For many of us, the arrival of the fall season is a welcome reprieve from the harsh heat of summertime. Along with the beauty of the orange, yellow, and red foliage come football, hayrides, and that crisp autumn smell in the air. Fall is also an opportune time to prepare our homes for the upcoming cold months of winter. Below is a fall maintenance checklist to assist you in this regard.

Have your HVAC system maintained. Nestled between hot summer days and cold winter nights, fall is the perfect time to have your heating system inspected. It's been sitting dormant for months now, and you're about to ask it to do some heavy lifting. This is also a great time to change your air filters.

Ensure you're well insulated. Check out all windows and doors to be sure you're not losing heat. If it's just a minor leak, apply weather stripping or caulk where necessary. Also, head on up to the attic and make sure any insulation up there is in good shape.

Inspect your fireplace and chimney. Now that it's getting chilly, you need to make sure your fireplace and chimney are ready for use. A few things to look out for include creosote buildup, cracks in the flue or brickwork, and obstructions and blockages. Of particular concern is creosote buildup, which causes thousands of dangerous house fires each year. Also be sure that your damper is shutting properly and not allowing any heated air to escape.

Clean those gutters. The falling leaves of autumn don't just mean you'll be doing a lot more raking in the yard. This is the time of year when they're most likely to accumulate in your gutters and create blockages, so it's a good idea to stay on top of this. Be sure that your downspouts extend at least five feet from your house in order to avoid water damage. Since climbing around on your roof can potentially be dangerous, it's a good idea to hire a professional to handle your gutter cleaning.

Get the roof inspected. Unless you can use binoculars and a high vantage point to see every bit of your roof, hire a contractor to give it a good inspection. He or she will know just what to look out for. You don't want an unsound roof to be the only thing separating the interior of your house from winter precipitation.

Look out for trees. While you're admiring the changing colors of the leaves, also make sure no trees pose a threat to your property. Those beautiful branches could soon be weighed down by heavy ice or snow, so you need to ensure they're in good health and able to withstand the coming winter months. If necessary, contact a tree specialist to handle it.

Prep your garden. Now is a good time to protect your plants from the impending chill. Remove dead vines and annuals so that they don't attract disease or insects. Some experts recommend covering your flower and vegetable beds with burlap to avoid weed growth. This is also an opportunity to add mulch, especially in colder climates, since the summer sun will have depleted any laid earlier in the year.

Protect irrigation systems. Because any remaining water within your irrigation system can wreak havoc if frozen, you need to completely drain everything. Shut water off at the main valve and turn off the automatic controller. Remove any hoses from spigots, be sure they're bone-dry, and then coil and store them away. Any sprinkler heads should be kept dry as well.

Be sure your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are working. A great way to stay on top of this is to remember to check twice a year—once in the spring, when you set your clocks forward, and then again in the fall, when setting clocks back. This is your safety we're talking about here, so don't neglect this vital step.

By following a fall maintenance checklist, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you're well prepared for the winter.

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Sources: Better Homes and Gardens;; DIY Network; HouseLogic; National Association of Home Builders.