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Winterize to safeguard your home from harsh weather

Autumn is a beautiful time of year marked by welcoming cooler temperatures and the natural beauty of leaves changing colors. Autumn also has a tendency to fly by, as if the powerful weather of winter simply cannot wait to make its presence felt.

With such a seemingly short time between the end of summer and the dawn of winter, homeowners know they don't have too many weekends in between to prepare their homes for the potentially harsh months ahead. But such preparation, often referred to as "winterizing," can make a home more comfortable when the mercury dips below freezing, while saving homeowners substantial amounts of money along the way.

• Clean the gutters. Leaves falling in fall can be a beautiful sight to behold, but many of those leaves are likely finding their way into your gutters, where they can lodge and cause a host of problems down the road. If the leaves and additional debris, such as twigs and dirt, that pile up in your gutters are not cleared out before the first winter storm, the results can be costly and even catastrophic.

Winter rain and snowfall need a place to go upon hitting your roof, and gutters facilitate the travel of such precipitation from your roof into street-level drainage systems. If gutters are backed up with leaves and other debris, then ice dams may form, forcing water to seep in through the roof. That damage can be costly and can even cause the roof to collapse inward in areas with heavy snowfall. Clean gutters throughout the fall, especially if your property has many trees, and be sure to check gutters one last time before the arrival of winter.

• Tend to your attic. Homeowners who have attics in their homes might want to add some extra insulation up there, especially those who recall feeling cold inside their homes last winter, which is often a telltale sign of improper insulation in a home. A good rule of thumb when determining if your attic needs more insulation is to look for the ceiling joists. If you can see the joists, then you need more insulation.

• Address leaky windows and doors. Sometimes attic insulation is not the culprit when it comes to a cold home. Oftentimes, leaky windows and doors are the real bad guys in a drafty home. Fall is a great time to inspect for leaky windows and doors, as the wind outside can serve as your partner. When the wind outside is blowing, take a tour of your home's windows and doorways, standing next to them to determine if there are any holes or leaks that are letting outdoor air inside. If you notice any leaks beneath exterior doors, install some door sweeps to keep outdoor air where it belongs. Leaks around windows can be snuffed out with caulk or weather stripping.

• Test the furnace. Homeowners typically do not devote much thought to their furnaces in spring, summer and fall. But with winter on the horizon, fall is the time to test the furnace to make sure it's ready for the months ahead. Expect a somewhat foul yet brief odor to appear when starting the furnace. That odor should dissipate shortly, but if it does not go away, then your furnace is likely in need of repair. But even if the smell does not stick around, you might want to have the furnace cleaned by a professional anyway. Such cleanings ensure the furnace works efficiently throughout the winter.

• Clean the garage. You might not mind parking in the driveway during the warmer months of the year, but why subject your vehicles to harsh winter weather if you don't have to? Clean the garage in the fall so you have an indoor parking spot throughout the winter season. Protecting your car from the elements can add years to its life and also saves you the trouble of digging your car out of the snow.

Fall is a time of year for homeowners to spend a weekend or two preparing their homes for the often harsh weather that awaits when winter arrives.

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