Outdoor elements can negatively impact the exterior of your home and property. It is never too early to think ahead and prepare your home for the imminent cold weather. The end of summer is a good time to get a jump start on a few outdoor projects that will prevent the need for emergency repairs during the harsh winter season.

This summer’s stormy weather created more debris than usual. Leaves, twigs, and fallen branches were thrown all around, and may have clogged or damaged your gutters. The heavy rainfall also contributed to the growth of mold and moss, and even poisonous wild mushrooms throughout our region – more so than in year’s past. These slimy and smelly microbes, when mixed with fallen leaves, can create a terrible mess and the buildup of sludge. What’s worse, is that this mixture fosters the perfect environment for insects. Be sure to clear away these damaging materials from your yard to avoid further damage to your home, deck and foundation.

When the combination of debris, leaves and sludge are caught in your gutters, it can damage the structure of your gutter system. Water will not flow properly, causing water to overflow around your home, as opposed to being directed to downspouts. The collection of water and debris can also cause damage to your roof – add frigid temperatures, and ice will buildup, causing not only water damage to your roof, but possibly lifting shingles, and the sheathing under your roofing materials. Furthermore, ice can cause your gutters to shift and pull away from your home.

While the weather is still comfortable check your gutters, and clear out any debris that may have gathered. Make sure all gutter connections are in good condition and that downspouts are secure.

While you are up there, inspect your roof. Look for missing or loose shingles. Ice, rain, snow and wind, along with frequently changing temperatures can cause significant damage to your roof over time. It is better to be proactive rather than reactive, as defects in your roof are usually overlooked until extreme weather hits and when it’s too late. If getting on a ladder isn’t your thing, hire a professional.

Test and change the batteries in your carbon monoxide or smoke detectors. This is something that should be done annually as it can protect you and your family from a fire, or the odorless carbon monoxide emitted from furnaces, fireplaces, stoves or other gas fired appliances during their operation.

Up to 20% of your home’s heat can be lost through air drafts around windows and doors. The good news is there are some inexpensive fixes, and many products available to remedy the problem.  Use caulk to seal around frames or use a plastic window insulation kit to cover an entire window to limit the amount of air loss. Even heavy curtains can help keep heat from escaping through your windows.

To help keep the cold air out, replace your screen doors with storm doors. Also check the seal around your door and window frames. If you can see light around the frames, you have a significant gap for the heated air in your home to escape. Even if you can’t see light, you should still check the weather stripping. If it is brittle or cracking, it is not doing its job. Installing a new weather-stripping kit from a hardware store is a quick fix to ensure your windows and doors are sealed.

Schedule an appointment to have your heating system serviced. Many heating companies offer pre-season specials, so take advantage of your early planning. A well-maintained heating system will run more efficiently, saving you money on your energy bill and potentially preventing unnecessary emergency breakdowns. A maintenance service should take less than an hour, and checks the overall performance of your heating system for safety and proper operation.

Once the early fall temperatures dip into the sixties, turn on your heating system to make sure it works. Don’t wait for the first cold day to turn on your heating system, as you may find that if there is an issue, there will be a delay in scheduling a service repair.

Don’t forget to check your chimney. Whether it is the vent pipe leading from your heating system, water heater, fireplace or gas stove, it needs to have an unobstructed path to vent combustion gases. A chimney free of soot and debris means cleaner burning fires and a decreased risk of chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning to your family and pets.

As with your heating system, wood burning or coal fired fireplaces should be cleaned and inspected annually before lighting any fires for the season. Even if you don’t burn fires that often, it is still advisable to have your chimney looked at once a year, as birds and animals could have built nests inside your chimney. Also, have the damper checked to make sure it isn’t bent or warped, as warm air from your home can escape through the chimney. Waiting until the autumn or winter to have your chimney inspected can cleaned can result in long delays, so it’s best to do it sooner than later.

Once the cooler temperatures roll in, reverse the direction of your ceiling fans. Putting them in a reverse direction will help blow down the warm air that accumulates at the ceiling, as warm air rises upward. Most ceiling fans have a reverse option, found on the remote or by switching a toggle switch on the fan motor.  Not all ceiling fans have a reverse option, so check with the manufacturer if you aren’t sure. Either way, reversing your ceiling fan’s operation can warm your air by a degree or two.

Fixing up the exterior of your home doesn’t have to be a week-long project, and it doesn’t have to be only about functionality. Consider dressing up your front door with a fresh coat of paint or a seasonal wreath. You can add some personal touches, like a new welcome mat, or placing some seasonal flowers in a nearby plant bed or flower pots. If your plant beds are looking tired, add a fresh batch of mulch.

Now is also a good time to secure or spruce up your mailbox, or landscaping your yard.  The end of summer through the fall season is a good time to install plants, shrubs and trees. It is also the time of the year when nurseries and home improvement stores sell landscape materials at a discounted cost.

If the weather is right, these projects can be an enjoyable weekend activity for the family. As with any home improvement projects, seek the advice of a professional when needed. For more information about projects that require a licensed contractor, contact the Home Improvement Contractors of Staten Island atwww.hicofsi.org.

Lana Seidman, Executive Director
HIC of Staten Island, Inc.