The Complete Homeowner’s Guide to Fall Maintenance

It’s mid-September and that can only mean one thing:  Fall will soon be upon us. But not to worry, Frederick Fence has the best fall home maintenance schedule.

As we head into that amazing period where the leaves change colors, the days grow shorter and we spend less time outdoors, it’s also a time where homeowners need to prepare for fall home maintenance and get their yards and their homes ready for cold weather, snow and rain.

Below we present our Complete Homeowner’s fall home maintenance schedule, a list of Fall home maintenance tips for both your outdoor and indoor areas. Instead of trying to fit all your preparation into one bright and sunny weekend, I suggest dividing these essential tactics over several weekends so that by the time the realities of a cold and bitter winter set in, you are ready to relax and enjoy the time indoors without worry or hassle.

Outdoor Maintenance Tips

When preparing for winter, it’s best to start outdoors since you have no control over what nature intends to do.  I hear a lot of homeowners say “I’ll wait for the perfect warm and dry weekend to get my yard ready” and then live to regret that statement as warm and dry don’t often meet once we get into the latter half of October through December.  While the elements are still somewhat in your favor, here are some Fall home maintenance tips to consider for the external areas of your property, that are great to include in your fall home maintenance schedule:

Check your roof and gutters

Just because you can’t necessarily see what’s going on well above your head is no reason to think that all is well.  Having a secure roof and clean gutters makes quite a difference in protecting you from the elements.  True, sometimes strong winds can come along and create a lot of damage to your home, but most of the time you can avoid costly repair work by making sure your roof and gutters are free from issues.

For your roof, you don’t need to necessarily climb up onto it to see what’s going on.  A good pair of binoculars helps you see if there’s a problem on top of your home.  Check to make sure all your shingles are either intact or examine them for any curls, cracks and other damages.  Be sure to scan as much of the area around vents and chimneys to ensure the seals are holding up as any small breaks can lead to major leaks—especially if we happen to have a cold and wet winter season that lasts until spring.

For your gutters, you need to make sure that they are free from blockage.  A clogged gutter not only can lead to damaged exterior surfaces, it can also force water into your basement area.  Over time. Gutters are also prone to rust and corrosion.

One of the best investments you can make is to have a repair person check the top of your home for any potential issues.  After all, it’s cheaper to replace a few shingles or put mesh on a gutter than having to replace the roof or resurface your basement!

Lead water away from you home

If the area around your gutter’s downspout is prone to build-up, adding an extension to lead water at least 3 to 5 feet away from the foundation means you don’t need to worry as much about a damp basement.  You can often buy these extensions at your local home improvement store.  If you find that this is truly a troublesome area and you’re not sure how best to handle the situation, there are also local service providers who can assess how best to protect your property from significant water damage.

Turn off your water faucets

During severe winters, water in pipes can easily freeze, which causes pipes to burst when the ice expands.  Be sure to detach all your outdoor hoses from your faucets and drain the water as best as you can.  As an added safety precaution, turn off the valve inside your home—an important thing to do if you don’t know whether or not you have frost-proof faucets.  I can’t stress enough the notion of better safe than sorry when it means preparing for winter!

In addition to draining water from your faucets, make sure to check your external water fountains and drain them as best as you can.  If waters sits in them and frees up, the ice can punch holes in fountains when it expands, meaning your fountain will no longer work in spring.  Check your owner’s manual to see what the recommended actions are for winterizing your fountain.

Check your walkways and driveway for cracks

Small cracks, especially those more than 1/8 inch wide, can spell trouble if we have a particularly icy winter.  You also want to check for uneven sections in the concrete, loose railing on your steps or any washed-out areas.  It can mean the difference between paying for minor repairs versus extensive damage if nature decides it’s time to rough up our area with a bitter and icy winter.  A lot of these repairs you can easily do yourself; call in the professionals when you’re not sure what to do!

Prepare your lawn and garden for winter

Did you know it’s better to mow your leaves instead of raking them?  That’s what the experts say at Michigan State University!  According to these studies, cutting your leaves into small pieces means great nourishment for your lawn as they start to decompose during the winter season.  Depending upon the type of mower you own, you can also use a mulching blade to get the right cut to feed your lawn in winter.

Most homeowners make the mistake of pruning their plants once all the leaves fall; however, most horticulturists will tell you the best time to prune is late winter just before they are ready to commence with their spring growth.  According to WTOP’s Garden Guru, Mike McGrath, pruning some plants and trees in fall can trigger a growth spurt that interferes with them going dormant during winter and makes them vulnerable during the winter season.  For some in-depth tips regarding your lawn and garden, you should check out his Garden Plot column.

One last thing you need to do as fall home maintenance, is to prepare for stowing your mower during winter- be sure to add this to the home maintenance schedule. Whether it’s a manual, electric or gas mower, you should store it in a dry, protected place to prolong its use.  To preserve your gas mower, make sure you either run the equipment dry of fuel or use fuel stabilizer in a full tank of fuel to keep it fresh and prevent moisture from forming in the tank, which forms rust that breaks away and can clog your carburetor.  To fully protect your mower, check the owner’s manual for storage tips.

Stain your deck and fence

Choosing a high quality deck stain will help shield your wood deck from the sun’s ultraviolet rays while also waterproofing the wood so that it repels water. Staining your deck will help keep it in excellent condition so you can enjoy it when Spring rolls around. Typically the same stain or sealer you use for your deck can be used to protect your custom wood fence too.

Indoor Maintenance Tips

Many homeowners assume that as long as the house looks fine that there’s not much to do to prepare for winter when, in truth, there are quite a few things you need to do to make sure that you’re fully prepared to manage severe cold and wet conditions that winter can bring.

Check your heating system every year

Regardless of the age of your home, it’s a good idea to have your heating system inspected by a professional each year.  This is a small investment—often between $80 and $100—that can save you from thousands of dollars of repairs at a time where you don’t want to be without heat.

Over time and after prolonged periods of use, belts connected to the blower motor can get worn or damaged, your burners may require a slight adjustment or your thermostat could start to falter.  An inspection just before the elements go colder helps ensure you remain safe and warm inside your home.  The last thing you want is to lose your heat with blizzard-like conditions outside to where your local repairman has no way of getting to your property!

One of the main things you can do all year round is regularly change your furnace’s filter.  Filters clean the air headed into the furnace and sends the heated air back into your house.  A dirty or clogged filter limits the airflow, eventually causing heat and pressure to build up in the furnace.  This also means that it’s harder to keep your home warm during the colder months, causing you to run the system constantly, which results in larger utility bills.

I suggest changing your filter regularly, even during the cooler months.  I typically buy six months’ worth of filters all at once and then create a task item in my Outlook that reminds me when to change my filter.  This is a simple but effective way to stay on top of your heating system to make sure it’s working when you really need it.  In fact, with so many apps available to you on your computer or phone, it’s a good idea to schedule routine maintenance tasks for all aspects of managing your home (and your anniversary date!) so you never forget an important item that can save you lots of hassle and money!

Check your sump pump

Most sump pumps last about ten years, but after a long dry season, it’s a good idea to check it out to make sure it’s working properly.  All you need to do is slowly pour several gallons of water into the sump pit to make sure the pump turns on.  Again, check your owner’s manual for instructions for testing and maintenance.

Inspect your fireplace and chimney

Checking your fireplace and chimney is extremely important—not only for your personal safety, but also for making sure that it’s ready to handle the frequent use that a strong winter can bring on.  Having a professional chimney sweep periodically inspect and clean out creosote, a flammable by-product of burning wood—can save you from a horrible fire mishap in your home at a time when you want to be safe and warm.

Seal your home to keep warm air inside

One of the things you need to do every year is check your doorframes and windows for any gaps.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, gaps in caulk and weather stripping can account for 10% of your heating bills.   Reapplying caulk and weather stripping your home is relatively easy to do.  Weather-stripping is a highly cost-effective way of managing both your heating and cooling costs.  Just remember that weather stripping does deteriorate over time, so you need to inspect it each year to make sure it’s in good working order.

Another thing you can do to keep the heat in is to buy window insulation kits, which include plastic shrink film that you apply to the indoor window frame to keep the air in your home.  The plastic film is easy to install—all you do is create a border in the frame with double-stick tape, attach the film to the border and then heat it with a hair dryer to shrink the film and remove any wrinkles.  Some folks don’t like the “shrink wrap” visual that the film creates, but it is a highly inexpensive way to keep the warm air inside your home.

Fall’s a great time to check the insulation in your attic as well.  A well-insulated attic offers significant savings and can help keep the top portion of your house warm during brutally cold winters.  The U.S. Department of Energy offers some great insulation tips.  You can often rent equipment to add insulation to your attic; however, some materials are tricky to work with so here’s another place where it’s advisable to call in a professional to get the job done.

Be shovel ready

When do most people run to Lowe’s or Home Depot to buy a shovel or ice scraper?  Typically, it’s when they hear there’s snow brewing the day before, which means the stores often sell out of necessary supplies to deal with the elements.  Fall is a great time to stock up on salt, ice melt, shovels, or even a snow blower.  Waiting until the night before a snowstorm means that you and a majority of your fellow neighbors will be competing for limited supplies!  And if you don’t have a shovel or cannot handle moving heavy amounts of snow, then my best advice is to have some cash on hand to pay the nearest teenager to shovel your walkway or driveway for you.

Reverse the ceiling fans

Most ceiling fans come with a reverse switch, meaning the blades run in a clockwise direction.  This creates an updraft and pushes down the heated air from the ceiling.  Remember, heat naturally rises to the top of your home so this is a good way to keep it circulating throughout the house, especially if your home has high ceilings.

Make use of humidifiers

Dry air can be bad for your health and your skin, so it’s always a good idea to invest in a humidifier to add a bit of moisture to the air.  This is an easy way to stay comfortable inside your home during those cold months.  Just make sure to keep tabs on the plates and pads to ensure your humidifier works well.  Check the owner’s manual for instructions on how to maintain the humidifier during frequent use.

Conduct a safety audit

I cannot stress enough that Fall is a great time to do a thorough review of the safety features in your home, as fall home maintenance comes into full swing.  Investing a small amount of time every few months to make sure your home’s safety devices work and that you have a plan in place to handle the unexpected is what can make a huge difference in case of an extreme accident in your home.

I encourage you to replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors twice a year (doing this when you adjust your clocks for daylight savings is a good time to do so).  If you don’t have them, then consider installing smoke detectors on every floor of your home.

You also want to make sure you have at least one fire extinguisher in your home.  I often tell people to follow the same rule of thumb for smoke detectors—one on every floor for optimal safety.  Because they have a life expectancy of about six years, mark your extinguishers with a permanent marker so you know when to replace them.

If you don’t currently have one, work with your family members to create an evacuation plan in case of an emergency.  Most people go about their lives without ever thinking about what would happen in case of an extreme emergency, such as a fire or a flood inside the home.  Sit down and draft a plan for your family—especially your children—so that everyone can calmly respond to a sudden crisis inside the home.  Even in cooler weather, it’s always a good idea to know what to do in case there’s a mishap.  Remember to have a plan for taking care of your pets—especially if you might happen to be away from home!

Another thing to have on hand is the list of contacts who can help repair your home.  Either store them as contacts in your phone or post a list somewhere in your home where you can easily see who to call in case of an emergency.  Below are some vendors we recommend contacting to help you prepare for winter.

Vendor Maintenance Tips

We get asked by a lot of our clients who we would recommend for help with aspects of home ownership beyond fencing.  Below is a list of some of our favorite companies that serve the local area.  If you make use of their services, tell them Frederick Fence sent you!

Botanical Decorators—if you need help preparing your lawn or garden for fall or want to design the perfect landscape solution, check them out!  They’ve won awards for their work!

N.E. “Bob” Waltz Plumbing & Heating, Inc.—looking for a great company to help with both your heating and plumbing needs?  Contact the team at N.E. Waltz!  They’ve been in business since 1956 and are experts when it comes to home heating solutions.

Frederick Roof Repair—if you want to deal with a reputable roof repair company, contact Stephan Mac at Frederick Roof Repair.  Frederick Roof Repair will service both your roof and your gutter and can even help you with attic fans and skylights.

R&K Tree Service—if you have dead limbs or your trees and could use a good trimming, contact R&K Tree Services at 301-662-4522.

What important tips do you make sure are covered every Fall? Be sure to share your best fall maintenance tips in the comments area below!

Ready for a Fence This Fall?

Fall is still a great time to install a fence on your property.  In fact, we even install fences during the winter if the conditions are right!  If you’re considering building a fence, our staff can work with you to design the perfect fence solution to meet your needs and your budget.  Contact us today to get started or call us at 301-663-4000.

Photo Credit: all images in this article are used under license from Big Stock Photo