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Nine things for you (or the handyman) to tackle before winter sets in.

By Pat Mertz Esswein, Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
September 2009

As winter nears, it’s time to prepare your home for cold weather. These steps, at least some of which most homeowners can do themselves, will lower your utility bills and protect your investment.

1. Tune up your heating system. For about $80 to $100, a technician will inspect your furnace or heat pump to be sure the system is clean and in good repair so that it can achieve its manufacturer-rated efficiency. The inspection also measures carbon-monoxide leakage. And you minimize the chance of being 200th in line for repairs on the coldest day of the year. Look for a heating and air-conditioning contractor that belongs to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (, employs technicians certified by the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) program, and follows the protocol for ACCA’s “national standard for residential maintenance” (or the “QM,” short for quality maintenance), says Wes Davis, manager of technical services at ACCA.

2. Buy a programmable thermostat. Or, if you already have one, double-check the settings. Energy Star says that, on average, for an initial investment of $50 to $100, you will save $180 annually on heating (and cooling) bills if in winter you keep the thermostat set to no higher than 70 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re at home and awake and no more than 62 degrees when you’re away or asleep. Energy Star–qualified models come with preprogrammed settings. While you’re at it, check the batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon-monoxide detectors.

3. Hit the roof. Or at least scan it closely with binoculars. Look for damaged, loose or missing shingles that may leak during winter’s storms or from melting snow. If need be, hire a handyman to repair a few shingles ($95 to $125, according to or a roofer for a larger section ($100 to $350 for a 10-by-10-square-foot area). Check and repair breaks in the flashing seals around vent stacks and chimneys, too.

If your roof is flat and surfaced with asphalt and pebbles, as many are in the Southwest, rake or blow off fall leaves and pine needles, which hold moisture, says Bill Richardson, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors, in Albuquerque. (Don’t sweep aside the pebbles; that will expose the asphalt to damaging sunlight.)

4. Caulk around windows and doors. Richardson says that if the gap is bigger than the width of a nickel, you need to reapply exterior caulk. Check window glazing putty, too (which seals glass into the window frame). Add weatherstripping as needed around doors, making sure you cannot see any daylight from inside your home.

5. Clean the gutters. A service charges $70 to $200 for a single-story house, depending on its size. If your gutters are full of detritus, water can back up against the house and damage roofing, siding and wood trim, plus cause leaks and ice dams. Also look for missing or damaged components that need repair.

6. Divert water. Add extensions to downspouts so water runs at least 3 to 4 feet away from the foundation, says David Lupberger, home-improvement expert for ServiceMagic (, which connects consumers with service providers. For example, sells Amerimax Flex-a-Spout extension (25 to 55 inches) for $10.

7. Turn off exterior faucets. Undrained water that freezes in pipes will expand and can burst. Start by disconnecting all garden hoses and draining water still in faucets. If you don’t have frost-proof faucets (homes built before ten to 12 years ago typically do not), turn off the shut-off valve inside your home.

8. Trim landscaping. Clear the area at least 1 foot away from exterior walls, and rake gunk out of corners and away from the foundation. Cut back tree limbs growing within about 5 feet of the house, or worse, scrubbing the house or roof. You will create better ventilation, help dry out surfaces and prevent decay and damage. (Different rules apply in landscapes vulnerable to wildfires; visit, or do a Web search using your state’s name and “firewise landscape.”)

9. Have your lawn-irrigation system professionally drained. Your sprinkler service will charge $50 to $150, depending on the size of the system. As with draining spigots, this will help avoid freezing and leaky pipes come spring.
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