Don’t stumble into fall: How to prepare for Calgary’s colder months

After a scorching summer in Calgary, it happens.

Leaves are turning yellow, a hint of autumn wafts through the morning air, and pumpkin-spice syrups have reappeared at cafes across the city.

But such seasonal delights are tempered by the understanding that the city can go into a deep freeze at any moment — which can do a lot more than spoil barbecue plans.

Neglected gardens, gutters and stoves can also make for a miserable and costly fall and winter.

But as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So CBC News asked a few fall experts for advice on how to prepare for the coming months.

Neglected gutters can bring mold and rot

Gutters serve an important purpose by keeping water out of a home, said Igor Chelin, the owner of Calgary’s Gutter Cleaning on a Budget.

Many people want to wait until all the leaves have fallen to clean their gutters in the fall.

“So that they can clean everything at once and not think about it until next year,” he said.

However, if temperatures drop before they do, water in a gutter can freeze while filled with debris like twigs and leaves — and expand enough to damage the gutter.

But homeowners may not know it’s a problem until the snow finally melts, and they welcome spring by discovering their home is vulnerable to water and structural damage, including rot and mildew.

“People just don’t realize the gutters are clogged because we never see them,” Chelin said. “[But it can] get to the point where gutters can fall off your roof.”

His advice? Try cleaning gutters twice a year — and make it a priority before it snows.

“A lot of people don’t think ahead and that’s the biggest problem,” he said. “But remember, cleaning is cheaper than repairing.”

Changing the furnace filter regularly has several benefits, says college teacher Josh Silver. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Don’t ignore your oven filter

Now’s the time to get your stove working and check for any strange noises or smells, according to George Pinel, owner of Instant Plumbing and Heating – it probably hasn’t been lit all summer.

It also requires regular maintenance so that components such as filters, safety parts, and gas regulators and pressures are checked.

This is because the metal expands and contracts over several years, Pinel said, and it can only do so many times before it starts to develop a flaw or crack.

The result can be a stove that is less efficient in heating, has more running costs, has a negative impact on the environment by burning more fuel and emits more carbon monoxide.

And the biggest mistake that Pinel sees in people?

“They don’t check their furnace filters often enough,” he said.

Pinel also recommends a carbon monoxide test of the heating system going into the home to determine if the heat exchanger has cracked.

“A lot of people get flu-like symptoms in the winter, and honestly, it’s not the flu,” he said. “You’ll get mild carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Disconnect your hoses

Another fall tweak that Calgarians should remember is removing hoses and shutting off water to outside lines. Pinel said this can often be stopped too late.

“[People think] ‘Oh, it’s not that cold and it’ll be fine,'” he said.

But it only takes one night of freezing temperatures for your hose to become a real problem. Pinel said that a hose that claims to be “freeze proof” doesn’t offer as much security as people think.

“[People] Leave the hose on, it freezes and cracks in the winter,” Pinel said.

That can spell trouble if things later thaw and water starts running everywhere, potentially causing house damage.

Pinel shut off its water in mid-September.

Leave the leaves, take the tomatoes

Green thumbs put a lot of effort into planting and tending their gardens, and there are some preparations that should be done in the fall to keep things thriving.

“We’ve had a pretty dry fall and a pretty long drought, so don’t prune your plants right away — leave them to catch snow,” said Kath Smyth, the gardener at the Calgary Horticultural Society.

Large trees and shrubs should be watered and cleaned but not cut down, Smyth said, which is the biggest mistake she thinks people make.

“It’s not good for your garden,” she said.

Kath Smyth is a longtime member of the Calgary Horticultural Society. (Bernard Graham/CBC)

Smyth also said that the most important part of a healthy garden is soil health.

Raking leaves onto your soil — but not your grass — is a great way to help it retain moisture, and fresh compost will help nourish it.

In the meantime, Smyth already has frost protection sheets to protect her garden.

“All the plants I really appreciate have covers, but if you have plants that you want to save, now is the time to bring them in…” she said.

“If you have things that need to be cut back, I would do it and pick up your tomatoes – it gets a little chilly at night.”

Winter tires for bicycles and cars

If you haven’t changed your car’s tires yet, you should do so now and before the first snowfall.

If you wait, chances are you’ll be running around at the same time as everyone else, said John Hay of Trail Tire in southeast Calgary.

“The probability that they will wear out is small [now] …and when the snow flies, everyone will want to do it. So the sooner you prepare for this, the better,” he said.

A full inspection is a good idea, Hay said, to ensure all fluids are ready for winter.

You should change your tires before winter driving conditions return. (Monty Krueger/CBC)

As for the city’s cyclists, Bow Cycle’s Mark Fedoroshyn said it’s important to remember to change the lube you use on your chain.

A heavier lube keeps it from being washed away by road spray, while studded tires can make commuting easier.

And he said you should remember to wash your bike – something people tend to neglect in the fall and winter.

“We definitely found that the road salt is very, very corrosive to bikes,” he said. “[Take] sometimes even in the car wash.”

Let us know in the comments if you have any fall picks that we missed.

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