With the feel of fall in the air, it’s time to think about getting your home ready for colder weather. Much of the routine maintenance that needs to be done this time of year will not only help keep you cozy this winter, it will also save money on your heating bill and protect your biggest investment—your home.
While most of these routine maintenance tasks are fairly simple, make sure they get done before cold weather arrives to prevent damage to both your home and wallet.
To-Do #1: Seal Up Cracks and Gaps
If you added up all the small cracks, gaps, and holes around the outside of the average home, it would equal the area of an open window! To reduce the loss of heat, carefully inspect the perimeter of your home and caulk or weather-strip where needed.
Both caulking and weather stripping can reduce the flow of cold air in and warm air out—lowering your energy costs substantially.
Check the following key areas for leaks:
- Around door and window frames.
- Gaps around electrical outlets, phone lines, and outdoor faucets.
- Around heating and/or cooling units.
- The seal around room air conditioners.
- At corners formed by siding.
- Openings around drain pipes in bathrooms and kitchens.
How to Caulk
Now that you’ve identified the problem areas around your home, it’s time to seal them up:
- Start by cleaning the surface to remove dirt, loose paint, and old caulk.
- Determine which caulk to use based on the size of crack or gap and the surrounding material. Read our article on A Homeowner’s Guide to Caulk to find out more.
- Cut the tip off the tube of caulking at a 45° angle and load it into the caulking gun. Since the tip is tapered, the more you cut off, the wider the bead of caulk.
- Use a long nail or the puncture tool found on caulking guns to break the inner seal.
- Apply a uniform bead of caulk to the gap, making sure it covers both sides and completely fills the crack.
- Remove any excess then smooth the bead of caulk with your finger before it begins to set.
- Insert a tight fitting nail in the end of the tube of caulking to prevent it from drying out.
To-Do #2: Applying Weather Stripping
Apply weatherstripping at joints where two surfaces meet, such as around windows and doors, to give an airtight seal. There are several different types of weatherstripping and each has its benefits and drawbacks.
After you have chosen the appropriate weatherstripping, follow the instructions that came with it for proper application.
- Tape: Lasts only one year and should only be used on windows or doors that will not be opened. Tends to dry and loosen within one heating season
- Felt: Lasts only one or two years and should be used on top or side of doors or window frames for sealing gaps of uniform width
- Foam: Lasts only one or two years and should be used on the bottom of window sashes or around the frame of a warped or loose-fitting door (wood-backed foam)
- Vinyl Tubing: Lasts around five years and can be used on windows or doors.
For more information on caulking and weatherstripping, watch our video on How to Caulk and Seal Gaps and Cracks.
To-Do #3: Inspect Your Roof
Check your roof for signs of minor damage such as missing, broken, cracked, or curling shingles, as well as bare spots where the granular coating has worn off. Be sure to make the necessary minor repairs now to prevent further damage.
When moisture is able to seep up and under loose or damaged shingles far more expensive damage can occur. For extensive roof repairs, consider having a professional perform the work. However, if you are fairly handy and are comfortable climbing a ladder, you should be able to take care of most minor repairs.
Purchase roofing cement in caulking tubes to seal minor cracks and holes and glue down curled shingles. For bigger jobs, roofing cement is available in large containers.
If the damage is extensive, or the shingle is missing, replace it immediately to prevent more serious damage from occurring. Also, if you have a fireplace, be sure to check for gaps around the flashing and caulk to seal.
To-Do #4: Clean and Repair Gutters
Dirty, clogged gutters can cause a myriad of problems during the winter months including flooded basements and damage to your foundation and landscaping. To clean, simply remove all debris so that water can drain properly and consider installing gutter guards to prevent additional debris from building up.
If you don’t enjoy climbing ladders, consider assembling a homemade gutter cleaner using long strips of PVC pipe attached to a regular garden hose. This will allow you to frequently and safely rinse out your gutters ensuring they do not become clogged.
To see how it’s done, watch our video on how to make a PVC Gutter Cleaner
To-Do #5: Trim Back Trees and Bushes
Trimming your trees and hedges in the fall not only leaves you with less mess, it also improves the appearance of your shrubbery and can prevent or correct a safety hazard. While power tools are terrific (and a must for a large number of trees and bushes) most seasonal pruning and trimming can be taken care of with a few affordable hand tools.
Hand pruners, hedge trimmers, loping shears, and a pruning saw will take care of most small branches and limbs. First look for and remove dead or diseased limbs, then cut back excessive growth and trim the bush into the desired shape. Read our article on Basic Shrub Pruning Techniques to see how it’s done.
For taller trees and thicker limbs, consider calling in a professional especially if branches are dangerously close to power lines. You may also consider contacting your town or utility company, as major tree trimming may be their responsibility.
To-Do #6: Fertilize Your Lawn
Fall is a great time to fertilize your lawn as it provides grass with the nutrients required for the winter when the top layer of grass is dormant but the root systems continue to grow. During this period roots easily absorb and store the nutrients a good fertilizer will provide and fall fertilizing will also help your lawn “green-up” faster in early spring.
Depending on your part of the country and the type of grass you have, the correct fertilizer for your lawn many vary. However, almost all zones and lawn types require a fertilizer rich in nitrogen and phosphorus. Nitrogen affects the color, rooting, and disease resistance of a lawn, and a yellowish appearance may signal a nitrogen deficiency.
Phosphorus is the key for strong roots and a lawn deficient in Phosphorus may have an unusual tint that may be on the purple side. A lawn rich in phosphorus will fight disease better and be more tolerant to extreme elements.
To-Do #7: Winterize Lawnmower
Now that you’ve cut your grass for the final time this year, take a few minutes to properly store your lawnmower so it will start easily in the spring.
First, completely remove all fuel by either draining the gas tank or running it empty. Alternatively, consider adding a fuel conditioner and topping up the gas tank to prevent any moisture from condensing in the tank. Once you have added the conditioner, run the engine for a minute or two to circulate the additive through the carburetor. This will help prevent gum from forming in the fuel system or on essential carburetor parts.
Next remove spark plugs and apply a small amount of oil in the cylinder. Start your engine to burn off oil as well as lubricate the pistons, rings, and cylinder walls. Finally, wipe your lawnmower clean of all grass and debris and be sure to store it in a clean, dry area far away from any stove, furnace, water heater, or other appliance that uses a pilot light or can create a spark.
More information on maintaining your lawnmower is available in our article on Lawn Mower Maintenance