Leaves on a rake

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Rake the Yard
Raking leaves isn't just a matter of tidiness—it's actually crucial to the survival of your lawn and garden. Clear away leaves so your lawn can absorb precious winter sunshine, prevent the development of mold and detract the attention of pests like termites. Use fallen leaves as protective compost around shrubs, trees and landscaping beds. You can make raking and relocating leaves easy by simply collecting leaves on a tarp and dragging them to their new destination.

Next: Clean and check gutters
Man cleaning leaves from gutter

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Clean and Check Gutters
Keeping gutters clean and clear ensures that rainwater moves in the right direction: away from your home. Clogged gutters are the leading cause of flooded basements and can lead to serious structural problems. Besides cleaning gutters, make sure to extend downspouts so that rainwater discharges at least 4 feet from your home's foundation.

Next: Dust and reverse ceiling fans
Ceiling fan

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Dust and Reverse Ceiling Fans
Ceiling fans require attention for an effective winter warm-up. Thoroughly dust the fan blades and housing, then reverse the fan's usual summer rotation to a clockwise spin to push down warm air from the ceiling. This is easily done with a switch located on the side of the fan's motor.

Next: Reorganize the garage
Clean and organized garage

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Reorganize the Garage
Store summer sports equipment and gardening tools, deliver donations to your charity of choice, and take time to prep your snowblower and shovels for winter service. (If your cleanup is successful, you may actually find space to park the family car!)

Next: Strengthen stair railings
Kids running up the stairs

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Strengthen Stair Railings
Secure any loose railings, posts and spindles. Wood spindles on an indoor staircase can be stabilized by dipping a wooden toothpick in glue and wedging it in where the spindle goes into the handrail. After the glue dries, simply trim away the excess toothpick with a utility knife. To secure bolted-on outdoor railing posts, remove loose bolts and replace, adding a cold weather epoxy to the bolt holes to help lock fasteners in place.

Next: Check for roof leaks
Roof shingles

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Check for Roof Leaks
Roofs seldom leak from worn shingles. More commonly, problems arise from a loose shingle or a gap in flashing where your roof meets the chimney pipes or second-story walls. Catch any roof leaks early by doing a thorough inspection: Pick up a flashlight and check attic areas where protrusions like chimneys and plumbing vent pipes meet the roof. Then, grab your binoculars and inspect the same areas from the outside, scanning the roof for missing shingles or loose flashing that need replacement.

Next: Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Smoke detector with sticky note

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Test Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Fall and winter are peak season for fires, and carbon monoxide is a year-round threat, so make sure your family is protected by testing all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Vacuum detectors to remove excess dust, replace batteries, and start a routine of using the test buttons once a month to check your detector's function. If you don't have a carbon monoxide detector, add at least one near the bedrooms since most carbon monoxide poisonings occur when people are sleeping.

Next: Service heating system
Water heater and furnace

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Service Heating System
Annual service of your heating system is important if you want effective indoor comfort this winter. Just like your car, these fossil-fueled energy guzzlers needs to be cleaned and adjusted to burn efficiently and safely. This isn't a DIY project, so you'll need to contact your local HVAC pro and set an appointment for a heating system checkup. Also, change your system filters every month or upgrade to an electronic air cleaner, especially important to avoid dust when you seal up your home for the winter.

Next: Add insulation
Wall with insulation

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Add Insulation
This is an easy project—and the cheapest way to cut winter heating costs. Most homes don't have nearly enough insulation. If you don't have 19-inch-deep batt insulation or 22-inch-deep blown-in insulation, add more—by rolling out new unfaced fiberglass batts perpendicular to the existing insulation or adding blown-in directly on top—and watch your heating bill decrease.

 Install a programmable thermostat
Programming a thermostat

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Install a Programmable Thermostat
A programmable digital thermostat puts you in control of your home's climate and energy use. You'll trim your winter heating bills by at least 10 percent by using your programmable thermostat to lock in a heating schedule that allows the house to cool down a bit while you're asleep or away and warm up again before you wake up or return home.

Next: Locate water valves
Dripping water valve

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Locate Water Valves
Water leaks and burst pipes are among the worst kinds of winter surprises. So stay ahead of any possible plumbing issues by locating and labeling every critical water valve in your home, like the water heater, icemaker and main water valves. Make sure other family members know their locations and how to shut them off. Get in the habit of turning off your main water valve whenever you leave home for a few days or more; it will help limit potential pipe breaks during freezing conditions.

Next: Quiet kitchen cabinets 
Fixing the hardware on kitchen cabinet

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Quiet Kitchen Cabinets
A busy holiday season of celebrating and entertaining is just around the corner, so prepare your kitchen by cleaning and lubricating the drawers and hinges on your cabinets. Replace any catches that no longer work. For an easy update, consider changing your cabinet's knobs and pulls. This simple, inexpensive makeover adds a new dimension to your kitchen space.