Fall maintenance for your home and yard

There’s a nip in the air, which means it’s time to prepare your home and yard for winter. There’s something so satisfying about taking care of things, indoors and out, before winter sets in. Most of the chores are simple things, and — with a little diligence — you can likely accomplish your entire list in a weekend or two. (Of course, you can also tackle the to-dos over the course of weeks, checking off an item or two each day.) Mother Nature usually lends a helping hand, providing some perfect weather for enjoying fall maintenance tasks!

Here’s a rundown of what you might want to accomplish in the autumn weeks to keep your home in tip-top shape.

Outside:

Clean and store 

• Wash and store everything in the yard that you won’t need over the winter — or that won’t fare well outdoors. That means lawn chairs and tables, outdoor pillows, and planters (unless, of course, they’re still sporting mums!). Take all (or at least most) of the soil out of pots before storing, because if the soil freezes it can crack the pot.

close up of a rake gathering leaves

• Service (if necessary), clean, and put away sports equipment such as bicycles, skateboards, and inline skates that you won’t use over the winter. 

• Clean, oil, and store your yard and garden tools and garden hoses. Drain the hoses first. Then turn off outside faucets. Do you have an irrigation and/or sprinkler system? Be sure to turn off and drain those, too. 

• Prep your lawn mower for winter storage. Clean and either empty gas from mower or replace the fuel with fresh fuel with a stabilizer fuel additive; gas left in the mower can ruin the carburetor.

• Remove window air conditioners. Clean, cover, and place in storage. If you need to leave an A/C in the window, cover the outside of the unit with insulation.

• Clean and cover outdoor grills. Bring cooking tools inside; wash, dry, and store.

• Wash the birdbath. Move it to the garage or shed if it needs protection from the winter temps. (Glass, ceramic, concrete, and stone baths can expand and crack in freezing weather.) If your birdbath can take the freezing temperatures (metal, resin, and some plastic baths are usually fine), place it in a location where direct sun will help keep the water from freezing. (If it does freeze over the winter months, melt the ice by pouring some hot water over it. (The birds will appreciate having a water source in the winter months!) Here’s some more information about taking care of a birdbath during the winter.

• Clean out window wells and cover with well covers. 

• Clean and empty your pool, if you have one. Check the pool cover, and repair or replace if needed. 

Prep for winter conditions

• Clean bird feeders and stock up on bird feed. (If you start feeding the birds, don’t disappoint them by stopping later in the season; they’ll come to depend on you!)

• Wash out garbage and recycling cans. This task is never fun, but it’s much easier to do before the weather gets frigid!

• Clean gutters and downspouts. You may want to do this at the end of the season, to make sure all the fall leaves are cleared out before winter arrives. Check to see that downspouts are draining properly, away from foundations and walkways. Make gutter repairs as necessary.

A gloved hand removing leaves from a house gutter

• Fill holes and gaps in siding, foundation, etc., with caulk. (Critters will be looking for warm places soon!)

• Seal cracks in the driveway. This will keep them from getting bigger over the winter when water in them freezes, expands, and, in turn, expands the cracks. 

• Check roof for damage. Have any necessary repairs made.

• Trim deadwood from trees. Trim any branches that are near your roof or power lines. 

• Fertilize/reseed lawn. Fall is the best time to fertilize, and a 4 (nitrogen) -1 (phosphorus) -2 (potassium) fertilizer is best for the lawn. Fall is also a good time to aerate the lawn, if that’s been on your to-do list all summer!

• Make sure you have enough good snow shovels for you and helpers. Test and tune your snow blower, if you use one.

• Place a good ice scraper in each car. A warm blanket is a good idea, too!

• Stock up on whatever you use to de-ice your walks, steps, and driveway. Make sure you choose a product that’s safe for pets, plants, and concrete. (Products with sodium chloride are least expensive, but most hazardous for plants, pets, and the environment.) Sand and kitty litter are safe options, though these work by providing traction, not by actually melting the ice. I’ll provide a post to help with this dilemma before the snow flies!

Inside:

Windows and doors

• Exchange screens for storm windows. Wash the windows, too, if you’re feeling ambitious!

• Check windows and doors for draft leaks. Weatherstrip if needed. Replace any existing weatherstripping that’s shoddy. Check the garage door, too! Add door sweeps to the bottoms of drafty doors, and buy or make draft dodgers for door bottom and window ledges. (There are lots of clever and easy ways to make draft dodgers (AKA door snakes) — whether or not you can sew a straight line. Here are some ideas.)

• Switch the direction of ceiling fans to clockwise, low speed, to direct warm air down and pull cool air up. (I have to look this up every season to make sure I have it right!)

• Wrap any pipes that may freeze. These include pipes in unheated spaces such as attics, garages, and basements. You can purchase foam pipe insulation at your hardware store; it simply wraps around the pipe and holds itself in place.

Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms

• Check batteries in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide devices. Ideally, you’ll check these once a month. If, like me, you fall short of ideal, spring and fall are good times to check and replace batteries if needed. Most alarm batteries should be replaced twice a year anyway, so you might just go ahead and put in new batteries! (If you have a 10-year lithium-powered alarm, the batteries aren’t replaced. The entire alarm lasts for 10 years and then needs to be completely replaced.) 

Fire Extinguisher

Inspect your fire extinguisher. Check the inspection date and expiration date on fire extinguishers. Make sure the needle gauge is in the green (charged) zone and that the can doesn’t feel empty when you lift it. Check to see that the hose and pin are in place. Inspect the hose for cracks or brittleness and the can for any dents or erosion. Replace the extinguisher if it’s time. 

A large tree with turning fall leaves next to a wood cabin

Clothes dryer

• Clean clothes dryer vents. Hopefully you clean the screen often. Now it’s time to get in the vents. Use a dryer lint brush or the small thin attachment on your vacuum cleaner to remove lint from the opening. Clean out the ductwork, too, if it’s accessible. If not, have a professional clean it. (A vent system that’s full of lint is a fire hazard!)

Water heater

• Clean out sediment that’s built up in the bottom of your hot water heater by draining it completely. For most water heaters, it’s a good idea to do this once or twice a year; check your heater’s manual. Here are some straightforward instructions.

• Wrap the water heater, if necessary. Newer water heaters are more efficient and may not need insulation. If the outside of your water heater is warm to the touch, it’s probably worth covering it with an insulated blanket made for the purpose. It’s super easy to do; the blankets are made to wrap once around the heater and tape together. Covering your older water heater with insulating material can save you about 10 percent in water-heating costs. 

Humidifier

• Clean and set humidifier. Check hoses for leaks and set the level for your winter comfort. Most people prefer somewhere between 30 and 50 percent humidity, but if the temps where you live dip below about 20 degrees, you’ll want to set the humidity lower, to avoid condensation on your walls and windowsills. When the temps outside are between 10 and 20 degrees, for example, 25 percent humidity is about right. Below that, about 20 percent is perfect.

Heating System

• Have your heating system checked/maintained every year. Consider having ducts cleaned. Replace the filter in your heating system. Stock up on filters so you can replace them once a month through the winter.

Fireplace or Woodstove

• Have the chimney cleaned to remove soot and debris. Check the chimney itself for cracks, missing mortar, or other deterioration. Make sure the damper is working properly. Check any gaskets (on the fireplace door, for example) to make sure it’s sealing well. Check for any cracks in a glass door, too. Cap the chimney to make sure birds and other animals stay out. 

How did you do? Did you accomplish most of your fall maintenance chores? While the season is different, you might find some of the tips in our Spring Cleaning article helpful. (I use that household notebook during fall maintenance, too — especially the “Pro Help Needed” and “Wish List” sections!)

You might also enjoy these fall topics:

Saving geraniums — How to overwinter your geraniums

Storing bulbs for winter

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