Homeowner’s Guide to Fall Home Maintenance

10/27/2020

Todd Vandermeulen loved the pine tree shading his family’s split-level house in Seattle, even though it tended to drop small limbs as fall winds picked up. Then winter closed in. “We were hunkered inside to watch the beautiful snow, and we hear this thud,” Vandermeulen says. A 100-pound branch hit the roof and damaged a gutter before crashing to the ground.

Todd Vandermeulen loved the pine tree shading his family’s split-level house in Seattle, even though it tended to drop small limbs as fall winds picked up. Then winter closed in. “We were hunkered inside to watch the beautiful snow, and we hear this thud,” Vandermeulen says. A 100-pound branch hit the roof and damaged a gutter before crashing to the ground.

The damage was minor — but enough to teach Vandermeulen a good lesson about home maintenance: it’s better to take care of things before changing weather causes real problems. Fall maintenance — things like inspecting the roof and foundation, insulating windows and sealing anything that might leak — will “save people money by catching issues proactively before something becomes a huge repair,” says Josh Stech, who knows maintenance inside out as the CEO of a California-based company that provides a marketplace for homes being sold in as-is condition.

Outdoor Cleanup

illustration of house from top view

Roof and Exterior

A visual inspection of a home, from the chimney to the foundation, can help reveal vulnerabilities that lead to trouble when wind, freezing temperatures, snow or winter rains rule, says Chuck Roydhouse, a retired professional firefighter and president of the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

He suggests using a drone or binoculars to look for debris, which will need to be cleaned up, and missing or loose shingles, which should be fixed or replaced before they lead to leaks. Overhanging tree limbs should be trimmed, so they can’t come down, potentially puncturing the roof and causing leaks, water damage and mold.

illustration of a squirrel on top of chimney

Fall and winter are also prime time for rodents to come indoors for warmth, says Chase Hazelwood, third-generation owner of a North Carolina pest-control company. He recommends sealing up even the smallest holes and gaps in the foundation, attic or crawl spaces. Firewood, he adds, should not be stored against the house because it can cause a beetle and/or termite infestation.

Gutters

To keep gutters running well, experts like Jesse Silkoff, co-founder and president of an online service that matches U.S. homeowners with local roofers, suggest checking them monthly for twigs, leaves and other debris. Plan bigger cleanings — including running water down all the downspouts — both before autumn leaves fall and again after trees are bare, to be sure fall and winter rain and snowmelt can flow down and away from the house — instead of into the walls, which can cause rot and mold and invite insects.

Clogged gutters — along with poorly ventilated roofs and under-insulated attics — are also a common culprit for damaging ice dams. Ice dams form when rooftop snow melts and refreezes, building up thick layers of ice that eventually push into joins and cracks in the roof and cause leaks. 

 

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