Fall is almost here. That means beautiful trees, pumpkins, and that unmistakable smell that signals the end of summer and the soon-to-be winter months. Fall also means getting your home and car ready for the onslaught of winter. For those that live in the extreme southern portions of the country, winter might not be much different than other months. For people in most states, winter means snow and freezing, and that can cause expensive problems if people don't take the time and effort to get prepared during the fall months. Here are a few basic tasks to complete before the first snowfall.

Once the leaves fall, do a final cleaning of your gutters and downspouts. Clogged gutters makes runoff from snow freeze within the gutters. This is especially true for older gutter systems, and it may lead to the gutters separating from your roof. This not only causes damage to your gutters, but also to the underlying structure of the roof that holds the gutter. If you don't like cleaning out your gutters, invest in gutter guards.

Energy Audit
Do you know where your heat and air conditioning is escaping? An energy audit is the way to find out. Although you can pay private contractors to perform the audit, your gas or electric company might send somebody to your home free of charge. Depending on the age of your home, sealing areas where the heat or air conditioning is escaping can result in substantial savings over time. Even the smallest leaks add up over time. You can also do this yourself by examining for cracks in doors and windows and looking for any areas where you can see daylight coming through. The audit will check other areas like electrical and cable outlets on outside walls.

Your Trees
Have your trees trimmed every few years to assure that accumulated ice doesn't cause a dead branch to fall on to your roof. Once the leaves fall and you can see the branches of your trees, look for any larger-sized branches that appear dead and would fall onto yours or your neighbor's roof. If you knew the limb was dead and it damaged a neighbor's home, your homeowners insurance may not cover the damages.

Your Car
Winter is the last time of the year you'd want to be stranded by your car, which is why it's so important that you prepare your vehicle for the demanding weather. Later in the fall, replace your windshield wiper blades, use washer fluid designed for winter use and have a bottle of de-icer in your car to avoid having to scrape. Also check your tires to make sure they have enough tread. If you notice any weird engine sounds, have those fixed before the cold weather hits. Often small problems become bigger once the winter months arrive.

Your Generator
If you live in an area with extreme weather or have medical or other essential devices that require electricity, investing in a generator might be wise. If you have one, test it, along with your snowblower. Also check extension cords for signs of wear. Repair or replace them if required.

The Yard
Aside from raking the leaves, check the foundation of your home. It should be built up so water flows away from your home. Also, disconnect hoses and store them in the garage. Replace any outside lightbulbs that are burnt out.

The Bottom Line
Very few people enjoy the maintenance that comes with owning a home or car, but even less enjoyable is the bill that comes with repairing something because regular maintenance wasn't performed. If you start early, many of these jobs can be spaced out over the next couple of months.

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