Welcome to part 3 of the Fall Home Maintenance Guide! In the third and final installment of this series, we talk about how to test and maintain your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, weatherstripping and doorsweeps, exterior walls, windows and doors, plumbing, and electrical.
The easiest and cheapest thing you can do to protect yourself and your family is to install and maintain all appropriate detectors in your home. In Canada, you must have a smoke detector in every bedroom, as many fatal fires start at night. It is now also required to have a carbon monoxide alarm installed. For homes that use gas appliances (ie: stove, furnace, wood-burning appliances), you should also have a carbon monoxide detector.
Once a month, you should be pressing the test button on your detectors and alarms to ensure they are still functioning properly. Once a year, use something that produces smoke to make the smoke alarm sound. If you do these tests and you do not hear an alarm, change the batteries and try again. If it still does not work, replace the system completely.
For battery powered smoke detectors, replace the batteries twice a year and every time you hear intermittent repetitive beeping. Make sure you use only single use batteries as opposed to rechargeable ones as they will not trigger the intermittent beeping signal when they run out of power.
If the detector is connected to household circuits, do the same tests. If you do not hear the alarm, replace the unit. Some smoke detectors will be both connected to household circuits and require batteries.
For more information about smoke detectors, check out the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs website.
Your carbon monoxide alarm is very important to inspect in the fall as we tend to use fuel-burning appliances more in the winter. Carbon monoxide is known as the “silent killer” as it is not detectable by taste or smell, which makes it extremely dangerous.
To test your carbon monoxide detector, press the test button once a month and replace batteries twice a year. Some alarms are wired directly into your homes circuit, some are plugged in, and some operate using batteries.
For more information about carbon monoxide, alarms, and installation, check out the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General website.
WEATHERSTRIPPING & DOOR SWEEPS
To reduce your energy bill this upcoming winter, be sure to inspect and change your weatherstripping and door sweeps, as this will limit the amount of air leaks you will experience, helping to keep your home toasty warm all winter long.
Weatherstripping helps seal movable building components in your home, such as doors and windows. There are many ways to test your weatherstripping to see if it is doing its job. One method is to have a buddy shine a flashlight from the other side of the closed door. If you can see light shining through around the perimeter of your door, it's time to update or add weatherstripping. To check the weatherstripping around windows, wet your hand with water and run your hand around the casing of the window. The water on your hand will allow you to detect any drafts.
Be sure to choose the correct weatherstripping for each specific location, as they may have different needs. Weatherstripping comes in a variety of materials including foam, vinyl, and metal.
To replace, remove the old weatherstripping by either pulling the self adhesive strip or removing nails or screws. The method will depend on the type of weatherstripping you have. Thoroughly clean and even out the area you are applying the new stripping to by using adhesive cleaner and light sanding. If your old weatherstripping was held on with nails or screws, fill and sand these spots as you cannot reuse the holes.
Follow the directions of the type of weatherstripping you have chosen and apply. Start with a small section to make sure the door or window opens and closes easily.
Your door sweep(s) will require inspection and replacement as well. Door sweeps do the same job as weatherstripping, so is just as important to keep an eye on. To inspect your doors sweep, slide a banknote in between the door jam and the bottom of the door and shut the door. If you can pull out the banknote easily, it's time for a new door sweep. You can also use this method to test your weatherstripping!
To replace your door sweep, remove the old one and install using the manufacturer’s instructions on the packaging. For a video walkthrough, check out this one from Lowe’s!
EXTERIOR WALLS, WINDOWS & DOOR FRAMES
Walk around your home as you clear your gardens and look for any small holes or cracks in your exterior walls. By repairing these spots before the winter, you will limit the amount of moisture, water, or pests from entering you home. The material that was used on the exterior of your home will determine how you repair holes in the walls. For smaller holes, there are options such as patching kits and a variety of materials available depending on the walls themselves.
For a concrete exterior wall, check out this article from homeguides.sfgate.com.
For Stucco, check out this article from hometips.com.
For brick, check out this article from thisoldhouse.com.
You may also have to re-paint the area you have repaired to finish the project.
DOOR FRAMES & WINDOW SILLS
While you are inspecting your walls, check out your window sills and door frames. If you have wooden window sills or door frames, they are prone to rot and you should do this check at least twice a year.
DOOR HINGES & WINDOWS
Dirty door hinges and window casements can make it more difficult to operate during the winter months. This can lead to breaks in window casements, jammed doors or windows, and more costly repairs.
To avoid a large repair bill, start by wiping down your window exterior and door with a mild soap and water solution and a soft cloth. Use a glass cleaner on glass panels and wipe away any excess cleaner that may have gotten on to the rest of the door or window. Open your windows and doors completely. Use the same damp cloth with the mild soap and water solution to wipe down all metal hardware. Once it is completely dry, spray metal working components with a silicone spray. Wipe off any that may end up on the frame and test!
SHUT OFF VALVE
To prepare your plumbing for the winter, you need to check three things. The first is your shut off valves, which allows you to shut off the water entering your house from main water plumbing lines quickly and conveniently in case of a plumbing emergency or repair. Over time, age takes its toll on these valves and inspecting them a few times a year can save you hundreds in emergency plumbing and repair bills.
The most common problem as these valves age is seizing. If the valve will not turn by hand, it may be corroded or jammed. To test your valves, simply try to turn off the water shut-off to the closed position and confirm that water stops flowing completely. Turn back on to the open position once you have confirmed this.
If you see any leaks, a valve will not open by hand, the shut-off works but leaks, or the water does not completely stop flowing, call a plumbing professional to take a look. Remember to not force a shut off valve too hard as it could break. If this does happen, call an emergency plumber right away.
If you are planning on traveling during the winter months (or any time of year, really), it is highly reccomended to shut off the water to your home in the event of a pipe bursting while you are away.
The next plumbing areas to check and maintain are any outdoor faucets. Draining your outdoor faucets will limit the chances of an internal pipe bursting and causing a flood during the freezing winter months.
To this step, all you have to do is locate the external water shut off valve and turn it off. Go outside and turn the faucet on (you can use a bucket to collect the water) and wait until the water stops completely, not even a drip! Keep the water supply valve in the off position until the spring!
If your external faucet is still leaking even with the valve completely in the off position, call a plumbing professional.
HOT WATER TANK
The last plumbing step is to flush your hot water tank. If you reside in Ottawa, chances are that your hot water tank is rented. Check with your provider before maintaining your hot water tank yourself.
To flush your hot water tank, simply place a bowl under the T&P valve (temperature and pressure) located at the bottom of the tank and turn it off and on a few times. The water should flow freely. If there are any issues, call a professional.
The final task on your fall home maintenance list is to “exercise” your circuit breaker. Over time, circuit breaker toggles can become rusty and full of debris. If you neglect your circuit breaker, it could lead to shorts and fires as it may fail to shut off power when there is an overload to the circuit.
To complete this task, all you have to do is flip each breaker in your panel off and back on. You will have to reset digital clocks and timers after this task.
Now your home is completely winter weather ready! If you have not already, check out part 1 and part 2 of the Fall Home Maintenance guide! If you need any professional refferals or are looking to buy or sell your home, give me a call!