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Plan For Winter's Worst By Taking Charge Now!

With those lazy, hazy days of summer a soon-to-be memory, it's time for the smart homeowner to prepare for winter. After all, wintertime is the absolute worst time for anything to go wrong with the outside of your home! Here are the most important things to do to protect your home and even... save money!

1) Check your roof and gutters...

Winter roof repairs are difficult at best... that's if you can find a willing roofer! And if there is snow on your roof, forget it!

On most homes, the roof can be examined from ground level. If necessary, use binoculars. Look for curling, broken or missing shingles. Also, look around the foundation for broken shingles. If things don't look right, hire a professional for a thorough check-up.

Your home's gutters are designed to collect roof water and keep it away from your foundation. Blocked gutters can fill with water and overflow. In winter, this water will freeze and increase the risk of roof-damaging ice dams. Heavy ice may cause the gutters to loosen or even fall off your house!

Look at the gutters themselves and the ground beneath them. You may be able to see washed-out mulch, gravel or grass where the gutter has been overflowing. Or examine them during a rainstorm. Not fun... but necessary!

Schedule one gutter cleaning in fall or early winter before the gutters freeze. Since some trees, such as oak, keep their leaves late into the fall, have your cleaner return for a "touch-up" before the first freeze... frozen gutters can't be cleaned!

2)Protect your woodwork with paint...

As long as the temperature is above 50 degrees, touchup painting can be done in critical areas. Examine your woodwork for paint chipping or peeling. Vertical surfaces, such as siding, are not as prone to rot as window sills, so they can wait for next spring or summer if your budget is tight!

3) Check your winter tools and emergency supplies!

If you live in snow country, don't wait until the first snow to test your snowblower. If it won't start, call a repair shop immediately. They may have a waiting list this time of year! If your snow shovel's edge is ragged or bent or if any part of the handle is loose or cracked, get a new one. Struggling with a broken shovel adds more discomfort to an already difficult chore!

Other important emergency items to have on hand are rock salt, traction sand (forget kitty litter... it offers little traction but will turn your walk or driveway into a muddy soup), a flashlight, a battery powered radio, batteries for both, bottled water, a small propane stove, some canned food (for you and your pets) and a manual can opener... just in case the power goes out!

Speaking of power loss, ice storms can even be more damaging than snow storms because they are often accompanied by downed trees, impossible driving conditions and loss of critical utilities such as electricity and telephone. Because ice-related power outages can last for days, make sure that you have everything listed above, plus adequate supplies of any critical medications you take. And, should the worst happen, be knowledgeable of your town's support services, such as emergency assistance and shelter.

4) Have your heating system checked for efficiency...

It is essential to have your heating system cleaned and adjusted every year by a professional. This will save money on expensive fuel and possibly from the anguish of frozen pipes should your system fail!

5) Order your oil NOW to get the best price!

If you heat with oil, contact your supplier to get a guaranteed price. Many oil companies offer this service in exchange for customer loyalty. Smart homeowners saved hundreds of dollars though such deals last winter!

6) Get an energy audit...

Though new homes have many energy-saving features, almost every home can benefit from a professional energy audit. An energy audit may be as simple as a walk-through by a trained inspector. It may include a "blower door test" which uses a high-powered fan sealed into an exterior door. This simulates a stiff breeze hitting your home to detect air leaks. They also check for adequate insulation, water heater efficiency and more.

Energy audits are routinely subsidized by local power companies to encourage conservation. Sometimes they even do the repairs on the spot! Call your local utility for more information on these free or low-cost programs.

7) Have your chimney cleaned...

If you burn wood in a fireplace or stove during the winter, have your chimney inspected annually for both physical damage and accumulations of creosote... the leading cause of house-destroying chimney fires.

8) Check your outside plumbing...

Turn off the water supply to outside faucets. Even if your home has "all weather" faucets, turn them off anyway to be safe. Don't leave garden hoses outside unless they are empty. Freezing may damage them!

If your home has a sprinkler system or other underground piping near the surface, be sure that it is completely drained. Freezing can burst these pipes, too! Sprinkler pros use compressed air to blow out the water... the most thorough and reliable method.

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