Now that summer is over it is time to prep for the weather ahead. Fall in the Pacific NorthWest is beautiful and just the change most of us need. But it can also be harsh, and our homes can take a beating. Check out our 10 Fall Home Maintenance Tips to get your house ready inside and out for the new season!
1. Prep Landscape
The days of sitting out to enjoy the sunshine and views of our lush yards, or less than lush yards, are behind us. So we must clean and store our patio furniture and cute outdoor decor until the sun comes out again. It is also good practice to put away any lawn tools and hoses, things you don’t need going into fall or winter. Then making sure that the tools you WILL need are serviced, accessible and ready to roll!
As the landscape starts to go dormant it is the ideal time to prune. Cut everything back! All your bushes, trees and plants. Trim the dead limbs, clear the garden, and fertilize. Fall is the perfect time to fertilize and reseed. Let mother nature do your watering! That is how you go into spring with a lush yard.
2. Repair Paint
To seal a house or structure(s) from the rain paint is the key. And a GOOD paint job is essential! Paint protects those building materials from water invasion. Because let’s face it, we live in the Pacific NorthWest and water is invasive. Water also causes mold, rot, swelling and leaks that can cause further damage! So if you see any chipped, cracked or peeling paint on the exterior of your home, this small window of time is all you have to remedy it before a little problem could grow into a larger one down the road.
3. Outdoor Lighting
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, it gets darker a little earlier now. It is not a wild observation but one worth mentioning. A well lit exterior is important for security and safety. Part of your visual inspections that need to be made in the fall include your lighting. Walking up to your house at night it sure makes a difference. Or when the wind knocks the trash cans over you can confirm that it wasn’t the neighbor cat… again. Or when danger approaches you can see it coming. It is not a revolutionary maintenance item to change a light bulb, but like I said, it is one worth mentioning.
Gutters are one of those maintenance items that end up on every season’s checklist. There is a reason for this. They have a job to do and nature sometimes gets in the way of that. Believe it or not, without regular maintenance your gutters can get so clogged that they can actually cause damage, leaks, ice damming, and even foundation issues. So it is better to be over diligent than neglect them. Your wallet will thank you.
Using a ladder and a bucket collect whatever summer has left behind in your gutters. If you’re surrounded by trees the bucket may get fuller faster than homes that aren’t. And if you’re surrounded by pine needles, expect to have several buckets. Pine needles are the literal worst when it comes to gutters and downspouts! They can build up and block at every joint, elbow, bend and clog so bad water just pools and overflows out the top. You will want to roll up those sleeves and get after that now before the first rain hits and you’re out there doing it in a slicker and a downpour. This is a job you do not want to put off. After the debris has been collected flush those suckers with the hose. This is the true test.
It is also important that the downspouts drain away from the house or into the street. You don’t want any water to pool back towards your foundation, EVER! If needed, your local hardware store should sell gutter extensions to ensure a safe 4ft to 6ft reach away from the house. There are also ways to bury the end of the downspout and use a pipe to drain away from the house if you want a cleaner look. This method isn’t uncommon but requires a little more engineering and planning to be done correctly. If you live in a neighborhood, make sure your storm drains are also clear of debris.
Another common gutter hack are gutter guards. There are several different types and brands and price ranges. You will need to do research on what works best for your situation but they may be the solution you’re looking for in preventing a buildup of debris. Just like everything else in life though, they have their pros and cons so assess at your own will.
5. Wood Storage
Wood storage is generally a year long process but it’s something we really start to think about when that crisp autumn chill starts rolling in. Assuming you have spent all year seasoning your winter store we thought we would share some do’s and don’ts to protect your house and your heat source. First, you know the wood is fully seasoned and ready for use when it no longer smells sappy, doesn’t feel damp and isn’t quite as heavy. This takes anywhere from 6mo to 2yrs depending on the species of wood. Oak is dense and dries slower, it also burns slower. Maple and Ash burn quick but steady and dry out a bit faster. Pine and Cedar burn fast and hot, make great kindling and dry out quickly.
The real advice comes with storing the wood. Ideally your wood storage should be stacked at least 5ft away from the foundation of any structure, at least! The more distance the better. This is because pests like to settle in those little nooks and crannies and set up shop there. So the closer you bring pests to the house the more at risk the house is to them. Make sense? Firewood is also meant to burn. Shocker, I know. This may seem like common sense but it’s not often thought of when it comes to storage placement. So while it may be convenient for wood to be stored on the porch or in the garage to protect it from the elements, and keep you from putting on your full winter garb to retrieve it, it is not the most recommended place. If something crazy happens and a spark ignites it’s bye bye house, bye bye wood storage.
The best wood storage location, after being far far away from any structure, is to situate it facing south and away from trees so that the wood can receive the maximum amount of sunlight during the day. This helps to evaporate any surface rain or dewy morning moisture quickly. Stacking the wood bark side up and a few inches off the ground helps with moisture too. What you use to stack your store is more up to you. You can use some pallets or a design magazine store bought rack or stack it on a couple of 2x4s under a lean to, whatever suits your fancy. You do you.
6. Pavement Cracks
This may seem like a cosmetic fix for shear vanity but there really is a reason behind repairing the cracks in your sidewalks and driveways. First the science… the thermal expansion of pavement during the hot and cold months combined with the corrosive properties of road salt can turn small cracks into big ones. There’s more…as the seasons go on water gets in those cracks and freezes, then melts and before you know it the cracks just get bigger and bigger! What happens is that these cracks become little moisture tunnels and what you don’t want is for moisture to in any way funnel toward your foundation. This will open a whole new can of worms no one has time for! So get them while they’re small!
Small distress lines can be remedied using driveway repair caulk, found at your local hardware store. Larger lines will need to be sealed. A polymer crack sealant, sand and tar combo or even Flex Seal are all acceptable methods. The cracks should be cleared of all dirt and greenery though before any treatments are done. This just helps with adhesion.
Checking your pavement before it gets hot and before it gets cold is a great practice to nip those crack expansions in the bud. It also keeps your driveways and pathways looking nice if ever there comes a time to sell.
As the weather starts to turn it is important that the house is sealed. This helps with drafts, leaking and high utility bills. Believe us, when winter comes you won’t want to deal with ANY of that! Things that need to be weather proofed are; any entry points to the outdoors including garages, windows and doors, electrical outlets and switches and exterior siding.
Here is how you start. Each door that leads to the outside needs to be checked for gaps. An easy way to determine this is if you can see light from the outside coming through at any point around the door, that’s a gap that needs addressing. If not addressed these gaps become draft zones that bring all the cold air in, potentially moisture too. They also suck all the warm air out, which would indeed suck. Often installing new or larger seals will do the trick. If the gap is not around the door itself but instead the jamb, you may want to fill the gaps using caulk, or if the gap is large, backer rod. Backer rod is a foam tubing that can be manipulated to the size of your gap and then you apply the caulking over that. Garage doors will require something a little more heavy duty and that is when a weather strip becomes the perfect tool. If you’ve done all this and still feel a draft or notice that the seal just isn’t what it should be, simply cleaning the thresholds, tracks or seals could be the solution.
Windows are not something you can use the light method on but you can use the match trick. How it works is you light a flame near the window and if it flickers or moves in a certain direction you may have an air leak. Pretty neat, huh? If the air leaking in or out is small you can probably get away with a small foam gasket. It is also good to inspect the trim for swelling or moisture stains as these could be signs that air isn’t the only thing getting in but moisture too and that will need to be addressed sooner rather than later. Caulking, flashing, and additional sealing may be required for this. If you’re unsure where to begin with all this we recommend calling someone who knows or you might be worse off than when you started. Just being honest.
Electrical outlets and switches can also be locations where interior heat escapes and drafts push in. Visually inspect the drywall around outlets and switches for holes or cracks. The fix may be as simple as moving the cover plate. If the cover plate itself is cracked, they are pennies at your local hardware store, replace it. If neither of those work and the air leak is a bit more extensive, expanding spray foam is the next best thing. This will require you to remove the cover plate and spray in around the outside of the junction box. And then after you replace the plate you can use a bead of regular nothing fancy all purpose caulk to cover any gaps for aesthetics. And don’t worry, caulk can be hidden once it’s dry by painting it the same as your wall color. No one will ever suspect a thing!..until they try to remove the cover plate… but we won’t tell if you don’t.
The siding on your home should also be weather proofed. In addition to repairing any cracked or chipped paint it is also important to walk around the exterior and look for any cracked or “seen better days” caulking. This caulking should be removed with a razorblade and replaced with a new bead of exterior specific caulk. It is a very tedious process but super important for year round protection. These tiny gaps on the exterior of a house allow more than just the elements to seep in if gone unnoticed. We have seen instances where bugs like to hide and nest in them. Come spring time there is probably nothing worse than a wasp getting in through the siding and nesting in your walls. Why? Because they don’t always escape the way they came in! Sometimes they leave the wall and end up chillin with you in the kitchen. No thanks. So take the time now to save a headache later.
Since by now you’re probably in the recaulking zone, why don’t you have a go at the bathrooms! Sealing our wet rooms is just as important as sealing everything else. The whole point is to prevent moisture from getting into the structure and causing damage, right? The bathroom is the wettest room in the house! It needs the same love.
Start by taking a razor blade to remove any of the old, broken, barely hanging on caulk. Needle nose pliers help grab the hard to reach pieces and rubbing alcohol cleans up any residue. Look for water damage and assess next steps. Any left over mold and mildew from the caulk can be wiped clean with a little bleach and water mixture on a cloth. The trick is just to get the mold and mildew off, not saturate the area. Once the slate is clean, apply a nice bead of bathroom specific caulk around the tub, sink, shower, toilet base and any other “Splash Zones”. Run your finger along the bead to smooth it out and wipe away any rouge smears with a damp cloth. Just this alone will have your bathroom looking brand new!
Your AC system is vital for summer comfort but in the winter months ice, snow, debris and other weather-related conditions can damage them so it is important to winterize units before the cold weather hits. To do this, first remove any debris and rinse it off with the hose. Once it’s dry, shut er down. Shutting off the power at the electrical circuit will keep it from turning on automatically during a randomly warm day. We also recommend covering the unit with a cover, or even a painted piece of plywood, just to keep ice, snow and other debris from building up on it and ensure protection. Anything to create a little force field around this mega home system.
Outside of your regular annual HVAC maintenance schedule you can do your own mini inspection to make sure it is up to par for those cold days ahead. First things first, power it off and wait for the blower to stop. Then vac out all vents with your hose attachments and get out those dust bunnies. Typically when you run the heater after not using it for so many months you get a burning smell, vacuuming out all the vents first helps to alleviate that. This is also when you would replace the air filters. Air Filters should be changed every 3-6mo depending on thickness. Or a good practice to help you remember is every time you change the clocks, also change your filters. Fall back, switch. Spring forward, switch. This cadence works for smoke detector batteries too…you’re welcome. After all that, turn the bad boy back on. Run a sound check, listen for the fan, put your hand under the intake vent (where you replaced the filter) to feel if the air is sucking, it should be. Also place your hands over the register vents to make sure it is warm air blowing out, it should be, and after some time assess the temp of the room. If everything is as it should be you’re good to go. If something seems off, it might be and you should call your HVAC pro for a service.
10. Ceiling Fans
I know it seems counterintuitive to turn on a ceiling fan in the winter but they can actually help to manage inside temps. We all know that hot air rises right? If not, news flash… hot air rises! Adjusting ceiling fans to spin clockwise during the winter can actually push all that warm air down so your thermostat isn’t working double time. Brilliant, huh? This is especially helpful for tall or vaulted ceilings. Keeping the speed low prevents the “wind” effect and keeps airflow pretty consistent throughout the room.
Once you have your list of what needs repairing you can gather the right tools for the job. Remember that small holes or gaps can easily be filled using inexpensive caulk. Larger gaps may require new weather stripping, backer rods, gaskets or seals. This is by no means an all inclusive list. It is just something to get you started.
Get your home ready for winter with these tips! Use our Free Printable to check off these Fall Home Maintenance Tips.