’s an East Coast thing. Frozen pipes? Leaving cabinets open during the very coldest nights usually does the trick. Even with these advantages, local homeowners do have to prepare for a chilly winter. No fun, maybe, but good for your house—and probably good for your pocketbook, down the road. Why? Because fall repairs and maintenance pay off in the form of reduced energy bills and extended lifetimes for a home’s big-ticket items, such as appliances, roofs and furnaces. No one likes to do these odd jobs. But we've done the next-best thing: created a checklist to make fall maintenance just a bit easier.

Handy Helpers

If fall tasks are too much for your time budget, hire a handyman. Make a punch list of jobs, and enjoy your freedom, but expect to pay $35 to $80 per hour, plus a trip charge, says Rob Parker of Handyman Matters in Boulder. His company does everything from simple jobs to basements, kitchens and bathrooms. When you compare that to contractor rates, which start at anywhere from $50 to $100 per hour, a handyman can be more affordable for larger jobs. If you’re over 60 and have more needs than you have money, call the Fix-It Program, a part of Boulder County’s nonprofit Care Connect, and ask for help. “Our volunteers are some of the best,” says Anne Smith, a program coordinator. “Most are retired handymen. They want to do something meaningful in the community, and use their skills to help people in need.” If it’s energy savings you’re after, the Boulder Energy Conservation Center is your first stop. “Take care of the envelope of the house in the early fall, when the weather is still nice,” recommends Brad Queen, BECC’s energy division director. The organization also offers tip sheets on all things energy-related for the home.

Lifesaving Devices

Do-It-Yourself? What the Job Entails Tips
Smoke detectors
Yes Replacing batteries is all that’s needed; consider using long-life lithium batteries. While changing your clocks in the fall and spring, change the detector’s batteries.
Carbon monoxide detectors
Yes Besides replacing batteries on the same schedule as those of smoke detectors, you may need to replace the whole CO detector. Check the manufacturer’s website to learn your detector’s life span.
Alarm systems
Yes Besides ensuring your safety, a properly maintained system will have fewer false alarms. Call your provider and ask how to test the system.
Fire extin­guishers
Not really Give the apparatus a visual inspection; does it have dents or rust? Are the nozzle and hoses in working order? Is the pressure gauge in the green zone? Any signs of trouble mean it’s time to replace or recharge. Check with your fire department to see if they will inspect and recharge your extinguisher; if not, private companies can do the inspection and recharging.

House Beautiful

Do-It-Yourself? What the Job Entails Tips
Window screens
Yes The great outdoors looks better through a screen less window. Store screens neatly and save cleaning them until spring, when you’ll need them again. Bonus: Removing screens lets more sunlight in to heat and light the house.
Not really While renting a carpet-cleaning machine is possible, the results are not nearly as satisfying as a professional cleaning. Get references and hire a professional whom you trust and feel good working with. Your house will look fresher after the carpets are cleaned, and fewer allergens will irritate you and visitors.
No Clean furniture lasts longer. Professional cleaners have the proper equipment to achieve a deep cleaning. Ask if the price includes the cushions as well as the base of the sofa
Yes and no, depending on the fabric Dust accumulates over time, so every few years you’ll want to take drapes down and clean them. If you’re shopping for new drapes, look at those that offer insulation as well as beauty. Transport drapes that can’t be washed to and from the dry cleaners yourself; this will save pickup and delivery charges..
Sort of Take a rag and scrub all those tiny slats yourself, if you have the time. Otherwise, professionals will take blinds down, clean them in their truck, and rehang them for you. Check with your fire department to see if they will inspect and recharge your extinguisher; if not, private companies can do the inspection and recharging.

Miscellaneous Tasks

Do-It-Yourself? What the Job Entails Tips
Chimneys (and fireplaces and wood burning stoves)
No A chimney sweep can check for nests, cracked tiles, soot accumulation and overall safety and efficiency. Even if you don’t use the fireplace often, chimneys still need professional inspection. Expect to pay $100 to $250. The more you burn, the more “sweeping” is required. For gas fireplaces, check that the gas line and pilot are functioning properly.
Yes Cleaning these protects the house from water damage where leaves form dams and the water spills over the gutter. If you’re comfortable on a ladder, this is one task where you can save money by doing it yourself.
Septic tank
Yes Regular maintenance prevents backups; need we say more? Best done at least once every three years; a fall checkup will ensure that no dead-of-winter needs arise.
Boxelder bugs
Yes The best approach is to seal all cracks and crevices outside. A professional exterminator can use an exterior insecticide if necessary. These bugs come inside in the fall to hibernate; when the heat comes on, they spring to life. Treating them inside the house is useless. Hand remove them or vacuum them up.

Preparing for Winter’s Cold

Do-It-Yourself? What the Job Entails Tips
Yes Humidifiers are intended to make the air easier on the lungs, and they’re especially helpful in Colorado’s dry winters. Clean the unit and replace the filters, if that’s what your system requires. Humidifiers can spread germs if they’re not cleaned properly.
Energy audit
Yes and no DIY energy audits are a good idea. But Boulder County’s Energy Smart energy-audit program is even better, because the auditors have equipment to check for leaks that can’t be seen. The end result may be a “project list” that won’t be completed until time and money permit you to make the suggested improvements. EnergySmart is in its last year of funding, so now’s the time to use its excellent rebates to replace leaky windows, add insulation, or upgrade a water heater. Visit www.energy smartyes.com.
Weatherstripping and other air-sealing projects
Yes Put foam weather­stripping around the edges of windows, doors, attic hatches and skylights. This easy energy-saving product goes a long way toward reducing energy use. Professionally re glaze windows. Beef up old exterior caulk.
Caulk foundation cracks and around wall-penetrating pipes/cables
Maybe Not only does this prevent warm air from escaping, it prevents mice from getting inside. Water-based Mastic sealant is perfect for sealing ducts. Smear it on with a rubber glove or use a paintbrush for a cleaner look.
Heating Systems
Yes and no Furnaces and boilers may work differently, but both perform better with annual TLC. Keeping each maintained is critical for safety and energy usage. Replacing furnace filters is your job; checking for carbon monoxide leaks is best left to professionals.
Air Ducts
No Contractors say that having your air ducts cleaned reduces allergens and dust. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it does not have enough information to recommend for or against duct cleaning. It does produce a fact sheet on it, though, at http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/airduct.html. Put “diverters” on floor vents that are blocked by furniture; this way the hot air isn't just heating the backside of the couch.
Insulate Pipes
Yes When you wrap hot-water pipes, the heat stays in the water, saving energy. Incidentally, wrapped pipes are much less likely to burst during prolonged freezes; this is a one-time job. Styrofoam pipe covers work well for this.
Thermostat (reprogram it for winter)
Yes Once you've installed a programmable thermostat (one that automatically adjusts the temperature depending on the time of day), don’t forget to reprogram it for winter needs. This energy saver takes mere minutes to reprogram.

For more ideas, check out the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Healthy Homes Maintenance Checklist at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=DOC_12334.pdf

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