What's on your autumn to-do list? These are the chores and tasks pros recommend before temperatures drop.
Summer may be peak home improvement season, but as this comprehensive fall home maintenance schedule suggests, autumn is king when it comes to maintaining your home. Some of the easiest fall chores can save you big dollars on your energy bills — not to mention prevent major potential problems — this winter, if you complete the tasks on our fall home maintenance checklist below.
Angie's List contacted highly rated service providers to put together a fall home maintenance checklist with the most important fall chores for homeowners. Here's what they say should be on your fall to-do list for your home:
Fall Maintenance Guide
Download the Angie's List Fall Maintenance Guide for tips on preparing and caring for your yard, car and home this autumn.
1. Seal drafts and add insulation
• Caulk, seal and weather strip: Pay special attention to drafts around windows or doors, especially if you haven't installed new energy efficient windows. Here's a simple way to detect air leaks that can cost you money: Hold a lit stick of incense or a candle and go around the perimeter of windows and door. Drafts will pull the smoke in their direction, making it easier to determine where the cold air is seeping in. Add or replace worn weather stripping or caulk in those spots.
• Measure your insulation: Look in your attic. If you see exposed joists, you should add more insulation. The amount of insulation you need depends on where you live — the colder the climate, the more insulation you should have.
• Audit energy waste: Want to really improve your home's energy efficiency. Consider scheduling a professional energy audit for a comprehensive look at air leaks and insufficient insulation, which wastes energy.:00
• Schedule fall HVAC maintenance: The majority of emergency service calls answered by heating specialists result from improper maintenance. Schedule an appointment for a fall furnace inspection and tune-up to help avoid a breakdown in the middle of a freeze.
• Replace furnace filters: The changing season is also the perfect time to check and change dirty furnace filters. Clean filters make your HVAC system run more efficiently, so it distributes heat better and cuts your energy costs. Plus, it’s an inexpensive and easy task.
3. Protect your plumbing
• Insulate water lines: Look at your plumbing pipes and water lines — especially those on exterior walls — and make sure they're insulated to avoid frozen pipes and leaks this winter. Cleaning all lines can help remove clogs that cause backups, which can freeze, then cause the weakening of pipes and bursting. Wrap your pipes with insulation designed for plumbing. In many situations, insulation will be all you need to protect your pipes.
• Drain your water heater: You can improve your water heater’s efficiency by as much as 50 percent by draining sediment buildup from the water heater holding tank. So while you're checking your plumbing, drain and flush your water heater to make it last longer and work more efficiently.
• Remove and drain outside hoses: Before the first freeze, you should detach outdoor hoses, drain any standing water and store them inside. Be sure to drain your outdoor faucets and close the interior shut-off valves to the hose bibs or spigots to help prevent frozen pipes over the winter.
Allowing leaves to gather and sit on your roof and gutters can lead to clogs and ice dams during the winter. (Photo by Steve C. Mitchell)
4. Check your gutters, roof and chimney
• Clean your gutters: Dead leaves, the hallmark of autumn, can quickly accumulate and lead to blocked gutters. Those dead leaves and other muck can lead to backups that cause water damage or even contribute to an ice dam this winter. You can hire a professional for gutter cleaning, or get up on a ladder and clean the gutters yourself. Even if gutters aren't clogged at the start of fall, check again after the leaves have fallen.
• Inspect the roof: While you're looking up, perform a visual roof inspection. Make sure your shingles are in good condition, that none are missing and that they’re properly attached. Look for any dips or sags, which may indicate a problem with the wood underneath your roof shingles. If the roof is more than 20 years old, you may want to schedule an inspection with a roofing contractor.
• Schedule a chimney sweep: Creosote buildup can lead to a chimney fire, so get your chimney and fireplace cleaned before you put it back into use this winter. You should have your chimney inspected at least once a year, and more often if you use it regularly.
5. Wrap up seasonal lawn care
• Remove dead leaves: Fallen leaves can also accumulate and get wet, leading to mold growth and a breeding ground for pests. Dead leaves will also deprive your grass of crucial sunlight. So, rake, mow or use a leaf-blower to collect and bag or compost the leaves before the first snowfall.
• Finish fall lawn care: If you want a green lawn next spring, do the prep work now. In the fall, you want to aerate and fertilize your lawn, as well as pull weeds and put down weed preventive. Depending on the type of grass, you may need to fertilize twice this season — at the beginning and end of fall. If you have damaged sections or bare patches, lay down new grass seed now. And as the growing season wanes, cut your grass higher, leaving your lawn at a height of about 3 inches over winter.
• Pack away lawn equipment properly: Drain all gasoline containers, including lawn mowers and other gasoline-powered tools. Clean your garden tools and lawn equipment before hanging it up for the season. Don't forget end-of-season lawn mower maintenance, which includes cleaning and an oil change.
6. Take stock of your garage
• Inspect your garage door: You probably won’t think much about your garage door this winter — unless the garage door freezes — but fall is a good time to have your garage door inspected before the cold weather hits. A garage door inspection should include adjusting springs and cables; lubricating moving parts; tightening hardware, track and hinges; and inspecting the safety sensors and opener gears.
• Remove items that can freeze: Properly discard or store paint, caulk or adhesives in a heated area to prevent them from freezing. Call your local hazardous material removal service for instructions on disposing of paint or other products that could be toxic.
• Get out the winter gear: The best time to get out the snow shovels and make sure you've got ice melt is before there's a run at the hardware store during a storm. Make sure you know where your winter gear is before the first winter storm.
7. Clear your deck and store outdoor furniture
• Put away patio furniture: Once temperatures dip, close your deck or patio for the season. It's best to keep outdoor furniture — especially cushions, umbrellas and other fabrics or metals — out of the elements, preferably in a closed garage or shed. This will help prevent rust and damage from freezing. It's a good idea also to clean your patio furniture before storing. If you store your outdoor furniture inside for the winter, as recommended, allow for some airflow; encasing furniture tightly in plastic could lead to moisture damage.
• Clean the deck: Fall is ideal to complete a deck safety inspection and repairs, since deck companies won't be as busy. Look for missing or rusted bolts, boards that need to be replaced and signs of rot, which may worsen over a long, wet winter. While you're out there, clean off the fallen leaves and other debris, which can hold moisture against the boards and create a slick surface under snow.
8. Complete a safety check, inside and out
• Review outdoor lighting: With dark days ahead, exterior lighting is crucial for home security and your safety. Not only can security lights help deter criminals, but path lights can spotlight any potential hazards before your family or guests stumble in the dark. If your yard isn't well lit, you may want to contact an electrician or outdoor lighting company for an estimate before the ground becomes too hard to install new outdoor lighting this year.
• Replace burnt out bulbs: Check all of your outdoor bulbs and fixtures and consider using solar timers to turn outdoor lights on at dusk and off in the morning.
• Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors: Common advice is to test smoke and CO detectors when you set your clocks to "Fall Back" and "Spring Forward." We recommend doing it before your furnace kicks on for the first time this season. Make sure the detectors are all working as expected and replace any batteries in units that aren't hardwired to your home. Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that can be deadly at high levels, and while CO is dangerous any time of year, it's especially of concern in the winter when windows and doors are shut while gas furnaces and fireplaces are on.
9. Schedule a car inspection
• Get a complete car inspection: Summer travel can take a toll on your car, so it's a good idea to get a complete car inspection in fall — even if you don't suspect a problem. Scheduling a vehicle safety check with your mechanic gives you confidence the car will be in good working order throughout the long winter months.
• Pack an emergency car kit: Fall is also a good time to prepare for the unexpected and pack your trunk with an emergency kit. If you have a kit, review its contents and replace anything expired or broken. At a minimum, you should pack jumper cables, a working flashlight, basic tools, a first-aid kit, blankets, water and non-perishable snacks, and a properly inflated spare tire, plus a jack.