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Early and Thorough Fall DIY Home Maintenance

By Brian Kline | September 4, 2019

Fall is one of the busier seasons of the year for home maintenance. Spring should also be a busy season but if you don’t get those chores done the consequences are not having a vegetable garden and healthy lawn – not as severe of issues as neglecting fall chorus can be. 

Home Improvement

You should be planning and beginning to winterize your garden and yard but you’re still harvesting your garden bounty so those tasks can be put off for a few more weeks. Northern climates need to be thinking about the coming rains and soon turning the furnace back on for the coming chilly mornings. That means the dread chore of cleaning rain gutters as well as other maintenance related to turning the heat back on.

Personally, I spent a few hours over the Labor Day Holiday splitting and stacking the last of my winter firewood. Those who use some wood heat know this is the time of year to make sure firewood is covered to keep it dry from rain and snow.

Smoke and CO detectors need to be checked and have batteries replaced. With your furnace and fireplace about to be fired up after several months, changing batteries and checking these two safety devises needs to be done first.

Clean the chimney and fireplace. This involves both exterior and interior maintenance. If you are comfortable working on the roof, you can purchase inexpensive chimney brushes to clean the soot and creosote that builds up inside the chimney. Otherwise, you may hire a chimney sweep professional to do the cleaning. From the outside, also check, seal, and repair any loose brick mortar as needed. Masonry chimneys are capped with a mortar ‘crown’ to prevent water from getting behind the bricks alongside the flue and into the house. Sealing the chimney crown with crown sealer (a flexible elastomeric coating) is the best way to stop existing cracks from spreading and prevent new ones. You also want to apply a water repellent to the bricks and mortar. Inside your home, examine your wood stove or fireplace insert door gasket for a tight seal. Also clean and inspect the glass door for cracks. It’s also a good idea to inspect the bricks on the inside of the fireplace and if you have a brick lined wood burning stove.

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 58 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.

Replace your furnace filter. This is the least expensive and easiest thing you can do for the efficiency of your furnace system. Do this before turning on the furnace. It’s also the time to read the service manual again. If you don’t have your copy, you can look it online using the manufacturers name and model number.

Maintain hot water radiators. Near the top of radiators, you’ll find a small valve to bleed out trapped air. Depending on your radiator, you’ll need a radiator key, a flat screwdriver, or socket. With a small container to catch dripping water, slowly turn the valve counter-clockwise until water starts dripping. This releases the trapped air and lets hot water into the cold fins. This also a good time to give the fins a good cleaning so they efficiently and equally radiate the heat.

Last chance to paint the exterior. These few 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 sun dried siding make this the right time for exterior painting. Before applying new paint, inspect the siding for blistering, bubbling, or cracking paint. Pressure wash or scrape damaged areas before repainting to prevent rot and water intrusion. Before painting is also the time to inspect caulking around doors, windows, and utilities.

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 place, cover the entire exterior of the unit with an insulating wrap to keep cold air out. You also want to weather strip around the A/C opening.

Weather stripping 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 stops winter drafts. Also, consider door sweeps if you don’t already have them.

Attic insulation. 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 home, 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 for attic vents to prevent any unwanted guests.

Do an energy audit. A trained professional will evaluate your home’s current energy efficiency and give you a list of recommended improvements. 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

Inspect and protect utility systems. Don’t wait until a rainy Sunday afternoon is pouring an inch or more water on your property to discover 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 has leaks, the drain field can become soaked and freeze, causing a sewage catastrophe. When this happens, a Drainfield Restoration company must be called in immediately before the wastewater can back up into the basement and cause extensive damage.

Inspect your roof. What you are looking for is minor damage such as missing, broken, cracked, or curling shingles, as well as bare spots where the granular coating has worn off. You can apply roofing cement that comes in easy to use caulking tubes to seal minor cracks and holes and glue down curled shingles. For bigger jobs, you may need to call in a roofing repair professional. You’re best off making repairs as soon as found to prevent them from becoming much more expensive and dire during the winter. While you’re on the roof, check drain/plumbing vents and anything else exiting your home through the roof. 

And the rain gutters. You should plan to clean your rain gutters several times during the fall as leafs start falling and early winds blow down weak tree branches. Always make sure your ladder is in good repair and properly placed before climbing up. Also take care not to lean away from the ladder to the point your body weight shifts to risk a fall. Check and repair any ice or tree debris damage. A flat kitchen spatula makes a good tool to scrape the gunk from the bottom of the gutters. A plumber’s snake works well to clean out downspouts.

Although it stills feels like summer, colder winter temperatures will be here before you realize it. Fall can be a busy time for a wise homeowner. Now is the best time to take action so that your home is in good shape all winter. Your best offense is a good defense.

What fall maintenance do you recommend for older and newer 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].

Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 30 years and writing about real estate investing for seven years with articles listed on Yahoo Finance, Benzinga, and uRBN. Brian is a regular contributor at Realty Biz News
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