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50 Crucial Fall Maintenance Tasks You Should Never Forget

You'll definitely regret skipping over any of these important home maintenance tasks this fall.

Aerate the SoilFamily Handyman

Aerate the soil

“Aerating” simply means making holes in the ground by removing plugs of soil. And it’s the single most important task you can perform to maintain a healthy, good-looking lawn. Nothing else comes close! It relieves compaction caused by foot traffic and creates extra pore space in the soil, allowing air, nutrients, and water to enter. All of that helps roots to thrive. Aerate your lawn at least once a year, preferably in the fall. Do it two or even three times each year if you can. The more, the better. You can rent a lawn aerator at any equipment rental store. Get one that will remove plugs of soil rather than one that pokes holes in the ground.

family handyman gutters spatulaFamily Handyman

Gutter cleaner

An old plastic spatula makes a great tool for cleaning debris from gutters! It doesn’t scratch up the gutter, and you can cut it to fit gutter contours with snips. Grime wipes right off the spatula too, making cleanup a breeze. Don’t feel like putting in that much elbow grease? Consider a gutter cleaning robot!

clean weep holesFamily Handyman

Clean weep holes

Weep holes may be the tiniest feature of many sliding windows and vinyl replacement windows, but they serve a big function. The little holes, located on the exterior bottom of the frame, are an outlet for rainwater to drain away from the home, but they often can become clogged up with debris. To make sure they’re working properly, spray the outside of the window with a garden hose—a steady stream of clean water should exit from the holes. If it doesn’t, use a wire hanger or compressed air to force the blockage out. Re-test with fresh water to ensure they’re completely cleaned. While you’re at it, do these 10 more vital home maintenance tasks you’ll regret if you forget.

Reseed Late in the Growing SeasonFamily Handyman

Reseed late in the growing season

Reseed in the late summer/early fall. Whether you’re seeding a small patch or a whole yard, you’re going to be much more successful if you wait for the cooler, damper weather of late summer or early fall. It’s almost impossible to get seed to survive during the dog days of summer. It’s simply too hot and dry. You’ll most likely just waste your time and expensive seed.

Gutter and downspout near the roof of a houseJason Kolenda/Shutterstock

Get your gutters ready

Make sure your home is ready to deal with the rain and snow that comes as the seasons change. Walk around your home and check for loose gutters, broken pieces, and detached downspouts and make the necessary repairs. Ensure your gutters are clear of leaves and other debris and that your downspouts are directing water away from your foundation.

Check Exterior Caulking and WeatherstrippingFamily Handyman

Check exterior caulking and weatherstripping

Fall is the perfect time to make sure your house is properly caulked and your weatherstripping is in good shape. Inspect around windows, doors, and anywhere else two materials meet to make sure the caulk is in good shape. Check the weatherstripping around doors and replace if it’s broken or missing—it’s super easy to do. Here are 40 more home repairs anyone can do.

The top of the house or apartment building with nice window.karamysh/Shutterstock

Give your roof a once-over

No one wants to be fixing a roof in the dead of winter. Give it a once-over to make sure there aren’t any signs of trouble. Pay attention to broken or missing shingles, missing flashing and any discoloration.

Crack in concrete with weed growingSANLYN/Shutterstock

Fix driveway and sidewalks before they get worse

Changing temperatures and moisture can turn a small concrete problem into a big one. Take some time to repair broken concrete and get some more time out of your sidewalk, driveway, and steps before they’re in need of full replacement.

Outdoor water faucet (spigot)Michael Sobers/Shutterstock

Install frost-proof outdoor faucets

New outdoor faucets are frost-proof and also prevent unsanitary water from contaminating your water system. Installing a new outdoor faucet takes just a few hours and will give you peace of mind all winter long. These other fall to-dos are a little less work and a lot more fun.

Winterize Your Gas GrillFamily Handyman

Winterize your gas grill

If you’re not a winter griller, now’s the time to pack away your grill before it’s covered with a foot of snow. In addition to giving your grill a thorough cleaning to remove grease and food scraps, take these steps to help prevent any unpleasant surprises when you fire up your grill again next spring.

Shut off the gas at the LP tank, unfasten the burner, slip the gas tubes off the gas lines, and lift out the unit. Coat the burners and other metal parts with cooking oil to repel moisture that can build up over the winter and to prevent rust. Then wrap the burner unit in a plastic bag to keep spiders and insects from nesting in the gas tubes during the winter. This is a common problem that can make for balky starts, uneven flames or even a one-alarm fire the next time you light your grill.

If you’re storing your grill outside during the winter, just keep the propane tank connected (but shut off) and put a protective cover over the entire grill when you’re done cleaning it. If you’re storing the grill indoors, don’t bring the tank inside, even into the garage or a storage shed. A small gas leak can cause a huge explosion if the tank is stored in an enclosed space. Instead, disconnect the tank and store it outside in an upright position away from dryer and furnace vents and children’s play areas. Tape a plastic bag over the grill’s gas line opening to prevent insects from nesting.

Winterize Your Sprinkler SystemFamily Handyman

Winterize your sprinkler system

You don’t have to pay someone to blow out your sprinkler system. You can do it with your own compressor, but be aware that even the largest home compressor isn’t powerful enough to blow out the entire system at once.

If you like number crunching and you have the original irrigation layout showing the gallons per minute (gpm) of each sprinkler head, divide the gpm of each zone by 7.5. That’ll give you the cubic feet per minute (cfm) you need to blow it out. Otherwise, rent a 10-cfm compressor and hose from a tool rental center.

Set the compressor air pressure regulator to a maximum of 80 psi for rigid PVC pipe systems, or 50 psi for flexible black polyethylene pipe. Then turn off the water supply and set the system timer to open just one zone. Next, open the manual drain valve at the end of that zone (if equipped). Then, connect the air line to the blow-out port, as shown. Close off both valves on the backflow preventer. Then remove the plug on the blow-out port and screw in a quick-connect hose adapter. Snap on the air hose and connect the other end to the compressor. Now blow out the line. The heads should pop up and spit out water. Disconnect the hose as soon as they run dry. Don’t overdo the blow-out—without water cooling the plastic gears, they can melt in less than a minute. Move on to the next zone and allow the heads to cool. Then go back and blow out each zone a second time.

battery maintainerFamily Handyman

Seasonal battery storage

 

You’ve emptied the gas, sealed the exhaust and prepared the engine for seasonal storage. But before you throw the tarp over your boat or roadster for the long winter sleep, think about how you’re going to care for the battery.

Batteries lose their charge when they sit idle, and when that happens, you could wind up with a worthless battery in the spring. To keep batteries healthy, they should be charged every six weeks. But leaving a standard battery charger connected for the whole season isn’t a good idea—that will overcharge the battery and shorten its life. Instead, invest in a ‘battery maintainer.’

Battery maintainers are designed to be left on for the entire offseason. They monitor battery voltage and automatically adjust the charge to avoid under- and over-charging.

Water hose with metal nozzle coiled on green grass in garden.agencies/Shutterstock

Drain garden hoses or waste money on replacements

 

Due to circumstances (laziness), I sometimes neglect to drain garden hoses before putting them away for the winter. Usually, it’s not a problem. But every once in a while, freezing water splits a hose open. I’ve lost a few cheap hoses this way and a super-expensive one (ouch!). That’s just dumb because draining hoses is so quick and easy: Blast out the water with an air compressor or stretch them out on a sloped yard or driveway. If you need to buy a new garden hose, learn how to do a simple test, right in the store, to see if the hose will be kink-free!—Gary Wentz, Editor-in-Chief, Family Handyman

mechanical sprinklerFamily Handyman

Drain mechanical sprinklers or buy a new one in the spring

I bought one of those sprinklers that looks like a little tractor. It’s designed to follow the path of the hose on the ground. It was expensive, but it worked perfectly for my irregular-shaped yard; that is until it spent the winter in my unheated garage. The residual water froze and destroyed the gears inside. The following spring, all it did was dribble water and make a clicking sound. I should have drained it before storing it. Just to be safe, I’ll keep the new one on a shelf in the basement. — Ken Collier

Change Your Furnace FilterFamily Handyman

Change your furnace filter

Changing your furnace filter is one of the easiest things you can do to keep your furnace in good shape. If you haven’t changed it in a while, make sure you have a fresh one before you turn your furnace on for the first time. Check out the home maintenance tasks smart homeowners do every week.

Open home furnace just ready for cleaning and repairbjphotographs/Shutterstock

Take a peek at your furnace

Make sure your furnace is in good shape before you really need to use it. With a few tools and some time, you can perform a DIY furnace inspection to head off problems before they start.

A house with a chimney in Japanshigemi okano/Shutterstock

Check your chimney or risk a fire

 

Creosote buildup causes chimney fires. You should have your chimney professionally inspected or cleaned after every 70 fires. If you burn wet wood (which you shouldn’t), have it inspected or cleaned every 50 fires.

Don’t remember the last time you had it cleaned by a pro? A quick way to tell if your chimney needs cleaning is to run the point of your fireplace poker along the inside of your chimney liner. If you find a 1/8-in. layer (or more) of buildup, call a chimney sweep. For additional expert chimney maintenance advice, check out what two certified professional chimney sweeps have to say.

A gas burning fireplace in a new homeDarryl Brooks/Shutterstock

Stop airflow up the chimney

 

Fireplace chimneys can be very inefficient, letting your warm inside air disappear like smoke up a chimney. If you have airtight glass doors that seal the opening, you’re in good shape. (The doors are available at fireplace retailers and home centers.) If not, a special balloon or chimney-top damper will get the job done.

For fireplace chimneys that are seldom or never used, inflate a Chimney Balloon inside the chimney to stop the air leaks. Buy it directly from the company. Partially inflate the balloon by mouth or with a pump, then stick it into the chimney and blow it up the rest of the way.

Putting in and taking out the reusable balloon can be messy (here’s when to clean a chimney flue), so you don’t want to hassle with chimney balloons if you regularly use your fireplace. But that doesn’t mean you have to settle for energy loss. Instead, you can install a chimney-top damper system, like the Chim-a-lator, which seals the top of the flue when the chimney’s not in use. A lever in the fireplace controls the damper via a long cable.

Installation involves attaching the damper and screened-in cap to the chimney top, then mounting the lever in the fireplace. If you don’t feel comfortable working on the roof, hire a chimney sweep or mason, who can install the system for you.

Insulated Residential Energy Electric Water HeaterYou Touch Pix of EuToch/Shutterstock

Check your water heater

Extend the life of your water heater tank and maintain your water heater’s efficiency and safety with a few minutes of basic maintenance once a year. Here are more maintenance tasks that’ll save you time and money in the long run.

 Pouring gasoline into the tank of lawn mower. Gabor Tinz/Shutterstock

Winterize your lawn mower

 

Don’t just shut off your lawnmower and leave it until spring—that’s a bad idea. But winterizing your mower only takes an hour. Give the deck a thorough cleaning. Then, add fuel stabilizer and a few ounces of oil to make sure the engine will start right up without hesitation in the spring.

Summer season is over. Garden furniture covered in falling leaves.HPK Images/Shutterstock

Store outdoor furniture

Don’t leave your outdoor furniture exposed to the elements all winter long. At the very least, give your furniture a thorough cleaning and cover it or bring it inside for the season.

Pile of fall leaves with fan rake on lawnElena Elisseeva/Shutterstock

Take care of those leaves

Once leaves are on the ground, put aside some time to tackle that chore.

Different carpets hanging on rack outdoors. Professional carpet cleaning and drying.Kostiantyn Batylchuk/Shutterstock

Deep clean rugs and carpeting

Take advantage of one of those beautiful fall afternoons to give your rugs a deep clean. Take area rugs outside and give them a good shake (or a good whack), then give them a thorough vacuum with your shop vac. Don’t forget our interior carpets—you can rent a carpet cleaner and give your carpet a deep clean before you start hosting holiday gatherings.

Get Your Snowblower Ready for ServiceMarcel Jancovic/Shutterstock

Get your snowblower ready for service


You’ll want to be sure your snowblower starts before the first big snowfall. Take some time to get your snowblower running and in good order so it’ll be spitting snow as soon as it hits the ground.

Driveway marker in the snowBruce Johnstone/Shutterstock

Get your property ready for snow

 

Before the snow flies, take a few minutes to inspect your property. Remove rocks, dog tie-out cable, extension cords, holiday light cords, and garden hoses. Then stake out paths that run near gardens so you don’t accidentally suck up rocks and garden edging. Mark your walk and driveway perimeters by pounding in driveway markers. If the ground is frozen, just drill a hole using a masonry bit and your battery-powered drill.

winter driving kit family handymanFAMILY HANDYMAN

Make a winter driving kit

This kit is overkill for year-round driving, but it could be very useful during winter. It only takes a few minutes to put together and you probably already have most of the stuff! Then, make sure you make these winter car care fixes as well so your car survived the winter.

Stacks of firewood in the sawmill. Pile of firewood. Firewood backgroundkrolya25/Shutterstock

Stockpile firewood

Whether you have a source of wood on your property or need to purchase a cord or two, fall is a great time to spend cutting and chopping wood to burn in your fireplace all winter long. And if you’re using a chain saw, make sure to brush up on your safety knowledge before you hit the forest.

Mowing or cutting the long grass with a green lawn mower in the summer sunBrian A Jackson/Shutterstock

Cut your lawn short

Keep mowing your grass until it stops growing. And your last mow of the season should cut your grass nice and short. This reduces the chance that your lawn will get snow mold and vole damage.

Fertilize Your LawnBochkarev Photography/Shutterstock

Fertilize your lawn

It’s important to apply fertilizer to your lawn during the fall—in fact, if you only apply fertilizer once a year, fall is the time to do it. Your lawn has spent all summer growing and it’s hungry.

Do it Yourself (DIY) and decorating tools on workshop shelf -- good copy space on white-painted wallGraeme Dawes/Shutterstock

Bring paint inside

Freezing can ruin latex paint and other finishes, so make sure to move your paint inside before the first frost. Some latex paint can survive a couple of freeze/thaw cycles, but it’s better not to chance it.

Don't Let Glue FreezeFamily Handyman

Don’t let glue freeze

Many adhesives–wood glue especially–can be ruined by just one freeze/thaw cycle, so it’s a good idea to store them in a heated space during cold months. Even glue just left overnight in a car can freeze and make it unusable.

 

Best Way to Water Lawn: Water in the FallFamily Handyman

Water your lawn in the fall

Your lawn still needs water in autumn, even though the leaves are changing, the growing season is winding down and your grass isn’t growing fast. Fall watering helps your lawn recover from summer stress and gain strength for the winter ahead. Also, if you fertilize in the fall, watering is necessary for the fertilizer to dissolve and soak into the ground where it’s needed. So don’t put your hoses or sprinklers away until the ground starts to freeze, your fall grass needs it. Here are other secrets your landscaper won’t tell you.

Build a Mitten and Shoe DryerFamily Handyman

Build a mitten and shoe dryer

Drill pairs of 1/8-in. holes in a scrap of 2×4 and insert U-shaped pieces of galvanized 14-gauge wire. If you have forced-air heat, drill 1-in. holes between the pairs of 1/8-in. holes using a spade bit, and set the rack on a register for fast drying.

Bleed Hot Water RadiatorsFamily Handyman

Bleed hot water radiators

When trapped air clogs a hot water radiator, some or all of the ‘fins’ will stay cold. At the top of the radiator, look for a small valve like the one shown. Take a radiator key, 1/4-in. 12-point socket, or a flat screwdriver (depending on the valve type) and slowly turn the valve counter-clockwise until water starts dripping out. This releases the trapped air and lets hot water into the cold fins. While you’re at it, you might as well repeat the process on all of your radiators. Have a cup or dish handy to catch the water.

old fashioned steam or hot water heating cast iron radiatorGeorge Socka/Shutterstock

Clear steam radiator vents

 

Steam radiators have an air vent like the one shown. Unfortunately, many of these vents get painted over, plugging the air hole. Clear the air hole in the top of the vent with a small wire or sewing needle. If you’re still worried about the air vents working properly, consult a hot water/steam heat specialist who can replace the vents.

Equipped modern kitchen furniture: counter with appliances, straight viewGalaxymix/Shutterstock

Install stovetop fire suppressors

Kitchen fires can quickly get out of hand, and with Thanksgiving on the horizon, you’ll likely be cooking more. Do yourself a favor and get a pair of fire suppressors. These magnetically-mounted cans live in your range hood and are activated when flames reach the fuze on the can. You find them for about $50, which may seem spendy, but they’re cheap insurance against something much worse.

golf course resort home with blue sky & lush landscapingSheila Say/Shutterstock

Inspect and fix your garage door

Cold can wreak havoc on garage door tracks. Make sure your garage door is in good shape so you don’t find yourself stuck in the garage (or worse yet—stuck outside).

White smoke detector with nine volt battery on yellow background. A smoke detector is a device that senses smoke, typically as an indicator of fire.Hadrian/Shutterstock

Check your detectors

With furnaces turned on, the windows closed and portable heaters humming along, fall is a great time to make sure your smoke and CO detectors are working. Check batteries and expiration dates—smoke detectors are typically good for 10 years, and CO detectors last for about six years.

Empty Pots and Plantersgoldenjack/Shutterstock

Empty pots and planters

The water in soil left in flower pots and planters over winter can freeze and expand. Make sure to empty your clay and ceramic planters so they’ll survive for next season.

The man handyman is engaged in assembling the chair. The repairman is engaged in mending the chair.VGstockstudio/Shutterstock

Fix your furniture

Not only is fixing your furniture a fun and easy indoor project, but you’ll also be glad to have sturdy, good-looking chairs and tables when guests stop by for holidays.

Insulation for pipesNomad_Soul/Shutterstock

Insulate pipes

Pipes running through unheated basements and crawlspaces as well as exterior walls can be prone to freezing during winter (and causing bigger problems). Make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

A white home electrical outlet on a light grey wall.Jason Kolenda/Shutterstock

How to seal outlets and ceiling boxes

The tiny gaps around outlets on exterior walls and ceiling boxes let cold air in (and warm air out). Sealing these areas takes just half a day and will help cut down on drafts (and your heating bill!).

concept food for rodents in mousetrap wooden background top view279photo Studio/Shutterstock

Protect your house from critters

As temperatures drop, mice and other vermin will want to find a warm place to hunker down. Don’t let it be your house! Seal up any critter gaps and have a game plan for getting rid of any critters that might make themselves at home.

radon testing family handymanFamily Handyman

Test for radon

If you haven’t tested your house for radon, now is the time to do it. Sealing up your house for the winter also means you’re trapping potential cancer-causing radon gas. Get your house tested and take means to mitigate it if it’s a problem.

dyer vent cleaningFamily Handyman

Clean dryers and vents

Thousands of dryer fires are caused by lint every year, yet they can be easily prevented with a few minutes of cleaning. With drier air and cooler temperatures approaching, make it a fall ritual to clean out your dryer and vent. Here’s what else all homeowners need to know ASAP.

Backyard view of grey rambler house with upper and lower decks and green lawn. Kirkland, WA, USA.alabn/Shutterstock

Handrail safety check

Go around your property and test and secure any loose handrails. Think about someone grabbing a handrail when slipping on some ice or snow, and make sure it’s up to the task.

Coal Tit on a garden bird feederDonna Apsey/Shutterstock

Fill your bird feeders

If you’ve been feeding birds around your property, make sure to keep the bird feeders full through winter. They’ll come back to the area looking for food, and you want to make sure they don’t go hungry.

Don't Prune Your Treessauletas/Shutterstock

Don’t prune your trees

While intuition might want to make you get out your chainsaw and start pruning after the leaves fall, you could do more harm than good. Most trees are still active in the fall and any pruning during fall will encourage new growth at the wrong time. Wait until your trees are truly dormant to do your tree trimming—during winter or early spring.

Amaryllistonfon/Shutterstock

Save your tender bulbs

A lot of northern gardeners treat tender bulbs as annuals, allowing them to die at season’s end. Instead, overwinter them. To make it simpler, plant tender bulbs in containers. Then, after frost kills the tops, whisk the containers into cool storage in a basement or attached garage. Water sparingly—maybe once a month—while they’re dormant so the soil doesn’t totally dry out—and bring the containers back out in spring.

Store Lawn ChairsFamily Handyman

Store lawn chairs

Here’s how to store your lawn and folding chairs so they’re out of your way. Take two pieces of 1×4 lumber (any scrap lumber will do) and create some simple, cheap and useful brackets on the wall. Cut each board 7-3/4 in. long with a 30-degree angle on both ends. Fasten pairs of these brackets with three 2-in. screws to the side of the exposed wall studs, directly across from each other, and you’ve got a perfect place to hang your chairs. Now, learn other things that smart homeowners do once a year.

Originally Published on The Family Handyman