Essential Home Prep Tasks for Fall, Part II: Inside

In Part I, we explored outdoor tasks to improve your home’s efficiency and resilience as you prepare for winter. Here we point out a number of things you can do to prep your home for winter from inside, even as the weather outside turns cool and wet. From tuning your heater to safeguarding against fire, take the time now to prepare your home.

Heating system

Schedule an appointment with a heating and cooling professional to get your furnace inspected and serviced for the coming heating season. If you have a furnace, check and replace your filter on a schedule recommended by the manufacturer. If you use an oil furnace, electric baseboard heat or electric wall units, you may benefit from an upgrade to a more efficient gas or electric heat pump system. Work with a heating and cooling contractor to understand which options may work for you.

Adjust or install your programmable thermostat

If you have a programmable thermostat, set to “heating only” mode and review your heating schedule so that you’ll be prepared when the temperatures drop (see more on programmable thermostats below).

Upgrading your older thermostat to one that is programmable (and preferably Wi-Fi connected) helps reduce heating fuel usage and keeps the temperature comfortable when you’re home, on a schedule that you determine. Today many options are available from makers like Nest, Ecobee and Honeywell. Not all systems are compatible with these devices. Check your heating and cooling system make and model with the thermostat manufacturer before buying. If you’re not comfortable dealing with low-voltage wiring, you can hire a heating and cooling professional to install the unit.

In many areas, you can reduce your smart thermostat purchase cost with a utility rebate. If you live in Oregon and heat your home with electricity or natural gas provided by Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, NW Natural, Cascade Natural Gas or Avista, a rebate may be available through Energy Trust of Oregon.

Radon

Have you checked your radon level? After smoking, radon is the next leading cause of lung cancer. Elevated radon levels are very common throughout the Northwest. Fall is a good time to test, as windows and doors stay shut more when the weather cools down (a closed-up house provides more accurate test results). If your radon levels exceed EPA recommendations, consider having a radon contractor install a remediation system. Radon self-test kits are available at a low cost from home improvement stores, or from Enhabit at bit.ly/radon-kit

Vents and ceiling fans

Bathroom fans collect dust and need periodic cleaning. Remove the cover, vacuum out any dust, and spray any moving parts with silicone lubricant.

Kitchen range hoods and fans become soiled quickly from cooking, which can shorten the life of the fan. Clean all surfaces and remove and clean the range hood grease filter by washing it in hot, soapy water. Turn the circuit breaker off and clean the fan blades too.

Clean dust off ceiling fan blades without a ladder by wrapping a paint roller in a dryer sheet or cleaning cloth secured with rubber bands.

Refrigerator

Refrigerators work by extracting the heat inside of the fridge and pushing it out through condenser coils on the bottom or on the back of the refrigerator. When dust builds up, the refrigerator motor works harder, wasting energy. Turn off the power to the fridge, then vacuum the coils with a brush attachment to remove dust.

Hot water heater

Sediments shorten the life of a water heater and raise your energy bills, so it’s a good idea to drain the water heater each year to remove sediment from the tank.

Safeguarding against fire

According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2015 house fires in the United States caused 2,650 deaths and 11,000 injuries. Top causes of fires include cooking, heating and electrical malfunction.

Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Change batteries and test that each unit is working. Replace every ten years or on the printed “replace by” date on the unit. According to the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, at minimum smoke alarms should be installed inside every sleep room and outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. Check your placements and add additional units if needed.

Keep a fire extinguisher in or near the kitchen. Inspect it annually for clogs, dents and corrosion. Replace it every six years.

Two exits per bedroom: Every bedroom, including basement and attic bedrooms, should have two exit paths. Don’t let windows be blocked by furniture or other items. Each upper-floor bedroom should have a rope ladder near the window for emergency exits.

Create a family fire escape plan and review it with your family.

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