Home maintenance checklist: Fall

Tasks to help maintain the integrity of your home in the fall

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(Getty Images/Jay P. Morgan) Home Maintenance Checklist

(Getty Images/Jay P. Morgan)

As I spent my weekend raking leaves out of our new lawn (my husband graded and seeded our backyard himself), I’m reminded that home ownership is a lot like living a healthy lifestyle. When I eat right, work out, and get enough sleep (not really possible with two toddlers) then I’m better able to function, both now and in the future. I consider it preventative maintenance to ward off debilitating ailments, such as heart disease and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

The same philosophy can apply to my home. The more preventative maintenance I accomplish around my house, the easier it is for my house to survive the ravages of age, time and weather.

But what tasks should really be completed? How do I know when to hire a professional? And do I really need a check-mark beside every little task?

Three years ago, I wrote a story that tried to help home owners to understand what regular maintenance was crucial and what these tasks, along with some essential big fixes, would cost. (You can read the story here: The Ultimate Home Maintenance Guide.) Since then, however, a few readers have asked whether or not I could include a schedule: A home maintenance checklist that outlines when to accomplish these tasks and at what cost.

This first installment is a list of tasks that should be completed in the fall season. But before I continue, let me qualify the word should. As a mother, a working mom and someone who struggles to maintain an identity outside of these two roles, the word “should” can be a chain. The reality is, I don’t get all these tasks completed in the best of years. So, when examining this list, please keep in mind that the tasks that really need to be completed are the tasks you consider a priority. The list is here simply as a reminder of all the possible maintenance tasks that could be done. Now it’s up to you to pick and choose.

Over the next couple of weeks, look out for winter, spring and summer task lists. I’ll add links to the other sheets as they are uploaded to the blog. For a PDF version, please scroll to the bottom of the page for a link. Also, I couldn’t in good conscience publish this blog without a shout-out to my husband. A general contractor by trade, Mark Pervan has taught me more about home maintenance and sustenance-style living then any YouTube video ever could. So, thank you my love. Thank you for chopping and stacking all our firewood every year; thank you for ensuring we have emergency rations and supplies (for such times as a nine-day power outage over the Christmas holidays); and thank you for your ever constant cleaning and maintaining of our home.

Finally, I want to be clear: I’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible, but I think this type of list will be an organic and on-going process; a schedule that will change and update as readers provide their experience and experts offer their advice. For that reason, I encourage you to comment, email or call me. I’d love to know your tips and tricks, as well as areas you think are inaccurate, obsolete, or omissions that need to be added. I look forward to hearing from you.

FALL HOME MAINTENANCE CHECKLIST

Total time invested: 1730 minutes (or just under 29 hours) to 2900 minutes (or just over 48 hours)
Total approximate money invested on DIY-tasks: $1,210 to $2,210 (not including cost of gutter guards and only one window to be weather stripped)
Total starting cost for professional help: $3,510

1) HVAC: Check your attic insulation
WHY: There should be at least 12-inches of evenly distributed insulation throughout your attic in order to keep heat inside your home and decrease energy bills.
HOW: One quick way to determine if you need more insulation is to look across the span of your attic. If your insulation is just level with or below your floor joists (i.e., you can easily see your joists), you should add more. If you cannot see any of the floor joists because the insulation is well above them, you probably have enough and adding more may not be cost-effective. It is important that the insulation be evenly distributed with no low spots.
TIME: 15 minutes
MATERIAL COST: $0
PROFESSIONAL COST: n/a

2) HVAC: Add insulation to your attic
WHY: Insufficient insulation will force your heating and cooling system to work harder and that puts added strain on expensive house components. Keep your insulation topped up and you’ll reduce the wear and tear on these systems, and you can reduce your energy costs by up to 15% per year. For some great tips on how to keep your home warm go to ThisOldHouse.com.
HOW: To determine how much insulation to add, consider the following: Insulation levels are specified by R-Value. R-Value is a measure of the insulation’s ability to resist heat flow. The higher the R-Value, the better the thermal performance of the insulation. The recommended level for most attics is to insulate to R-38 or about 10 to 14 inches, depending on insulation type. For a great DIY guide, go to EnergyStar.
TIME: 1 day
MATERIAL COST: $400 to $800, to insulate a 240 square foot attic using R39 batt insulation
PROFESSIONAL COST: $800 to $1,600 for professionally installed batt insulation; $1,600 to $3,500 for blown cellulose

3) HVAC: Clear out dryer lint trap, stove vents and bathroom vents
WHY: If grime and fluff have accumulated in these vents, it could eventually lead to a fire. By cleaning your lint traps and stove and bathroom vents you’re helping to increase the efficiency of your home’s heating and cooling system and could save up to 25% on the dryer and fan portion of your energy bills.
HOW: Slide your clothes dryer away from the wall and pull off the back vent hose. With a vacuum suck out the built up lint (for directions go to ThisOldHouse.com). In your bathroom remove the vent cover and, again, suction out the lint and grime with a vacuum, or use a wet cloth to clean the fan. For stove vents, consider soaking the greasy mess before giving them a quick scrub, drying and replacing. For a good home made degreasing recipe go here.
TIME: 1 to 2 hours
MATERIAL COST: $0
PROFESSIONAL COST: n/a

4) HVAC: Replace furnace filters
WHY: To keep your furnace running efficiently, you need to change the filters every three months. These filters collect air-borne debris and allergens. Keeping a dirty filter means your furnace has to work twice as hard to push out heat.
HOW: Slide your old filter out (and put it in the garbage. Slide the new filter in. When in doubt, check your furnace’s manual (either hard copy or online). If your filter is not disposable you will need to hand wash the filter to get rid of all dirt and debris. Remember, use a non-toxic cleaner and tap water—nothing else.
TIME: 5 minutes
MATERIAL COST: $20 to $160
PROFESSIONAL COST: n/a

5) HVAC: Inspect and clean furnace
WHY: To keep your furnace running efficiently, you need to make sure it’s clean and maintained. A dirty furnace will burn more gas and use more electricity (for the fan, in natural gas units) and generally work less effectively then a clean furnace.
HOW: Three areas should be inspected: the filter system (see above), the blower and the motor. Before inspecting the blower or motor, unplug the power source of the furnace—failure to do so, could result in serious injury. Now, locate and remove the front panel (may be screwed in) and slide out the fan. Most fans are secured to a furnace on a track, which allows it to slide in and out easily. For more detailed instructions go to ThisOldHouse.com. Once the fan is removed, clean the part with soap, water and a toothbrush. Make sure you get into every little nook and cranny. Now, wipe down the belts and the motor housing to get rid of as much dirt and grime as possible. Once everything is dry, reinstall. Turn your attention to the heat exchanger block. If you have a gas furnace, turn off the gas. Then use a brush to scrape off the black build-up. Vacuum out each chamber using a small house head or a narrow vacuum attachment. Replace all parts once dry and reinstall the front panel.
TIME: 1 hour
MATERIAL COST: $0
PROFESSIONAL COST: $200

6) HVAC: Clean your A/C unit
WHY: By cleaning out the debris, you’re not encouraging animals or insects to create a bed underneath the A/C cover. You will also be removing potential debris that could reduce the efficiency of your A/C the next time you use it. Some experts suggest you can knock 10% to 15% off your cooling costs with annual cleanings.
HOW: Switch off the electricity to your central A/C unit (at the main panel) and then clean out any debris that’s accumulated, such as leaves or paper. Then cover the unit with a fitted cover for winter storage. If your A/C unit has a drip pan, drain the pain, which is usually located near the furnace plenum.
TIME: 1/2 hour to 1 hour
MATERIAL COST: $30 (for fitted A/C cover, or tarp and rope)
PROFESSIONAL COST: n/a

7) HVAC: Bleed your radiator
WHY: Homes heated with hot water radiator systems will accumulate air in the lines. This makes the system inefficient and can add as much as 20% to your energy bills.
HOW: Buy a ‘key’ at your local hardware store (just ask for a radiator key). Use it to bleed the air out of the system. Go here for a step-by-step guide.
TIME: 1/2 hour
MATERIAL COST: $5
PROFESSIONAL COST: n/a

8) FOUNDATION: Clean gutters and downspouts
WHY: Watch a stream for a minute or more and you’ll notice that water really does pick the path of least resistance. To prevent that path from being your home’s foundation make sure downspouts and gutters are clear of leaves and other vegetation.
HOW: Take a ladder, a rubber glove and a garbage bag and hand-scoop vegetation from the gutters. Watch rain or take a hose and run water into downspouts to verify there are no clogs.
TIME: 15 minutes to 1 hour
MATERIAL COST: $0
PROFESSIONAL COST: $150 to $350

9) FOUNDATION: Install gutter guards
WHY: Gutter-guards do work, but they don’t eliminate all cleaning. Once a season check to make sure no clogs have accumulated underneath the gutter-guard, and to ensure that the guard is still properly installed.
HOW: While you’ll notice a lot less vegetation because of the gutter guards, you’ll still need to scoop accumulated leaves and dirt by hand. You should also use a hose, or watch rain travel down your downspouts to confirm there are no clogs.
TIME: 15 minutes to 1 hour
MATERIAL COST: $0.80 to $1.50 per foot of gutter guard
PROFESSIONAL COST: $0.40 to $30 per foot for material, plus $350 for labour

10) FOUNDATION: Seal and caulk holes and cracks
WHY: Water can enter into small cracks and holes in your foundation and, over time, can cause significant damage to your foundation. To protect your foundation, you need to repair and seal holes and cracks on an annual basis. While this can be a tedious job, the $20 in materials and the couple of hours you spend each year could save you $10,000 or more in foundation repairs.
HOW: For great tips on how to caulk your foundation, go to TheFamilyHandyman.com.
TIME: 1 hour to 4 hours
MATERIAL COST: $20
PROFESSIONAL COST: $150 to $300

11) INTERNAL: Check and replace batteries in all detectors
WHY: One of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to ensure the safety of your family is to install appropriate detectors. New laws across Canada now make it mandatory to have a smoke alarm in every bedroom of the home (the old regulations required home owners to have a smoke alarm on every floor of the home). In new homes carbon monoxide alarms are mandatory, but in any home with a gas appliance, such as a stove or furnace, or a wood-burning appliance, should also install a carbon monoxide detector.
HOW: Once a year, replace the batteries in all your detectors and do a test run on each detector. For more information on radon and how to detect and remediate go to the Health Canada site.
TIME: 1 hour
MATERIAL COST: $20
PROFESSIONAL COST: n/a

12) INTERNAL: Replace weather stripping and doorsweeps
WHY: For a typical house, you’ll spend approximately $350 per year on unsealed air leaks. To reduce your energy bill and help your furnace work more efficiently, seal air leaks by replacing weather stripping around doors and windows.
HOW: For an explanation of how weather stripping works go to CMHC. Go here for a great breakdown on the pros and cons of different types of weather stripping.
TIME: 1/2 hour to 5 hours
MATERIAL COST: $15 to $25 per window or door
PROFESSIONAL COST: $60 to $110 per window or door, not including materials

13) EXTERNAL: Inspect chimney
WHY: We often neglect our chimney—particularly if its used for little more then venting air from a mid-efficiency furnace. But a crumbling chimney can cause significant damage to your roof, not to mention became a dangerous hazard to anyone walking underneath. Paying someone to fix your cracked chimney can easily set you back $1,000 or more, but ignore it and repairs will start at $3,000 and go up. Also check the chimney itself for nests or animals. While chimney caps should prevent nesting birds and rodents, they aren’t foolproof. Before you fire up your fireplace, you’ll want to be sure the smoke has an unobstructed exit.
HOW: Get up on your roof. Examine the bricks and mortar on your chimney. If there are any cracks or fissures, you’ll need to replace the liner and mortar. For an excellent how-to on chimney repairs go to the Family Handyman. (http://www.familyhandyman.com/masonry/chimney-maintenance/view-all)
TIME: 2 to 4 hours
MATERIAL COST: $500
PROFESSIONAL COST: $1000

14) EXTERNAL: Clean chimney
WHY: If you burn wood, to heat your home or for ambiance, then you’ll need to clean your chimney. Over time and use, chimneys get clogged up with a carbon, organic compound known as creosote. Creosote is not bad, in itself, but if it catches fire it can lead to house fires, smoke inhalation and burns. If you only use wood to heat your home, you’ll want to clean the chimney at least once every season. Everyone else can get away with an annual clean (typically before or after the wood burning season). A good, visual indicator that you have a creosote build up are black streaks on the outside of your chimney, but don’t rely on these to tell you when to clean the chimney.
HOW: To do it yourself, first measure your chimney, so you know what size and shape of chimney brush to buy. Then use plastic sheeting and tape to block off the fireplace opening (inside your home), so that debris doesn’t fall into your home. Back on your roof, take the chimney cap off your chimney and insert the chimney brush. Keep adding the fibreglass handle attachments to the brush, so that you can push the brush all the way down to the bottom of the chimney opening (right above where you burn your wood). You will want to vigorously move the brush up and down to dislodge all build up. Keep removing the brush and checking the chimney with a flashlight to confirm you’ve dislodged all the build-up. Once done, go to your chimney’s clean out and suction out all the creosote and debris using a shop vac.
TIME: 1 hour to 4 hours
MATERIAL COST: $100 to $200, one-time cost for chimney cleaning kit
PROFESSIONAL COST: $150 to $300 per cleaning

15) EXTERNAL: Inspect roof shingles
WHY: You want to check the condition and age of the shingles, as well as the flashing (the metal or other impervious material that’s installed at every angle or roof joint to prevent water from seeping in under the asphalt shingles).
HOW: There is no better way to inspect a roof then to get on it (use a ladder and harness, if necessary).  Visually inspect the shingles. If you see curled or separating shingles you may need to replace your roof soon. Also, if you find more than a quarter-inch of asphalt grit and gravel in your eaves and gutters, it’s another sign you need to install a new roof. Finally, look for waves or dips in your roof, which are early indicators of rot in your attic roof trusses. If caught early enough, the rot can be eliminated and new rot can be prevented with the addition of new roof vents. If you see loose shingles, repair or replace immediately. If you don’t, you run the risk of allowing moisture and water into your roof, which can cause damage to your foundation and your home’s structure. If flashing seems to be separating from the roof, use sealant to reattach.
TIME: 15 minutes to 3 hours
MATERIAL COST: $0 to $200
PROFESSIONAL COST: $250 to $1,000

16) EXTERNAL: Inspect exterior walls
WHY: This is part of your overall desire to ensure that no holes or fissures will allow water, moisture or pests into the internal structure of your home. Quick inspections and small fixes will go a long way to preventing big costs.
HOW: Simply walk around your home. Cut back any shrubs or tree branches that are close to, or resting on exterior walls. No trees or shrubbery should be closer then 3 inches from your exterior walls. Look for holes or cracks and fill any that you find.
TIME: 15 minutes to 1 hour
MATERIAL COST: $20
PROFESSIONAL COST: n/a

17) EXTERNAL: Re-caulk windowsills and doorframes
WHY: Wooden windowsills and doorframes are prone to rot, and this becomes an ideal home for either pest, such as termites, or an easy entry place for water.
HOW: Each fall, walk around your home and check each window and doorframe for rot, cracks and holes. If you poke the wood, and it feels soft or crumbles then you have bigger issues (see below). If all you see are holes and cracks, spend a bit of time re-caulk the seals and fill the holes.
TIME: 15 minutes to 1 hour
MATERIAL COST: $20
PROFESSIONAL COST: n/a

18) EXTERNAL: Repaint windowsills and doorframes
WHY: If you notice extensive damage to your current paint job, or the windowsill or doorframe has obvious damage, then you’re past the caulking stage. Instead, you’ll want to strip the frames, caulk or replace where necessary and re-paint.
HOW: Scrape off the old paint. Rebuild where appropriate, or fill smaller fissures with caulk. Paint the new or repaired sills and frames with appropriate paint.
TIME: 1 day
MATERIAL COST: $50 to $200
PROFESSIONAL COST: $250 to $750

19) EXTERNAL: Grease door hinges and casement window joints
WHY: If you’re hinges are dirty and clogged, they’ll struggle to work during the colder winter months. This struggle can lead to jammed garage doors, doors that are unable to open or close and broken casement window levers. To prevent more expensive fixes, you need to lubricate your door and window hinges.
HOW: Using WD-40, spray each hinge and spring. Not only does the WD-40 lubricate these parts, it also clean and make them moisture-resistent.
TIME: 1 hour
MATERIAL COST: $10
PROFESSIONAL COST: n/a

20) PLUMBING: Check shut off valves
WHY: Shut off valves are your plumbing system’s safety net. If a pipe should spring a leak, or a tap become inoperable, the shut off valve allows you to shut off the supply of water from the city, so you (or your plumber) can repair the damaged part. But, like all components, if shut off valves are neglected they can deteriorate.
HOW: Once a year you need wipe the valves clean and then open and close the valves. This deters corrosion and ensures that, should a problem occur, the valves are in operating condition. Most homes will have their shut off valves in the basement. Look for a red and blue turn handle. If your home if over 50 years old and you’ve never tested the shut off valves, consider calling a plumber. If you break a shut off valve it can be an emergency fix, which is, typically, three times more expensive then a schedule plumbing maintenance call.
TIME: 15 minutes
MATERIAL COST: $0
PROFESSIONAL COST: $150+/hour

21) PLUMBING: Drain outside faucets/hose bibs
WHY: Friends of mind installed an outdoor faucet in their cottage (a faucet built to withstand cold Canadian winters). One winter, they forgot to drain their water lines and upon return to the cottage in the Spring, they found a massive flood from a burst internal pipe in the basement. The outside hose bib was unscathed. Despite the advances in home building materials it’s always good to rely on some old-fashioned maintenance. By draining your external faucets you drastically reduce the chance of water pipes freezing, swelling and bursting and causing significant damage (as my friends unfortunately found out!).
HOW: Locate the external water shut off valve and turn it off. Go outside and turn the outside faucet on all the way (you may want to use a bucket to catch the water). When the drips stop completely, turn the faucet off. Keep the water supply off until you will use the external faucets again.
TIME: 1 hour
MATERIAL COST: $0
PROFESSIONAL COST: n/a

22) PLUMBING: Flush the hot water tank
WHY: It’s rare for a hot water tank to breakdown, but when it does it can be catastrophic. Just ask those iconic MythBuster hosts, Jamie and Adam. In a rather dramatic way, these blokes proved that under certain conditions—a build up of pressure—your hot water tank can turn into a rocket and blast through your floors and out your roof.  To prevent this from happening, all you need to do is drain the T&P valve.
HOW: Put a bowl under the spigot found at the bottom of the hot water tank, known as the T&P valve (temperature and pressure), and open and close it a few times. Never, ever use your hand for this check. If the water flows freely, your valve is in good working order. If not, call a professional.
TIME: 15 minutes
MATERIAL COST: $0
PROFESSIONAL COST: n/a

23) ELECTRICAL: Exercise your circuit breakers
WHY: You want to prevent rust and debris from accumulating and corroding your breaker’s contacts. Neglect this and you may find the breaker fails to trip and shut off power when there is an overload to the system—and can cause shorts and fires, and lots and lots of expensive damage to your home.
HOW: One by one, flip each breaker in your electrical panel. You’ll have to reset any digital clock or timer.
TIME: 15 minutes to 1 hour
MATERIAL COST: $0
PROFESSIONAL COST: n/a

HOME MAINTENANCE CHECKLIST LEGEND:

HVAC includes all types of heating and cooling tasks.
PLUMBING includes all tasks that help maintain and fix your home’s plumbing components.
ELECTRICAL includes any task that has to do with your homes wiring and electrical system.
FOUNDATION includes all tasks that will prolong the life of your home’s foundation.
EXTERNAL includes all tasks completed outside of your home and, typically, keep the home’s external envelope tight and secure.
INTERNAL includes all tasks completed inside the home that help maintain the safety and the structural integrity of the home.

WHY: This is the rational behind why you should complete this task.HOW: Some tips on how to complete the task.
TIME: How long it should take, on average, to complete the task.
MATERIAL COST: How much it should cost to purchase the material needed for a DIY-task.
PRO COST: How much it will cost if you pay a professional to complete the task.

Click here for PDF: Home Maintenance Checklist-FALL

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Want to learn what home maintenance tasks should be scheduled in the winter season?
Go here for the Home Maintenance Checklist-Winter.

One comment on “Home maintenance checklist: Fall

  1. Thank you for the time and effort you put into this. Much appreciated advice and info!!

    Reply

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