Six Maintenance Checklist Items for Your Home This Fall

Keeping your home healthy as warm turns to cold is important, but luckily, it's not too challenging.

The leaves are falling. The temperatures are falling. Humidity is falling. That’s why they call this season Autumn. Wait.

When fall comes around, it’s time to start prepping your home for dropping temperatures. Fortunately, there’s a lot of fall prep for your home that’s real simple and can be done in a matter of minutes. Let’s break it down.

Reverse your ceiling fans

There’s a neat trick you can try with your ceiling fans this fall and winter that will help keep your living areas warmer. Since you won’t be using them for their traditional purpose of cooling now that the weather is cold, try reversing them.

Fans create a windchill effect in the summer when they blow air directly on you. When you reverse their spin though, they create an updraft which pulls cool air up and forces warm air down. This actually makes your house warmer while using significantly less energy than heating your home exclusively with your HVAC system.

Since warm air is lighter than cool air, the warmest air in the room will rise to the ceiling. Forcing it down into your living space with your fan will alleviate some of the pressure on your HVAC to keep the parts of the room you actually inhabit warm and ultimately save you some money.

Clean gutters

The leaf change in fall is one of the most beautiful things nature has to offer. It’s also a pain in the butt for the homeowner. Every time you rake your yard, the leaves have again covered every inch of grass in seemingly no time at all. That’s not the only place where leaves can build up either. Your gutters are personal favorites of discarded fall flora.

Cleaning out your gutters is a must this fall. Gutters and downspouts that become clogged can cause water to pool on your roof. If this isn’t dealt with, it can result in damage to your roof as the weight becomes too much for the gutter to handle. It will literally just rip right off. Don’t let that happen.

Assuming there isn’t a clog in your downspout, the job of cleaning your gutters is pretty simple. There are two approaches you can take. We'll call the first approach the "old school approach." You’ll need a ladder, a handheld shovel, a hose, and probably some gloves.

Don’t try to clean your gutters shortly after a rainstorm. Any gunk up there will be matted down, soaking wet, and much more difficult to clean.
gutter cleaning by hand
Wear gloves when cleaning gutters by hand

Climb the ladder so you can actually reach the gutters, then use the handheld shovel to remove as much of the big stuff as you can. In the fall, there are bound to be leaves up there, which are generally pretty easy to deal with. You simply toss those off the roof if you want to rake them later, or you can bring a bucket up the ladder and put them all in there.

After you’ve removed all the big stuff, use a hose on high power to wash out dirt or any other small stuff that you can’t get out with your shovel or hands. As long as the water drains through the downspout, you’re done.

The "new school approach" will probably require a trip to the store unless you already have all of the required items. You can ditch the ladder, hose, and shovel for a pressure washer, telescoping wand, and pressure washing attachment. Telescoping wands extend the reach of pressure by as much as 24 feet, allowing you to reach your gutters from the security of solid ground. The gutter cleaning attachment is simply a U-shaped connector that allows you to blast water directly into your gutter from below.

If you have all these extra pressure washer pieces already, then this is the easier and faster approach by far. If you're reading this though, you probably don't. Telescoping wands are usually over $100, and the long ones are sometimes over $200, which is a hefty investment. The good news is that the same extension exists for hoses, and they're much less expensive. You won't get the same power and dirt cleaning ability with a hose versus a pressure washer, but a high powered hose will succeed in clearing larger junk from the gutters like leaves and acorns.

Ultimately, the approach that works for you is the one you should go with. Just be careful on the ladder should you decide to go old school.

After you've cleaned the gutters, if you find that the water doesn’t drain, you’ve likely got a clogged downspout. This means that you waited too long to clean your gutters. Hopefully, you can clear the clog with just a hose. Simply, stick the hose up the downspout from the bottom and crank the hose to full blast. This will get most clogs. If it can’t, you’ll need to bring in some more firepower.

You can purchase a drain auger or at most hardware stores for around $30. These clog clearing machines are a type of retractable drain snake that works great in your home's downspout. They come in manual and electric versions, but you won't need to spend the money on an electric one unless you're a professional plumber. The retractable feature is mainly just for convenience and ease of use, so a regular drain snake can also work provided it's big enough to handle the clog.

The most common place for a clog is at the elbow, which the small bend near the top of the downspout.

Clean lint traps

Your dryer can be a bit of a fire hazard if you never clean out the lint traps. Lint is extremely flammable and your dryer gets extremely hot. See the problem?

You should do this before every load of laundry anyway, but it’s especially important when the cold months roll around. You’ll be wearing thicker clothes and more layers now that the temperatures are dropping, and the thicker garments will produce more lint, increasing the rate at which your lint trap will fill up.

dryer vent tubing cleaning
Vacuum out your dryer vent tubing

It’s also important to remember that not all lint gets caught by the traps. Depending on where your lint trap goes, you may find lint inside the lint trap slot. Remove the trap itself and use a vacuum attachment to clean this out.

If you don’t have a vacuum attachment that will fit down into the lint trap slot, duct taping a piece of small diameter PVC pipe to the end of your vacuum hose will do the trick and you’ll feel very resourceful while using it.

Perhaps most importantly, you need to clean out your vents. Lint can build up here and be extremely dangerous. Thankfully, the cleaning process is pretty simple.

All you need is a screwdriver and a vacuum with a hose attachment. Use the screwdriver to loosen the metal ring that holds the vent tubing in place. Then disconnect the tubing and use your vacuum to suck out all the nasty stuff that you’ll find in there.

The main reason for doing all of this is to eliminate potential fire hazards, especially in the fall and winter. A secondary benefit though is the efficiency boost your dryer will get from clean vents, which can cut down on your power bill.

Check CO and smoke detectors

This should be routinely done throughout the year, but definitely at the end of summer. Because of the sudden dependency on heating appliances, the risk of carbon monoxide or fire related incidents increase.

If you do not have carbon monoxide alarms in your home, you need to go get them right now. Like, right now. We'll wait. Household items like furnaces, water heaters, and even fireplaces produce carbon monoxide. Since these are used more frequently in cold months, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases in the cold months—especially January, which is the coldest month of the year. Make sure your alarms are working and installed properly to ensure safety.

There should be a CO alarm within 15 feet of every sleeping area, and it's best to avoid putting them in corners. Air can stagnate in corners, decreasing the exposure to CO the alarm would have should there be an emergency.

Test smoke detectors for the same reason. House fires increase as the weather gets colder and peak in the months of December and January when Christmas tree fires become a thing. Make sure you have a dependable smoke detector setup.

Add weatherstripping

Weatherstripping can really save you some coin year round. As we head into fall and winter, cold air that can sneak past improperly sealed windows and doors will leave your HVAC system with that much more work to continually heat your home.

Instead of forcing extra work on a system with a finite lifespan and increasing your energy bill, apply some weatherstripping to your doors and windows to keep that cold air out.

Weatherstripping comes in all shapes and sizes. There is adhesive rubber that can you simply cut and apply to the inside of window frames. There is non-adhesive rubber that you have to nail into window and door frames. There are door sweeps that you screw into the bottom of a door to seal the bottom of the door frame, which is a common place for a draft. There’s more than, which you can read about in our weatherstripping blog.

Almost any place that is susceptible to air leaks or drafts has a type of weatherstripping to fit it. Before installing though, you first have to figure out where your problem areas are or if you have any at all. An energy audit from a professional will tell you precisely where you need to install weatherstripping, but you can run some basic tests yourself.

  • The flashlight test: This works well for doors. Have a friend stand inside your house and you stand outside with a flashlight. Close the door and shine the line around the doorframe from varying angles. If your friend can see light coming through at any point, it’s a good idea to add some weatherstripping. Make sure that you do this at night for obvious reasons.
  • Moisture test: This can work for both windows and doors. It’s also important that you pick a cooler day to do this test. Wet your hand and feel around the edges of your window or door inside your home. If air is coming through, the moisture on your hand will help you detect it. You’ll then know that those particular windows or doors could use some weatherstripping.

The actual time it will take you to install your weatherstripping will vary depending on the kind you prefer, but most take only a couple minutes.

Shut off outdoor faucets

It’s a good idea to shut off the water supply to outdoor faucets and spigots before freezing temperatures roll in, especially if you live in states that experience extreme cold. The last thing you want to discover in the winter is a burst pipe.

You’ll need to locate the main water shutoff valve in your home, which is typically in the crawlspace or basement if you have one. Near the main shutoff valve is usually where you can find the individual shutoff valves for each faucet. Identify the outdoor ones and turn them all off.

Each valve should have a small cap attached, which is typically referred to as a bleeder cap. Unscrew this to allow the water to drain out of the pipe.

Make sure you have a bucket under the pipe when you unscrew the cap so you don’t get water everywhere.

Reinstall the bleeder cap. Then go outside, locate each outdoor faucet, remove any attached hoses, and then open the water lines from the outside to allow any remaining water to drain out. Close them all and you’re done. Your water lines are protected from freeze for the winter.

These six fall to dos will take you almost no time to complete while keeping your home safe, warm, and energy efficient this fall. One more thing you can do to keep your home efficient is to keep changing your air filter on a regular cadence with Second Nature. We’ll ship you high quality filters on your customized schedule.

Alec Lower

Content Writer

Alec is a third-year member of the team at Second Nature. He brings expert knowledge of a myriad of home air filtration topics including HVAC filters, filtration efficiency, and indoor air quality.