Cool weather is on the way, making it the perfect time to do a little fall cleanup and maintenance around your home! From heating tune-up and fire safety to door maintenance and plumbing repair, our list of fall DIY tasks will take care of all the leaks and squeaks around your home to get you ready for the long winter ahead.
So before you hunker down for a long winter’s nap, take the time to check the following home maintenance tasks off your to-do list. Read on to find out more!
Indoor Fall House Cleaning & Organizing
- Garbage Disposal: Here's an easy way to clean and freshen your garbage disposal using nontoxic ingredients you probably have in your pantry. First, pour 1/2 cup of baking soda into the disposal. Follow this with a cup of white vinegar, and watch chemistry in action! Once the bubbles subside, pour in a pot of boiling water, and allow it sit for five minutes. Finally, run cold water through the disposal and turn it on to flush out any remaining debris. To keep funky smells at bay, turn the disposal on and run some lemon peel or juice and crushed ice through it.
- Faucet Aerators: Vinegar is also great for removing sediment and mineral deposits from bathroom and kitchen sink faucet aerators. Simply unscrew the aerator from the faucet and soak it overnight in a bowl of white vinegar to dissolve any deposits and clean the aerator. Next day, screw the aerator back on the faucet, and enjoy the improved water flow.
- Clothes Washer Water Line Filters: Your faucets aren't the only things that need help to keep the water flowing. The inlets for the water supply lines on your clothes washer have filters to keep dirt and debris from getting into the washer. If the water line filters become clogged, water won't flow as freely, and your washer will take longer to fill. To clean clothes washer water line filters, turn off the hot and cold water valves, and unscrew the supply lines from the washer. Use a squirt bottle and small stiff brush to remove dirt or sediment from the filters. Finally, reconnect the hoses and turn the water back on, making sure to check for leaks.
- Fireplace and Chimney: Before lighting up your fireplace this year, it's a good idea to have the fireplace and chimney inspected to make sure they're safe. Be sure to hire a professionally certified chimney sweep to inspect the fireplace and chimney and provide cleaning services if needed. As a bonus, look for a professional who's also F.I.R.E. certified (Fireplace Investigation, Repair, and Education) to provide a thorough inspection of your fireplace and chimney. Generally chimneys need to be cleaned if there's a 1/4″ or more of creosote buildup inside the chimney.
Indoor Fall Home Maintenance
- Change Furnace Filter: Replacing the air filter on your HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system every 1-3 months allows it to run more efficiently and keeps the air in your home cleaner. It’s easy to change a furnace air filter by removing the cover of the air return, sliding out the old filter, and replacing it with a new one with the arrows on the filter pointing in the direction of air flow. If you suffer from allergies, this is a great time to upgrade to a high-performance allergen air filter for your home. If you’re not sure where the air filter in your house is located, check out our article on How to Find a HVAC Air Filter.
- Inspect Heating System: In addition to changing the filter, it's a good idea to have your HVAC system inspected and serviced each fall and spring. A licensed heating and cooling professional should inspect and clean the blower and motor, check safety controls, and test burners and switches. You can check your ductwork and seal ductwork cracks and leaks with special metallic tape and duct mastic. Regular upkeep will ensure that your system is both safe and efficient.
- Ceiling Fans: Cold weather is coming, and it's time to change the direction of rotation of your paddle ceiling fans. During fall and winter, ceiling fans should rotate in a clockwise direction when looking up at the fan. This creates a gentle updraft that circulates rising heat without blowing directly on you. To change the direction of your ceiling fan, turn the fan off, allow the blades to stop, then flip the small switch, located on the fan housing. On many fans the “up” position on the switch indicates upward air flow. Of course, if your fan has a remote control with a direction setting, this job doesn’t even require a ladder.
- Fire Extinguishers: First of all, if you don't have several ABC rated fire extinguishers throughout your home (especially in the kitchen and near the fireplace) go buy some right away! Then, regularly check your fire extinguishers to make sure they're easily accessible and in good working order. They shouldn't be blocked by furniture or clutter, and the pull pin and tamper seal should be undamaged. Clear any dirt, grease, or spiderwebs from the unit and nozzles, and inspect for rust, dents, and damage. For dry chemical extinguishers, check the pressure gauge to make sure it's in the green zone (CO2 extinguishers have to be weighed to check the pressure). Give dry chemical extinguishers a good shake to loosen the contents.
- Lubricate Door Locks: Over time, your home's door locks can become sticky and hard to lock and unlock. Fortunately, this problem is easy to fix! To lubricate sticky door locks, squirt a small amount of powdered graphite into the keyhole. Powdered graphite is available in tubes at home centers and hardware stores. It's a great lubricant for locks, because it's dry and doesn't attract dust or dirt. After applying graphite to the keyhole, insert, turn, and remove the key a few times to distribute the lubricant.
- Fix Squeaky Door Hinges: There's nothing quite as annoying as a squeaky door hinge! While you're at the hardware store getting graphite for your locks, pick up a small tube or spray can of white lithium grease for your door hinges. To lubricate door hinges, close and latch the door, then tap out the hinge pin. Coat the hinge pin with a small amount of lithium grease, and squirt a little into the hinge barrel as well. Replace the pin and work the hinge back and worth, wiping up any grease that oozes out.
- Check Toilets: Start by checking toilets for leaks both outside the tank around the supply line and bowl connection, where the toilet meets the floor, and inside the tank. If your toilet runs without flushing, either the water level is set too high or the flapper valve needs replacing. Start by checking the water level to be sure it isn't spilling over the top into the overflow pipe. If it is, lower the water level by turning the adjustment screw located on the supply valve or by adjusting the float mechanism. If the toilet is still running, replace the flapper valve at the bottom of the tank.
- Check Bathtub Caulk: Cracked or missing caulk around a bathtub can cause water to leak behind the tub, leading to mold growth and water damage to the framing. To replace bathtub caulk, remove the old caulk with a putty knife, dry the crack completely with a hair dryer, and apply a bead of 100% silicone caulk to the joint. To smooth out the bead of silicone caulk, put on a disposable glove, dip your index finger in mineral spirits, and use it to smooth out the caulk. You can also mist the caulk bead with denatured alcohol, then use your finger to smooth it out.
Outdoor Fall House Cleaning
- Clean Gutters and Downspouts: Clogged and overflowing gutters can damage your home's soffits, fascia, and foundation when water flows over the top of the gutter. As autumn leaves begin to fall, be sure to keep your gutters clean and downspouts unclogged. To make this chore easier, cut the bottom and side out of an old plastic jug that’s the same width as your gutter, and use it to scoop the debris into a garbage bag hooked over the top of your ladder. Then use the sprayer on your garden hose to rinse out the gutter and free up any clogged downspouts. When you’re finished empty the bags of organic matter into your compost pile!
- Trim Tree Limbs: To reduce the risk of fire, trim tree limbs at least 10' away from your chimney. While you're at it, trim away any tree limbs that are close to your roof, especially dead branches that could fall in a snowstorm and damage your roof or gutters.
- Store Firewood: Fall is also a good time to stock up on firewood for cozy fires on cold winter evenings. If you're purchasing firewood to burn inside your home, look for 100% hardwood logs that have been dried and aged a year or more. Make sure they're cut to a length that will easily fit inside your fireplace. Stack the firewood neatly, so it’s easily accessible, but keep firewood away from the exterior of your home to prevent termites, snakes, and rodents from finding their way inside.
Outdoor Fall Home Maintenance
- Winterize Lawn Equipment: Before cold weather arrives, winterize your lawn mower and other gas-powered lawn equipment, like string trimmers, edgers, and blowers. Start by running the mower (or trimmer) out of gas, or add fuel stabilizer to the gas in the tank. Remove the spark plug wire to prevent the engine from starting while you're working on it. Next, drain the oil out of the engine, and clean the equipment by brushing off debris and wiping the surfaces. Use a garden hose to clean the underside of the lawn mower deck, and clean or replace the air filter and spark plug. Finally, reattach the spark plug wire, and store your lawn equipment in a clean, dry place.
- Inspect Roof: Before winter arrives clean and inspect your roof. Begin by cleaning away leaves and branches on the roof, paying particular attention to the chimney and valleys. Inspect the roof and replace any damaged shingles. Next, examine the flashing around your chimney, as well as the mortar on the chimney bricks or stone. Repair any flashing gaps or cracks with masonry caulk. If the flashing is in bad condition, make a quick fix with urethane caulk, then call a roofing contractor to for a more permanent repair.
- Garage Door: A little maintenance to your garage door will keep it running smoothly and quietly. First, clean the door itself, and wipe any dirt and debris out of the tracks of the garage door opener. Next, use a small amount of engine oil to lightly lubricate the hinges, bearings, and springs. Finally, if your door has metal rollers, lightly lubricate them with motor oil and raise and lower the door a few times to distribute the lubricant. (If your door has nylon rollers, don't apply oil or they will slip).
- Storm Windows: If you've been enjoying opening your windows this summer, be sure to close the storm windows before cold weather arrives. If your home has removable screens, this is the time to take them down, clean and store them, and put up your storm windows for the winter. You can also install plastic window insulation kits on the inside of your windows to make them more energy efficient during cold weather.