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Fall Home Maintenance Alert: Three places trouble can brew

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | August 28, 2013

If you're relatively new to home ownership, one of the first things you'll soon learn is there's a home repair timeline for when to perform home maintenance tasks throughout the year. For example, even newbie homeowners know theoretically they should probably have the furnace checked before winter. But until you've tried turning on the heat one unseasonably frigid morning in October and nothing happens, you might not fully grasp the need to prep your home on a schedule well ahead of seasonal weather changes.

Home maintenance for fall -- from the top down

About the time kids head back to school is when you should start your fall home maintenance projects. The region your home is in might give you some leeway on when and whether you need to tackle all of these tasks for your autumn home regimen. But even where temperatures generally stay moderate in winter, some inspection and action may be required to keep these three general areas of every home functioning well and to prevent costly repairs or service emergencies at inopportune times:

  • Roof, including shingles, gutters and downspouts, chimney, and attic
  • HVAC, including furnaces, boilers, and heat pumps, which provide both heating and cooling
  • Exterior components, including landscaping, siding, foundation, windows, doors, garage, and irrigation systems

Roof, gutter and attic maintenance

Roof inspection and repair -- and gutter maintenance if your gutters are more than one story high -- is best performed by a professional for safety reasons. Missing, damaged or loose shingles can create leaks from melting ice and snow or from hurricane-strength storms and blizzards.

A roof inspection should include examining the attic for signs of leaks, but while you're up there, it's a good idea to check whether your insulation is adequate. (Regardless of whether you live in a cold or warm climate, roof insulation can make your home more comfortable.) Also, make sure to check your attic vents for obstructions and dirt. Proper attic ventilation helps prevent insulation from clumping, wood from rotting, and mold from growing in your home.

Gutter cleaning can cost between $70 and $250 depending on the size of your home and whether it's one or two stories. Gutter and downspout brackets should be tightened to prevent water spilling behind them. Both gutters and downspouts should also be checked for blockages caused by fallen leaves and pine needles as well as bird and insect nests, which can cause rot and can even damage your foundation. And speaking of nests, make sure there aren't any in your chimney before you light your first cozy fire in the fireplace.

Heating/cooling system maintenance

Maintaining your heating and cooling system and your water heater should be a no-brainer wherever you live. One thing most homeowners can do themselves on a regular basis is change the air filters. Filters typically cost around $3 to $30 each at the big box stores -- depending on the type and size -- and should be changed at the very least quarterly to keep your system clean and running efficiently.

Depending on the age and type of HVAC system you have, you should have both your heating and cooling system checked and serviced either once a year or once every other year. Heat pumps that run all year round providing both heating and cooling, and oil furnaces, which generate a lot of dirt, should be tuned up yearly. Oil furnaces should always be professionally serviced. Gas furnaces have a little more leeway for frequency of regular maintenance; recommendations are every two to three years for professional tune-ups.

Costs for professional furnace inspections and tune-ups vary according to the type of furnace and even the region of the country but are generally between $100 and $200. Professional furnace maintenance includes visual inspection, filter change, cleaning the burners, reassembly, and testing the system. Your state or local utility company may provide rebates for furnace tune-ups.

Fall maintenance for your home's exterior

Now is the time to seal, caulk, paint, and stain. Windows and doors may need weatherstripping to keep out drafts. Costs for weatherstripping are minimal and may make a difference in your energy use and comfort. If your siding is in need of repair or a fresh coat of paint or sealer, do it before cold or stormy winter weather sets in. Caulk foundation cracks and close vents to crawl spaces to keep moisture out. These can be DIY-friendly projects if you're handy.

You also want to make sure you drain and turn off your irrigation system in climates prone to hard freeze, or you might find next spring that your yard is flooding in one place and not getting irrigated in another.

And follow these tips to keep pests from coming in -- they like to stay warm, too:

  • Declutter the yard and garage.
  • Seal cracks around window frames.
  • When stacking wood, keep the pile away from the house.
  • Cut trees and shrubs back, especially from the foundation.

Sound like a lot to do? These are just some of the highlights. Remember when life was sweet in September, and all you had to do was go back to school?

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer who specializes in writing about self-realization, motivation and home remodeling. She recently bought a new-construction home she shares with a bossy cat and a neurotic dog. When not attending to their every need, she's busy learning how even a brand new home has plenty of room for improvement.