By Kevin Gibbons
It just hit me last week - that first smell of the Northern California fall air. There’s nothing like it - a crisp coolness after the hot summer, a hint of dampness on the brown grass from the coastal fog and just the start of decaying foliage. Fall is definitely my favorite season. In fact, I enjoy it so much that I actually look forward to the rituals of preparing my home for the colder seasons. Here are some of my favorite, essential routines for getting ready for fall and winter.
1. Clean The Rain Gutters
The time for cleaning the rain gutters and down-spouts is in the last days of summer and first days of fall, not during the first heavy rain when water is pouring down the eaves. Get on a ladder and use a narrow gardening trowel to scoop all the debris out of the gutters. Start at the end opposite the downspout. When you get to the downspout, take a hose, or a bucket of water to flush the spout and make sure there are no clogs. If the downspout is clogged, the easiest way to clear it is with a plumber’s snake.
You will probably have to repeat this cleaning after the first rain of the season washes all the debris on your roof down, but a pre-emptive cleaning will go a long way towards making that easier.
2. Store Your Gardening Tools
When you have finished your last big gardening project, clean and store your tools. Wash your spades and clippers, and consider coating them with a thin layer of mineral oil to keep them from rusting. Put them in a safe place in a shed or garage where they won’t get banged up or lost. Then they will be ready when you are for spring planting.
3. Change Your Heater Filters
If you have a forced air centralized heating system, replace your air filters. Either they have been running all year long, in which case they are dirty, or, if you live in a warm climate and turned your heater off for the summer, they have been sitting stale for months, possibly growing mold and mildew. In either case, they are easy and cheap to replace. While you are at it, turn on the heater system at a moderate setting for several hours during the day while you are gone. That will give the system a chance to blow out all the dust they may have accumulated during the warm months. You can then air out the house when you get home. This is much better than having to deal with the smell of burnt dust when it is 40 degrees outside, and is a lot cheaper than paying for heating duct cleaning.
4. Check Your Vents and Fireplace Flues
If you used a fireplace during the summer, you may have got in the habit of leaving the flue open. With cold weather around the corner, you want to make sure to close any vents where heat can leak out. You will also want to verify that the flues are operating properly before you light the cozy winter fire.
5. Winterize Your Car
Auto maintenance is a whole topic unto itself, but there are four things you absolutely have to do for the winter months:
Check your tires. Proper inflation and tread are essential for winter driving. If you do not know how to check your tires, go to your mechanic, or even one of those oil change places and have it done.
Change your windshield wipers. The rubber in the wipers dries out over the summer and they become less effective.
Flush your radiator and replace your antifreeze. Most manufacturers recommend changing your antifreeze/coolant every other year. If you live in a climate where it gets below freezing, get it done every year.
Check that your heater and defroster work. Turn on your fan, with the temperature setting at the hottest position. Make sure air flows out of the defroster and the heater vent. If they don’t get your heater system checked by a mechanic before you take your Thanksgiving trip to Grandma’s house.
6. Change and Test the Batteries in Your Smoke Alarms
Most fire departments run "fire alarm battery change" campaigns to coincide with the Daylight Savings time changes. Check both your battery-operated alarms and the ones wired into your home electrical system.
7. Restock your Emergency Kit
Check your emergency kit. Make sure you have fresh batteries and a working bulb in your flashlight. Make sure the radio still works. Clean the blankets. Check the first aid kit and replace any expired or used items.