Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

With winter approaching, it’s time to take care of essential maintenance tasks around the house. Fall is the time to take care of any final outdoor updates or repairs on your to-do list before it gets too cold to do so. Properly preparing your home for winter will ensure that your house stays protected, efficient, and warm all winter long.  

From landscape care, exterior repairs, and even some interior prep, follow this home maintenance checklist to help get your home winter-ready. Here is our Fall Home Maintenance Checklist:

Landscape tasks

If you have plenty of greenery in your back and front yard, don’t forget to add them to your home maintenance checklist. Before your plants and shrubs settle down to hibernate, you want to prepare them for the months of cold. If you have trees, then taking extra steps with them will help prevent winter storms from knocking down branches and causing damage. This early care will also mean that your lawn and plants will grow back even healthier come spring. 

Lawn care

Continue to take care of your lawn by occasional watering and even fertilizing it right up until the frost settles in. This will ensure that your lawn will grow back healthy after the winter and won’t suffer from any winter diseases. Start by seeding and fertilizing any dead spots to encourage richer growth. Continue to mow up until the first frost and keep the grass short, around 2 ½ inches. This will prevent mould from settling into any tall grass or prevent too short a cut from starving the grass. A good guideline to follow is to steadily cut back the grass’s height and not do it all at once. Mow about three to four times before the first frost and shorten the grass by one-third at most each time.

Trim shrubs and trees

The most important rule with plant care in the fall: never prune. Instead, wait until midwinter or even early spring to prune. Any earlier and it risks harming future growth or even prematurely killing the plant. Instead, wait until the plants have begun to go dormant before tackling any pruning. Once dormant, it will encourage new root growth and help the plant survive the winter. What you can do instead this fall is to trim any dead debris, such as leaves or broken branches. That way, strong winter winds won’t knock the branches loose and cause potential damage.

The exception to the pruning rule is certain perennials that don’t do well in cold weather. If left alone, they have a higher risk of developing diseases and not growing back as healthy in the spring. Pruning them in the fall will encourage healthy growth and ensure they return year after year. There are 34 perennials in total that can be trimmed, so take a look at the ones that need pruning and add them to your fall home maintenance.  

Add mulch to young trees or plants

Fall is the best month to plant new trees, anywhere between late August and October. Without the heat of summer, new trees can focus their growth on establishing a strong root system. That way, come winter, they’ll be well established and able to survive. Still, new trees do need some pre-winter preparation. If you’ve recently planted young trees or shrubs, take the time to add a layer of mulch over the soil. During the winter, this will help the plants to conserve moisture even as the ground freezes. It also helps prevent weeds from springing up and competing for nutrients during the new growth period.

For new trees, keep the mulch away from the trunk by at least two to three inches. That will help protect moisture from becoming trapped against the bark and causing rot. Young evergreen trees may benefit from stakes for added support and a burlap sack covering to protect against winter-burn. Winter-burn is caused when young trees are unable to stop water loss from cold winds. The added burlap sack layer acts as a windbreaker and prevents any moisture loss.

Clear away final debris

To help make it easier to clear away snow, take the time to remove any small rocks and store all cables and hoses indoors. Ensure that any pathways are clear so that there won’t be unexpected obstructions that risk causing damage when you do shovel. Do a final rake of the lawn as well so that any last leaves are cleared away. Over the winter, thick layers of leaves can risk smothering the lawn or any plants and kill them. Trapped moisture may also lead to mould growing beneath the snow, which is an unwanted surprise come spring.

Exterior home checks

Once your yard is winter-ready, it’s time to prepare your home’s exterior. Your roof, windows, doors, and siding will all play key roles in keeping your home warm and safe. Air leaks, clogged gutters, or even minor repairs can become the culprit for winter issues. Make the most of the cooler weather to inspect your home and tackle those fall home maintenance repairs while there’s still time. 

Inspect the roof and attic

Hire a professional to give your roof and attic a thorough inspection before winter. Any leaks or damage to the roof should be repaired right away to prevent water damage or costly heat loss. Ensure that the flashing around the chimney or any ventilation is in working order and hasn’t been damaged. Following that, make sure the attic is sealed, and the ventilation is in working order. Proper attic ventilation is crucial, especially in the winter when snow and ice dams are a risk.

Ice dams form when the snow melts on the roof but then refreezes before draining. The buildup of ice along the edge of the roof can cause severe damage to the roof structure, the insulation, and even cause interior water damage. Proper attic ventilation pulls in cold air and pushes out hot air to prevent moisture from becoming trapped inside. This also helps prevent excess heat from causing snow damns from developing in the first place. Like the roof, attics should be professionally inspected annually. 

Clear and clean gutters

Right up until winter, make sure to clean the gutters of any debris or blocks regularly. If the gutter can’t drain properly, it risks breaking and flooding and causing costly water damage. In addition to routine DIY care and upkeep, have a professional also do an inspection. Generally, gutters should be professionally inspected at least once a year. If you have a professional inspecting your roof, use the opportunity to have them check and clean your gutters. Have any repairs, no matter how minor they seem, handled right away. Another excellent way to further protect the gutters is to consider installing a gutter guard for year-round protection and easier cleaning.

Seal gaps and leaks

Neither little critters nor heat loss are welcome during the winter. Even a tiny gap can be all that is needed for mice and other small animals to get into your home. Once inside, they’ll quickly raid any pantries and make a home for the winter. Check around any windows, doors, the foundation, and around cables and gas lines for small openings. If you find any, use steel wool to seal it and then add caulking to keep it in place. Larger holes can be sealed with cement, hardware cloth, or metal sheets.

Air leaks are typically found around windows and doors but are easy to fix. Check to see if window caulking is worn or damaged and repair it as necessary. For doors, make sure there is no visible daylight around the frame, which indicates a gap. Apply weather stripping to seal it and prevent heat from escaping or cold air getting in. Another cheap trick is to buy door snakes and place them at the base of any doors. For interior doors or bedrooms, this is a great way to trap heat in the room.  

Protect equipment and turn off the water

The most important thing to avoid is letting water remain in any pipes or garden hoses to freeze during the winter. If that happens, the water will swell as it freezes and risks bursting and causing costly damage and repairs. Turn off any exterior faucets to prevent that and then carefully drain and store any outdoor hoses. If you have an outdoor grill and don’t plan on using it during the winter, make sure to winterize it and shut off the gas line. Carefully clean everything and coat any metal parts with a moisture repellant to prevent rust from setting in. Then, cover it to protect against the snow.

Any outdoor AC units should also be carefully winterized and even professionally inspected. Even though it won’t be run during the winter, you want it ready to use right away come spring. To protect it against snow and rust, remove any surrounding debris and completely dry the unit. Make sure the power is turned off and, if you have one, cover the unit with a waterproof cover. Throughout the winter, make sure to regularly clear away any snow or ice around the unit to prevent buildup and possible damage.

Interior home checks

The last thing you want is to have the furnace breakdown unexpectedly or face a winter breathing dirty interior air. Once everything outside is winter-ready, take the time to prepare the interior as well. The interior home maintenance checklist is generally split between system checks and safety checks for the winter.

Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

During most of the colder months, windows and doors tend to stay shut. This is great for keeping heat trapped inside, but it also increases the risk of smoke or deadly leaks from also staying trapped. Carbon monoxide (CO) is particularly dangerous as it is colourless, odourless, and deadly if inhaled. Before the snow falls, have any smoke and carbon monoxide detectors tested. Replace batteries as necessary or consider investing in upgrades for both before the winter.

CO detectors should be located on each floor and in any attached garages. There should also be one outside every bedroom, or have one in the hallway shared by each bedroom. Keep in mind that they should be installed at knee height or lower and not on ceilings like smoke detectors. CO does not rise like smoke. As for smoke detectors, follow the same layout except omit kitchens and bathrooms. False alarms can be triggered by even small amounts of smoke from burnt food or steam.  

Furnace inspection, cleaning, and filter replacement

Make sure your furnace is winter ready to avoid any unexpected breakdowns during the coldest months. Furnace inspections can also help increase overall efficiency and save money. Bring in a professional to inspect and maintain your furnace and get it ready. They’ll check all the parts of the furnace and make sure everything is in working order. If cleaning is required, a professional will also handle that and readjust anything that is out of place. They’ll also replace the furnace filters, which can otherwise shorten the furnace’s lifespan and waste energy.

At the same time, have your air filters and air ducts professionally inspected and cleaned. With the windows mostly shut, you want to ensure your indoor air quality is safe and clean over the winter. Any moisture accumulation or trapped dirt can lead to mould growth and degrade indoor air quality. Otherwise, people with allergens will suffer more from increased dust and pollen. At the same time, mould spores risk leading to other potential health issues.

Check your winter supplies

Once your home and outdoors are both winter-ready, take the time to check your supplies. Do you have shovels at the ready and in good condition? If you use a snowblower, make sure it has been checked and prepared for the winter. The last thing you want is to have it breakdown before it’s even used. Make sure your car is also winter-ready with a windshield scraper, shovel, and maybe an emergency kit as a backup.

Don’t tackle it all alone

Just remember that not everything on your fall home maintenance checklist has to be DIYed. In fact, some things are best left to a professional to ensure their quality and performance. Things such as roof inspections, furnace tune-ups, or even certain landscape care should be left to the professionals. With their experience, readily available tools, and expertise, your home will be winter-ready in no time. Plus, you’ll have absolute peace of mind that it’ll stay safe, cozy, and at max efficiency throughout winter!

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