Well, the heat has been on a couple times now, so it's official: Summer's over and winter's on the way.
If you're lucky, you haven't had any problems yet -- no leaks, cracks, breaks or major failures. Your house hasn't let you know it's time to bar the elements, and you still have time to prepare for cold weather on your own schedule.
If you're lucky and organized, you may have last year's list of things to do as a guide. A list will help you keep track of when the flues were last cleaned, or when the furnace was serviced, and can help you remember such things as turning off the water to outdoor spigots. Most of us aren't that organized, however, so here's a new list to work from:
* Doors. Check weatherstripping and threshold strips for wear or gaps; replace or repair as necessary. Check locks to make sure they're properly aligned. An out-of-kilter strike plate can keep a door from shutting tightly.
* Windows. Install or replace weatherstripping. Repair any broken glass. Make sure locks work to keep windows shut
tightly. Install storm windows.
* Heating equipment. For forced-air systems, clean or replace all filters; have equipment serviced, if necessary. Check registers to make sure they open and close easily. Vacuum vents of cold-air returns to remove lint and debris.
For boiler systems, vacuum burners to clear debris; oil the circulator. Add water to the system, and bleed radiators, if necessary. If there are any problems, schedule service now.
For all systems, clear furniture and other items from around vents, registers and radiators.
* Fireplaces and wood stoves. Clean flues and fireboxes. Inspect for cracks or loose connections. Line up a chimney sweep, if necessary. (By the way, don't store wood on a porch or anywhere near the house. Keep it off the ground, too, or by spring you could be dealing with termites.)
* Window air-conditioning units. Take out removable units and store them in a dry place. If a unit stays put through the winter, pack the front with insulation and wrap the back with plastic.
* Insulation. If the insulation in your attic or crawl space has been there for a while, you may want to supplement it. Owens-Corning has a new product designed to beef up existing insulation; it's called Pink Plus, and is a fiberglass batt completely wrapped in plastic film, so it's easy for homeowners to install. (It's more expensive than unwrapped fiberglass, as you might expect, and it doesn't have a vapor barrier.)
* Gutters and downspouts. Try to keep up with the falling leaves -- clogged water-removal systems can mean water damage later, especially if water gets into a foundation or under roofing material. It's especially important to get the last leaves of the season. They can trap water that could freeze and cause structural damage.
* Foundation. Check around the outside of the house for low spots or other problems. Fill in lower places and adjust grading so water will run away from the building. Turn off water to outside spigots and drain them.
* Paint and caulk. Now is the perfect time to do any exterior painting -- it's no longer too hot, and it's not yet too cold. Caulk first, paying particular attention to areas around doors and windows. Winter freeze-and-thaw cycles are hard on all exterior surfaces.
* Concrete and macadam. Resurface driveways and repair any cracks in concrete. Repair concrete steps and walks.
* Roofing. If a flat roof needs recoating, find a good day and have it done now; you won't get a chance later. Check all flashing to make sure joints are sealed -- don't wait for a leak to indicate there's trouble.
While you're sealing up the house to keep out winter drafts, remember houses may be healthier if they're allowed to breathe. A too-tight house can trap moisture and pollutants that damage interior surfaces and make inhabitants miserable. If you add insulation, you may have to add ventialtion as well. And training family members to put on a sweater and extra socks, rather than turning up the heat, can save a lot money in energy costs.
Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.
If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N.
Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.