grey shingled roof with leaves in gutters and fall leaves in the background
Clear gutters before winter arrives. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

No matter what region you live in, the arrival of fall means it is time to tackle the home maintenance checklist. 

Many items on the fall to-do list help with energy efficiency, helpful for homeowners amid rising energy costs. 

Other tasks focus on protecting your home from the elements in the season to come, a growing concern with the incidence and severity of fall and winter storms increasing thanks to climate change. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information last year’s fall and winter storm season brought record-breaking windchills and hurricane-force winds that caused substantial property damage across the United States.  

So, an investment of your time in home maintenance this fall is an investment in your home for the future. Here are some essential tasks to get done before winter sets in. 

Turn the heat on 

It’s time to turn the furnace on and even better, schedule a seasonal tune-up. Most furnace tune-ups include a basic inspection, which can alert you to potential problems before they develop into something more serious, which will inevitably happen on the coldest night of the year. 

Change filters 

Changing the filter on your furnace will not only improve the air quality in your home, but it will also help with energy efficiency. Your furnace will have to work harder if it is pushing hot air through a clogged filter. 

Ideally, you would change the filter monthly, especially if you have pets or if someone in your home has allergies or respiratory issues to help with air quality, but at a minimum, a seasonal change is necessary. 

Change fan direction 

black ceiling fan hangs from hardwood ceiling
Set ceiling fans counterclockwise. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock.

Running the ceiling fan isn’t just for keeping cool during the warmer months. It’s actually an effective tool to help with energy efficiency at home. 

In the warmer months, fans should run counterclockwise and then clockwise in the winter. As hot air rises, the heated air in the winter will get re-circulated back down into the room. 

Most ceiling fans have a setting located on the side to select the direction. 

Look for leaks 

According to the Department of Energy, air leakage accounts for 25 to 40 percent of the energy expended in heating or cooling a typical home. Not only will finding and sealing leaks improve your comfort at home during the coming cooler days, but you’ll also reduce your energy costs significantly. 

Pay particular attention to cracks in the seals around doors and windows and seal any damage with caulking. Make sure that the weatherstripping is intact. 

Clean gutters 

Clean out debris from your gutters that has accumulated over the last few months. Leaves and other debris can interfere with water draining away from your home during a storm, or when snow melts. It’s not uncommon for water (or ice and snow) that is clogged in a gutter to cause substantial water leaks inside a home that can be costly to repair. 

If you are in a location where you are prone to gathering debris in the gutters, be proactive and install mesh guards over the gutters. These can help to keep pests out as well. 

Test smoke & carbon monoxide detectors 

Make sure all the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are functioning and change the batteries. Also check your fire extinguishers to make sure that they are not expired. 

Outdoor plumbing 

If you live in an area where temperatures are likely to fall near or below freezing, turn off the outdoor plumbing for the season, including hoses and any outdoor water features, as well as sprinkler systems. Water trapped in exterior pipes could crack when cold, so plan to do this towards the end of the fall, when you are done watering for the season. 

Check out the roof 

Do a visual inspection of your roof to look for loose or missing tiles and have them replaced before winter storms arrive. 

Look for areas of mold growth, which can signal water accumulation or leaks. 

Inspect windows for cracks and replace panes where necessary. 

Clean the chimney and fireplace 

black gas fireplace with white trim
Seasonal fireplace maintenance can prevent fires. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

There is nothing like an evening by firelight when the air is crisp outside, but if you don’t tend to your chimney and fireplace before the season, you could be putting your home at risk. 

Home fires follow a seasonal pattern, trending sharply upward in the cooler months, as the bulk of fires are caused by heating equipment, including chimneys and fireplaces according to the National Fire Protection Association. And fires that spark in the chimney or fireplace cause substantial damage, with over a fifth of property damage tracked back to this fire source. 

Have your chimney and fireplace cleaned and inspected by a professional. If you have a gas fireplace, have an inspection scheduled to make sure that components are working correctly, and have them ignite the pilot light.  

Trim trees and shrubs 

While the leafy canopy of a tree is lovely to look at, it can be dangerous and cause a lot of damage to your home during a wind or ice storm. Trim branches from trees and shrubs, so that there is clearance of at least five feet. 

Look over your trees for damage and remove any at-risk limbs that could cause damage or injury if they fell. Wrapping young trees near the trunk base can help them survive harsh winter conditions.  

Organize the garage 

The garage is often forgotten space that can increase a home’s functionality, especially when it comes to storage. Purge any unwanted items from the garage and make use of the walls and overhead storage to leverage the available space. 

Although having more storage is a bonus, the goal here is to create adequate space to park cars indoors to protect from snow, wind and hail, as hailstorms hit their peak in the autumn. 

Stock the emergency kit 

With the number of storms increasing, emergency kits are more important than ever. Check to see if your emergency kit items need replenishing or build one from scratch. 

Make sure you have: 

  • Water 
  • Batteries 
  • Non-perishable food and a manual can opener 
  • Flashlight 
  • Candles and matches 
  • Blankets 
  • Pet food 
  • Extra car and house keys 
  • Medication 
  • Soap and sanitizer 
  • Non-prescription medication and prescription medication (it may be difficult to fill prescriptions in the event of a disaster) 

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