Fall Homeowner Checklist to Save Money and Avoid Insurance Claims

1
Keep the Warmth in and Water Out

New Homeowners Getting Home Ready For Fall
With a few simple tips you can get your home ready for fall and avoid insurance claims. Trinette Reed / Getty Images

Energy efficiency is on the top of all our minds and keeping a well-insulated home is a great way to conserve energy and save money

Check Key Problem Areas for Heat Loss

As the weather becomes cooler in the fall, it's a great time to check for places where heat is escaping your home or cold air is getting in. Doing a check for some key problem areas will help prevent weather-related water damage as well. Remember, if air can get in, there's a good chance water may also find the same path. The worst kind of water damage is the damage that happens gradually before you notice it. Gradual damage is not covered by insurance, so it becomes especially important for you to prevent gradual damage from happening.

3 Things to Be More Energy Efficient and Avoid Water Damage Claims

  • Window panes, door seals and thresholds. These areas can wear down or deteriorate over time. When there is air creeping in or out through the windows and doors of your home, it creates potential damage as well as costs money on heating bills. Fill any cracks and replace parts that are no longer in good shape. If you notice your windows discoloring it could be an indication that the argon gas is leaking
  • Exterior paint on your home. If the paint is chipping or peeling off the exterior walls of your home you may be sustaining damage you aren't aware of.  
  • Interior Insulation. If you feel air coming in through the walls or electrical outlets, you should check if you need any brick pointing, repairs to the exterior walls or additional insulation. Sometimes adding a little insulation is not that costly and can make a big difference on your heating costs. If the source of the problem is deteriorating exterior walls, then a little patchwork or brick pointing may help. If you feel air coming in through electrical outlets, consider insulating them, it costs only a few dollars and will make a big difference in how your house is conserving heat and could lower your electric and heating bills.

Clear Areas Around the Furnace, Electrical Box and Water Tank

Take a few moments to check for clutter or storage boxes that may have built up around your furnace, electrical box or water tank. Make sure that these are clear of obstructions. Placing boxes or storage next to your furnace or water tank could create hazards in your home and make them difficult to access in the event of an emergency. 

2
Preventing Water Damage

Female plumber checking the radiator prior to the heating season
Checking your plumbing as part of your fall homeowner checklist can prevent water damage and help you save money. sturti / Getty Images

Water damage is one of the most common causes of home insurance claims. Water entering through windows, roofs, and even the sides or exterior walls of your home could cause major damage over time.

Gradual damage caused by water infiltration is not covered by home insurance, this can cost you significant amounts of money to repair

Check These Potential Problem Areas to Avoid Water Damage

  • Clean out water backup valves. If you have a water backup valve or sump pump, fall is a good time to make sure everything is in good working order.  
  • Check the condition of your pipes. If your home is old or you notice lowered water pressure, this could be a sign that your pipes are blocked, filled with roots from trees, or possibly deteriorating. You can have a plumber or drain professional check your pipes with a camera and let you know if everything is in good condition.
  • Shut off the water supply to your outdoor water faucets. And don't forget to put away your outdoor hose if the temperature falls below freezing in your area.
  • Clean gutters and drains. Check the gutters and drains around your home and make sure they are not blocked by autumn leaves or other debris. 

We already covered some outdoor sources of water damage, but there are indoor sources as well. Fall is the perfect time to make an annual ritual of checking your plumbing indoors.

Identify any pipes on exterior walls that may be prone to freezing. Insulation of pipes is fairly easy when the pipes are visible. If you notice any pipes on exterior walls that might freeze, consider insulating them. A frozen pipe creates a great deal of water damage. Insurance may cover the damage resulting from the frozen pipe if it happens when you're living in your house, but there will be costs associated with the actual pipe replacement that may not be covered by your insurance.

Check the Age of Your Water Tank

Verify the age of your water heater tank and do regular maintenance.

A water tank needs to be replaced after about a decade. Do not leave your water tank replacement to a time where you think it needs it. Most cases where a person becomes aware of a water tank issue is when it's too late and it has already emptied out into your home. Water tanks deteriorate from the inside out. Speak to your plumber or other professional to get an opinion on the lifespan of your water tank.

Find Out If Your Insurance Company Offers Preferred Rates and Discounts

Insurance companies recognize homes that have updates and renovations because they know that a well-maintained home will have a lower incidence of claims. Any time you do repairs or updates contact your insurance company to see if you qualify for preferred rates or better coverage.

3
Check the Roof, Chimney and Attic

Couple sealing exterior of their home preparing for winter
Sealing cracks and gaps in the exterior of your home prevents water damage and conserves energy saving you money. kali9 / Getty Images

Colder weather, strong winds or windstorms, and colder temperatures make your home prone to several risks and damage.

Loose Shingles and Other Roof Problems

  • Check your roof to make sure there are no loose shingles or areas that need repair. Sometimes taking small actions now will save you thousands of dollars later. Something as small as a shingle blown off the roof during a storm can cause major amounts of water to suddenly come into your home.
  • If you have a flat roof, make sure that you don't have a buildup of leaves or other debris on it. This can cause serious problems and also may cause your roof to deteriorate faster. 

Even though your insurance would likely cover you for damages due to windstorms, or other water damage, it would be a huge inconvenience, you would still have to pay your deductible and if your insurance gives you a claims-free discount, you could lose that and see your insurance rate increase for years following a claim. 

Have Your Roof Inspected or Get a Second Opinion

If you are in doubt about the condition of your roof or aren't sure if repairs are needed, contact a roofer and get them to verify the roof and give you an estimate for repairs.

A roofer can also suggest temporary repairs or special roof coatings that might help you prevent damage until you can organize yourself for major renovations or replacement. Speaking to professionals usually give us new ideas that we wouldn't have otherwise had the expertise to come up with ourselves.

Discounts or Preferred Insurance Rates for Updated Homes

Contact your insurance company and find out if you will get a discount or any additional advantages if you have a recently updated roof. Some insurance companies will take into account the fact that a home with recent renovations in key areas like the roof will be less likely to have a claim and the insurance underwriters may give you preferred rates as a result.

Check Crawl Spaces and the Attic

The space between the roof, attic and your living area should be checked a couple of times a year if you aren't using it as a living space.

Your Chimney, Fireplace, and Other Heating Sources

It's a good idea to have your chimney or furnace checked before you start using it in the fall season.

  • A good chimney cleaner will ensure that your fireplace is in good shape, will check to make sure there is no build-up, clean the flue and check the flashing and condition of the chimney indoors and out.
  • Your furnace should be checked every year to make sure everything is in good working order, you would not want to run into problems in the middle of the heating season.

Staying on top of potential problems will save you money because it will not only prevent insurance claims, but it will allow you to budget for repairs as they are needed, instead of always trying to come up with money in emergencies which can really throw your budget off.

4
Checking for Squirrels, Mice and Other Unwanted Critters in Your Home

mice and critters in the home
When the weather gets cold critters of all kinds look for warm places to stay - how to make sure they don't get into your home. Westend61 / Getty Images

Prevent Mice, Rodents and Other Creatures Getting Into Your Home

When the seasons start to change you aren't the only one who likes to hide out in the warm comfort of your home. As part of your fall homeowner checklist, make it a point to check the exterior of your home for possible entry points for small mice, rodents, squirrels and any other creatures that may be looking to share your warmth and shelter from the elements.

How to Check for Mice and Other Critters

  • Walk the perimeter of your home and keep an eye out for any cracks in the exterior foundation and walls. If you suspect rodents are already in your home, you can get help to get them out and then seal off the area. Mice need only a very small opening to get in your house and can cause massive damage to your wiring, which could be a fire hazard.
  • Check the entry of any vents — for instance, for the dryer or bathroom fans — and make sure they are screened so that creatures and animals don't make their way in. Installing screens so the air gets out or in, but nothing else is not an expensive endeavor. If You have screens on your vents, make sure that they do not have any holes in them, or that they haven't deteriorated. A little investigation now could save you a lot of money in the long term.
  • Listen for sounds in your walls or ceilings. If you hear noises in your walls or roof as the weather gets colder outside and these critters are looking for a warm home, then consider getting a professional company to come and check for these unwanted critters for a very small fee.

Does Home Insurance Pay for Damage By Rodents?

Damage from rodents is not covered by insurance, and if you have mice or squirrels living in your attic or crawl space, they could travel throughout the walls. Chances are they will not just stay in one place. You don't need a family of critters taking over your home. 

5
Securing the Outside of Your Property

Preparing the outdoor patio and your home for winter
A cozy outdoor patio is great in the fall but as winter weather and storms approach these areas can be liability risks. Tim Abramowitz / Getty Images

A cozy outdoor patio is great in the fall but as winter weather and storms approach these areas can be liability risks.

Tips to Prevent Damage and Injury Outside Your Home

  • Make sure that any outdoor furniture you leave outside is secured and will not blow away in windstorms. Don't forget decorative baskets, sun umbrellas, and even small BBQ's. Winds can reach very high speeds in winter storms and send items flying.
  • Put away furniture that could be blown by high winds in a safe and secure area like a storage shed or garage.
  • Make sure patio stones or deck boards are smooth and not loose or coming up. Avoid people tripping or falling due to these hazards.
  • Make a clear pathway to and from any doors of your home, including to the sidewalk, where people can walk without tripping or falling in adverse weather conditions.
  • If you are in an area where temperatures may hit freezing, or you may get snow or freezing rain, purchase some sand or salt, or an environmentally friendly alternative to prevent areas from being slippery.
  • Cover potentially slippery surfaces like stairs or landings with weather proof treads that are not slippery in near zero temperatures.

Verify Lighting Outside Your Home

A well-lit home is less likely to invite thieves and will prevent people from falling and injuring themselves on your property.

  • Make sure paths are well lit up. If you have an area of your home that is not well lit up, consider getting solar powered flood lights on motion sensors. This will not only conserve energy and save money but it will help prevent injury and keep your home safer.

Don't Forget to Do Some Maintenence and Prevention in Your Garage

With all these patio items and summer tools and supplies going into your garage, things may get a little hectic. Garages typically have many flammable items in them which makes them a potential fire risk. If you add to that a cluttered garage, you may also be at risk of injuries.

  • Take a weekend in the fall and clear out the garage of any dangerous or flammable materials. Make sure you dispose of them properly. 
  • Clear any paths in the garage so that you can easily access your fall and winter gear like shovels and rakes. 
  • Make sure that tools are safely secured in their places so nothing falls on family members or guests as they are making their way through the garage.

6
Check for Overhanging Tree Branches

Tree hanging over patio and neighbors fence
Trim back tree branches to avoid liability risks and injuries. Hero Images / Getty Images

Trees are beautiful in the fall, but aside from creating piles of leaves to rake up, they can also be the source of a lot of damage to your home and create liability risks.

If there are tree branches overhanging your property you should consider having them cut back if they hang over your roof, walkways, living areas, or driveways. 

If the tree belongs to a neighbour contact them to let them know about your concerns and work on a plan to get the situation taken care of; no one wants to be negligent, especially when people could be injured. In some states, even if it is your neighbor's tree, the responsibility may be yours to cut branches back off your property.

Clear Trees or Branches Near Electrical Posts and Power Lines

Make sure that branches from trees are not tangled with any electrical wiring or too close to the electric cables around your home.

Because power lines are dangerous, you should contact a professional or your power company about any dangerous branches. Do not attempt to remove them yourself without getting professional advice. A professional is equipped to provide you with the best guidance and handle this type of task.

When trees or branches come down on electrical wiring, they can also cause the electric cables to break and this could also pose a hazard to your family, friends, pets, and neighbours.

If you aren't sure about the condition of your trees, consider contacting an arborist to visit your property and check for weak or diseased trees and branches that could easily come down. This basic maintenance could save you a lot of money in the long run and prevents you from unnecessary safety hazards.