Fall means a lot of things, including going back to school, raking leaves, decorating pumpkins and eating turkey, but in my house, it usually also means home maintenance. It seems like every fall there’s something wrong with my house. A few years ago we had to have the fridge and kitchen sink replaced. This year it’s all new carpets, repair of some roofing issues and replacement of a rotting door and frame. My husband Sam is home right now, directing the installation process.
The fall home maintenance and repairs are on top of all the ongoing house maintenance for homeowners. We try to keep home maintenance to a schedule so big repairs don’t surprise us.
In the summer, we have weekly—or semi-weekly, depending on the amount of rain— landscaping chores. In the winter, we do snow removal, in the spring we spray for ants, in the fall we watch for leaking, and once every year or two, we sealcoat our driveway. Inside the house, we have to change all kinds of filters and batteries, repaint rooms, replace carpet, fix appliances when they break and so on. Every five years or so we replace all of our smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
The problem with not taking care of problems when they’re small is that they only get worse. My friend Alice has a country house about three hours from New York City. She didn’t know there was a tiny leak in the roof. By the time she figured it out, almost an entire wall of the house had to be replaced. And if you don’t replace your smoke detectors, you know that when they fail, they will fail in the middle of the night and you won’t know which one is giving you the trouble.
To keep your home in top condition, there are certain tasks you’ll need to do every year. You can split the chores up into seasons to make the home maintenance job manageable. Here’s what’s on our list for fall:
Clean your gutters: Most single-family homes should have their gutters cleaned out once a year, typically after the leaves have fallen. But if you live in a heavily wooded area or have trees that shed leaves or flowers in the spring, have your gutters cleaned twice annually.
The cost ranges from $50 on up, depending on the size of your home. If you don’t keep your gutters clean, they won’t do their job of diverting water to the storm sewer or away from your home. If you have a home without gutters, water can run down the side of your home and potentially leak into the basement.
You also want to go around your home and make sure that the soil around your home is properly sloped away from your home. If you have had some soil compression, you might want to add more soil or you can have a landscaper help you out to make sure that water drains away from your home.
Look for cracks and leaks: Walk around the base of your home, inspecting for cracks, failed caulk around the window joints, and the condition of your exterior siding. Failing to tuckpoint your brick exterior means your home could wind up with water damage. If you have synthetic stucco siding, hire a professional inspector who specializes in EIFS to look for damage, cracks or any holes that could allow water to get behind the EIFS. If you have exterior wood clapboards, keep them painted. Otherwise, they could rot, requiring an expensive fix.
Inspect your furnace and air conditioning units: Plan to have your furnace cleaned once every year to keep it running as efficiently as possible. You’ll probably need to change the filter at least once a year as well, or in some cases every couple of months. If you have airconditioning units, you need to make sure they are clean and allow air to flow freely around them to keep a high efficiency.
Keep your home maintained: In your bathrooms, replace caulk that looks as though it isn’t sealing properly or looking old. Change smoke and carbon monoxide detector batteries (this should be done at least once a year). Clean the fan hood and filters over your stove to eliminate grease buildup. It helps me to remember these tasks by making sure I do all of them every October.
Fireplace: If you like using your fireplace, you might want to consider having the flue of your fireplace cleaned every couple of years.
The bottom line is that home maintenance requires vigilance—and a wide-open checkbook. However, if you do regular, ongoing maintenance in your home, the costs will be relatively minor and you may be saved from an unwelcome home emergency.