Fall Home Checklist for a Warm, Safe Winter

A recent poll of the outstanding professionals in my network yielded the following list of home maintenance projects to ensure your safety and warmth this winter. Some of these things you can do yourself. For those that require a contractor, please contact HomeWise for a quick and hassle-free connection to the right professional.

Concrete and Pavement

Water will seep into cracks, then freeze over the winter and expand, causing larger damage to your driveways, walkways and patios. Check for cracks and, if large ones are found, have them repaired before they worsen. Concrete work should be done before temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.


Have a licensed contractor professionally clean and inspect your fireplace/chimney once a year to remove creosote build-up and detect and repair firebox or chimney liner cracks, gas line leaks, chimney cap cracks, bird screen holes and other fire hazards.


Check foundation walls for cracking, heaving, or deterioration. Small cracks are normal, but those wider than 1/8 inch or having edges that don’t match up should be filled in. Home improvement stores sell filler products but, if you have buckling or bulging, let HomeWise put you in touch with a structural engineer or licensed general contractor to see whether more extensive repairs are needed to protect your home’s structural integrity.

Gutters and Downspouts

Avoid winter ice damming  (which leads to roof, fascia and siding damage) by cleaning gutters and downspouts, inspecting them for proper drainage (gutters should be slanted ever-so-slightly toward the downspout), repairing leaks (generally found at seams), and reattaching any loose portions. Add extensions to direct water away from your home’s foundation.


Consider installing a programmable thermostat to turn the HVAC system on and off based on your occupancy schedule or decrease the temperature during sleeping hours then raise it just before you wake up. This could save between 3% and 5% on your utility bills. BUT, if you have a heat pump, efficient operation dictates that you set your thermostat at the desired temperature and leave it there.

Remember to change your HVAC’s filter regularly, at least once every 1 ½ to 3 months. A dirty filter decreases airflow and efficiency and can lead to system failure and unnecessary repair bills.

Consider a maintenance contract with a reputable HVAC service company. They usually pay for themselves with two free annual seasonal checkups of your system and often include significant discounts on labor and/or parts if you need repair during the contract period.


Cut back and trim all vegetation and overgrown bushes and make sure your grading slants away from the house to prevent basement and foundation water damage.


Touch up areas of exterior cracking or peeling to avoid exposure of the underlying material to winter’s severe weather. Exterior painting work should be done before temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.


Frozen pipes can be prevented. Never leave your home without heat during cold weather. Always allow a little heat in unused rooms and cut off water supply lines to outside hose bibs. Drain these lines before cold weather hits and disconnect all hoses. If freezing should occur, contact a licensed plumber for assistance.


Have a licensed contractor inspect your roof for gaps in flashing around the chimney and gable intersections, loose or missing shingles, “soft spots”, and other conditions that could lead to leaks during icy/snowy conditions.

Smoke  and Carbon Monoxide Detectors 

You should change batteries twice  a year.  Fire stations recommend doing this when you “fall back” and when you “spring forward”.  “Fall back” day is November 3 this year.


Ensure that your sump pump and emergency back up systems are in good working order. Just one snowstorm or rainstorm with loss of power could cause a flooded basement, damage drywall and flooring, and lead to mold growth. If your waterproofing system has not been maintained or you do not have a sump pump or battery back-up system, consult a waterproofing specialist.

Windows and Doors

Inspect the caulking around your windows and exterior doors. If you find gaps, replace old caulk with a clean secure bond. This will lower your energy bills and prevent insects from getting in. You should also repair holes in screens and cracked windows, replace broken or missing window or door hardware and tighten and lubricate door hinges and closers.

A little work during this fall season will keep your home safe, warm and happy through the winter.

Debbie Farson is the owner/operator of HomeWise Referrals, Inc., a FREE service to Northern Virginia, DC and MD homeowners connecting them with licensed, dependable contractors for every home repair, home improvement or remodeling project. She can be reached through the company website, or by phone, 703-360-8222.

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