Ready to hunker down for winter? Not so fast.
Now's the time to tackle a few chores that will help your house and yard ride out the cold season ahead.
Here are a few to check off your to-do list.
Clean the gutters
After the trees have finished shedding their leaves, get up on a ladder and clean that debris out of your gutters and downspouts.
Plug the top of the downspout with a rag first to keep debris from going down the spout, and wear heavy gloves to protect your hands.
When the gutter is clean, run some water into it from a garden hose. Clear a clogged downspout with a plumber's snake or a blast from the hose, working from the bottom up so you don't compact the clog.
Even though plant growth winds down this time of year, diseases don't necessarily go away. Many pests and pathogens spend the winter on diseased plant parts, lying in wait for the chance to launch a new attack in spring.
That's why plant experts preach the importance of cleaning up diseased plant material. Prune out affected stems, remove diseased leaves and pick up any plant debris that's lying around. Diseased annuals should be removed completely.
Lawn-care experts often say this is the best time to fertilize a lawn.
Fall fertilizing prepares grass plants for the rough winter ahead and ensures nutrients will be available to them in spring, when growth resumes.
Ohio State University's Joe Rimelspach recommends two fall feedings, one around Labor Day and the other right about now. If you skipped that first fertilization, you won't see the dramatic response in your lawn that you would have otherwise.
Find more information at http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/4000/4006.html.
You may be in the habit of adding fuel stabilizer to your lawn mower before you store it for winter, but that's not enough, said Mark Stiles, owner of Bath Tractor.
Gasoline often contains ethanol, which pulls moisture from the air. If you leave the gas in the tank for an extended time, that moisture can cause metal to corrode, he said. In addition, the ethanol and water can settle to the bottom of the tank over time, causing engine problems and damage.
Gasoline shouldn't be left in a lawn mower or other gas-powered equipment for more than two months, Stiles said. Before you store that equipment, run the engine until it's out of gas, he advised.
It's a good idea to clean your mower, sharpen the blade, change the oil, lubricate the engine and clean or replace the air filter, too, mower maker Lawn-Boy recommends.
Store the mower in a cool, dry place, Lawn-Boy says. If you cover it, use cloth, because plastic can trap moisture.
Experts differ on how often you need to have a heating system inspected and serviced. Most heating contractors recommend annual maintenance, while the nonprofit American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy says every other year is sufficient for natural gas furnaces. The council recommends annual servicing for oil-fired systems.
Now's the time of year to have your furnace inspected and possibly tuned up, before the weather turns bitter.
Contractors recommend hiring a well-qualified contractor. A thorough inspection should include:
* Lubricating the blower bearings and blower motor.
* Inspecting all vents, the heat exchanger and the filters.
* Checking the pilot light, if the furnace has one.
* Clearing the furnace area of dust or combustible materials.
* Cleaning dust from the blower compartment.
* Testing the thermostat to be sure the heating system is working properly.
* Checking the safety components.
* Checking the flue to make sure it's clean and open.
Some people are motivated by saving money. Some are motivated by saving lives.
Chimney inspections help prevent hazards and expensive repairs by spotting problems early, said Melissa Heeke, a spokesperson for the Chimney Safety Institute of America. The inspector looks for creosote buildup, cracks and obstructions such as birds' nests and debris -- problems that can contribute to chimney fires or carbon monoxide.
The institute recommends an annual inspection, Heeke said. It also recommends having the chimney cleaned when creosote builds up to thickness of one-eighth inch.
Most people need a basic chimney inspection, which involves a visual examination and check of accessible parts of the fireplace and chimney. The inspector will also look for obstructions and identify the type and extent of combustible deposits on the inside of the chimney.
Choose an inspector who's certified by the CSIA, Heeke said. Find one at www.csia.org.
Seal and weatherstrip
Closing gaps in your home's exterior and between conditioned and unconditioned areas keeps warm air in and cold air out. That not only makes you more comfortable, but it saves energy and money.
Some common problem spots are:
* The edges of doors, windows and chimneys.
* Places where pipes or wires enter the house.
* The joint between the foundation and the walls.
* Baseboards, which often cover gaps between floor and wall.
* Penetrations in the basement ceiling and attic floor for pipes, wires and ducts.
Most small cracks and gaps can be sealed with paintable caulk, although chimneys and furnace flues require a specific type. For slightly bigger openings, use spray foam, being careful to choose the right kind for the job. Openings larger than about 3 inches across can be covered with foam board, sealed in place with caulk.
For doors and windows, install weather-stripping and door sweeps.
Take advantage of mild days to tackle work on the outside of your house. Caulk doesn't stick well when the temperature drops below 50 degrees, and foam doesn't flow well in the cold.