If you're like many Minnesota homeowners, you're starting to think about preparing your home and yard for winter. As leaves and temperatures begin to drop, some simple changes to your annual fall routine can help protect the environment.
Protect water quality
This fall, don't just sweep leaves and grass clippings into the street. These leaves and grass clippings will wash into storm sewer drains and then into nearby lakes and streams. Algae flourishes on leaves and nitrogen-rich grass clippings, consuming the oxygen fish need to survive, Grass also carries pesticides which harm fish.
So instead of raking into the street this fall, take some simple steps to create a household compost bin that will turn yard waste into valuable fertilizer and rich potting soil. For more information, check out MPCA's start composting in your backyard webpage.
And if you're going to do some routine vehicle maintenance before this fall, remember to keep oil, antifreeze, and other automotive chemicals out of the street, too. Check with your local household hazardous waste facility to find out the best way to dispose of these items. and how to find your local HHW collection site.
Protect air quality
Got leftover fuel? If any fuel is left in your gasoline-powered lawn mowers or garden equipment, add a fuel stabilizer and then run the machine for a brief period before you pack it away for the winter. This will make it easier to start next spring. Your snow blower will also benefit by adding fuel stabilizer to fresh fuel because it's hard to predict how soon you will use it. It's also a good idea to change the oil (but make sure you dispose of it properly), check the spark plug, pump up the tires, lubricate any drive chains, and inspect any belts and replace them if they look suspect. Like lawn mowers, snow blowers have no catalytic converter and pollute many times more than the average car, so it's better to use them sparingly and give your shovel a workout for the light snowfalls.
Each year, inspect your wood-burning heaters, stoves, and fireplaces for cracked heat exchangers or fireboxes, and defective or blocked flues. Make sure your stove or fireplace has a sufficient air supply and is drawing air properly so harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide are not pulled into your home.
Never burn treated wood, magazines, color newsprint, plastics or garbage. When burned, these products can release toxic fumes and odors that are harmful to your health.
Old wood stoves generate excessive wood smoke that can affect your health and the environment. Update your wood stove and fireplace. If they're more than 12 years old, replace them with a new, efficient one certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For more information on fireplaces, wood heaters, furnaces and indoor pollution visit the EPA's website.
Prevent soil contamination
If you heat your home with oil, check your tank for leaks. Keep your fill pipe visible and accessible for the delivery driver. And if you take your tank out of service, remove the tank, lines, and fill pipe completely. Some fuel oil delivery companies have accidentally delivered heating oil to homeowners' fill pipes that had no tanks attached to the other end, resulting in spills and damage that cost thousands of dollars to repair. After the snow flies, be sure to keep vent lines free from snow and ice to prevent pressurizing.
As part of your fall cleanup, don't forget that some household chemicals will freeze in an unheated garage. To find out if a product will freeze — read the label! If the product contains water, or says "soap and water cleanup" or "keep from freezing," it's most likely a water-based product. Once it's frozen, it probably won't perform as expected.
Common water-based products include latex driveway sealer, latex paint, paint-related items such as caulks and adhesives, and some liquid pesticides (weed killer, bug spray, etc.). Always follow instructions on the label about proper storage and safety precautions. Because fumes and the possibility of fire make indoor storage for flammable items a bad idea, share these unused chemicals with a neighbor who can use them up or call your county's hazardous waste disposal facility for drop-off locations. To prevent accidental poisoning, any chemicals stored indoors should stay in an area where children and pets can't get into them.