Click here to go back to the Main Tips page.


Fall Maintenance Tips For Your Home


Call a Chimney Sweep
Have a professional clean the chimney, hearth, and firebox because a build-up of combustible creosote is a fire danger. If you use your fireplace regularly during the winter have it cleaned annually. If used only a few times each year have it inspected every couple of years and cleaned when necessary.

Check Out Storm Doors and Windows
Wash and replace window screens with storm windows and replace door screens with glass panels. Over the years the screws that hold the clips tight in the door begin to wear and will not stay tight so the screen and storm panels rattle. To solve the problem replace a worn clip and screw with a 3/4-inch long #8 panhead sheet metal screw and a large washer. Drill a 1/16-inch hole in the frame next to the worn clip and use a pair of pliers to bend the washer slightly in its center so it forms a shallow V. With the washer in a V shape one edge is pushed toward the panel when the sheet metal screw is tightened. Drill a pilot hole for the sheet metal screw in the edge of the door close to the old screw, put the washer on the screw with the V facing toward the door, and tighten the screw. Do this in several areas around the panel.

Caulk and Weatherstrip Now
Take a walk around the house looking for worn and damaged caulk and weatherstripping. Caulk is a flexible sealant that fills cracks and gaps in all the joints of a house, but it eventually dries out, especially around walls, windows, and doors with a southern exposure. Caulk should be applied around the frames of doors and windows where they meet siding, between the foundation and siding, at cracks in bricks, or wherever masonry meets wood.

Weatherstripping is a material that seals openings in a house. It is applied around a window or door jamb or at its threshold. It is installed so it forms a tight seal at the opening, creating a gasket so it doesn't leak air and energy dollars. The material can be vinyl, rubber, metal, foam, wood, or a combination of them.
Caulk is sold in a cartridge that fits into a half-barrel caulk gun. To apply, clean the joint or crack by removing the old caulk and remove the dirt with an old paintbrush. Wipe it clean with a damp rag and let it dry. Cut the caulk tube's nozzle with a utility knife at a 45-degree angle. To operate the gun pull the handle all the way back so the nozzle faces opposite the handle. Then turn the handle so that the notches in the plunger face down. Pull the trigger until you feel resistance. Place the nozzle of the cartridge in the crack and squeeze the trigger of the gun while pushing the tube away from you to fill the gap with caulk. When you reach the end of the caulk or joint turn the handle of the gun so that the notches on the plunger face up in order to release pressure in the tube and to stop the caulk. Run your index finger over the bead of caulk to straighten it out. Wet your finger with water if you are using latex caulk; use mineral spirits if you are using another type.

Weatherstripping is not hard to install. Rubber, vinyl, wood, and metal weatherstripping can be cut to size with a shears or knife and then installed with the fasteners supplied by the manufacturer. Foam and V-seal vinyl weatherstripping has a pressure sensitive adhesive backing so it's a press-in-place material. When replacing worn weatherstripping with new, remove the old material and thoroughly scrape and clean the surface for good adhesion.

Service Your Heating System
Have your furnace cleaned and serviced by a professional to guarantee there are no leaks and that the burner is operating efficiently. During the heating season use a vacuum cleaner's crevice tool to clean the air grills to make sure they're not clogged.
Stock up on furnace filters so you are ready for the heating season. Change the filter monthly for greatest furnace efficiency.
If you have a hot-water system with radiators or baseboard convectors, bleed the air from the system so hot water can fill all the chambers. Use a coffee can to catch the water runoff. Turn the bleed valve with a radiator key or screwdriver. When the air stops hissing and water runs out, close the valve.

Tasks for October

Store Air Conditioners
Remove individual window units and store them in a dry place. Cover window units that can't be removed and the condensing unit of a central system.

Reset Programmable Thermostat
Change the batteries in a programmable thermostat so it will not forget its program. Then reset the unit for your winter heating schedule.

Attend to the Yard
Use outdoor power equipment to make leaves, twigs, and branches useful organic material. There's a wide range of walk-behind cleanup machines and stationary chipper/shredders that can recycle grass, leaves, brush, and branches into mulch, wood chips, and other valuable natural resources for your yard and garden.
Fill in bare spots of the lawn with a patch of sod or seed. Keep it watered and protected from foot traffic.
Divide and replant perennials such as daylilies and peonies and trim off the top of the foliage. Be sure to plant them at the same depth and space them so they have room to grow. Plant spring-flowering bulbs throughout the garden. Fertilize all the garden beds and cover with mulch to protect them during the winter.

Cut the lawn for the last time and apply fertilizer.
Winterize the gas-powered lawn mower, snow thrower, and other outdoor equipment by draining out the old oil and than filling the crank case with new oil. Fill the gas tank with fresh gasoline and add gas stabilizer according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Chip away any dried-on dirt or debris from the underside of the metal housing and clean the topside of the unit. If storing it inside, remove the spark plug and squirt an ounce of oil into the cylinder chamber through the spark plug hole. Then pull the starting rope to move the piston up and down and spread the oil. Replace the spark plug.

Maintain Lawn and Garden Tools
Remove dirt and mud from garden tools. Use a wire brush or medium steel wool and oil to remove rust or worn paint from the metal parts. Apply a silicone spray or water-displacing lubricant such as WD-40® to coat the exposed metal parts. Use a coarse file to sharpen the edges of digging tools like a trowel, weeder, and shovels so they'll cut into the soil more easily. Position the tool in a vice so you can freely work the file back and forth on both sides of its edges.

Empty Outdoor Spigot
Avoid having frozen pipes by draining the water out of the exterior spigot. A newer house may have a freeze-proof spigot but most older homes have a shut-off valve located inside the house. To winterize the spigot, turn the water off at the inside valve and then open the outside spigot to allow the water to drain out of the pipe. Some inside valves have a drain plug. Remove it so the water will drain out, then replace the plug.

Tasks for November

Quiet Squeaky Floors and Stairs
Have someone move around where the floor squeaks and go to the basement or crawl space looking for gaps between the subfloor and the joists. Apply carpenter's glue to a wooden shingle or shim and use a hammer to drive it tightly between the subfloor and joist.
The same trick works if there's a squeak at the back of a stair tread. When the glue is dry, cut the shingle or wedge flush with the face of the riser with a utility knife.
If the squeak is at the front of the stair tread drill 1/16-inch pilot holes through the stair tread into the top edge of the riser. Angle the holes towards each other, then drive 6d finishing nails into the pilot holes. Sink their heads below the surface of the treads with a nail set and fill the holes with wood putty.

Paint High-Traffic Areas
The rooms in a house that get the most wear and tear need frequent painting, so give a quick coat of paint to the hallway and mudroom where handprints can be a problem. First, wash the scuff marks with a detergent solution so the surface is clean. When dry, remove any detergent with a cloth dampened in water and allow it to dry before painting. Choose a paint designed for washability for previously painted walls in high traffic areas. An eggshell finish withstands repeated washings without fading and it's ideal for walls and trim.

Lubricate the Garage Door
On a segmented or sectional door use a 20-weight oil on the hinges connecting the door sections, the rollers along the side tracks, and other moving hardware.
On a manual swing-up garage door lubricate the large pivot hinges at each side, which you'll find in the middle of the door jamb. Apply a light all-purpose grease on the hinges and all moving hardware. If the mounting bolts and hardware are loose or missing, replace them.

Prepare to Use the Fireplace and Wood Stove
Gather fallen tree branches and cut and stack them for kindling. Use a pruning saw for thick branches and break thin pieces by hand. Stack them in a sheltered area so they'll be dry and accessible.
Get a fireproof hearth throw rug to prevent sparks or ashes from causing a fire or creating damage to the flooring.

Tune Up the Snow Shovel
Inspect your aluminum or fiberglass snow shovel to see that the corners of the blade are straight and sharp. If the reinforcing metal bar is bent at a corner straighten it by placing the shovel on a sturdy surface like a workbench or on top of a vise and pound the steel strip flat with a hammer. Whenever striking or using a striking tool be sure to wear eye protection. Then give the blade a light coating of oil to keep it from rusting.

Tasks for December

Make a Homeowner's Journal
Use a file box to keep track of household information so it's easy to find and use. Include financial papers and bank accounts, car records, insurance policies and inventories, and school and medical records.
To keep track of home improvements start a file of materials and product warranties and owner's manuals and a list of decorating details like the color of paint or wallpaper used in rooms.

Inspect Electrical Receptacles
Replace existing outlets in the bathroom, kitchen, and outdoors with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), which is a device that provides shock protection by cutting the power almost instantly when it detects a possible dangerous current imbalance. It has a small 'test' and 'reset' button in between the two receptacles. You need a screwdriver, wire cutters, long-nose pliers, and some electrical tape. Follow the installation instructions and remember to turn off the power at the main panel before you begin.

Save Energy with Lightbulbs
Begin buying energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs to replace incandescents and you'll save in the long run. While they're more expensive initially, they'll outlast a regular lightbulb and cost substantially less to use so you'll save money. You'll notice a decrease in your energy bills as you gradually make the transition.

Prevent Frozen Pipes
Protect water pipes inside the house from freezing by insulating any that are exposed or susceptible to north winds. Use either insulating aluminum-backed foam or fiberglass pipe wrap, or flexible, closed-cell polyethylene foam insulation that is pre-slit to snap around the pipe.

Keep Sidewalk and Driveway Clear
Lay in a supply of sand, ashes, or ground salt for icy conditions.

Inspect Holiday Lights
Check tree and outdoor lights and extension cords to make sure they're not frayed, and replace when needed. Have a happy holiday!