We just returned from a visit to the Pacific Northwest. The cool autumn air and changing colors served as a reminder that fall is definitely on its way. So, friends to the north: it’s time to start on fall and winter home prep.
Imagine, on the coldest winter day, you get out of bed and realize you can see your breath. You check the thermostat, only to realize the furnace has stopped working.
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Talk about a nightmare!
We’ve all had a pipe burst, drafty windows or unwanted little visitors sneaking in to escape the winter cold. That’s why fall and winter home maintenance is so important. Letting it go until it’s too late can lead to bigger problems and big-time headaches down the road.
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So tackle this fall and winter home maintenance checklist now! The weather’s still nice so you have plenty of time. Taking one Saturday to run down this checklist of home and yard prep can stave off all sorts of winter emergencies.
1. Clean Gutters
Clean out leaves and debris from the gutters around the roof. This doesn’t take long but does require a ladder and usually a second set of hands. Go around the perimeter of your house and clear clogged gutters and piles. Look at trees and watch for nests and “friends” who might be living in your roof.
If you have awnings, you’ll want to clean them off as well and check to see if they’re in good repair. Watch for any areas where gutters are coming away from your house. With ice and heavy snow, small cracks and breaks get worse.
If you have caps on your gutters, check to ensure they’re properly fitted. You may want to run water in your gutter from your hose to make sure the flow is strong and clear. Check the downspout to see that it’s angled away from your home. If you worry about water hitting the foundation, you can purchase simple extenders that attach to the end of your downspout to point water flow away from your home. (You’ll thank yourself for when it’s rainy or snowy.)
2. Check Windows, Roofs & Doors
While you have your ladder out, inspect all windows. Take a good look at your roof and even check any shingles that look loose or raised. This project takes only a few minutes but it can really help stave off bigger problems once winter hits. If you have storm windows, change them out and remove screens from your windows for winter. Look at the molding around each window and the seal. If you suspect a leak, you can further inspect it from the inside of your home. One of the simplest methods is the “wet hand” test. Simply wet your hand and hold it a few inches from the edge around the window. If there’s a leak, you’ll feel air blowing on your hand. Use caulking to repair small leaks and keep windows sealed tight.
You may also want to inspect the kickplate and seal on your external doors. With summer sun and moisture these seals can rot and weaken, leaving gaps, cracks and leaks that will let in cold air. The good news is, addressing any issues now will save money down the road on your heating bill, too!
If you discover roof leaks and broken shingles, it may be necessary to call an expert in to assess any repairs needed. Don’t let fear of a costly roof or window repairs hold you back from calling in an expert! Many of these problems get much worse over time. A $200 repair now will be much better than a $5,000 fix later.
3. Inspect the Health of Your Basement
Walk the perimeter of your home and look at your foundation. You should also inspect your basement or cellar walls for any mildew, cracks or areas of concern. Basement leaks and moisture will typically appear as bubbling of paint or grey and darkened areas on the walls. As they progress, the area may turn green or black, and you may see cracks in the foundation (definitely time to call in someone who knows their stuff)!
Check out your sump pump and basement drains as well. I know it’s a little unpleasant, but give them a whiff. They might not smell great, but drains shouldn’t have a strong, sour or dirty odor. Also run some water down your basement drains to see how quickly it goes down. Again, a massive storm is a bad time to realize your sump pump is broken or your drain is clogged. Many drains get clogged by tree growth in the summer and your plumber can suggest a product you can use to run through the drains and clear the roots. Doing this regularly staves off flooding and backups.
If you suspect foundational issues, don’t panic. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of patching a crack with some plaster and adding a coat of anti-microbial/mildew paint. Other times it may have to do with the grade of your landscaping (which is also an easy fix—simply add more dirt once your plants have died back). It’s not always an expensive issue, but you should address it right away, as foundational problems can greatly devalue your home.
4. Get Heat Sources Ready for Winter
Early fall is a great time to beat the rush and have a heating specialist come out to look at your furnace. They should check the ducts to ensure they’re clear, as well as change your furnace filters. You can also change the filters yourself (and may want to, mid-season) but it’s best to have an expert give your entire furnace system an overview.
If you have ceiling fans, change the direction so they pull hot air up. This will keep the air in your house circulated more evenly. Check any space heaters to make sure they’re in great condition. A space heater isn’t an appliance to take a risk with!
If you have a fireplace, it’s time to get it serviced and have the flue cleaned. Get your chimney looked at yearly (more with frequent use) to keep it in good working order. Gas fireplaces should also be checked out annually as the ceramic logs can deteriorate and cause fire hazards.
5. Check Water Spouts, Sprinklers & Hoses
There’s nothing worse than a frozen pipe in the winter! When you’re ready to put your hose and sprinkler system away for the season (usually after you give your lawn the final trim). If you live in a colder region, take time to turn off your external faucets with the inside shut-off valve. This keeps water out of the pipe, where it could get cold and burst.
Remove all hoses from the faucets, wind them up and store in your garage or shed. Make sure they’re thoroughly dry and hung or stored off the ground to extend the life of your hose.
Shut down your sprinkler system and drain the pipes. Turn off your system using the main shutoff valve, which then needs to be insulated and protected. In very cold regions, you may also want to insulate and cover the spigot or faucet for your hose as well. Simple foam insulators can be picked up at home improvement stores for just a few dollars. You can also wrap them with insulation.
6. Clean Flower & Garden Beds
Clean up all flower beds. Pull out weeds and cut back any overgrowth or dormant perennials to prepare them for their winter nap. Keep your beds ready for hibernation.
It’s not an ideal time to prune bushes or trees as many of them aren’t in their growing phase and won’t be able to repair, making them vulnerable to frost and disease. You can, however, trim any plants and flowers back. Cut stalks down to ground level. Harvest any veggies you have left and pull up the remaining plants to add to your compost.
It’s time to pull up your annuals as well. Yes, some of them will simply fade and become mulched back into the ground, but it will help your spring garden start fresh and also prevent mold, mildew and pests. Little critters like to nestle and live in overgrowth and brush during the winter months, which puts them in close proximity to your house.
7. Clear Leaves & Brush
Clear any leaves, brush and piles from your yard, particularly around your foundation. If you’ve raked leaves, you can add them to your compost. Many neighborhoods also offer a fall pickup or drop off for yard waste, so check your town policy. Clear the pumpkins off your porch after Halloween and remove any cornstalks, hay and other fall decorations you might have out.
With ticks, spiders and other creepy crawlies, leaves and brush provide a perfect home. We all love autumn leaves of course, so rake them up and enjoy them, and then pack them up and get rid of them!
Some bushes and young trees may need protection from harsh winter temperatures. Consult with your local home improvement store or greenhouse. There are simple coverings you can purchase and special trunk protection to keep saplings strong during the cold months. This is usually only necessary in very cold areas.
8. Mow, Weed & Feed the Lawn
Give your lawn one last trim before you put away your mower for winter. A shorter lawn will be free from pests and won’t provide nests for mice and voles during the winter season. Be sure to empty the gas tank before you store your mower to extend its life.
If you fertilize your lawn, it’s best to do it before the first frost, but right at the end of the fall season. This can help your lawn recover from the wear and tear of summer. (Be sure to follow all instructions from your lawn and garden center.)
Keep your lawn cleared of leaves, sticks and logs, as well as any lawn furniture and decorations over the winter months. This can leave bare patches in the spring. Other than that, lawns are pretty low-maintenance over winter!
9. Brighten Up with Bulbs & Birds
Winter can be tough. The months get long and dark. Give yourself some cheer by keeping nature in your yard all year long! Plant bulbs now, so you’ll have flowers to look forward to and mark the first signs of spring. Tulips, daffodils and hyacinths can be planted in the fall and will bloom in the first months of the spring season.
Plant bulbs stem up/root down and evenly spaced. You can try fun looks like alternating colors or put in a cluster and be greeted with a spring rainbow! You can also plant bulbs in pots and store them in the garage or shed until late winter or early spring.
Another way to keep signs of life in your yard? Add a bird feeder! Birds can be really fun for kids to watch and enjoy. You can even learn what birds are native to your region and identify them when they come to feed in your yard. A simple bird feeder can be found at any lawn and garden store (or make your own birdfeeder)! It can bring so much enjoyment over the winter months.
10. Stock Up on Winter Supplies
Don’t be left in the cold! Stock up on ice melt, antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid and other winter supplies now, so you don’t have to worry when the weather is cold. Take a look at your snow shovels and snow blower. Are all your tools in good working order?
Make sure you have an ice scraper in your car and extra supplies you might need. It’s not a bad idea to keep kitty litter, salt, or extra ice melt in your trunk in case you get stuck somewhere. It’s also a good time to take your car in for a winter update to check out your tires, filters and battery. Store a shovel in your car, a flashlight, road flares, and a small emergency kit with a blanket and handwarmers.
Watch for sales on winter items you need. Many home improvement stores and lawn and garden centers run specials on winter supplies. It’s better to stock up now than be left empty handed in an icy situation.
Preparing your yard and home for winter doesn’t have to be a big stressful job. In just a weekend, your home and yard are tucked away, freeing you up to focus on the joys of autumn and winter! Fall is a great time for sipping a pumpkin spice latte, trick or treating, and preparing for the upcoming holidays. Free yourself up to enjoy the season by taking time now to be prepared for any home and yard issues that could derail your fun!