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15 Smart Tips to Get Your Home Ready for Fall

With fall on the way, you'll want to make sure your home is ready for the cooler months. Here are 15 smart tips to consider acting on before temperatures drop.

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Replace the Furnace FilterFamily Handyman

Replace the Furnace Filter

One of the fastest ways to create problems with a forced-air heating and cooling system is to forget to replace the filter. Locate the furnace filter and buy replacements if the previous owners didn't leave you a stash. Replace the filter (and get in the habit of doing it every month). Here's how!

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Protect the A/C Compressor or Risk Damage From a Falling IcicleFamily Handyman

Protect the A/C Compressor or Risk Damage From a Falling Icicle

There's no reason to wrap your entire air conditioner for the winter, and many manufacturers advise against it because it can invite rodents and cause condensation, which can lead to early corrosion. But it's not a bad idea to set a piece of plywood on top of the unit to protect it from falling icicles. And see our maintenance guide to learn how to clean your air conditioners in the spring.

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Get Your Property Ready for SnowFamily Handyman

Get Your Property Ready for Snow

Before the snow flies, take a few minutes to inspect your property. Remove rocks, dog tie-out cables, extension cords, holiday light cords and garden hoses. Then stake out paths that run near gardens so you don't accidentally suck up rocks and garden edging with your snowblower. Mark your walk and driveway perimeters by pounding in driveway markers. If the ground is already frozen, just drill a hole using a masonry bit and your battery-powered drill.

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Carbon Monoxide SeasonFamily Handyman

Carbon Monoxide Season

You've got a house full of guests, so the oven and stove are working overtime, the water heater is struggling to keep up with demand, the fireplace is burning and the furnace is fighting the cold. It's the perfect setting for carbon monoxide buildup. So if you don't already have a UL-listed carbon monoxide detector, put it at the top of your shopping list. Detectors are available at home centers and discount stores. Get more information about carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms and keep your family and friends safe all year.

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Check Your Chimney or Risk a FireFamily Handyman

Check Your Chimney or Risk a Fire

Creosote buildup causes chimney fires. You should have your chimney professionally inspected or cleaned after every 70 fires. If you burn wet wood (which you shouldn't), have it inspected or cleaned every 50 fires. Don't remember the last time you had it cleaned by a pro? A quick way to tell if your chimney needs cleaning is to run the point of your fireplace poker along the inside of your chimney liner. If you find a 1/8-in. layer (or more) of buildup, call a chimney sweep. For additional expert chimney maintenance advice, check out what two certified professional chimney sweeps have to say.

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Stop Airflow Up the Chimney

Stop Airflow Up the Chimney

Fireplace chimneys can be very inefficient, letting your warm inside air disappear like smoke up a chimney. If you have airtight glass doors that seal the opening, you're in good shape. (The doors are available at fireplace retailers and home centers.) If not, a special balloon or chimney-top damper will get the job done. For fireplace chimneys that are seldom or never used, inflate a Chimney Balloon inside the chimney to stop the air leaks. Buy it directly from the company . Partially inflate the balloon by mouth or with a pump, then stick it into the chimney and blow it up the rest of the way. Putting in and taking out the reusable balloon can be messy (here's when to clean a chimney flue), so you don't want to hassle with chimney balloons if you regularly use your fireplace. But that doesn't mean you have to settle for energy loss. Instead, you can install a chimney-top damper system, like the Chim-a-lator, which seals the top of the flue when the chimney's not in use. A lever in the fireplace controls the damper via a long cable. Installation involves attaching the damper and screened-in cap to the chimney top, then mounting the lever in the fireplace. If you don't feel comfortable working on the roof, hire a chimney sweep or mason, who can install the system for you.

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Check Your Water HeaterFamily Handyman

Check Your Water Heater

Extend the life of your water heater tank and maintain your water heater's efficiency and safety with a few minutes of basic maintenance once a year. Learn how to clean sediment from your water heater here.

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Clean Weep HolesThe Family Handyman

Clean Weep Holes

Weep holes may be the tiniest feature of many sliding windows and vinyl replacement windows, but they serve a big function. The little holes, located on the exterior bottom of the frame, are an outlet for rainwater to drain away from the home, but they often can become clogged up with debris. To make sure they're working properly, spray the outside of the window with a garden hose – a steady stream of clean water should exit from the holes. If it doesn't, use a wire hanger or compressed air to force the blockage out. Re-test with fresh water to ensure they're completely cleaned. While you're at it, do these 10 more vital home maintenance tasks you'll regret if you forget.

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Drain Garden Hoses or Waste Money on ReplacementsFamily Handyman

Drain Garden Hoses or Waste Money on Replacements

I sometimes neglect to drain garden hoses before putting them away for the winter. Usually, it's not a problem. But every once in a while, freezing water splits a hose open. I've lost a few cheap hoses this way and a super-expensive one (ouch!). That's just wasted money because draining hoses is so quick and easy: Blast out the water with an air compressor or stretch them out on a sloped yard or driveway. If you need to buy a new garden hose, learn how to do a simple test, right in the store, to see if the hose will be kink-free! Gary Wentz, Editor-in-Chief

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Insulation is KeyDavid Papazian/Shutterstock

Insulation is Key

Though it can seem intimidating, installing your own batting installation can be easy, and take just a few hours if you isolate the need to a few key spaces. Have a drafty attic? Start there. Concerned about a freezing crawl space? Throw on your work jeans and get to work. These insulating spaces will instantly feel warmer and you'll notice the savings on your next heating bill. Read how to install insulation here.

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No-Ladder Gutter Cleaner

No-Ladder Gutter Cleaner

This gutter cleaner is inexpensive, takes about 10 minutes to make and will help you avoid ladder climbing. Buy 3/4-in. PVC pipe, two elbows, a garden hose coupling and a cap at a local home center. Drill 1/16-in. holes in the cap as shown. Make the handle long enough to comfortably reach your gutters, and cement the parts together with PVC glue. The Best Gutter Guards for Your Home

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Bleeding a Hot Water Radiator

Bleeding a Hot Water Radiator

If some fins of your hot water radiator stay cold while others get hot, don't despair. Your radiator has some trapped air, and getting rid of it is simple. At the top of your radiator, look for a small valve like the one shown. Use a radiator key, 1/4-in. 12-point socket, or a flat screwdriver (depending on your valve type) and slowly turn the valve counterclockwise until water starts dripping out. This will release trapped air and let hot water into the cold fins. While you're at it, you should repeat the process with your other radiators.

Bleeding the radiators will lower the pressure in your system, so you might have to slowly add water to increase the pressure. Do this by opening, then closing, the valve on the water pipe above the boiler. In fact, you may need to add water while bleeding the radiator in order to purge the air from the system. This is where a helper will save on trips up and down the stairs. If you're unfamiliar with your system, call a pro.

How much pressure you need depends on how high the water has to rise. The basic rule is 1 lb. of pressure for every 2 ft. of rise. Your gauge may read in pounds, feet or both. A basic two-story house, with the boiler and expansion tank in the basement, needs 12 to 15 lbs., or 25 to 30 ft., of pressure.

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Apply Heat Reducing FilmFamily Handyman

Apply Heat Reducing Film

With roughly 30% of ambient heat coming into your home through the windows, one quick and easy fix to keep your home cool is to apply a reflective, heat-reducing window film to regulate the temperature. As a bonus, it even works in reverse, keeping more warm air inside during the winter months—and it's quick and easy to install!

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Three Easy Winterization Steps for Your Lawn TractorFamily Handyman

Three Easy Winterization Steps for Your Lawn Tractor

Before your tractor hibernates for the winter, take a few minutes to prevent springtime headaches.
  • Moisture inside an unused engine leads to corrosion. 'Fogging' the engine — spraying an oily mist into each cylinder — prevents this. All you have to do is remove the spark plugs and blast in some aerosol fogging spray (sold at auto parts stores). Then reinstall the spark plugs.
  • Storing a battery that isn't fully charged can lead to permanent damage, especially in cold weather. Connect the battery to a battery charger and charge it until you get a reading of 12.7 volts.
  • Stored gas will slowly gum up the whole fuel system, and the repairs can be expensive. So add a fuel stabilizer such as STA-BIL or Seafoam to the gas tank before winter. (Adding stabilizer to your gas can year-round is also a good idea.) But remember that stabilizers aren't effective in gas that contains ethanol. If you don't know whether the gas contains ethanol, run the engine until the tank is empty.
Another tip: Cover the air intake and exhaust openings with plastic wrap or aluminum foil to keep critters from homesteading in your engine over winter.