Fall is the time to prepare your home for winter

Debbie Arrington

In the fall, homeowners come to a mental crossroads.

A part of us wants to stay outdoors and enjoy the pleasant autumn weather. But we also want to plunge into preparations for winter weather, the upcoming holidays and guests who may be headed our way.

Time, as well as the nice weather, starts ticking away, and we end up in a flurry of activity, trying to finish those home-improvement projects on our collective to-do list.     

"Bathroom and kitchen projects are really coming around," said Sue Monday, project manager at a Home Depot store in Sacramento, Calif. "It's the major trend this fall. People aren't selling their homes; they're redoing their homes."     

Bathroom makeovers are especially huge this season, Monday added. In these small spaces, a little effort can have a big impact. And holiday houseguests notice bathrooms. Along with kitchens, they're the most-used rooms in the house.

That's prompted manufacturers of home goods to introduce new lines of quick kitchen and bathroom fixes. Martha Stewart Living rolled out a new line of bathroom vanities with coordinating mirrors, countertops and fixtures. Rust-Oleum packages a cabinet-makeover kit with paint, glaze and everything else needed to give tired cabinets a face-lift in a matter of hours.     

"Redo and renew; that's the motto this fall," Monday said.     

Where to begin? Start by looking ahead. Jon and Terry Wittmaack, the handyman stars of DIY Network's new "Brothers on Call," can't underestimate the value of preparedness.     

"It's amazing," said Terry Wittmaack. "A lot of people buy an umbrella when it starts to rain; they don't have one already. We see that same mentality with homes; they don't prepare for winter until it's already here."     

Now taping for the new show, which premieres Oct. 16, the Wittmaacks got some instant drama with Hurricane Irene. The flooding in their hometown of Ridgewood, N.J., left many houses, and several of their clients, surrounded by 4 or 5 feet of water.     

"A lot of people certainly did heed warnings and prepare for the worst," Jon Wittmaack said. "But one of our customers in the flood zone, who had been warned, didn't take anything out of his basement, didn't move his cars out of the driveway, didn't do anything. It was like he was basically wishing it away. Now he has a huge mess on his hands."     

Instead of wishing winter weather away, be pro-active, Jon Wittmaack said. Now is the time to repair roof leaks and fix cracks in the driveway or sidewalk. Now is also the time to restain decks, get the fireplace in working order, clean the chimney and empty out ashes. Also, caulk around windows and doors and replace weather-stripping to stop the drafts before the wind blows.     

"Do it now while the weather is still nice and you can do these things easily," he said.     "The No. 1 most important thing: Make sure your gutters are clean," said Jon Wittmaack, who lived in Modesto, Calif., before returning to his native New Jersey to join the family business, Man Around the House.

"Clean up the leaves. Make sure water can run freely through the gutters and leaders, and away from your property."     

Indoors, change the filters on heating systems and refrigerator water dispensers. Clean the air filter on stove hoods, which tend to be grease magnets. And pay attention to plumbing.     

"Your shower may be fine for three minutes a day, but what if you have guests coming?" Jon Wittmaack said. "Your shower may be using four or five times as much water."     

So, check for leaks and recaulk. And if there are any clogs or slow drains, tackle them now.

Said Jon Wittmaack, "You don't want a backed-up toilet with a house full of people."     

Meanwhile, paint, paint, paint.

"Paint is without a doubt the least-expensive way to update any room," Monday said. "It's the easiest with the biggest impact."     

This season, the color trend tends to be warm -- or cool.     

"We're seeing a lot of burnt sienna," Monday said. "But also blues and grays. People are still painting with a lot of red, too, but it's more brick than blood."     

At Lowe's, two color trends pop out, said spokeswoman Colleen Maiura. One palette brings the cool colors of late summer inside. Warm yellow, charcoal gray, olive green -- these tones make rooms feel light and airy.     The other palette feels fun, fresh and personal. It adds an unexpected twist of color -- deep teal, organic green, rusty orange -- to neutral furnishings.     

No time to paint a whole room? Consider touching up the trim and doors. Those areas get the most wear and the most attention from guests. New this month, Glidden introduced a just-for-trim high-gloss enamel that covers in one coat and is made to make a big impression on these small areas.     

People also want to stretch their time outdoors even as daylight wanes, Maiura said. That means more outdoor lighting and fire pits.     

"Take a tip from interior decorators by introducing multiple levels of lighting to your outdoor space," she said. "It's a sure way to add drama and interest to an outdoor room."     

Some examples from Lowe's designers:     

-- Scatter candles on the tabletop for entertaining; hang lanterns to throw mysterious shadows on a wall.     

-- "Uplighting" creates instant drama. Install narrowly focused spotlights close to the ground and point them up to highlight features in the landscape, such as trees, shrubs or statuary. Floodlights, with their wider beams, can uplight larger areas, such as porches or entries.     

-- Lighting plants or objects from behind creates dramatic silhouettes. For example, if you have bushes or shrubs near a wall, place lights between the plants and the wall to highlight their shapes.     

-- Don't forget your front door and entryway. "Plant a pot full of chrysanthemums or other colorful flowers and put it next to your front door," Monday said. "It's like a bouquet waiting to greet your guests."          

Contact Debbie Arrington at darrington@sacbee.com.