As I gazed at my backyard recently, admiring my 25-pound giant pumpkin, I trembled a bit. The weather is getting colder -- which means my pumpkin's days of growing are running out. It may not have time to hit 30 pounds, and it isn't likely to top 1,000 pounds and win a prize. We've have had some nights dipping into the 40s. That means winter is around the corner.

Winter brings changes to our schedules, to our moods, and to our homes, too. There are a bunch of things you should do around your home before winter really sets in -- things that can save you money, and even your life. Let's review some of them.

  • Clean the gutters and downspouts when they fill up with leaves and gunk. Fail to do so, and you may get gallons of water seeping into your home or rotting the wood that holds your home up. Even better, get on the roof and inspect it for deterioration -- or hire someone to do so.
  • Stop cold air from getting into your home. Use weather-stripping and caulk to seal gaps and cracks around windows and doors. These drafts can account for up to 10% of your heating bill.
  • Drain the hoses, outdoor faucets, and sprinkler systems. Otherwise, it will be a crying shame when your costly sprinkler system's pipes burst somewhere under your yard.
  • Clean or replace dirty furnace filters, and call in a pro to inspect your furnace and any wood-burning stoves. The sooner you call the better, before the inspectors get really busy. Check your fireplaces for soot or creosote buildup, too. Ignore your chimney, and you may end up with a fire in your house -- and not in the fireplace.
  • Consider getting a programmable thermostat. It will spare you from leaving the heat on high all day long by accident, when no one is home. It can turn the heat down while you sleep, too, and can crank up the heat a little before you get home from work.
  • Test smoke and carbon monoxide monitors, inspect (or install) fire extinguishers, review fire-escape plans, and rid your home of old newspapers and other fire hazards. One good rule is to simply replace all batteries in these monitors twice a year.
  • Consider installing insulation in your attic to block drafts and save big bucks on heating.
  • If your home is heated by oil, see whether you can lock in a good price for the winter. That way, if oil prices rise in the coming months, you'll save some money. The National Energy Assistance Directors' Association recently predicted that home heating-oil prices may rise more than 25% this winter, with natural gas and electricity expected to rise around 6% or 7%.
  • Prepare for snow and wintry weather. Drain the gas from your lawn mower, and get your snow blower tuned up and gassed up. Make sure you have a good snow shovel at home and in your car, and any other helpers for dealing with snow and ice you encounter at home and in your travels.

Get yourself to Home Depot (NYSE:HD), Lowe's (NYSE:LOW), or your local hardware store, and buy what you need to prepare your house for winter. These stores also offer tutorials on improving your home -- perhaps you can learn to insulate your own attic, for starters. Better still for us investors, the more people tend to their homes, the more these companies (and their shareholders) will profit.

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