Winter’s coming whether we want it to or not, and it brings house-related problems we don’t think about the rest of the year. Bob Villa might make it look easy on TV, but when it comes to home maintenance, most of us are more like Tim "The Tool Man" than Bob. But you can do it.

Some areas of our country don’t have wintry weather -- can we come visit you? -- but most of us will face the cold season, even if winter is short where we live. But the possibility of frozen rain gutters, burst water pipes and other winter-related problems can be eliminated or reduced with a little time and effort in October or November. And the best thing is that a relatively small outlay of money now can save a lot later on.

Heating

Check heating systems annually. Properly maintained furnaces, fireplaces and wood-burning stoves prevent fire and smoke damage. Dust-clogged filters obstruct airflow, force heating systems to work harder and increase energy bills. Check filters monthly during the heating season and clean or replace as necessary. During winter months houses are sealed pretty tightly, increasing the risk of higher carbon monoxide (CO2) levels. Be sure all smoke and fire alarms work properly. If you use oil-, gas-, or wood-burning appliances, inspect these sources of CO2 carefully, and consider installing a CO2 detector.

Don’t set thermostats above 70 degrees during the winter, unless your health or age requires it. Wear sweaters around the house (those you’d not be caught dead in outside your home). Low-cost programmable thermostats can be set for different times of the day and when you’re not home. They cost as little as $50 or so, and the expenditure can be recovered within three months through energy savings.

Plumbing

Disconnect garden hoses, close indoor valves to outside faucets, and know the location of water pipes and how to shut the water off. When the mercury dips below zero, leave faucets on a steady drip and open cabinet doors where sinks are located adjacent to outside walls. Keep the house temperature at least 65 degrees, because pipes inside the walls may freeze if temperatures are lower than 65 degrees.

If pipes do freeze, the quicker the water is shut off or a plumber gets to the problem the less chance that pipes will burst. Insulate unfinished rooms, attics, basements, crawl spaces or garages that have exposed pipes, or wrap pipes with heating tape or foam sleeves. In cold areas, keep attics five to 10 degrees warmer than outside air, because if too much heat escapes through attics, snow or ice melts on the roof, refreezes and causes more snow and ice buildup, which can result in a collapsed roof.

Roof

If possible, have the roof thoroughly inspected, replace broken or curled shingles, and secure loose shingles. Check the chimney for missing or loose mortar. If water gets into joints with loose mortar, the freezing and thawing action turns mortar to powder. Faulty metal flashing around chimneys and roof seams causes many leaks. If these areas are easy to get to, check the adhesive that holds flashing to the roof surface. If it’s cracked, apply roofing cement to those areas.

Ever wonder what those pipes are that stick out of the roof? They’re plumbing vent stacks and often have air-admittance valves (AAV) that are exposed to ice accumulation. If ice produces clogging, the AAVs can pop off due to back-pressure caused by freezing shut. If they aren’t attached to the vent, get them back in place.

Remove leaves and other debris from gutters, so melting snow and ice can flow freely. If water doesn’t properly drain through the gutters it may seep into the house. Gutter guards can prevent debris from entering gutters. And, of course, be sure the water flows away from the house.