Spending a few hours this fall to button up your house and other valuables for the winter can save you big bucks down the line. There are plenty of easy and inexpensive ways to protect your possessions from harsh winter weather. Here's a checklist of preventive measures to consider before it turns cold:
Driveways, sidewalks and patios: Little cracks in concrete surfaces can quickly grow into big ones during the winter with the constant freezing and thawing of trapped moisture. Sealing cracks with ready-to-use concrete sealant is quick and easy: Just apply with a caulking gun or squeeze directly from the tube. A one-quart tube of sealant should cost under $10 at most home improvement stores and it goes a long way. By the way, rock salt used for winter snow and ice removal can erode concrete surfaces and kill surrounding grass and plants, so use deicing products that are safe for your surfaces and landscaping.
Gas grills: If you're through grilling for the season, turn off and disconnect the propane tank and store it separately, as winter cold is hard on the flexible tubing and can cause cracking, especially if it's still under pressure. Open burner valves to bleed off any trapped gas. Clean grates, flavor bars and grease trap using a wire brush and soapy water; add a little ammonia to help cut the grease. Be sure to clean out any ashes on the bottom of the grill because they'll trap moisture and may rust during the winter. Ideally, cover the grill and store indoors or in a dry outdoor location. If you store it outdoors, wrap the burners in plastic bags to keep moisture out and then cover the entire grill in a sturdy vinyl grill cover, which typically costs under $40 at home stores.
Lawnmowers/gas-powered garden equipment: Lawnmowers and other gas-powered garden equipment should be thoroughly cleaned, removing all caked-on grass, dirt and loose rust. A simple scrub pad made from repurposed aluminum foil works well for this job, particularly when used with a spray lubricant such as WD-40. Air and fuel filters should be changed, along with the oil. Most experts agree that the gas tank should be kept filled with gasoline that has been treated with a stabilizer, available at many hardware and auto supply stores. This keeps the gas fresh and prevents condensation and deposits from developing in the engine. Be sure to run the engine for about 10 minutes after adding the stabilized gasoline.
Motor vehicles: If you live in a cold climate, your car and other vehicles require a little TLC this time of year to make them safer and more efficient, and to help them last longer. Oil in the engine thickens in cold temperatures, making it less effective, so read the owner's manual and make sure you're using the right oil for winter conditions. Check and replace rubber parts, including hoses, belts and windshield wiper blades, as needed, since winter ice, snow and salt will wear them out at warp speed. Air pressure in tires typically drops as temperatures decrease, so check tire pressure more often during colder periods. Make sure you have the right mix of antifreeze in your radiator (get an inexpensive tester from an auto supply shop). If your car battery is more than three years old, have it tested to make sure it's able to hold a charge. When shopping for snow tires, it pays to compare prices. You might be able to save by buying tires online and having them shipped and installed locally.