The leaves are changing, the air is getting crisp and cold, and the daylight hours are getting rapidly shorter. In a few days, Daylight Savings Time will end, and most of America will switch their clocks back an hour, which has the effect of ushering in the evening hours even sooner and making winter feel all the more on the horizon.

This is a great time for homeowners to take care of a little biannual maintenance. Here are our top seven tips that will help keep your surroundings safe and cozy all winter:

1. Test (or Install) Your Smoke Alarms

How long has it been since you’ve paid attention to the smoke alarms in your home? You’re supposed to test them every month to make sure they’re operational, but a lot of homeowners fall behind.

Now is a great time to not only check to see if your smoke alarms are operational but also to change their batteries. You may also want to review their placement — especially since the guidelines for placement may have changed since you first installed them. You should also consider switching to interconnected smoke alarms for additional safety.

2. Have Your Furnace and Water Heater Inspected

This is an excellent time to have your furnace and water heater inspected and give them a little routine maintenance. It’s certainly the best way to head off any unpleasant mid-winter surprises.

Aside from a general inspection to make sure that all of the small components are in good shape, you should also replace any filters your furnace uses and have the vents swept clean. It’s also a good time to have the sediment drained from your water heater and check for leaks.

3. Clean out Those Gutters 

Ice and snow are just around the corner — and your gutters may currently be clogged with leaves and other debris left from the summer and fall. That can turn into a major hassle in the middle of winter and can cause rainwater to be misdirected into your basement.

While it’s probably not your favorite job, it’s definitely time to get the ladder out and remove the muck from those gutters. If you really dread the job (or just don’t have time to do it), think about hiring someone to get the job done.

4. Replenish Your Home’s Emergency Kit

2020 has been a rough year for a lot of people. Between problems with natural disasters and the global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to have an emergency kit in the home. Even if you aren’t worried about suddenly having to evacuate, you should be prepared to hunker down and shelter in place, if needed.

There are some pretty good guidelines out there that can tell you how to stock your emergency kit for the winter, but you probably have a clear picture of the basics: Plenty of shelf-stable or canned foods, a first-aid kit, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, water, pet supplies, paper products and over-the-counter medications for colds and fevers are all a must.

5. Give Your Trees and Shrubs a Little Extra Love

Winter weather can be hard on some of your trees and shrubs, especially if they’re fairly young. Plus, the scarcity of food can sometimes drive deer and other small animals to strip the bark from trees and plants, heavily damaging them.

It’s a good time to get out the mulch and put down a few extra inches around the roots of your plants. You may want to wrap certain shrubs, like rose bushes, with burlap and twine for some extra protection. Clear any debris near your trees that animals can use for cover and wrap their trunks with burlap, as well.

6. Get the Chimney and Fireplace Inspected and Cleaned

If you haven’t already started longing for a warm, homey fire at night, it won’t be long before you’re ready to throw some logs in the fireplace and get started. Before you do, however, you should have your chimney inspected for any blockages or damage and your fireplace cleaned of leftover ash.

This is also a good time to stock up on wood. If you haven’t already laid in a supply, it’s better to do it now — before the weather turns icy.

7. Do a Little Fall Cleaning Around the House

Since you’re going to be spending a lot of time at home during the winter, fall cleaning may be even more important than spring cleaning when it comes to your family’s comfort and health.

With that in mind, make a list of household jobs that you need to tackle. We recommend:

  • Shake out any rugs and deep-clean the carpets and upholstered furniture
  • Flip the mattress and wash (or replace) the pillows on the bed
  • Sweep behind the heavy furniture and appliances (and don’t forget the coils)
  • Re-caulk the windows and replace the weather strips on the doors
  • Put away the deck furniture, the garden hoses and yard tools
  • Take down the drapes and shears and wash them, or wipe down all your window blinds
  • Dust off the ceiling fans and clean all the light fixtures

Make sure that you enlist some help from your family so that you can knock out these jobs over a single weekend.

If you do these things now, you’ll definitely be ready for the upcoming holiday season. You’ll also be able to glide through the darkest part of the year with ease.

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