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

How to ensure your home, garden and tires are prepared for the colder months.

Inclement weather is coming — are you ready?

An image of downtown Calgary taken from a distance along a grassy ridge on a fall day.
The sun sets on a fall day in Calgary. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

After a scorching summer in Calgary, it's happening.

Leaves are yellowing, there's an autumn bite in the morning air, and pumpkin-spice syrups have resurfaced at coffee shops across the city.

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

Neglected gardens, gutters and furnaces 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 canvassed a few autumn experts for their advice on how to get ready for the months ahead.

Neglected gutters can bring mould and rot

Gutters serve an important purpose, keeping water away from a house, said Igor Chelin, the owner of Calgary's Gutter Cleaning on a Budget.

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

"So they can clean everything at once and never think about it until next year," he said.

Should temperatures plunge before you get around to it, however, water in a gutter can freeze while filled with debris such as twigs and leaves — and expand enough to damage the gutter.

But homeowners might not know it's a problem until the snow finally melts, and greet spring with the discovery that their home has been left vulnerable to water and structural damage, including rot and mould.

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

His advice? Try to clean 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 just remember that cleaning is cheaper than repairs."

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

Don't ignore your furnace filter

Now is the time to get your furnace running and, according to George Pinel, owner of Instant Plumbing and Heating, check for any strange sounds or smells — it likely hasn't been fired all summer.

It also needs regular servicing so that components like the filter, safety parts, and gas controls and pressures get checked.

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

The result can be a furnace that heats less efficiently, costs more to run, impacts the environment as it burns more fuel, and emits higher levels of carbon monoxide.

And the biggest mistake Pinel sees people make?

"They don't check their furnace filters often enough," he said.

Pinel also recommends a carbon monoxide test of the heating system that goes into the house to determine if there's a crack in the heat exchanger.

"A lot of people suffer flu-like symptoms during the winter, and honestly, it's not the flu," he said. "They are getting mild carbon-monoxide poisoning."

Detach your hoses

Another fall tweak Calgarians should remember is to detach hoses and turn off the water to outdoor plumbing. Pinel said this can often get left too late.

"[People think] 'Oh, it's not that cold, and it will be OK,'" he said.

But it only takes one night of freezing temperatures for your hose to become a real problem. Pinel said a hose purporting to be "frost-proof" doesn't provide as much insurance as people think.

"[People] leave the hose on, it freezes and splits in the wintertime," Pinel said.

That can mean trouble when things later thaw and water starts to run everywhere, potentially causing home damage.

By mid-September, Pinel has his water shut off.

Leave the leaves, take the tomatoes

Green thumbs put a lot of effort into planting and maintaining their gardens, and there is some preparation that should occur in fall to keep things flourishing.

"We've had a fairly dry fall, and quite a long period of dryness, so don't cut your plants right back — leave them so that they can grab snow," said Kath Smyth, the horticulturalist with the Calgary Horticultural Society.

Large trees and shrubs should be watered and cleaned up but not cut to the ground, said Smyth, which is the biggest mistake she sees people make.

"It doesn't do your garden any good," she said.

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

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

Raking leaves onto your soil — but not your grass — is a good way to help it hold in moisture, and fresh compost helps feed it.

Meanwhile, Smyth already has frost cloths in place to protect her garden.

"All the plants I really value have covers on, but if you've got plants you want to save, now's the time to … bring them in," she said.

"If you've got things that need to be cut back, I'd do it, and take in your tomatoes — it is getting a little cold at night."

Winter tires for bikes and cars

If you haven't yet changed the tires on your car, it's a good idea to get it done now, and before the first snowfall.

Chances are if you wait, you'll be rushing around the same time everyone else is, said John Hay with Trail Tire in Calgary's southeast.

"There is little chance of them wearing out [now] … and when the snow flies, everybody's going to want to do it. So the sooner you prepare for it, but better," he said.

A full inspection is a good idea, Hay said, to make sure that all the fluids are ready for winter. 

You'll want to change your tires before the return of winter driving conditions. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

As for the city's cyclists, Bow Cycle's Mark Fedoroshyn said it's important to remember to change over which lubricant you're using for your chain.

A heavier lubricant will resist getting washed off by road spray, while studded tires can help make commuting easier.

And he said to remember to wash your bike — which people tend to neglect during fall and winter.

"We have definitely found the road salt … is very, very corrosive to bicycles," he said. "[Take] it in to even the car wash once in a while."

Let us know in the comments if you have any tips for autumn that we've missed.