As the days start to get a bit shorter and other signs of autumn begin to appear, now is a great time to identify some key home maintenance tasks. Fall is the ideal time to tackle specific items since the weather is still relatively warm and mild. Most of these can be completed without too much difficulty, so make your list and grab your supplies. It will feel so good getting them done ahead of time, knowing how much you’ve accomplished before the rain and snow arrive.
1. Give your yard some love. Did you know fall is one of the best times for planting new trees and shrubs? Plus, many nurseries and garden centers are clearing out their summer inventory, so you can score some savings! It’s also the perfect time for pruning trees and bushes and planting spring bulbs (you’ll thank us for the reminder when cheery daffodils start to bloom after a long winter). Don’t forget about your lawn. Experts suggest aerating it in the fall and applying fertilizer two to three weeks before the final mow of the season. The last time you mow, cut your grass between 2 and 2 ½ inches. This protects it from snow mold, but it isn’t so short that it can be damaged by the colder weather. Finally, take care of those leaves before the wet weather arrives – it will be a lot easier while they are dry, and you’ll protect your lawn from damage.
2. Clear out gutters and downspouts. In the damp and chilly Pacific Northwest, no fall checklist would be complete without this one. You’ve probably ignored your gutters all summer, and they’re likely chock-full of leaves, branches, needles and other debris. Ignore them no longer! Locate a ladder, grab your gloves, safety goggles and a garbage bag and get to work. While you’re up there, inspect your gutters for damage. And don’t neglect the downspouts – even if the gutters look clear, debris could be stuck further down, which can prevent water from flowing easily, negating all your hard work.
3. Protect your deck. How’s your wood deck holding up? Wild temperature swings, sun, wind, rain and snow can all wreak havoc on that large exterior surface. Protect that investment by staining or resealing it while the temperatures are still mild. Most paints and stains are fussy about the temperature, which makes fall a Goldilocks time of year: not too hot, not too cold, but just right. While you’re at it, if you time it right, you can also get your outdoor furniture and grill or smoker ready for winter, whether that’s covering them or moving them to an interior storage location.
4. Drain and safeguard outdoor water systems. Frozen water is incredibly destructive. Save yourself some headaches and expense by taking appropriate steps to winterize your sprinkler system. Remove garden hoses from outside spigots, and make sure they are completely drained before you stow them away. Then insulate the faucets to protect them from frigid temperatures.
5. Don’t forget the birds. While you might be tempted to abandon your bird feeders once cooler weather arrives, that would be a mistake. Keeping your bird feeders stocked throughout fall and winter has a number of benefits. Migrating birds require a lot of energy for their long flights, and your backyard could become a welcome respite. For any resident flocks, their natural sources of food become less plentiful as summer comes to an end. You’ll be supporting them, too, helping to build their fat reserves to survive the colder temperatures. Before the colder weather closes in, clean, inspect and fill your feeders to keep your feathered friends healthy and thriving year-round.
6. Prevent drafts. The last thing you want once the temperature drops is a drafty home. Look for places where air may be escaping and patch them. Check doors and windows and locations where plumbing or electrical go through your walls, as these are all potential areas where air (and sometimes critters!) can come in. Invest in caulk, weather stripping and foam sealant to close the gaps, lower your heating bill and keep you warm all winter.
7. Swap out your furnace filter. After a long summer, especially if you’ve been running the AC, your furnace filter has likely gotten quite a workout. From pollen and dust to smoke and other particulates, there are a range of things your furnace filter stops from entering your home. And when it gets full, it can make your HVAC system less efficient. The fall is a great time to switch out that filter to a new one and then plan on checking it regularly. Depending on the type of filter you use and how many people and pets are in your home, you may find you need to change it every 2-3 months for best results. It’s also a good idea to have your HVAC system checked once a year by a professional, and fall is the perfect season for this.
8. Change the direction of your ceiling fan. It can be easy to forget about these hardworking fixtures in your home until you start noticing a draft. When you stop using AC or decide it’s time to start the furnace, you’ll want your ceiling fan turning clockwise (from left to right). This creates an updraft and helps circulate warm air trapped near the ceiling throughout your home. Be sure to set it to the lowest speed though; otherwise, you’ll feel a breeze, which will have the opposite effect. Every fan is slightly different, but most come with a direction switch on the motor housing. When in doubt, check your owner’s manual or consult the manufacturer's website. And while you have the ladder out, give those dusty fan blades a quick swipe!
9. Get your woodstove or fireplace ready. There’s nothing cozier than a woodburning fireplace or stove, especially once the days get shorter and colder. Before that time comes, inspect and clean the firebox to remove any leftover ashes or debris. Look for loose or cracked firebricks and consider hiring a professional if you find anything that needs fixing. Check the damper and make sure the flue doesn’t have any obstructions.
10. Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. And of course, before you start your first fire of the season, make sure your safety devices are working properly. You should be changing the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
annually. These critical detectors give you and your family an early warning if the unthinkable happens. Most of these devices have a test button you can use to gauge their effectiveness – if the test fails (i.e. no sound or weak sound),
change the batteries, clean the grates and try the test again. If it still doesn’t work as expected, replace the device immediately. You can also go beyond the test button and use real (or simulated) smoke to ensure your detector can actually
sense smoke – light a long stick match just below the detector or use canned smoke (available from your local hardware store).
Most of the items on this list are DIY and can be tackled in just a few hours. So, don’t put them off until the weather turns nasty. No one wants to face these chores, especially the outside ones, in bad weather. It’s much more pleasant to chip away at them throughout the late summer and early fall while there’s still plenty of daylight, sunshine and milder temperatures.
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