Fall and winter may mean shorter days - darker mornings and evenings - and inhospitable weather for most of us. But there's also something comforting, enchanting almost, about the need to hunker down and cozy-up by the fire for a spell.
At least, that's how it could or should be, provided you take some sensible precautions to protect your home and family from the challenges of the seasons. And now is the best time to get started. Prevention, after all, is better than cure!
Make the task easier by using the following Fall/Winter Home Safety Checklist as a guide.
Heating systems. Have furnaces, gas fires and stoves professionally checked, especially filters and vents. Have a mobile space heater to give a boost when needed - check the label to ensure it complies with safety standards. Check stocks of wood for burning - dry, seasoned hardwood only. If you have an open fire, get the chimney swept.
Heated blankets. Test your electric blankets, checking for kinks or breaks in the wiring, then install them correctly - the heated area should always be flat and don't run the cords under mattresses or carpets. Never iron or clean (or even dry clean) them. If they're old or dirty, replace them.
Outdoor pools and spa. Follow the manufacturer or supplier's winterizing program. Clear them of leaves and use a heavy-duty cover. Take extra precautions to prevent pets or children from walking on the cover!
Insulation. All exterior and under-floor pipes, whether they carry gas, water or other fluids should be lagged. If you have an older water heater, install an insulation jacket. Seal doors and windows; drafts not only increase your heating bills, they also cause discomfort and muscular or joint disorders.
Roofs and gutters. Check house, barn and other outbuilding roofs for leaks and fix them. Water ingress causes expensive damage. Same goes for gutters and downspouts: check for leaks, clear them of leaves and ensure downspouts are properly hooked up to drainage systems. Also clear leaves promptly from driveways (for safety) and street gutters (to avoid blockages).
Emergency supplies. With a higher risk of power cuts, floods and, for some, isolation, ensure you have flashlights, spare batteries, candles, extra clothing and bedding, and emergency, non-perishable food supplies. Buy disposable hand-warmers or other emergency heating pads and ensure your first aid kit is well-stocked.
Exterior protection. If you're flood-prone, store sand-bags. If snow or ice are a threat, have a supply of rock salt, grit or sand for driveways. Check that all exterior lighting works, for both safety and, in these darker nights, security. Also, secure vulnerable garden plants and trees, especially those near to your house that could cause damage.
Staying in contact. If you don’t have a cell phone, get one. With some, you only pay when you make a call. Keep a list of emergency contact numbers. Conversely, make sure you stay in touch with elderly or vulnerable relatives and neighbors to ensure their wellbeing.
Water. Turn off your sprinkler water supply and drain the system. Also disconnect and drain hoses. Make sure too that you know how to shut-off your mains water supply. If you don’t know where the shut-off valve is, ask your water company.
Holiday safety. Examine and replace broken or damaged holiday light bulbs. Use extra caution if you need a ladder to hang them. Switch off internal lights when you go out. Prepare for holiday guests by installing nightlights around the house and non-slip mats in the bathroom.
Auto safety. Have your car winterized for the driving conditions you'll likely encounter, either at home or when travelling. This might mean having safety tires fitted and/or carrying chains, replacing wiper blades, checking brakes and lighting, and carrying extra clothing and emergency supplies in case you become stranded.
Tools. Winterize your gardening tools by cleaning, and if appropriate, sharpening them. Ensure you have the equipment you need to deal with adverse winter conditions, like snow shovels/blowers and materials to effect emergency repairs after storm damage.
Ventilation. You want a cozy, well insulated home but that can also reduce air quality because of the risk of fumes from heating systems. As mentioned earlier, have vents checked and cleaned. Also, open a couple of windows slightly when weather permits. Most importantly, have smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on each floor of your home - and test them regularly.
Pets and other animals. Our furry and feathered friends are just as vulnerable to the colder weather as we are. Repair and insulate their homes if they're kept outdoors. Feed birds. Bring other pets indoors, or make it easy for them to get back in themselves.
If you go away. For a vacation or holiday trip, ensure your home is well insulated, leave internal doors open, your heating system on at a low level, about 55 degrees, and reduce your water-heater thermostat. Unplug electronics equipment. For longer periods, consider turning water off and draining supplies and emptying and disconnecting freezers and refrigerators. Either way, ask a trustworthy neighbor to regularly check the inside of your home.
Weather-watching. It may sound glaringly obvious but you should get into the habit of always checking the next few days' weather, so that you're prepared for severe weather and can plan your activities accordingly.
With a little forethought, you can take the heat out of winter hazards and potential emergencies and put it where it belongs - keeping you warm and comfortable!