Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.
With fall in the air, your thoughts may turn to what needs to be done to your home before winter sets in. Many tasks are done much more easily while the weather is still nice.
Plus, taking care of routine maintenance tasks now can save you aggravation and money down the road.
“If you don’t do these things and you end up having to do repairs, it can cost so much more later,” says Leah Ingram, an author and frugal living expert.
She recalls that one year she didn’t have leaves removed from the roof of her New Jersey home, which would have cost about $300 for a professional crew to complete the job. The result was an ice dam on the roof that caused $3,000 in damage from water leaking inside the house.
Many fall maintenance routines are designed to prevent water damage and guard homeowners from safety hazards, especially from fires. “Water is a homeowner’s worst enemy,” Ingram says. “People don’t think about the kind of damage it can do.”
The use of fireplaces, candles and space heaters, all more common in winter, can be a fire hazard if you don’t keep up with routine safety measures. “Unfortunately, house fires are fairly common in the winter months,” says Anne Reagan, editor-in-chief of Porch.com, which publishes advice for homeowners and matches them with professionals who do home repairs and maintenance tasks.
While homeowners can do some routine tasks themselves, others such as inspecting chimneys and repairing roofs are best left to professionals. HomeAdvisor, which matches homeowners with contractors, publishes a True Cost Guide of how much homeowners pay for various jobs.
As cold weather approaches, it may get harder to get appointments, and you may also be less inclined to go outside and work, making it crucial to plan ahead and knock out projects in fall.
“The fall is a really busy time usually for homeowners,” Reagan says. “It’s when we start preparing for winter. When it’s really cold and wet outside, you don’t want to do those things you need to do.”
Even if you live in an area where snow and ice aren’t likely, fall is still a good time to catch up with routine maintenance. Water and falling branches can cause equally expensive damage in the tropics as it does in the snowbelt.
Here are several fall home maintenance tasks to tackle now.
1. Clean gutters and downspouts
Leaves and debris gather in gutters, which can result in ice dams and other water damage when snow falls and then melts, or during rainstorms. This is an easy task to do yourself if you can climb a ladder safely.
2. To rake or not to rake?
Raking leaves is one of the most controversial topics in homeownership. If you can chop the leaves into smaller pieces while mowing, they can be beneficial for your lawn, experts say. But if it looks like your lawn is being smothered, the leaves won’t help provide fertilizer. “It’s actually helping fungus and mold build-up, which can kill your lawn,” Ingram says.
If you do rake your leaves, you can stay green even if your trees aren’t. Use leaves as mulch instead of putting them out in bags on garbage day. You’ll help save the planet, save time on weeding and save money on mulch.
3. Repair any damage to your roof
“Anywhere you had shingle damage, that needs to be fixed and replaced,” says J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman, which franchises handyman services nationwide. If water can get under your shingles, it can get into your home and cause damage.
4. Clean your chimney
Have a chimney sweep come in every year to check your fireplace for safety and clean out the remains of last year’s fires. “If you use your fireplace regularly with wood, you’ve got to get that soot out of there,” Ingram says. You also want to make sure that the cover to your chimney is intact and that birds or other critters haven’t chosen to move in, Sassano says.
5. Check smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors
It’s smart to test the devices and replace the batteries every six months, making this a chore for fall and spring. Also, make sure you have enough fire extinguishers and that they are in the right place.
6. Change filters in heating and air conditioning units
Most forced-air systems work better when the filters are clean. While some filters are advertised to last several months, people with pets or old houses with a lot of dust should change filters monthly.
7. Caulk around the windows
Cold air can easily enter your house around the windows. Caulking wears out after a few years. This is a chore many homeowners can do themselves for less than $20.
8. Repair, add or replace weatherstripping
Good weatherstripping on exterior doors can save energy and help you feel more comfortable in winter. If you can see light from the outside coming in around your doors, it’s time for repairs. Check out other home improvements that will save on your heating bill.
9. Wrap exposed pipes
Pipes in exterior walls or outside can easily freeze during the winter, and wrapping them makes that less likely. “There’s nothing more costly than having a pipe burst in your house,” Sassano says. Even in climates where freezes are rare, wrapping exterior pipes in the fall is a good idea. Ask all the Texans who were caught off guard in the unprecedented winter storm of 2021.
10. Shut down and drain sprinkler systems
In addition to shutting off and draining any sprinkler systems in your yard, you also want to turn off and drain exterior spigots. And don’t forget to drain and bring in hoses.
11. Aerate your lawn
By using a machine to poke holes in your lawn and topsoil, you help air and water get to the roots. This is best done when the lawn is wet. The process helps it grow back next season. “When it snows and the snow starts to melt, the aerated areas help the water get to the root system of your lawn,” Ingram says.
12. Trim trees
Proper trimming keeps trees healthy, and you should hire someone for the job who knows what he or she is doing. In cold climates, you want to keep weak branches that may become weighed down with snow from falling on your house or car. In warmer climates, you want to avoid wind damage.
13. Change the direction of ceiling fans
Fans are set to run counterclockwise in summer, which creates a cool breeze under the fan. But they should run clockwise in winter. “Heat tends to rise, and you don’t want to waste it up at the ceiling level,” Sassano says. “You want to bring it back down to where the people are.”
14. Inventory your snow equipment
Make sure your shovels are in good repair, your snow blower is tuned up, and you have sand and salt on hand. “It’s really just easier to get them now before the stores sell out,” Reagan says.
15. Clean and put away your summer equipment
Now that the warm weather is gone, there’s no need for your lawn furniture, barbecue grill and water toys to be out. “It just makes your springtime so much easier,” Reagan says.
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