The calendar says it’s fall, but winter is already here in the near western suburbs, with Oak Park and River Forest recording inches of snow on Halloween and record-breaking cold temperatures for early November.

It might seem like it’s time to throw in the towel and sit by the fireplace until spring, but there are a few tasks and timetables local homeowners might want to get a handle on to prepare for the season ahead.

By now, most homeowners have likely made sure that boilers and furnaces are up and running. Matt Kwilas, operations manager for Oak Park-based House of Heat, says if you haven’t already had your boiler or furnace checked, it’s not too late to make that yearly appointment, especially in light of the Farmer’s Almanac forecast of a particularly cold winter.

“We recommend service once a year,” Kwilas said. “It’s good to spot general maintenance issues that need taking care of and change filters.”

Kwilas notes that besides keeping your home’s heat running at optimal levels, that service appointment can serve another purpose. 

“While we’re servicing, we may find that a system is not working safely or needs replacing,” he said.

 He says this information can be helpful to know before your boiler calls it quits in the middle of a polar vortex.

Move your car and the snow

In Oak Park, snow brings parking restrictions. After 2 or more inches of accumulation, the village’s Emergency Snow Removal Parking Plan takes effect. When the plan is in effect, for seven days a week, including holidays, major streets designated as snow routes must be cleared of all parked cars, with violations subject to a $100 fine. 

Non-snow route streets allow parking between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. on the even address side on even days and on the odd address side on odd dates (oak-park.us/village-services/parking/snow-emergency-parking).

 A village ordinance also requires snow and ice to be removed from the public sidewalk within 24 hours of any snow, sleet or freezing rain.

In River Forest, parking is not permitted on village streets for eight hours following a snowfall of 2 inches or more, in order to allow snow plowing and salting operations to act quickly and respond to hazardous conditions. 

The village also requires residents and business owners to remove snow and ice from sidewalks in front of and adjacent to their property within 24 hours of a snow event.

If you’re tired of all that shoveling, some homeowners like to take the heat outside and invest in a snowmelt system for their walkways and driveways. 

Easier to install in new construction or when homeowners are redoing sidewalks and driveways, snow melt systems installed beneath the pavement heat the surface and can eliminate the need for shoveling and salting.

Block the wind

If you have an older home, chances are you’ve felt the wind blowing through your old windows during winter storms. 

Window replacement is an option, but a study cited on green building website treehugger.com points out that most new windows manufactured in North America don’t do a better job of preventing air infiltration than properly cared for original windows.  Sometimes maintenance and a good storm window are all it takes.

Oak Park resident Darius Augustine wasn’t even thinking about winter weather when he came up with a business plan that ended up helping his own 106-year-old house weather the winter months. 

As he watched his sister in Florida prepare for hurricanes in previous years, he wondered if there was an easier way to protect windows than boarding them up with every storm. He came up with the idea of a storm window that could be mounted inside or outside existing windows with a simple snap.

He quickly realized that the product made to withstand hurricane force winds could also keep a northern home warmer in the winter. He’s working on a patent for his Storm Snap windows, which he manufactures in Chicago, and says the windows are great for historic homes like his own in which homeowners want to preserve the original wood windows but want more energy efficiency.

Part of their appeal is the ease of install according to Augustine. 

“They can be mounted on the outside or the inside,” he said. “If you mount them on the interior, there’s no need for ladders. Anyone can do it.”

Don’t forget the yard

In Oak Park, leaf collection is well underway and will continue through Dec. 5, with seven pickups planned for each section of the village (oak-park.us/events/fall-leaf-collection-begins). 

In River Forest, leaf collection runs through Nov. 30 (vrf.us/departments/department/4/service/4/Fall-leaf-pick-up.html). Both villages offer leaf pickups free of charge and emphasize that only leaves should be raked into the street for pick up.

Scott McAdam, president of Forest Park’s McAdam Landscaping Inc., has four tips for homeowners looking to put their yards to sleep for the season and offers a way to bring a bit of optimism to the colder season. 

“After this snow melts, remove excess leaves from your lawn areas,” he said. “This can help reduce turf disease pressure on the plants due to excessive moisture being trapped under the leaves.

“Cut back your perennials and place a layer of mulch or leaf debris in the beds to protect the plants from the freeze thaw cycles that can occur during the winter. If you already have mulch, you may not need any more.  

“Plan your garden for next year. This is the time to evaluate what plants performed well in your garden this year and to think about changes you may want to make next year.”

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