Fall is just around the corner: time to get your house in shape for the cooler months ahead. Although autumn can be one of the busiest seasons for homeowners preparing for winter, it’s also the best time to take advantage of the moderate weather to repair any damages before the first frost sets in. Here are some home maintenance ideas that will keep your home running in peak condition all winter long.
This guide walks through the checklist items to help you prepare your home for fall and later, winter weather. If you would like a printable checklist to help you mark items off your list and easily keep track of your progress, download it here!
Yard and Landscaping Fall Maintenance
Fall clean up takes up a bulk of the work for maintenance in this season - which is natural with all the plants moving into dormancy and shedding leaves. Fall is a great time to perform lawn and landscape maintenance as it is the natural period that trees, shrubs, and even grass are beginning to prepare for the cold winter, followed by a season of new growth. Pruning and fertilizing in the fall prepares plants for abundant fresh growth in the spring and reduces the chances of disease in the plant.
Tree and Shrub Care
Trim up any broken or low hanging branches and trim back overgrowth to size so your plants can bloom in good health in the spring. Be sure to limb up any tree branches that have gotten too close to the house to avoid breaking during a winter freeze. If you aren’t up to climbing ladders or would like a professional’s eye, consider hiring an arborist or landscape maintenance company to help out and get the job done right.
This is always more fun if there are kids or grandkids involved! This general yard clean up will help allow you to access the lawn for re-seeding sparse areas and fertilizer application. Fall is the best time to do this as the grass focuses on root formation to prepare for winter, instead of growth. A nice phosphorus fertilizer will help prepare your grass for green growth in the spring.
After most of the leaf fall has occurred, clean out your gutters and make sure there is no debris clogging them. You can test them by running water through the gutters and downspouts to identify any problem areas and make sure downspouts are functioning properly to move water away from your foundation. Water should not pool in the gutters or leak behind the gutter next to the house.
Check sidewalks, driveways, steps, and outdoor high traffic areas
Check all railings, steps, and boards to be sure they can support a fall or slip on ice this winter. This might mean applying non-slip tread in tricky areas. Fill any concrete cracks with filler and a cover with a commercial sealer.
Prepare for winter weather
Check the condition of your snow shovels and other winter maintenance equipment. Be sure you have a stash of ice melt and sand available.
Shut off faucets and sprinkler systems, store hoses
While this one might seem a bit early, forgetting or waiting too long and having that first freeze creep up on you is worse than being over-prepared! Frozen pipes and split hoses are not something you want to be dealing with. Check for proper pipe insulation while you are at it, particularly if you have had pipe-freezing issues in the past.
Home Exterior Fall Maintenance
It’s best to perform exterior home maintenance in the fall before cold weather, snow, and ice hit. Identifying problems early and getting on a repairman or contractor’s schedule is important as this is always a busy time of year for their business!
Seal locations where rodents could take refuge
It only takes a small gap or hole in the siding or around windows or doors for mice, snakes, and other unwanted guests to slip into your home. Fill holes or gaps with caulk, hardware cloth, or have the area correctly repaired to prevent further damage and uninvited pests.
Check for foundation cracks
These might be found where the stone or concrete meets the siding, near pipes and wires that extend outside of your home, and around window or door frames. These can be sealed with caulk, preventing mold growth and greater cracking from shrink and swell in the cold weather.
Examine your roof for missing shingles
If you spot any loose or missing shingles, be sure to replace them or hire a professional to do so. Your roof is a very important factor in keeping your home dry and protected against wet winter weather.
Check for drafts and add weatherstripping or caulk
Did you know heat loss through windows and doors makes up for 25-30% of heating energy lost? While your window and door materials can prevent a lot of this, checking for a tight seal makes a big difference. This can be done by running your hand around windows and doors to check for any air movement. An easy way to check for tight seals is to close windows and doors on a piece of paper. If you can pull it out easily with the door still closed, you need some weatherstripping or a repair to get a tight seal. You can also add sweeps to the base of doors to help keep drafts out. If you find a draft that weatherstripping isn’t helping, it may be a damaged or loose window or door frame. This is usually something that will take a bigger fix, such as having your frame adjusted or repaired.
Look for cracked or peeling paint and cracks in siding
Paint that isn’t holding up is a sign that your siding is in jeopardy. If this isn’t fixed, your siding will begin to deteriorate. Always take blemishes in paint on the exterior of your home very seriously, as this is often the first sign that you need to make some updates to keep your home protected.
Heating and Cooling Systems
Regular home upkeep can make a big impact on the energy costs for your home. Nearly half of all energy costs in your home are attributed to heating and cooling. Good insulation and properly sealed windows and doors can save up to 20% on your heating costs every year.
Remove window air conditioners
Make sure windows seal tight where window units were this summer. Because of the added weight, these window frames are more prone to potential damage.
Schedule a chimney cleaning and inspectionKeeping your chimney and fireplace in good condition will help you avoid dangerous situations such as smoke and carbon monoxide settling in your home. Be sure the flue works correctly and there are no critters or birds nests lingering in your chimney. A professional chimney sweep or inspector can take a look and be sure your chimney is clean and ready to help heat your home this winter.
Replace furnace filter
This should be done at least every three months but is extra important in the winter to help cut down on dust and allergens in the air, as well as keep your furnace at peak performance.
Have air ducts cleaned
Cleaned air ducts can improve efficiency and again, cut down on dust in the home.
Consider an energy audit
Energy audits are performed by trained professionals who can give you a list of recommended improvements for your home. You can also do an at-home audit by yourself, by using the tools available at Energy.gov.
Check fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, and carbon monoxide detectors
You will want to check your fire extinguisher’s expiration date and change batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. These are extra important when you start using your furnace more frequently or utilizing your fireplace.
Change the ceiling fan direction
A simple task, but easy to forget! You want your fan to create a draft upward that will redistribute warm air.
Make sure any vents in your attic are not blocked by insulation. Blocking your attic vents can create ice dams on the roof! Make sure all vents are free of any leaves or blockage and double-check any rodent screens to keep pests out.
For Later On….
And finally, some preparations for winter that you might not yet be ready to do! After all, it's important to enjoy the fall weather and continue to spend time outside before the real winter chill sets in.
Bring in outdoor furniture
Moving outdoor furniture inside keeps it in top condition and makes outdoor clean up from snow and ice much easier.
Consider having your home tested for Radon.
Radon levels can be toxic and should be checked by a professional. When the weather cools off and windows stay shut more as we move into winter, this is a good time to accurately check your home’s levels and address any problems.
Check out our Winter Home Maintenance blog to see other steps to take before winter weather!