Many people will soon welcome relief from the hottest days of summer and are starting to look forward to the change in season. However, fall and spring are the seasons that require the most home maintenance because these are the most dramatic changes in weather. Procrastinators will wait until the rains are falling and the wind begins blowing before cleaning out the rain gutters. Homeowners that really value keeping a roof over their heads will clean the gutters a few times to keep them leaf-free during the fall months.
The basic fall maintenance checklist doesn’t change much from year to year. You’ll find a must-do list here: Fall Basic Home Maintenance Checklist. But if your home is a little older or you want to be more thorough, the following is a list of tasks you should consider.
Gutter guards. If you don’t want to clean the gutters several times each year, consider installing gutter guards to make the job a lot easier. You should still check at least once a year to be sure these are doing the job but it’s much safer going up a ladder using both hands just once to verify the guards are doing the job. As our population ages, this is a good option before you can’t safely climb a ladder any longer.
Take care of large jobs. The coming weeks of cooler weather without rain and before the days become shorter are good for larger jobs like painting the exterior. The low humidity, cooler (but not cold) temperatures, and dry siding are the best time of the year for exterior painting. Before applying new paint, inspect the siding for blistering, bubbling, or cracking paint. Pressure wash or scrape these areas before repainting to prevent rot and water intrusion. This is also the best time to inspect the caulking around doors, windows, and utilities.
Weatherstripping eventually dries out and shrinks on older homes. Most older houses don’t have expansion foam between door jams and the house frame. Gently prying off the trim around the door and spraying foam into the gap will stop winter drafts. Also, consider door sweeps if you don’t already have them.
Landscaping. Your lawn may be looking its best if you’ve been caring for it all summer or it may be brown, dry, and in need of serious care before winter. This is the time of year when grassroots are growing deeper and a suitable time to aerate before applying a slow-release winter fertilizer. Older homes mean more mature and well-established bushes and trees that need trimming. Although it’s best to trim trees and bushes in the spring during the growth phase, do it this time of the year anyway if these are close to powerlines, rooflines, or windows. This is also the time to divide or move perennials. Pull out the dead annuals and add mulch to protect wintering plants. If you have a sprinkler system, make sure it’s drained so that you don’t have to replace pipes or valves next spring.
Attic insulation in older homes settles, clumps, and contracts to leave gaps and uneven coverage. Recommended types and R-values for insulation have changed over the years. If you have an older house, you may want to consider adding to or replacing old insulation. Also, be sure attic insulation doesn’t cover vents in the eaves to prevent winter ice dams on the roof.
Keep critters out. As the weather cools, mice, squirrels, and other critters are going to be looking for a warm place to spend the winter. Check bird and rodent screens on attic vents to prevent any unwanted guests. Do the same with foundation ventilation.
Remove window A/C units. If you use window air conditioning units in the summer, remove them before the weather turns cold. If you must leave window A/C units in, cover the entire exterior of the unit with an insulating wrap to keep cold air out.
Do an energy audit. A trained professional will evaluate your home’s current energy efficiency and give you a list of recommended improvements to make. These may include upgrading to Energy Star appliances, adding insulation to the attic, or beefing up weather stripping. You can also find DIY energy audit instructions at Energy.gov.
Install a programmable thermostat. This may not be high on your list but if you’re improving energy efficiency each year, this may be the year for a modern thermostat. You can be perfectly comfortable all of the time while saving energy. Set it to turn down to 55 or 60 degrees during the workday and back to your preferred level a half hour before you normally get home from work. Same thing during the night while you’re in bed and under the covers. Be sure to keep your pets’ comfort in mind when you decide how low to set the temperature.
Inspect and protect utility systems. Don’t wait until a rainy Sunday afternoon is pouring an inch or more of water on your property to find out your sump pump is malfunctioning. Most have a test process to assure these are working correctly. A few moving parts may also need some oil or grease. If you have a septic tank in a freezing climate, you probably know you should check the septic tank blanket. Also, if the system leaks, the drain field can become soaked and freeze, causing a sewage catastrophe. Although it doesn’t happen often, the wastewater can back up into the basement causing extensive damage. Another uncommon and often overlooked utility is a heating system that uses hot water. Take a little time to drain the expansion tank, check the water pressure, and bleed your radiators.
Although it still feels like summer out there, colder winter temperatures will be here before you realize it. Now is the best time to take action so that your home is in good shape during the winter. Your best offense is a good defense.
What fall maintenance do you recommend for older homes? Please leave a comment.Also, our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions, inquiries, or article ideas to [email protected].