Home & Garden

Start pre-winter chores soon

This is the first year in as long as I can remember that I don't have to find time before the cold weather sets in to finish exterior painting.

That doesn't mean there aren't a few spots here and there to touch up, especially where the sun shines constantly, but there are no vast stretches of square footage that require hours spent on a ladder doing a number on the soles of my feet.

I don't have much preparing for winter to do either, because I learned a long time ago to take care of that stuff in late spring and summer, heat or no heat.

Painting always was a fall occupation, however, because that was when conditions were almost perfect. Putting in insulation, you can do that any time.

Some tree branches need removing, but that's an hour of work, at worst. I do need to repoint the top of the chimney; I did it much too quickly on a warm day in December, and it looks like it. But that won't take more than a few hours on a nice early-autumn Saturday morning.

The heat/ventilation/air--conditioning system will require a filter change sometime. My repairman recommends that it be done annually for my particular system; yours might require a more frequent change.

If you have an older heating system, you might want to have it serviced before the late-autumn rush. That way, if it needs to be replaced, you can have that done before the real cold weather sets in.

Every year, according to federal statistics, 2.5 million American homeowners replace their heaters. Of the 43 million residential oil and gas furnaces in operation in U.S. homes, one in four is more than 20 years old.

Many new furnaces are 25 percent to 40 percent more efficient than older ones; the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program promotes furnaces using a "condensing technology" as the most efficient. A furnace's efficiency rating tells you how much of the total energy used is delivered to the home as heat. The higher the rating, the better.

At our house, the annual question is: To cover, or not to cover the central-air condenser during the winter? I don't cover it and have never had a problem. My neighbors don't and so far, so good. My repairman agrees with me.

If you aren't sure which way to go, ask your service person or contact the manufacturer of your unit for a recommendation. If you do (or don't do) what the manufacturer advises, it could affect the warranty.

(That's also the case with just about every major appliance you own. Not following the terms of the warranty - doing repairs yourself, for example - could abrogate the agreement.)

To keep water from rain or melting snow from finding its way into your house in the winter, gutter cleaning goes a long way.

Because I live in a bungalow, my gutters are only 12 feet off the ground and easily accessible for cleaning. Some of my neighbors hire a company right out of the Yellow Pages to clean their gutters inexpensively. Others have had gutter systems put in, and because they have been installed properly (again, check on the warranty), they work quite well - except with pine needles, which can stick on the surface of the debris strainer.

Solution: Have a professional cut the pine trees back, so needles won't get into the gutters. From what my readers have told me, one gutter system works as well as the next.

You'll certainly want to have the roof checked before winter. If it's visible from your yard, make sure that the shingles are in good shape, that they are not curling or broken.

And make sure that the flashing isn't rusted through. Many leaks are the result of faulty metal flashing around chimneys and plumbing-vent stacks, and at the seams of the roof.

If these places are easy to get to, the solution is simply to apply roofing cement to the areas where the adhesive that holds the flashing to the surface of the roof has cracked.

If you're handy, do it yourself. If you're not, hire a pro.

Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.