Feel that chill in the air? Old Man Winter is coming.
Whether you live in Washington D.C. or Washington state, chilly weather is nature's way of telling you it's time to check up on a few things: your home, your car, your wallet and even yourself. So as you prepare for winter, here are a few tips to help ensure you and your loved ones stay safe, dry, snug and warm.
1. Drain outside spigots. Make sure outside spigots are off. Then find the inside shutoff valve, which should have a drain plug attached, says Tom Silva, general contractor on "This Old House" and "Ask This Old House." Shut it off and leave the drain plug open. Then go outside and open the faucets and leave them open. That way, any remaining water drains out and won't freeze.
2. Clean all the debris from gutters and down spouts. Be sure to clear out those outside window wells, too, says Silva, to prevent the debris from freezing where it is and blocking water drainage.
3. Check the windows. Make sure your storm windows are "completely protecting your window" and ready to meet the cold, says Silva. And make sure the weep holes, which allow condensation to drain, are clean and open.
4. Caulk. For home use, Silva recommends one of four varieties of caulk: butyl, latex with silicone, acrylic with silicone or tripolymer. "You don't want to use (straight) silicone," he says. Use caulk on openings or outlets around pipes, foundation, windows, etc. "You want to stop any migration of water and air," he says.
5. Check storm doors. Make sure they close properly. And now's the time to add that weather-stripping around doors and thresholds if you need it, Silva says.
6. Insulate water lines. Put foam rubber insulation -- you can buy it sized in a home store -- around hot and cold water pipes, says Silva. You'll increase efficiency and save energy.
7. Get those heating units maintained. Make sure your heating appliances "are cleaned and serviced and ready for winter," says Silva. "Tune-up time."
8. Check your antifreeze. "The most important thing is antifreeze," says Bob Cerullo, author of "What's Wrong with My Car?" What you do depends on where you live and whether you've added water to the antifreeze during the year. If you live in a place that gets really cold in the winter and you've added a substantial amount of water to the antifreeze since last winter, you probably want to flush it out and start fresh. Otherwise, you probably only have to flush it every three to five years, as the owner's manual dictates, says Cerullo. Other signs of bad antifreeze: it's discolored or "has a strong odor."
You can also test your antifreeze with a hydrometer, which will tell you to what specific temperature it can protect you, says Cerullo.
9. Examine the belts and hoses. "If belts are worn, the engine can overheat," says Cerullo. Similarly, if the rubber hoses that connect the engine to the radiator deteriorate, you can lose coolant and overheat, he says.
10. Look at the tires. Depending on where you live, winter means snow and ice or sometimes just a lot of rain. In any event, you need tires with a good amount of tread so that you have traction.
"A worn-out tire where the grip is very thin is not going to work as well," says Cerullo. And check the pressure while you're at it. Tire pressure changes as the temperature drops. Just because it was right in July doesn't mean it's still good, says Cerullo. Match it against the recommendation on the inside of your car doorjamb or the auto owner's manual. "Never go by what's printed on the tire," he says.
11. Re-evaluate your wiper blades. Make sure they're in good shape. And if you live in an area prone to ice and rain, you might want to consider winter wiper blades. They feature a "special blade wrapped in rubber film that keeps leakage from freezing," Cerullo says. They are about the same price as regular blades, he says. "A lot of people leave them on (all year) and they work fine." And while you're at it, make sure that you have wiper fluid that will withstand the cold temperatures you'll encounter.
12. Assemble a cold-weather car kit. This is especially important if you drive cold, lonely roads or areas prone to snow and ice, says Cerullo. Include a coat (in case you have to walk), blankets, nonperishable food (put it in a coffee can or lunch box), water, candles with matches and -- most importantly -- a working cell phone to call for help.
13. Check your home insurance. For cold-weather homeowners, winter is a season that can bring damage from snow and ice, says Chris Farrell, author of "Right on the Money! Taking Control of Your Personal Finances."
"So it's really a good time of year to look at your homeowners policy."
14. Get your credit reports. The time to do this is before you start your holiday spending, says Ryan Sjoblad, public relations manager for myFICO.com.
In addition, correcting any errors can raise your scores, which means you pay less for credit.
15. Make your 529 contributions. "If your state offers tax deductions for 529 plans, and many do, the contribution must be made by Dec. 31," says Timothy Hayes, president of Landmark Financial Advisory Services LLC.
16. Reapply for college financial aid. Depending on where your child is going to school, deadlines can run from late winter to early spring, says Farrell. But many colleges have their own earlier deadlines, so it pays to do it now, he says.
17. Think about your investments. This is the time of year that investments, like mutual funds, make distributions. And some of those can have tax consequences, says Hayes. You can usually find out if there's a distribution, and how much it will be, by going to the fund company's website, he says. And then you can plan to hold 'em or fold 'em, depending on what makes the most sense for you.
18. Shop your vacation. Whether you have a craving for a sunny climate or are suffering from "cabin fever," planning a long getaway is a good antidote, says Farrell. Not only do you give yourself time to find the best buys, but you can cure that winter claustrophobia at the same time.
It's cold and flu season, not to mention the time of year when we all get to enjoy the least amount of daylight and spend a lot of time indoors. So try to winterize yourself, too.
19. Get real. "It's easy to get sucked into the TV fantasy ads and what the holiday 'should' be, and how you 'should' celebrate," says Mark Gorkin, author of "Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression." Instead, be realistic. Admit to yourself that no one can do it all. And the holiday visit might not be the best time to try and change a relative "who hasn't changed in 30 years," he says.
20. Reach for healthy comfort foods. For instance, try warm cereal in the morning. "Warmer feels a little more substantive, a little more soothing," Gorkin says.
21. Make time and find a place to exercise. It will fight depression and help you out if you want to indulge in some of your holiday food favorites. Gorkin recommends going right after work, if you can. Not only do you boost the helpful chemicals in your body with vigorous exercise, but you get to soak up what light there is. If you're a tennis bug, this might be when you pay for a monthly gym membership and move the game inside. Says Gorkin, "You don't have to go into hibernation."