From gutters and toilets to windows and doors, we’ve got some great tips to tighten up your house and save you money during the cold weather ahead.
To-Do #1: Replace Air Filter
The air filter on your Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning system needs to be replaced every 1-3 months to keep the air in your home clean and flowing freely through the unit.
For best results, use a high-quality air filter that’s rated to remove mold, pollen and other microscopic particles.
The air filter is usually located behind the wall or floor air return grate. In some systems, the filter may be in or near the air handler unit.
If you have trouble locating yours, check out our article, How to Find the Air Filter in Your Home.
To replace an air filter:
- Turn the heating/cooling system off, and wait until it stops running.
- Take the cover off the air return.
- Remove the old air filter.
- Write the current date on the new air filter.
- Insert the new air filter in the return, making sure the arrow on the edge of the filter is facing in the direction of airflow. For filters with wall- and floor-mounted returns, the arrow should point in toward the return duct. For filters mounted in the ductwork near the air handler, the arrow should point toward the HVAC unit.
- Put the cover back on the air return.
- Turn the heating/cooling system back on.
- To make it easier to replace next time, put a sticker on or near the return with the size filter you need to buy and when to replace it.
Check out our video on Changing the Air Filter in Your Home to find out more.
To-Do #2: Check Toilets for Leaks
A constantly running toilet can waste thousands of gallons of water a year and drive up your utility bills.
Check your toilets regularly, and replace any parts that are no longer functioning as they should. Most toilet repair jobs are easy to do yourself.
To check and repair a toilet:
- Adjust Water Level in Tank: If your toilet runs when it hasn’t been flushed, remove the lid and check the water level inside the tank.
If it’s set too high, the water will spill into the overflow tube and cause the intake valve to keep running.
To adjust the water level, turn the adjustment screw located either on top or at the base of the water intake mechanism in the tank. Set the water level so it stops filling 1/4 inch or more below the top of the overflow tube. Many intake valves are marked with a recommended water level for maximum effectiveness with minimum waste.
- Replace Flapper: Put a few drops of food coloring in the water in your toilet tank, and allow it to remain without flushing for a time. If the water in the toilet bowl changes color without being flushed, the rubber flapper valve at the bottom of the tank needs to be replaced. These are easy to replace by shutting off the water to the toilet, flushing the tank to empty it, and replacing the old flapper with a new one.
- Replace Flushing Mechanism: If the above fixes don’t work, it may be time to replace the entire flushing mechanism. Look for a packaged replacement kit, so you’ll have all the parts as well as installation instructions. Turn the water off at the shut-off valve and flush to empty the tank before removing and replacing the water intake tank mechanism.
- Fix Toilet Floor Leak: If your toilet is leaking at the floor when flushed, first try gently tightening the bolts that hold the bowl to the floor. Be careful not to overtighten – you don’t want to crack the ceramic bowl! If this doesn’t stop the leak, you’ll need to remove the toilet and replace the wax ring around the drain pipe. Check out our article on How To Remove and Replace a Toilet for more info.
- Fix Toilet Tank to Bowl Leak: Toilets can also leak between the tank and bowl when the toilet is flushed. To fix, turn off the water, drain the tank, remove the bolts in the bottom of the tank that attach the tank to the bowl, and replace the rubber gasket between the tank and bowl, as well as the bolts and gaskets that hold the tank and bowl together.
Watch our video on How to Repair a Toilet to find out more.
To-Do #3: Fight Drafts with Storm Windows or Insulation
October may still be warm enough to have your windows open, but it’s already time to begin thinking about cold weather ahead. Early fall is a great time to install storm windows and reap the benefits of lower heating costs this winter.
In colder climates, storm windows on single-pane glass can reduce heat loss through the window by 25% to 50% and lower your heating costs by as much as 13%! And the savings jump to 20% if the storm windows have a low-E coating.
If your home already has storm windows, this is a great time to clean and close them. Removable screens can be taken down, scrubbed, and put away until spring. While it’s not necessary to remove screens in winter, the added light can help brighten your house on dark winter days.
If storm windows aren’t an option for you, an alternative is to seal out cold drafts using plastic window insulation kits. These are applied over the inside of the window with self-adhesive tape. A warm hairdryer is then used to heat and shrink the plastic to make it tight and nearly invisible.
To-Do #4: Caulk Cracks and Gaps in Siding
Even small cracks and gaps in your home’s siding and trim can make a big difference in the heating bill this winter!
Check your siding — particularly around windows, doors, and vents — for cracked boards, gaps and cracks. Repair cracks according to the size of the gap:
- Small Cracks: Fill cracks smaller than 1/4 inch with a bead of exterior-grade paintable caulk.
- Larger Cracks and Gaps: Before caulking, fill cracks wider than 1/4 inch by pushing foam backer rod into the hole until it’s just below the surface. Then, cover the backer rod with caulk and smooth the surface.
- Holes and Large Gaps: Fill large holes and gaps with expandable spray foam in a can. Carefully spray the foam into the space, allowing plenty of room for it to expand. After the foam has hardened, trim it flush and paint or stain it to match.
To-Do #5: Check Weather Stripping and Thresholds
Weatherstripping around doors and the threshold seal at the bottom of doors can wear out or become damaged over time. Replacing damaged weather stripping or thresholds can make a big difference in your home’s energy efficiency.
There are several types and sizes of weather stripping for doors, so take a piece with you to the home center to make sure you buy the right one.
Newer doors have weather stripping that’s simply cut to length and pushed into a groove around the door. Older doors can be sealed using self-adhesive foam or rigid strips that are nailed in place around the door.
The rubber gasket in metal thresholds can also be replaced. Remove the rubber threshold strip, and take it with you to the home center to find the correct replacement.
If you can’t find a rubber replacement strip or the threshold is damaged, buy a new threshold of the correct length and height. Use a hacksaw to cut the new threshold to length, and notch it around the door casing.
After test fitting it to make sure the door closes tightly on the rubber seal, apply a bead of caulk to the underside of the threshold, set it in place, and attach it to the floor using the screws provided.
To-Do #6: Clean Gutters and Downspouts
Clogged and leaking gutters and downspouts can overflow and cause water damage to your home, so it’s important to check them for leaks regularly.
Start by cleaning your gutters, then use a garden hose to make sure they drain as they should.
Here are some tips to make the job easier:
- Bag As You Go: Rather than dropping the gutter debris onto your lawn or bushes, hang a garbage bag from the top of your ladder, and drop the mess directly inside.
- DIY Gutter Cleaning Tool: You can clean gutters with a trowel or your gloved hand, but the right tool makes the job go faster. Rummage in your recycle bin for a plastic jug about the same width as the gutter. Cut the jug to create a scoop, and you’re in business!
- Unclog Downspouts: If your downspout is clogged with debris, first try clearing it using a strong spray of water from a garden hose inserted in the top of the downspout. If that doesn’t work, use a plumber’s snake to clear the clog. Watch our video on How to Unclog and Clean Downspouts to learn more.
- Follow With Water: After scooping all the leaves out of your gutters and unclogging any downspouts, use the high-pressure setting of a garden hose nozzle to rinse away any remaining dirt, and make sure the gutters drain toward and out of the downspouts.
- Fix Gutter Sags: Gutters need to be securely attached to the fascia board on the eaves and slope slightly toward the downspouts to drain properly. Identify any low or loose spots, then adjust or tighten the screws or nails holding the gutters in place. Check out our article on How to Clean and Repair Gutters and our video on How to Repair Sagging Gutters to learn more.
To-Do #7: Winterize Gas-Powered Lawn Equipment
Once you’ve finished with all of your fall lawn maintenance, it’s time to winterize gas-powered lawn equipment, such as lawnmowers and trimmers, so they’ll run properly when spring arrives.
Always remove the spark plug wire from the spark plug before working on gas-powered lawn equipment to prevent it from starting up unexpectedly.
To prepare lawn equipment for winter:
- Run Out the Gas: Start by running your mower or trimmer until it’s completely out of gas, or add fuel stabilizer to the gas in the tank to keep it fresh.
- Clean Equipment: Brush or wipe dirt and debris off the outside of the engine and housing. Gently turn lawn mowers on their side (with the air filter facing up), and spray the underside clean with a garden hose.
- Clean or Replace Air Filter: To clean or replace the air filter, find the air filter on your machine, remove the cover and filter, and clean or replace it following the installation instructions. Then, replace the cover and make sure it’s screwed or clamped tightly in place.
- Change Engine Oil: Remove the oil drain plug, and drain the old oil into a container for recycling. Put the drain plug back in and refill with the type of oil recommended in the owner’s manual to the proper level.
- Replace or Sharpen Blade: To make sure your lawnmower is ready for spring, it’s important to sharpen the blade. Mark the blade so that you can remember which side faces up. Then, remove the blade and sharpen the beveled side. Use a file, sharpening stone, grinder or belt sander to gently follow the angle of the bevel and sharpen the edge. Make sure to take the same amount off each of the cutting edges, so the blade will be balanced and not vibrate. Then, reinstall the blade on the mower.
- Clean or Replace Spark Plug: Next, remove the spark plug and clean and reset the gap, or replace a worn spark plug with the same type. Install the clean or new plug in the mower, being careful not to over-tighten it.