By DWIGHT BARNETT
Scripps Howard News Service
Here's my top-10 "fall maintenance to-do" list to guide you toward needed repairs before winter's onslaught forces you indoors.
1. Before you use any fossil-fuel-burning appliance — such as a gas- or wood-fired furnace, stove, boiler or fireplace — the chimney, vent or flue needs to be inspected for blockages or damage. A damaged flue is hazardous and can lead to carbon-monoxide poisoning or, in the case of a fireplace or wood stove, a house fire. Hire a professional to inspect the venting systems.
2. Change the batteries in smoke alarms and carbon-monoxide detectors. Smoke alarms should be replaced every five years.
3. Visually inspect the roof and gutters for signs of damage or leaks. Clean the gutters and extend the runoff drains at least 6 feet from the home's foundation. Roof repairs should be made before the temperatures drop and the damp weather makes proper repairs almost impossible.
4. Have the home's heating system inspected and serviced for optimum operating efficiency and safety. If you heat your home with a gas- or oil-fired furnace or boiler, the flames and oxygen levels should be adjusted and the heat exchanger inspected for cracks or damage. Heat pumps need to be cleaned, and refrigerant levels checked by a qualified service technician. Fans, switches, capacitors, circuits and reversing valves also need to be inspected in operation.
5. Change furnace filters. Why is this on a fall maintenance list? A dirty filter is the No. 1 cause of inefficiency for a forced air heating/cooling system. A dirty filter blocks airflow through the fan, which can damage not only the fan, but also the outside unit of a heat pump/air conditioner. In addition, a clean filter delivers cleaner, healthier air to the home.
6. On these cooler days, it would be a good idea to check the insulation in the attic. Heat rises, and a poorly insulated attic allows all that expensive warm air to escape through the roof. The summer storms can blow through an attic, creating huge piles of any type of loose-fill insulating materials. Use an extending paint pole with a roller attached to spread the loose insulation evenly. Call your local building official to see how much insulation is needed for your area, and add more if necessary. Approximately 95 percent of the attics I inspect need additional insulation just to meet minimum standards.
7. Inspect the openings around exterior windows, doors and any other crack or opening on the wall of the home. Homes constructed after 1980 should have a thermal barrier of insulation inside the walls, but cracks and openings on the outside allow cold air to bypass the insulation and cool the home. Caulk and seal any opening you can safely reach. Replace any cracked or broken glass.
8. Remove garden hoses, and drain and store for winter. A hose left connected to an outside faucet can cause the faucet to freeze and break inside the walls of the home. Every time you use the faucet after it has been damaged, it will leak to the interior of the home. The leak will be out of sight and can, therefore, cause a lot of damage before the problem is discovered.
9. Replace the outside light bulbs. If Murphy is right, and he usually is, your lights will go out under the least favorable conditions for replacement. Any light bulb that has a standard screw-in "Edison"base should be replaced with one of the newer CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs to save energy.
10. Inspect the foundation crawlspace of your home. Problems with plumbing leaks, flooding, decayed wood, damaged insulation, pest entry, damaged ductwork, etc., often lurk in the crawlspace where no one wants to go. A vast majority of the homes I inspect have very few problems in the areas that are occupied and observed daily by the homeowner. It's only when I enter the darkness of a cramped crawlspace that I discover hidden and latent defects that have festered for years out of sight and mind.
If you are unable or unwilling, and most of us are, to enter the crawlspace, hire a professional home inspector to check it for you and to issue a written report of his findings. You can locate a qualified home inspector at www.ashi.org.
Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home-improvement questions at d.Barnett@insightbb.com. Sorry, no personal replies.