The days are getting shorter and the temperatures have started to drop; fall is officially here.

Now is the last chance to get those vital home maintenance tasks done before the ice and snow arrive and make outdoor work difficult, if not outright impossible. Every home is different, but some tasks are universally important for every homeowner to complete. Take advantage of the mild weather to detect and prevent potential issues before they have a chance to ruin your winter.

1. Inspect Your Roof

Your roof is your first defense in protecting your home from the elements. Over the years, it takes significant abuse from the weather, especially ice, rain, snow, and wind. There are few problems more frustrating than water damage caused by a leaky roof. It’s much better to be proactive and avoid any problems before any weaknesses in the roof are discovered at an ill-opportune moment, such as in the middle of a snowstorm.

Be sure to inspect your entire roof from top to bottom, using binoculars or calling a professional for help if necessary. Keep an eye out for visible damage, such as missing or loose shingles, cracks in ridges, or damage to metal flashing in valleys or around vents and chimneys. Check your gutters for granules from the shingles; this is a sign that the roof has lost its coating and may lead to larger problems down the line.

2. Clean Out Your Gutters

If the roof is the first line of defense, then the gutters are the second. Every year, thousands of gallons of water are captured by your gutters and diverted away from your home’s exterior and foundation, preventing extensive water damage. Staying on top of gutter maintenance prevents exterior damage and flooded basements.

Preparing your gutters for fall and winter helps to prevent ice dams, one of the most destructive roofing issues in winter. Install gutter guards before the leaves begin to fall, or wait until after they’ve fallen to flush your gutters and downspouts, inspect joints, and tighten brackets wherever necessary.

3. Prepare Your Chimney and Fireplace

If your home has a traditional fireplace and chimney, it’s important to continue to inspect and maintain it even if you don’t use it very frequently. Damage and potential hazards could be building up where you haven’t been looking, resulting in serious problems should you decide to use the fireplace later.

Most importantly, check the flue to creosote, a flammable by-product of burning wood. It’s a black, tar-like substance that builds up over time and can catch fire, spreading to the rest of the home if left to accumulate. The best option is usually to enlist the help of a professional chimney sweep who can remove the creosote deposits safely and completely. Be sure to also check for any chimney damage or flue blockages, as well as making sure that the flue cap is in place to prevent birds from nesting in undesirable areas.

4. Check Exterior Walls & Paint

The appearance of your exterior is more important than just aesthetics and curb appeal. Finding peeling or blistering paint is a sign that the protective barrier that it used to provide your home is failing. Leaving these areas of weakness unaddressed will only lead to further deterioration of the paint and the wall, eventually leading to expensive future repairs. Likewise, damaged vinyl siding also offers weak spots for the elements to damage your home.

Be sure to perform a thorough inspection of your home’s exterior walls and paint. Touching up any weak or damaged areas with a fresh coat will help prolong the lifespan of your home. Consider applying a new layer of sealer on any surface that will eventually be buried in the wet snow, such as porch stairs or wooden floors.

5. Apply Weatherstripping and Repair Seals

Did you know that on average, 38% of your home’s heat escapes through your windows and doors? Over time, seals fail and gaps and cracks form in caulk and weatherstripping, allowing your warm air to escape freely. By sealing up a drafty home, you can save up to 20% on your heating bills per the US Department of Energy.

Weatherstripping is the most cost effective way to address any drafty windows or doors in your home, though it requires periodic inspections and replacement. To identify weak and drafty areas, try closing the door or window over a piece of paper. If the paper is still able to move freely, it means that the weatherstripping needs to be replaced. Alternatively, hold a lit candle near the closed window or door and keep an eye out for any flickering from the flame. If it flickers, you have an air leak in that area.

If repairing the caulk and weather stripping on your windows and doors does not solve the issue, it may be time to consider replacing your windows.

6. Repair Walkways and Driveway

Damaged steps, walkways, and driveways are a danger year-round, but the hazard is only made worse by snow and ice in winter. Even small cracks, as narrow as ⅛ inch, can be made worse as water gets into the area, freezes and expands, making the damage even larger and deeper than it was before. You’ll also want to make sure that any handrails are secure; they might be a lifesaver on the ice!

Keep a close eye on cracks, making sure that none are larger than ⅛ inch wide, as well as uneven sections on pathways. Asphalt driveways disintegrate over time and loose-fill paths are inevitably washed out by weather, so be sure to make any necessary repairs before the seasons change. Resealing your driveway will not be possible come winter and no one wants to replace gravel on a path in the snow.

7. Prepare Your Lawn for Winter

Growing season is just about over once we enter into the colder days of fall, meaning it’s time to winterize any outdoor gardening equipment and lawnmowers until next spring. Get your landscaping in order by cutting back any plants that require it over winter, weeding and seeding your lawn, and winterizing outdoor items such as birdbaths or fountains.

Be sure to check trees on your property for any weak or damaged branches that could fall in the next winter storm. These weak branches should be removed before it’s too late, preventing serious damage to your property. Remember to call a tree-trimming professional if a branch is too large or out of reach for you to remove by yourself.

8. Winterize Exterior Faucets & Irrigation Systems

Neglecting exterior water pipes runs the risk of leaving water to freeze in the winter months, causing pipes to burst and cause damage to your lawn and home. Close any shut-off valves for outside faucets and open the faucets to drain the line. If you don’t have “freeze-proof” faucets or shut-off valves, styrofoam faucet covers can be purchased at most home centers to try to prevent freezing.

In-ground irrigation systems can vary greatly depending on the specific system you have. Consult the manufacturer’s procedure for draining and protecting the system over the winter to avoid any damage from the cold and icy conditions.

9. Check Your Foundation for Cracks

Anywhere that water can get in and freeze is a potential site for serious damage, including your foundation. Not only can this let water and cold air into your home, but large enough openings might invite pests and vermin to make their winter home in the warmth and safety of your house.

Caulking is one of the least expensive maintenance jobs on your home. Apply a bead of caulk to seal around any area where masonry meets siding, where pipes or wires enter the home, and around windows and door frames. These key areas often are the weak points that are the first to wear out over time.

10. Stock up on Winter Supplies

In Rochester, we’re well acquainted with long, snowy winters. The best time to stock up on necessary supplies is before the first snowfall; it’s always better to be prepared for the challenges that the season throws at us before they occur! Necessary items often sell out at the stores once they’re most needed.

Check the condition of the snow shovels and ice scrapers you used last year to make sure that they’re still usable and ready for another season. If you use a snowblower, make sure that it’s in working condition and stock up on fuel. It’s also a good idea to have ice-melt on hand, paying attention to pet-safe or plant-safe options should they be necessary for your household. It also doesn’t hurt to restock emergency kits for your car and home while you’re at it!

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