Fall Home Maintenance
Fall Home Maintenance
For many of us, fall home maintenance comes at a time when the weather is beginning to be cold and blustery. This can make these chores unpleasant and cause us to procrastinate or even forego these tasks. However, keeping up with this maintenance extends the life of all our homes systems, reducing the need for repair or replacement. Additionally, some of these maintenance tasks keep the home more comfortable and reduce energy costs through the winter.
Chimney and Flues
First, let's define the terms chimney and flue: A flue is the pipe or duct that carries smoke and other byproducts of fuel combustion out of the home and into the atmosphere, regardless of the type of fuel. A chimney is the structure that surrounds the flue. There may be several flues within a chimney, but appliances and systems cannot share a flue. Natural gas, propane, and wood- burning furnaces, boilers, water heaters, and fireplaces use flues and chimneys (except for direct-vent appliances). All these produce substances that need to be removed from the interior of the flues. In addition, debris can collect in the flues; leaves and twigs and nests are common.
Inspections should be conducted by certified chimney sweeps, preferably someone who uses a camera for inspection. In addition to the items mentioned above, an inspection will also discover any deterioration occurring. The chimney sweep will also inspect the structure of the chimney itself. You should be given a detailed report of the findings, recommendations, and work accomplished for your action and records.
Professional repair for flues and chimneys is recommended.
Carefully inspect the roof for loose or missing shingles and other defects. A pair of binoculars is a useful tool for making these observations. It is best to hire professionals for roof repairs.
Gutters need to be inspected for sagging, cracks and leaks and cleared of debris. And don't forget the downspouts! If needed and replacing gutters isn't an option, there are many products on the market for temporary or semi-permanent fixes to leaks. This is also a good time to clean window wells of accumulated leaves and debris.
Gutter cleaning is especially important in climates where snow and ice accumulation on the roof is an issue because it can contribute to ice dams.
Inspect siding for gaps and loose pieces. In the case of brick siding, inspect joints for missing mortar and loose bricks. Make repairs as appropriate to the material.
Exterior Windows and Doors
Doors and windows are large holes in the envelope of a home. They are massive opportunities for heat loss.
Inspect windows for broken glass, loose trim, and missing caulk. In the case of broken glass, if replacement isn’t possible, a quick Google search offers temporary solutions.
Cover or remove window air-conditioning units. Check doors for weather stripping and caulk.
Don't forget the garage door! Anytime the garage door doesn't operate smoothly is inconvenient, but in cold weather months having a garage door that doesn't open or close properly can create all kinds of issues. Be sure to inspect the seal on the bottom of the garage door for tears and gaps when the door is closed.
Cracks in the foundation can signal any number of issues, including settling and water problems. It is important to get a professional opinion on the cause of the cracks. As with many things related to home maintenance, the longer they are ignored the more costly the repair may be.
Any type of opening in the foundation is a path for bugs and rodents to enter the home. Inspect dryer vents and other pipes and vents protruding from the foundation for adequate caulk around them to seal gaps.
Interior Fall Home Maintenance
The best time to inspect the attic is during daylight hours so any gaps and openings are visible. Openings of any size can lead to heat loss, causing the heating system to work harder. They are also entry points for bugs and animals. It is surprising how small a gap even a squirrel can squeeze through!
Adequate insulation is also important. According to the Department of Energy, most northern homes should have a value of R-49, or 16 to 18 inches of insulation. Blown insulation can be added on top of batts, and vice versa. Fiberglass batts added to the top must be unfaced (no paper or foil backing). Adequate insulation not only reduces heating requirements for the home, it also reduces the likelihood of ice dams.
Windows and Doors
Open and close windows and doors to ensure they are operating properly. It may seem strange to think about needing to open a window in the winter, but there are many reasons this may be desirable or necessary. They should also lock and unlock easily; locking them helps keep down drafts, and of course, is necessary for security.
As mentioned above, windows and doors are opportunities for warm air to escape and cold air to enter, creating drafts. There are many ways to locate drafts in the home, from using a candle or an incense stick to purchasing a handheld thermal device. These devices are simple to use and can be purchased affordably from most big box or hardware stores. Once located, take appropriate action to seal off drafts with weather stripping or caulk. Depending on the age of the home, exterior walls may not be adequately insulated. A thermal device can also help identify that situation for consideration of methods to increase the insulation.
In general, inspecting for cracks, loose or missing pieces, and other obvious defects is recommended. At a minimum, changing the furnace filter is a must. The type of heating unit will determine the exact maintenance required. Basic furnace cleaning can be done by the homeowner, but it is wise to have a professional clean and inspect it thoroughly. They are trained to observe issues that most homeowners would not recognize.
Basement Issues to Look For
Daylight hours are best for inspecting the basement. As in the attic, you're looking for places where you can see daylight through the above ground foundation walls and around any pipes or vents that penetrate the wall.
Cracks in the walls and floors of an unfinished basement, depending on their size and location, are concerns to be addressed by a professional. If your basement includes a sump pump, making sure it's in working order may be critical as winter turns to spring. Battery backup for the sump pump is a good investment.
If the basement is finished, inspecting for evidence of water coming into the home may be slightly more complicated because it doesn't always leave evidence until it's a critical issue. Handheld devices that measure moisture content are readily available and affordable and may be a good peace-of-mind investment for your home maintenance toolbox.
It isn’t a pleasant thought but looking for evidence of pests – rodents and insects – is also a must so appropriate steps can be taken.
Additional fall home maintenance tasks
Smoke detectors and CO2 detectors should be tested. It's recommended to replace batteries annually even when they seem to be working, and don't forget the backup batteries in hardwired or plugged in devices.
Just like smoke detectors, CO2 detectors should be on each floor of the home. A CO2 detector should also be placed near the door to an attached garage. However, their placement is different from smoke detectors.
This is a good time to round up all the tools needed for fall and winter maintenance, such as snow shovels and any ice removal tools and products you'll need. Locating them now and placing them where they're easily accessible we'll save much frustration later!
To Sum Up
While spring and fall are typically thought of as key times for home maintenance, there are year round tasks to help keep your home running smoothly. There are many online resources for checklists which can be personalized to your situation.
One last note: as you're completing your inspections, make note of any projects you may want to consider such as replacing windows, doors or siding, finishing the basement, or adding a room. This is a great time to do the research and consult with experienced and reliable professionals.