Time to tackle chores

McClatchy Newspapers

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.


Gutters and downspouts direct rainwater away from your house. That keeps water from pooling around the foundation and leaking into the basement, or freezing in the gutters at the roof line and causing damaging ice dams.

But those gutters and downspouts can’t do their job if they’re clogged with leaves and other debris.

After the trees have finished shedding their leaves, get up on a ladder and clean that stuff out. 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.

Reader’s Digest Association’s “1001 Do-It-Yourself Hints & Tips” recommends removing the debris with a plastic sand shovel or garden trowel, or you can fashion a scoop from a plastic milk jug.

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 missed that first fertilization, you won’t see the dramatic response in your lawn that you would have otherwise. (Your grass will still benefit from an application this time of year, he said, if you get warm days.)


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.

Store the mower in a cool, dry place, mower maker 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.

Dominion East Ohio and 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.

A furnace inspection is a matter of safety as well as comfort. Besides spotting potential problems and helping your furnace run more efficiently, a technician can find combustion and venting issues that can lead to the production and buildup of deadly carbon monoxide.


Some people are motivated by saving money. Some are motivated by saving lives.

Either one should be an incentive to get your chimney inspected.

Chimney inspections help prevent both hazards and expensive repairs by spotting problems early, said Melissa Heeke, a spokesperson for the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

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.


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.

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, which need to open, install weather-stripping and door sweeps.

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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