Winterize your home now - while you can still walk on your roofing without slipping on ice.
Make a maintenance list and check it twice: The few hours spent to survey your home and make minor fixes could save a bundle on expensive and inconvenient emergency repairs.
Winterizing your home will also make it more comfortable and energy efficient, and could even reduce heating costs.
Here is a 5-step checklist to help your home weather winter's chilly arrival. Let's start at the top.
Do a winter roof inspection. You can do some some simple maintenance and minor repairs yourself.
Remove leaves and dirt from the roof surface with a broom or blower. Then clear leaves and debris from gutters and downspouts. Use a hose to shoot water down gutters and spouts to make sure they aren't clogged.
Next, check the seal along areas where the roof adjoins other parts of your home (such as walls, pipes and chimney) for cracks or missing shingles. You'll want to make sure there is still a good seal and the caulking hasn't dried out.
If it has, take it out and and clean with a stiff wire brush and recaulk. Then replace missing shingles or shakes, renail the ridge and seal around pipes. If you discover problems you can't handle yourself, place a service call now - before the problem becomes a leaky, and expensive, emergency.
Check the condition of your chimney and fireplace. Newer fireplaces are better at producing heat and reducing airflow to prolong a fire's life than their older, open counterparts.
However, newer ones also generate cooler smoke, which rises more slowly through the flue. This gives flammable gases time to turn to liquid creosote or soot that can build up in the chimney.
And whatever the age of the fireplace, this buildup can cause a chimney fire, which can be sucked into the house by a change in airflow.
A good rule of thumb is to schedule a chimney cleaning every 40 or 50 fires, or after burning four cords of wood.
If you don't know how much wood you've burned or you're concerned about the condition of your chimney, schedule a chimney inspection. Most chimney cleaning companies recommend an inspection at least every three to four years, more often for older homes.
Now is the time to stock up on firewood. Buying in bulk from a firewood company is the least expensive option; most will deliver orders of a quarter-cord or more for a nominal fee.
Supermarkets offer smaller quantities, but at higher prices. The quantity of firewood you'll need depends on the weather and your lifestyle.
Choices range from hardwoods - the hottest-, cleanest- and longest-burning woods - such as oak and walnut, to softwoods such as pine and fir. The latter burn more quickly and ignite more easily, but emit more soot-creating oils and resins.
The best place to store firewood is outside at least several feet from your home so it does not pose a fire hazard. It's better to keep firewood outside where the air circulation is good rather than in the garage.
There are hundreds of species of bugs - and termites - that live in the wood that you probably don't want in your garage. Stack firewood at least an inch off the ground to keep it from getting wet and to discourage bugs from making a woodpile a winter home. Cover loosely with a protective tarp.
On a cold winter night, the heater is the last thing you want to break down. Not only is such a malfunction uncomfortable and expensive, it can even be dangerous.
Older furnaces should be serviced annually to check and adjust the belts, lubricate the motor and adjust the air/fuel mixture. Newer furnaces generally don't need as much maintenance, but the screens and filters should be changed monthly.
Even though it can be costly to bring in a professional, a fall tune up will prolong the life of your equipment - similar to getting regular an oil changes for your car. The cleaner and more efficient your equipment is kept, the longer it will last.
In many older homes, and even some newer ones, warm air escapes through numerous little cracks, holes and gaps in the winter.
Winter winds force cold air through the openings into the house, and you have to raise the thermostat setting to keep warm. This forces the furnace to work harder and use more fuel - and up goes your heating bill.
These heat-stealing gaps can result from poor construction, settling and aging of the house, and dramatic changes in humidity and temperatures. They are especially prone to develop where two different surfaces meet, such as the wall and foundation or chimney-wall joint.
If you can see light around your doors from inside, you probably need to replace the weather stripping, the narrow piece of metal, vinyl, rubber, felt or foam that seals the space between the door and the frame.
All exterior doors, as well as those leading to an attic or garage, should be weather stripped, as should all operable windows.
The best time to test your windows and doors for airtightness is a cold, windy day. Use your hand to feel for cold air, or make a simple draft detector by clipping a piece of tissue paper or light plastic to a coat hanger.
Hold the coat hanger in front of the suspected gap around doors or windows and see whether the paper or plastic moves. If so, seal the opening with caulk or weather stripping.
Low humidity is important because moisture expands wood to temporarily seal cracks. And caulk adheres better in warmer temperatures.
Also check for air leaks around openings where plumbing or electrical wiring goes through walls, floors and ceilings. Check for drafts from electrical outlets, around ceiling fixtures and at openings in the attic. Seal cracks or holes with caulking.
Finally, be sure to close the damper when the fireplace is not in use.
OK, so get out your checklist and get started. As incentive, picture this lovely holiday scene: The guests are arriving, the heater is on the blink, the roof is leaking and the chimney catches fire. This is no time to be a Scrooge.