Prepare for Fall with These 7 Home Maintenance Tips

After another sizzling summer, you may be looking forward to some relief with the arrival of cooler fall temperatures. But the change in season also means a change in home maintenance priorities; it won't be long before we're firing up the furnace and raking autumn leaves.

As we transition to the cooler autumn season, keep these seven home maintenance tasks in mind to keep your home safe, energy efficient and in good working order.

  1. Tune Up Your Furnace

    If you want to make sure your furnace is up to the task of keeping your home warm all winter long, an annual tune up is essential. The best time to perform this service is in late summer or early fall, ideally before you switch your thermostat to heating mode. And it's especially important to have this job done by a licensed professional – furnace maintenance is not DIY work.

    Tune up service includes a detailed inspection, lubrication and cleaning, which provides your best opportunity to proactively replace worn parts to help minimize the risk of a sudden breakdown. It can also help improve system efficiency, extend the life of your furnace and identify cracks or defects that could potentially leak deadly carbon monoxide into your home. And if your furnace is under warranty, proof of annual tune up maintenance may be required for warranty claims.

  2. Inspect Your Window and Door Seals

    Air leaks around your doors and windows are a problem no matter the season, but they're most noticeable when cold air starts seeping in. If you have multiple air leaks, it can really drive up your home heating bills.

    Take time to closely inspect the weather stripping on each window and exterior door to ensure it's in good shape. If weather stripping appears cracked, brittle or torn, it should be replaced. You can also close each door and window with a dollar bill resting against the weather stripping – if you can pull the dollar out easily with little resistance, there may be air seeping in.

    You can purchase different types of weather stripping at most hardware stores, often with a self-adhesive coating that makes installation easy. Simply follow the instructions included with the weather stripping repair kit, and be sure to prepare your surfaces for proper installation by completely removing the old weather stripping and its adhesive residue.

  3. Clean Your Chimney and Fireplace

    This is another task where it pays to hire a pro: chimney sweeping is messy business, and it's smart to have a trained set of eyes on your chimney and fireplace once a year. Common problems like a sticky damper or creosote buildup in the chimney can lead to tragic consequences like house fires or carbon monoxide poisoning.

    If you have a functioning fireplace but never or rarely use it, you should still inspect the damper to make sure it's effectively blocking out cold air. And because even the best chimney damper usually offers a less-than-perfect seal, you could consider having your chimney sealed permanently to eliminate air leaks altogether.

  4. Switch Your Window Treatments

    During the summer, you can effectively block out most of the unwanted heat from the sun with lightweight shades and blinds. But in the fall and winter, it's more helpful to have thick, heavy drapes as an extra layer of insulation. Even if you like to keep them open during the sunny hours, closing full-length drapes at night can help minimize drafts and keep rooms cozy.

    Having separate sets of window treatments for warm and cold weather can also be an easy, inexpensive way to keep a little variety in your decor. Just be sure to choose tightly woven thermal materials for your fall and winter drapes so that you get the most bang for your buck.

  5. Reverse Your Ceiling Fans

    In the summer, ceiling fans should rotate counterclockwise to create a downdraft that makes you feel cooler. But in the fall and winter, you can reverse the direction to clockwise and operate them at low speed to gently redistribute the warmer air trapped near the ceiling. Most ceiling fans have an easy-to-locate directional switch near the motor.

    Using your ceiling fans in either direction won't change the actual temperature of the air, but it can help you stay comfortable while using your HVAC system less. So if you notice the difference that running your ceiling fans clockwise makes, try lowering the thermostat a few degrees to save energy without sacrificing comfort.

  6. Winterize Pools and Sprinkler Systems

    Swimming pools and buried sprinkler systems should be winterized properly every year to avoid unnecessary damage. Failure to winterize a swimming pool can lead to liner damage, cracked concrete and broken pipes from expanding ice, and out-of-control algae development. Sprinkler systems are filled with water during normal operation, and if this isn't drained before the first freeze, the expanding ice can completely destroy the network of pipes, valves and sprinkler heads.

    Winterizing your pool and sprinkler system can be DIY jobs, but both are multi-step processes that must be executed properly to avoid damage. If you're not sure you know what you're doing or can't make the time commitment to complete these jobs before freezing temperatures arrive, it's worth hiring service professionals to perform these tasks.

  7. Maintain Your Trees and Gutters

    Your rain gutters collect dead leaves every fall, but you can cut down on this problem by trimming back tree branches that hang over your roof. This can also help protect your roof and windows when winter rolls around, because accumulated snow and ice can cause weakened branches to break and fall.

    Simple pruning can be a DIY job with the proper equipment and safety precautions, but there are some types of trimming that are best left to experienced arborists. Trimming near power lines, pruning high branches and removing large, heavy branches can be dangerous work.

    If you have a sturdy ladder and are comfortable with heights, take some time to clean out your gutters while you're at it. For mess-free cleaning, bring a plastic scoop for shoveling out muck and a waste bucket that you can hang from your ladder. When all the large debris is removed, use a garden hose to flush out any remaining residue. Performing this maintenance annually can protect your gutters, roof and siding, as well as prevent ice dams from forming in winter.

You can find more tips for taking care of your home in our Learning Center.

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