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Your fall home maintenance checklist
October 17, 2018
The weather in many places across the country may still feel like summer, but fall is indeed upon us. The autumnal equinox ushers in many changes — shorter days, cooler weather, schoolwork, and those irresistible Pumpkin Spiced Lattes.
Wherever you live, fall is a great time for routine home maintenance. After all, spring isn’t the only time for cleaning. So here’s a list of things to do inside and out of your home to prepare for the changing season. And after the maintenance is done, we’ve got a few things you can do to cozy up the place for winter.
1. Clean and store summer garden tools.
If you've got a lawn to mow, there's no doubt you're already noticing the shorter days. Nothing like mowing the lawn after dark! With shorter days and slower growing grass, it's time to start thinking about storing your mower, rakes, and wheelbarrow for the off seasons. If you have an electric mower, you’ve got it easy. But if you have a gas-powered mower, you’ll have a little extra work to do. We asked a New England mower dealer about the top reason mowers give their owners trouble in the spring, and this was his number one: If you leave gas in the tank, it can deteriorate and damage internal engine parts over the winter. Avoid this by either running the tank dry before storing it, or adding fuel stabilizer to your gasoline can and topping off the tank before you put it away.
You’ll also want to ensure an easy startup in the spring by lubricating your pistons. Simply remove the spark plug (once the engine is cool of course) and pour a capful of engine oil into the spark plug hole. Pull the start cord a couple of times to distribute the oil.
When you’re ready to do a final cleaning, turn the mower off and turn it on its side to remove grass and remaining gunk from the deck.
2. Put away hoses and shut off exterior faucets.
If you live in a cold weather climate, hoses left attached to outdoor faucets can cause costly damage to your pipes and exterior walls. If water backs up in the pipes, it will likely freeze, expand, and then crack the hardware. So make sure to remove, drain, and store your outdoor hoses and turn off the shutoff valves that lead to those faucets. If you're not sure where to locate your shutoff valves, ask your plumber to show you. If your house has a basement, that's likely where you'll find it.
3. Drain and turn off your sprinkler system.
Even underground irrigation systems can freeze and burst, so it’s important to turn off the water to your main sprinkler system, shut off any automatic controls, and open the drain valves to remove water trapped inside. You’ll also want to shake excess water from your above-ground sprinkler heads.
Don’t have drain valves? Hire a professional to blow out the pipes with compressed air. This will run you about $100, and will prevent costly repairs come springtime if any of your pipes burst.
4. Clean your gutters and downspouts.
This is especially important if you live in a changing climate and have deciduous trees (meaning they shed their leaves in the fall). Once most of the leaves have fallen, you’ll want to clear out your gutters and downspouts so that rain water doesn't collect and pool there, possibly damaging your siding and roof, or worse, freezing into ice dams that lead to much more expensive repairs. Houzz has a great tutorial for what you’ll need and how to do it yourself.
Bob Vila also recommends that you flush the gutters with water, inspect the joints, and tighten loose brackets. If your downspouts don’t extend at least 5 feet away from the house, consider adding extensions for $10-$20.
5. Check the condition of your roof.
Since it’s your home’s first line of defense against wind, rain, and snow, it’s important to make sure your roof is in tip-top shape before the seasons turn. You can check for missing or loose shingles yourself, or better yet, hire a roofing professional to check it out and make any repairs. This is the best time of year to do maintenance on your roof.
Tip: Sometimes your neighbors have the best view of your roof. Use this opportunity to get to know them by asking if you can go up to their top floors to get a better look.
6. Tend to trees and shrubs.
One arborist in California told Houzz that the most important home maintenance you can do in the fall is to cut the dead off your trees. This can prevent falling limbs, limit damage to your home during heavy winds and rain, and can also help preserve your trees through to the spring. Fall is also the best time to prune your plants in any climate simply because the summer growing season has come to an end.
7. Fertilize your lawn.
Again, this one is for you cold-climate-dwellers. Even though you’re not going to see your lawn for a while, don’t forget to protect it. Bob Vila recommends fertilizing grass in the fall so it stays healthy for the spring, and that a high phosphorous mix will likely give you the best results.
If you have outdoor pots or planters – especially ones made of clay – empty them of soil so they don’t freeze and crack.
8. Check exterior walls for peeling or blistering paint.
Peeling exterior paint can be a sign that it’s no longer up to the task of protecting your siding. If you find signs of peeling, address it before the weather gets too wet.
9. Stock up on winter supplies.
If you live in a place expecting snow, check the condition of your snow shovels and ice scrapers, and have your snow blower serviced. Pick up additional fuel in case of an emergency, and if needed, get a bag of pet- and plant-safe ice melt.
We'd also suggest creating (or restocking) some emergency kits for your car and home. We like this list from Apartment Therapy of winter home must-haves. And while you're at it, now might be a good time to sort and clean out the garage, rearranging things so your winter items are more easily accessible.
Do you have a pool? Best to consult a professional for at least your first year as a pool owner. And always examine your pool cover for damage and replace if necessary.
1. Ready your windows.
If you use in-window air conditioning during the summer months, it’s best to remove and store them once the weather starts turning cool. This will allow you to close your windows and reduce heat loss. If you decide to leave the units in, make sure to cover the outside with insulating covers made just for this purpose.
For the most effective insulation, check your windows for cracks in the caulking and add weatherstripping where needed. This will help keep the warmth in and the cold out, which is especially helpful if you have single-paned windows. Check out Bib Vila’s Weathstripping 101 for the different types available, or follow Houzz’s handy tutorial to do it yourself.
2. Check the fireplace and heating system.
Before lighting that first fire of the season, make sure your chimney is clear of blockages and that the glass door is free of cracks. You may even want to hire a chimney sweep to do a professional cleaning (a clogged chimney could cause a chimney fire). If you want to be really thorough, make sure you have a chimney cap so curious critters don’t climb in unexpectedly.
Schedule a professional heating system maintenance before turning on the heat too. According to Bob Vila, “heating systems will use fuel more efficiently, last longer and have fewer problems if properly serviced.”
3. Check your safety devices.
This includes replacing the batteries on smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, and keeping some extra batteries on hand for when those run out. Make sure your fire extinguisher hasn’t expired too. (Yep, that’s a thing.)
Fall is also a good time to check your home for radon. According to the EPA, 1 in 15 homes in the U.S. has elevated levels of radon, which is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that can seep into your home from the soil and rock underneath it. When the weather cools down and windows are closed more often than not, radon can get trapped inside your house and accumulate to an unhealthy level. You can check for it yourself with a test kit found at your local home improvement store, or contact a qualified radon tester.
4. Change the direction of your ceiling fans.
The upward draft from a reversed ceiling fan redistributes warm air from the ceiling down into your home, helping to mitigate the cold and reduce energy use.
5. Clean your dryer vents.
It sounds like a small thing, but when lint builds up in your dryer vent it can make your dryer less efficient and even cause a fire. You can hire a cleaning specialist, or do it yourself. Houzz provides some helpful DIY instructions as a part of their fall maintenance checklist.
Cozy up for cooler weather
What really makes a house a home is the cozy atmosphere you create for yourself and the people you love. Here are a few things we’ve found that do wonders for warming up the place.
1. Bring out the blankets. Nothing creates a sense of comfort like wrapping yourself in a blanket. So wherever you’ve been storing yours for summer, pull them out, give them a good shake (or wash them if necessary), and put them around the house for everyone to enjoy.
2. Go crazy with candlelight. Flickering flames can add an ephemeral glow and a touch of warmth to any room. There are lots of places to stock up on candles, even at a low price, just be wary of getting too many strong or conflicting scents. If you’re using a lot of flames at once, consider going with odorless beeswax candles. And always practice safe candle use. Never leave a candle burning when you're out of the room, and keep them safely away from flammable items like curtains and table linens.
3. Boost evening lighting. Have you heard of hygge yet? It seems to be following us everywhere, with 10 books published on the subject this year. Hygge (pronounced hue-guh) is the Danish art of living and decorating in a serene and simple way that fosters a general feeling of warmth and connection. Lighting is one key aspect of hygge. With increasing hours of darkness in the fall and winter, hygge experts say you want to focus on soft, warm lighting strategically placed in corners and pockets around the house.
4. Decorate the inside with the outside. When it gets too cold to enjoy being outside in nature, bring some of it inside. Try decorating with branches, leaves, pumpkins, pinecones … really anything seasonal you can find outside this time of year. Or, consider ways to up your indoor plant game and highlight furniture made of wood or stone. You might even replace synthetic items like plastic pots with a more natural material like clay.
5. Invite your friends and family over. With shorter days and cooler weather, many people suffer during the fall and winter from signs of mild depression or at least a general feeling of being disconnected from the world around them. Now that your home is ready for fall, invite some of your favorite people over to enjoy your new, cozy space.
Filed Under: For Homeowners