In many parts of the US, wintertime brings persistent rains or periodic bouts of snow and ice, conditions that will take their toll on your house’s exterior. In the fall, shore up your home’s defenses by completing the following list of outdoor maintenance tasks. By proactively taking care of vulnerabilities like clogged gutters, dangling dead tree limbs, and missing roof shingles, you can spend more of the winter relaxing snugly indoors.

Remove Leaves from Gutters and Outdoor Structures

Toward the end of the fall season, your home may be practically laminated with fallen leaves. One of the clearest threats posed by an excess of leaves, along with catkins, pine needles, and debris left over from earlier in the year, is to your gutters. Rainwater pooling in clogged gutters can be heavy enough to loosen the fasteners holding the gutters to the house, and if the water overflows the gutter troughs, it can encourage rotting fascia and soffits or tumble to the ground like a waterfall, eroding your home’s foundation. Clean your gutters biannually—once in the early summer and again in the late fall—to avoid these problems. Remember to check the valleys of your home’s roof, the roof of your storage shed, and any other outdoor structures for concentrations of leaves; if not removed, they’ll get wetter, heavier, and moldier as winter passes through.

Inspect the Roof

If winter brings increased rain, sleet, or snow to your area, fall is a good time to check your roof for weaknesses. Missing, loose, or damaged shingles are the most obvious liabilities. You should also check for leaks in the flashing around chimneys and vent pipes as well as general structural damage; normal settling of the house and even seismic activity—remember that there are plenty of earthquakes in the US outside of California—can affect the integrity of your roof.

Homeowners can locate and often repair the most apparent roof damage themselves. For example, it’s easy to patch torn shingles or cover exposed nails with roofing cement. However, homeowners will probably receive a more thorough inspection and more durable repairs from a trusted roofing contractor who has the experience to spot subtle damage as well as the practice to work on the roof safely.

Drain the Sprinkler System and Shut Off Outdoor Spigots

If you have a sprinkler system, you probably already employ a professional irrigation contractor to handle much of its maintenance. Draining the system so it doesn’t freeze and rupture during the winter is one task you should probably call that company to handle. Just remember to schedule in advance, because many other homeowners will be seeking out the same service at the same time.

Shutting off and draining the outdoor spigots, on the other hand, is a quick chore that many homeowners can handle themselves. Begin by locating the shutoff valve inside the house and closing it. The indoor shutoff valve will also feature a small drain cap; open it with pliers and let the remaining water drain into a bucket. After you replace the drain cap, you can go back outside and turn on the spigot to confirm there’s no more water in the line. Although turning off the water and draining the line is recommended, you can also protect an outdoor spigot from freezing with an insulated cover, most of which are made of thick Styrofoam.

Tend to Your Trees

Fall is a great time for tree care for two good reasons. First, once the leaves have fallen, homeowners and arborists can spot dead limbs and other signs of frailty much more easily. The general structure of the trees is also more visible, which facilitates pruning. Second, dead limbs and weak trees should be removed before accumulations of winter snow and ice bring the wood crashing down on houses or cars.

In addition to pruning and removing dead limbs and trees, The International Society of Arboriculture recommends providing your trees with a layer of organic mulch in the fall or early winter. Organic mulch not only provides nutrients but also acts as an insulator, protecting roots from extreme winter temperatures. For a guide to mulching trees properly, read our blog post on the topic.

If you still have time, the fall season is opportune for lots of other outdoor maintenance projects. For example, after the spring pollen blitz and the drier, dustier summer months, fall is a good time for a whole-house window washing. If you have a septic system and have been neglecting regular inspections and maintenance, it might be a good idea to have it looked at and perhaps pumped before the ground freezes. EBSCO Research has provided an indoor maintenance checklist as well. Hopefully, a little extra maintenance in the fall will keep your home running smoothly—and you cozily relaxing inside—all winter long.

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Sources: Minnesota Building Industry Foundation; International Society of Arboriculture; Los Angeles Times; National Center for Healthy Housing.

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