50 Must-Do Things to Get Your Home Ready for Fall
We get it. You would rather be enjoying the waning days of summer than doing fall chores, but tackling these now means you can enjoy the splendor of fall guilt-free.
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The days are shorter when fall rolls around, which means you’ll be turning on your lights earlier—and using more energy overall. “The average home has 40 electrical sockets, so lighting can be a big energy hog,” says Lauren Urbanek, Senior Energy Policy Advocate, Climate and Clean Energy Program, Natural Resources Defense Council. “LED light bulbs use four times less energy than a less efficient bulb and last 10 to 25 times longer, all while providing a great quality of light.” Take a look at these 15 ways to brighten your home during the winter.
Buy a programmable thermostat
How many times have you rushed out in the morning without turning down your thermostat? Fall is a good time to invest in a programmable thermostat so you’re not paying to heat an empty home. Urbanek says they may cost around $100, but some utility company’s offer rebates and it could pay for itself in a year or less. “You can save around $180 a year if used properly, adjusting temperatures while away from home and overnight,” says Urbanek. Did you know that smart thermostats make a great modern-day wedding gift?
Mind the gaps
“Check your windows and doors. If you add up all the gaps around the windows and doors in an average American house, you may have the equivalent of a 3-foot by 3-foot hole in the wall!” says Urbanek. Caulk around doors and windows. Use a door sweep to help seal the gap and prevent chilly drafts that sneak in under the door.
Open the blinds
In the summer, you’re more likely to keep the blinds and curtains shut to keep out the heat; in the fall, it’s time to do the opposite. During the day, open up drapes and blinds on sunlit windows to help boost temperatures via the sun’s ray. Once the sun goes down or if it’s a dreary and windy day, retain cozy temperatures by drawing the blinds and curtains. When curtains are hung close to the window, they can prevent as much as 25 percent heat loss, Urbanek says. Thermal blinds that keep the heat in are a smart idea, too. By the way, drapes are one of the items you should deep-clean each spring.
Buy an electric blanket
You can turn down the thermostat at night and pocket the extra cash saved by sleeping under a heated blanket. “Today’s models are safe and when you’re toasty under one, you can lower your thermostat even more at night,” says Dean Bennett, president of Dean Bennett Design and Construction, Inc. “The cumulative electric bill savings for the months of October through March can amount from 25 to 35 percent for a family of three to four.”
Flip the switch on your ceiling fan
You’ll feel toasty warm when you flip the switch on your ceiling fan to spin clockwise so the warm air—which usually heads to the ceiling, is pushed back down where you need it in the chilly months. To reap the full benefits, place the fan on a low setting, and adjust your thermostat to save energy and money on heating costs. Don’t forget to tick off these 11 cleaning tasks off your to-do list this fall.
Schedule an energy audit
Check with your local utility provider and schedule an energy audit. Many utility companies offer rebates or extra goodies like free LED bulbs with the audit. “Using tools like a thermal camera, the energy auditor will be able to tell you where you could use more insulation, or where there are cracks and gaps where heated air will escape in the winter. Most homes can benefit from adding insulation in the attic or walls,” says Urbanek.
Round up dust bunnies
It’s probably the last place you think about dusting but, but poorly maintained furnace burners can lead to clogs, which can cause carbon monoxide build-up in your home. “To remove the debris, it’s best to vacuum around the burner and in any cavities that surround it. This is also a good time to check the system for functionality with regards to cycling power on and off,” says Rusty Cochran, president of We Care Plumbing, Heating, Air and Solar. Here are 10 other places you’re probably not vacuuming, but should be.
Don’t leave us in the cold
Freezing temperatures will render home improvement supplies such as paint, adhesives and caulking useless. Temperatures of 32 degrees or below freeze water and latex paint (which is water-based), while oil-based paints will freeze at a lower temperature. Store these products that can freeze inside. Take a look at how you can store root vegetables all winter long, no freezer required.
Test carbon monoxide detectors
Carbon monoxide is odorless and kills without warning, so it’s vital to test all your home’s carbon monoxide (CO) detectors—and smoke detectors while you’re at it. “CO detectors don’t require hard-wiring and their batteries can last up to ten years,” says Cochran. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends placing a battery-operated or a battery back-up CO detector near every bedroom in your home. Installing a carbon monoxide detector is an important step in baby proofing your home.
Dodge the draft
Remember the cold drafts from your windows last year? Don’t wait for the chills of the first blustery day to motivate you. Bennett suggests buying a plastic film window insulating kit to dodge those bone-chilling drafts. Be cautious as you apply these as the tape can sometimes mar the paint around the window, he says. Before wrapping them up, clean your windows properly with these tips from the pros.
Tape your pipes
Water pipes in uninsulated/unheated areas such as basements, attics and garages that are exposed to temperatures 20 degrees or lower can freeze and bust. One way to keep your pipes warm is to wrap them in heat tape or cable, Bennett says, keeping in mind that heat tape needs to be plugged in. Speaking of pipes, here are 12 things you should never pour down the drain.
Wrap the pipes
If your basement isn’t quite as cold, consider wrapping the pipes with foam pipe insulation to save money on your energy bill. This will make them more efficient as they transport hot water to the radiator. Measure the diameter of each pipe before you head to the hardware stores, as not all the pipes in a basement are the same, reminds Bennett.
Clean out the gutters
Leaves, twigs, acorns and other debris can jam up your gutter and cause clogs that won’t drain; this turns into an even bigger problem if you live in a region that freezes. “Frozen water in gutters can drastically worsen or hasten problems with ice dams, and can cause incredibly expensive repairs to the interior of your home,” says Joe Palumbo, of Ice Dam Guys, LLC. Here’s a calendar with monthly maintenance projects to get done.
Check the caulking
If it opens, think doors, windows and skylights, it has caulking—and that caulking can crack. “During the winter, the seals and flashings will contract and expand as the weather and temperatures change. The caulk expands and contracts to fill in spaces right along with it,” explains Tod Colbert, founder of Weather Tight. “Without good caulking, the expansion of seals and spaces between these entryways to the outside can literally open up and let melting snow and ice pour in.
Take a look at the roof
Small leaks in your roof can go unnoticed for years and cause potentially huge problems down the road. We’re not saying you should haul out of a ladder and start scaling the roof—you may even be able to spot a problem with a good pair of binoculars. Look for loose or missing shingles and mold and pay close attention to the flashing and area surrounding the chimney. You may be able to make small fixes by yourself, but when in doubt call in a contractor.
Seal the cracks in the concrete
What harm can a few small cracks in the sidewalk or driveway bring? Dangerous tripping hazards, Colbert says. Changing temperatures cause the ground to expand and contract. “If the concrete has cracks that allow for water to accumulate under it, the freezing and thawing of the water or snow will start to move or ‘heave’ the concrete,” he explains. Worst case scenario is that the entire driveway or sidewalk will break and need replacing. Did you know that concrete makes a great countertop option?
Align the gutters
“Misaligned gutters can create spaces for ice and snow to form, which can lead to ice damns as the temps warm-up,” says Colbert. Ice dams are an issue because the pooling water behind the damn can seep under your home’s shingles—and from there, it could potentially cause significant damage to the soffits, walls, and ceilings. To ensure the gutter is aligned correctly with the roof (gutters should have a slight slope to send water to the downspouts and the center point should be at the highest elevation). Grab a ladder and a hose. Run the water into the farthest part of the gutter from the downspout. If it doesn’t flow properly, remove the gutter and realign.
Check attic vents
Having proper attic ventilation and flowing gutters can all but nearly eliminate your risk for ice dams. Not sure where your attic vents are or what they look like? Palumbo says your roof may have a ridge vent, which is low profile, continuous roof air vents that run along the peak of the roof, gable vents with louvered openings or you may not have any at all. “If you don’t see any attic vents on the roof or in the eaves, you need to add some,” says Palumbo. Speaking of the attic, here’s how often you should be cleaning everything, including the attic.
Prepare exterior water sources for freezing temps
It’s easy to forget about outdoor faucets after you stop using them for the season, but an early frost might jog your memory of what you forgot to take care of in the yard—and what could lead to a frozen and burst pipe down the line. “This means removing all hoses from the connection, installing foam insulation or insulated pouches/covers over the spigot, fixing any leaks and locating the water main,” says Bill Cahill, president, Beacon Plumbing. To prevent residual water from freezing and damaging lawn sprinklers, sprinkler systems and hoses, blow out residual water using an air compressor, Cahil suggests.
Shine the light to avoid slip and falls
Nightime and ice are a dangerous combination. “Ice patches appear anywhere and long nighttime shadows can cloak them on stairs and curbs,” says George Premo, owner of Premo Electric. He suggests upgrading to motion-activated outdoor lights to both illuminate ice patches and protect your home from would-be burglars. These tips will help you stay safe in the kitchen.
Inspect your home’s foundation
Head down to the basement and take a gander where the bottom of the first floor meets the foundation wall and look for cracks. An uneven foundation can lead to sloping floors, bowing walls, drywall cracks and more. Cracks that are less than a quarter of an inch can easily be fixed. “Fill cracks with spray foam insulation or regular fiberglass insulation,” Bennett says. “Leave larger cracks to a professional.” You should try these 35 DIY projects.
Give your lawn some love
Before the harsh temperatures hit, nourish your lawn with one last round of fertilizer. “By providing a balanced fertilizer, which promotes root growth and hardens off the plant to withstand the rigors of harsh winters, your lawn gets the resources it needs to stay healthy,” says Kyle Tobin of LawnSavers Plant Health Care, Inc. “You’ll have a more lush lawns come spring.” That way, you can throw the ultimate backyard party when the weather gets warm.
Don’t cut your grass too short
We know you can’t wait to clean and store your lawnmower for the season, just don’t make that last cut too short. According to Tobin, the last mow of the season should be at the regular height—of two and a half to three inches long—to protect the crown of the turfgrass plant. And save some leaves for the lawn. “It’s OK to mulch a small amount of leaves, as long as the mulched pieces are no larger than the size of a dime. This will reincorporate additional valuable nutrients and organic matter into the soil to help nourish your grass,” says Tobin.
Sharpen your tree pruner
There are four good reasons to sharpen your tree pruner before fall, according to Mark Russell, owner of 770 Arborist Tree Service. These are: fewer bugs are active to feast on the cut site; the cooler weather gives the cut site more time to dry before bugs start nibbling in the spring; the tree directs its resources to heal the cut site, instead of producing news leaves; and the tree doesn’t expend energy to produce new leaves only for those leaves to get chopped off right away (which happens when you prune in the spring).
Prune larger tree branches
While it’s still nice out, walk your property and assess your trees and vegetation, suggests Lisa Tadewaldt, owner of Urban Forest Pro. Identify the limbs that might be hazardous due to deterioration, damage or disease-ridden limbs. “Inclement weather can lead to branches falling on vehicles, a deck, your home, electrical lines or even a person. It’s far easier to prune problematic limbs on your schedule than be woken up by a crack and crash during a storm,” says Tadewaldt. Here are some tips for growing a fruit tree in your backyard.
Shut down the outdoor party space
When it’s too chilly to sit on the deck in your shorts and flip flops, it’s probably time to start packing up the deck, patio and porch items. Most of the items seem sturdy enough to withstand winter weather, but when spring rolls around, you might find they are damaged, faded or rusty. Wash metal furniture and let it completely dry before covering with a sturdy tarp. Hose off dirt on plastic and fabric furniture and let them dry before storing inside or in an all-weather deck box. These are some of the best patio furniture pieces you can buy.
Prepare your shovel
Do you recall the first snow last year that caught you off guard? Be prepared for the white stuff with the essentials to remove snow and melt ice from slippery sidewalks and driveways. “Buy salt early for sidewalks, and check on the condition of your snow shovel; if it’s not a back-saver model, consider buying a new one,” says Bennett. Or try spraying the shovel with WD-40 so the snow doesn’t stick—this is just one of 46 amazing uses for WD-40.
“Early fall is a good time to check how much insulation you have and add any if needed,” says Bennett. To find out if you need more, you can gauge the depth of insulation by looking in your attic, recommends EnergyStar.gov. You’ve got plenty of insulation if it is level with or below floor joists, but if you can easily see your floor joists, it’s time to add more. If you’d rather measure, generally 10 to 14 inches of insulation is recommended for most attics.
Look for the bat signal in your attic
You might not see a bat signal or a bat for that matter, but if you have bats, they’ll be signs. Take a flashlight up to the attic and look for bat guano (bat poop), which looks like tiny, elongated black pellets or you might smell a strong ammonia odor or notice grease marks near the entry points—which by the way, you’ll need to seal up after getting guidance from the pest pros. These are some tips for getting rid of pests in your pantry.
Don’t wait six months to do a spring cleaning of your garage; a clean garage is particularly important in fall because a messy one attracts spiders and rodents that commonly seek out warmer areas as outside temperatures drop,” says Bennett. That includes cleaning the trash and recycling totes and sweeping away cobwebs and winterizing any spigots and drain hoses. If your garage is attached to the house, seal the bottom of the door to keep drafts out of the house.
Start your engines!
A power outage can catch you by surprise, so if you have a generator, start the engine now. “I start my generator up every three months as recommended by the manufacturer and let it run for about 20 minutes to charge the battery for my electric starter,” shares Larry Meacham, a Family Handyman Community Cook says. Stock up on oils and filters and always use fresh gasoline for stress-free starts. Is your kitchen prepared for a power outage?
Fall is a good time to seal exterior wooden decks and railings, John Bodrozic co-founder of HomeZada says. Your deck is exposed to the harsh realities of ice and snow when you live in colder climates and, even if you don’t, fall rains can settle into cracks and crevices of unsealed wood. Prep your deck by cleaning and removing the old stain or seal with liquid cleaners and strippers. By the way, you definitely shouldn’t use a Swiffer to clean your deck.
Lubricate garage door hinges and rollers
Ever drive home with a trunk full of groceries on a cold or rainy day only to find your garage door isn’t working? Stay dry unloading all those totes by spending a little time on your garage door maintenance now. “Your garage door opens multiple times per day, and it is important to lubricate the hinges and rollers, says Bodrozic. “This helps prevent buckling which can cause damage to your doors and the tracks they glide one.” While you’re at it, replace the garage door opener batteries.
Drain your hot water heater
There’s a simple thing you can do to extend the life of your water heater and help it be more energy efficient: Drain it. “Fall brings cooler weather, so hot water usage will increase, and you want to have your hot water operating efficiently in the fall and winter,” says Bodrozic. Minerals build up over time at the bottom of your hot water heater: usually draining a few gallons is enough, but you’ll want to keep draining until the water is clear.
Keep mice out
“House mice invade homes in the fall; they follow flowing heat from homes, coming from holes and gaps searching for food,” says Levi Brody of Brody Brothers Quality Pest Control. Keep them out by sealing any holes and gaps with a mortar or a high-quality sealant. (Spray foams and low-quality caulk are no match for the chewing skills of mice.) For crawl space vents that you shouldn’t block, use one-quarter-inch hardware cloth (not screening). And remember mice arent’ always sneaky, they’ll come through the front door if you have gaps as small as the width of a pencil.
Don’t let these fall invaders inside
Spider, camel crickets and other insects are looking for their winter home, too, and your home is a much more tempting place to reside if it has debris around the foundation. “You can help reduce the chances of these insects moving in by removing fall leaves from around the home, especially under decks and in window wells,” says Brody. If you have old equipment or toys near the house gathering weeds and cobwebs, store them or toss them and never stack wood next to the house. Check out these tips for making your outdoor space feel more like home.
So, that’s how they get in!
Stink bugs, ladybugs and many other insects are also looking for warm places to hang out in the winter. It’s smart to on old chimney dampers. “A long term solution would be to install a chimney cap dampers. Not only will it keep the bugs and even squirrels out, but it will also save you on utility bills,” says Brody. By the way, stink bugs really are stinky—if you step on them—so you’ll want to use these strategies to get rid of them.
Cut the power to your A/C
If someone accidentally turns on the air conditioning when the temps are low, it could damage the compressor and you’ll save energy if your A/C has a crankcase heater to keep the oil warm. Family Handyman suggests flipping off the breaker if the A/C compressor has a dedicated circuit, or rotate the disconnect block upside down into the “off” position. (The disconnect block is located in the small panel outside near the compressor.) In the summer, you should still give the unit a quick clean before turning it on.
Schedule a chimney inspection
Even if you only make a fire a few times during the holiday season, your chimney should be inspected annually for safety, according to the National Fire Protection Association. That’s because there are a lot of chimney-related components on your roof and in the firebox, including the chimney guard or cracks in the chimney crown or spalling bricks, that could go awry in a year. Not to mention the flue which gets creosote build-up over time that can lead to chimney fires. You can manage the ash buildup by using a vacuum with a fine dust filter.
Bye-bye lawn mower, hello snowblower
It’s almost time to park your mower for the season and fire up the snowblower. But don’t roll your mower into the corner of the garage and forget about it: Hose off the deck and add fuel stabilizer and a few ounces of oil to keep your mower ready for the first grass cutting in the spring. As for the snowblower, make sure it’s in working order by giving it a good once over and checking for damaged belts. Install a new spark plug and change the oil and make sure it starts up.
Stock your storm kit
A power outage doesn’t have to be a buzzkill; sometimes it’s kind of fun to go off the grid—if you have a well-stocked storm kit at the ready. To make yours, start with a large tote with a tight-sealing lid. Inside stash essentials including batteries, flashlights, bottled water, a first-aid kit, hand wipes and these food items you should stock up on.
Put your garden tools to bed
If you don’t properly clean and store garden tools, the moisture from the dirt combined with the exterior conditions of your shed or garage can cause rust and cracks on the wooden handles. Family Handyman suggests using a stiff bristle brush to remove the dirt, then hosing them off. After they’ve dried thoroughly, apply linseed oil to the wood handles and WD-40 to coat the metal parts and hang to dry. These are the tools and gear every veggie grower needs.
So long, grilling season
Unless you plan on grilling in your snowsuit, once that last juicy burger of the season comes off the grill, it’s time to chill the grill until spring. Wash all the grates and clean the grease from all surfaces first. If you’re storing your grill outside, shut off the propane but keep it connected to the grill then cover it with a grill cover. If you’re storing the grill indoors, disconnect the propane and store it upright and outside away from children’s play areas and dryer and furnace vents. When summer comes back around, here’s how to prep your grill.
It’s better to paint this in the fall
While most homeowners think it’s better to paint the fences in the warmer months because the weather is more comfortable and the paint will dry faster, that’s actually not the case. “Paint actually dries too fast during the hot months of summer which can ruin your wood,” says Francis Côté, sales manager of Ideal Fence. If painting kitchen cabinets is next on your to-do list, take a look at these surprising tips first.
Plant bulbs, retire pots
According to the Farmers’ Almanac, if you want a vibrant splash of color come spring, plant bulbs in the fall. Crocuses are early spring risers and often pop up through the melting snow while daffodils, tulips, allium and buttercups are hardy choices. Falls mums are hardy too, but the terra cotta pots we plant them in and adorn our front doors with—not so much. They’re porous, freeze and expand, so if dirt or water is left in the pots over the winter, you might have cracked pots in the spring. Bring them indoors come winter.
Change your filters
Yikes! According to EnergyStar.gov, filters for our heating and cooling components should be checked every month. Well done if you check that off every 30 days, but for the rest of us, aim to at least change those filters every three months. Dirty air filters slow down airflow and make your heating system work harder. After measuring your filter to make sure you get the right size, stock up on new ones for the entire year. Speaking of filters, here’s how often you should be cleaning your water filter.
Don’t forget the outside dryer vent
Birds and mice find outside dryer vents rather cozy and safe places to settle in. Locate your dryer vent and take a peek inside. (You might have a single flap to flip up.) Make sure it’s clear and the area around it is sealed. Consider upgrading to an airtight louvered dryer vent. These 17 laundry hints will save you time and money.
Check the radon levels
Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas that you can’t smell. It gets in your house by moving up through the ground to the air above, seeping into cracks and holes in the foundation, where it stays trapped until removed. Before you hunker down for the fall, buy a radon test kit and find out if the levels are safe or if professional radon reduction services are needed.
Prevent a dryer fire
While you’re washing and drying all those cozy sweaters, winter coats and fuzzy blankets for winter, take time to clean your dryer vent. All the lint produced from clothing builds up in the vents, rendering your dryer less efficient and ripe conditions for a fire. According to the EPA, between 2010 to 2014, 92 percent of house fires involving a washer or dryer were due to lint. Find the lint and clean it out. Next, read on to find out the 19 things good homeowners clean every month.