For homeowners, fall isn’t just the start of the cold season. It also means preparing the house for the winter months ahead. Such advance preparation is even more important this year, as forecasts project that winter will be particularly colder than usual this year.
To help prep your home, here are some practical maintenance tips you can do for autumn.
Fall yard cleanup
The lawn is the most visible part of your house, so a little preparation is in order to help it keep it healthy for the coming winter season.
- Clear the mountain of dead leaves that’s sure to accumulate.
- Remove excess thatch, which can prevent water, air and nutrients from seeping into the soil when they reach ½ inches thick.
- Along with dethatching, aerate the compacted soil.
- Depending on your lawn turf, mow slightly shorter than normal and decrease the height gradually to prepare the grass for winter fungal diseases.
- For cool season grass, fall is ideal for repairing bare spots or overseeding thin areas.
- For warm season grass, cool season weeds are easier to target in the fall since the lawn itself will gradually grow dormant.
Before the onset of heavy snow, it’s crucial to check that your roof, eaves and awnings will be able to handle it.
- Clear out those gutters and drainages, and make sure the gutter spikes that hold them to the fascia board are straight and secure.
- Check gutter spouts for accumulated debris like wet leaves. A plumber’s snake is great for unclogging blocked downspouts.
- Have your chimney cleaned, especially if you use green or wet logs for the fireplace. A nickel-thick buildup of soot calls for a chimney sweep.
- Inspect the roof flashing for damages. Flashing seals the spaces between the roof joints and keeps water out, and can get corroded over time. Roofing cement can be used to repair small cracks, but larger damages may need a new flashing section.
- Check the shingles for worn or broken tiles. Both wood and asphalt shingles can warp or curl over time.
- Trim trees that surround or overhang the roof to prevent winter hazards.
Wall, window and garage preparation
- Check the integrity of your windows, and repair or replace cracked panes as necessary.
- Inspect the weatherstripping for worn or deformed rubber.
- Keep window wells clean and clear to avoid broken windows and a wet basement.
- If you store latex or acrylic paint in the garage, move them inside the house since low temperatures will ruin their quality. The same goes for latex caulk.
- Do not paint walls in the cold season, since it can’t dry properly and will easily come off when touched.
- Examine the garage door’s drive track, seals and weatherstripping. Lubricate moving parts as necessary, and replace cracked or worn weatherstripping to avoid heat loss.
Heating and Cooling
Your heaters and furnace will soon get a workout, so get them ready for the load.
- Clean out the vents and change the filter. With everyone cooped up inside for the season, it won’t do to have dirty air recirculating around the house.
- Dust off the coils and blower motor. Less than an inch of dust buildup can cause a 10% loss of efficiency, leading to higher utility bills and premature wear.
- Clean the outdoor unit of dirt, dust and yard debris.
- Check the condensate drain lines for clogging or buildup.
- Test the accuracy of your thermostat. For programmable thermostats, make sure the setting reflects the change in weather conditions.
Also check our Furnace Safety Tips to make sure your family stays safe this season.
- Clear creosote buildup
- Inspect the damper
- Remove air tubes for a thorough cleaning before use.
- Vacuum and wipe down the firebox and glass doors
- Inspect the gas burner for rust or dents
- Use a soft brush to gently remove soot from the burner. Avoid using abrasives that could damage it.
- Check the pilot, valves and fittings for damages and replace as needed.
- Wipe down the heater surface and interior areas with a soft cloth.
- Vacuum the fan blades and grill, and make sure the blades rotate freely.
- Use a soft non-abrasive cloth to clean smudges and watermarks from the glass.
For more fireplace cleaning tips, check out our Fireplace Maintenance entry.
The cold season is showtime for your trusty water heater, whether it’s a centralized tank or smaller POU heaters.
- Test the TPR (temperature pressure release) valve, located on the side or top of tank. This valve should open if the tank pressure gets too high.
- Clear out the tank in preparation for heavy use. Drain the water, then briefly open the cold water supply valve to stir up the sediment at the bottom so it can be strained or drained.
- If you live in an area with hard water, flush your water heater more frequently to avoid limescale deposits and sediment buildup.
- Descale the unit using a flush kit or vinegar.
For more information, see our Water Heater Maintenance Guide.
More time spent indoors means higher emphasis on air quality, so make sure your air purifier is up to the task.
- Check the filters. Some are washable, while others are disposable and may need to be replaced.
- HEPA and carbon filters are designed to be replaced. Do not wash or vacuum them.
- Clear the vents of accumulated dust and debris.
- Make sure the unit is free of obstructions such as household items, furniture and other appliances.
Humidifiers help prevent dry air in winter and their associated skin and respiratory problems, so keep yours in tiptop shape.
- Check that it’s properly leveled, sealed and unobstructed.
- Clean the reservoir of mineral deposits and sediment.
- Inspect the water panels for clogging and debris, so the motor won’t be overstressed.
- Make sure the humidistat is working properly before prolonged use.
- For portable humidifiers, examine the wick before each use.
With windows closed and furnaces on, fall is optimal for checking that your smoke and CO detectors are working properly. Smoke detectors are usually good for 10 years, while CO detectors should be replaced every 5-6 years.