Home maintenance tasks for November

With daylight saving time ending Sunday and cold weather on the way, November is a good month to focus on chores that keep you safe and warm inside.

Check smoke detectors

If you don't like to wake up in the middle of the night to the annoying chirp of a smoke alarm with a battery that's about to give out, heed the "change your clocks, change the batteries" advice given by many fire departments. The time shift is a good reminder to buy the batteries you need (probably nine-volt) and replace all of the old ones. While you're at it, press each detector's test button for a few seconds to make sure the device sounds.

To test whether the detector responds to smoke, buy a spray designed for that purpose, such as the GE smoke detector tester labeled Smoke! in a Can.

Inspect wood stoves and fireplace inserts

If you burn wood, you probably know to hire a certified chimney sweeper to clean the chimney or inspect the wood stove annually. If you have a fireplace insert or a wood stove, also check the gasket around the door. If it's frayed or loose, replace it when the fireplace or stove is cold.

Take the old piece with you to a hardware store or fireplace shop so you can buy replacement cording of the same diameter. Also get a container of the cement that holds the gasket in place. Chip out all the old gunk before you install the new piece.

Assemble a hearth-cleaning kit

Wood fires are gorgeous when they're burning, but there's no denying the mess they create. To make cleanup more convenient, get an attractive basket to hold the tools you need: a whisk broom and a small dustpan, plus a spray container with glass cleaner and a few old newspapers if you have glass doors.

Keep the kit near the fireplace so that each time you add wood, you can clear any debris. Empty the dustpan into the fire; it's a lot safer than dumping stray embers into a wastebasket or vacuuming them, because they could set a bag of collected dust on fire.

Plug drafts

Can you feel cold air rushing into your house through spaces that you don't want to seal permanently, such as between the top and bottom sashes in old-fashioned double-hung windows? Caulk them closed for the winter, using an easy-to-remove product such as Dap Seal 'N Peel Removable Weatherstrip Caulk or DuPont AirTite Removable Weatherstrip.

The Dap product is solvent-based, so make sure you have plenty of fresh air while you work, and plan the job for a day when you can leave the house while the material cures. The DuPont product is an acrylic and contains only a small amount of solvent. A solvent-free option is rope caulk, a sticky cord designed for pressing into gaps. It works, but not as well.

Insulate pipes

If you have bare water pipes running through your crawl space, attic, basement or other accessible place, this is a good time to insulate them. Besides helping to prevent freezing, which could cause the pipes to burst, insulation also keeps the water in hot-water lines hotter and helps prevent condensation on cold-water lines in the summer.

Hardware stores and home centers sell foam tubes that are easy to install. Measure the diameter of your pipes before you shop so you can buy a suitable size (or sizes). To install, cut a tube to a length you need, if necessary, using scissors. Then just open up the lengthwise slit on the tube and slip it over the pipe. If there is a crease but no slit, carefully cut along the crease first. Some types come with tape attached to seal the slit once the tube is in place. That's it.

Put up holiday lights

Don't wait until December to put up holiday lights. It's a lot easier to do now, while the weather is still reasonably warm. LED lights are the way to go. They're far more energy-efficient, enough to recoup the cost of replacing your old incandescent lights. They also last longer: about 50,000 hours outdoors (twice as long indoors). And the bulbs are cool, so you don't have to worry about them starting a fire.

What to do with your old incandescent strings? Recycle them at Mom's Organic Market . (Go to the store’s Web site for information on its six locations in Maryland and Virginia. )

 
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