Certain home maintenance tasks should be completed each season to prevent structural damage, save energy, and keep all your home’s systems running properly. These maintenance tasks are most important for the South in fall and winter. For a comprehensive list of tasks by season, refer to the to-do lists to the right of this article.
Fall and winter conditions in the South vary dramatically from the northern part of the region to the southern coastline. But basic maintenance tips apply no matter where you live.
• Get your heating system in order. Heating systems in the South vary—there are generally more gas furnaces in the northern areas, and more electric heat pump systems toward the coastal South. Programmable thermostats are important for both kinds of heating systems, as they can help save around $180 a year on your energy bills.
If you have a heat pump, make sure you install a programmable thermostat especially designed for heat pumps, says home inspector Bill Loden of Insight Home Inspection in Madison, Ala. Programmable thermostats for heat pumps are specially designed to keep these systems working at peak efficiency.
Schedule your fall HVAC checkup promptly; you can expect to pay $50 to $100 for a heating tune-up. Make sure your HVAC professional checks all electrical connections, lubricates any moving parts if necessary, and inspects the condensate drain and trap. If you have a gas furnace, make sure he also checks gas connections and pressure, burner combustion, and the heat exchanger.
Inspect your furnace filters monthly and change them whenever they are dirty. Inspect floor grates and return ducts regularly and clean them out with a vacuum cleaner brush.
• Clean your gutters. In the South, you’re less likely to have ice form in your gutters than in other parts of the country. Nevertheless, debris in your gutters can easily divert water onto the roof or siding, setting the stage for mold and rot and dramatically shortening the lifespan of shingles and paint. Inspect and clean your gutters in the late fall after leaves have dropped.
• Put away lawn and garden equipment. Pick up anything in the yard that could be damaged by cold or snow, such as garden tools, hoses and nozzles, and patio furniture and accessories. Run your lawn mower until it’s out of gas, if possible; if you leave gas in the tank over the winter, it can degrade and lose some of its combustion ability. Worse, gas can react with the air in the tank and oxidize, forming deposits that affect the machine’s performance; worse still, moisture can condense inside the tank and cause rust that blocks the fuel lines.
If you know you’re going to leave gas in the tank over the winter, add a stabilizer to the last gallon of gas you put in (mix it in the gas can, not the mower tank, so that you get the mixing ratio correct).
• Trim back vegetation. In some areas of the South plants grow year-round, so it’s important to keep an eye on whether they’re encroaching on the roof and walls. Trim trees so that branches don’t hang over the roof, and keep heavy, dense growth away from siding. A good rule of thumb is to trim back bushes and shrubs so that there’s enough room to walk easily between plantings and your house.
• Pick up a paintbrush. Fall is a great time to paint your house’s exterior if necessary, sealing all surfaces before winter’s moisture has a chance to do damage. It’s possible to touch up small areas only, but note two things: 1) odds are you’ll end up with a slightly different color than the rest of the house, so don’t do it in a prominent spot; and 2) if you have a small area that’s consistently peeling or losing paint, you likely have a moisture issue that needs to be addressed first. Look for signs of leaky gutters, crumbling caulk, and loose siding that can trap moisture underneath.
• Check weatherstripping and caulk. Open all your exterior doors and check the weatherstripping; if yours is crumbly or has gaps, replace it. Remove the old weatherstripping with a utility knife and clean the surface with household cleaner, getting as much of the old debris and adhesive off as possible. When the surface is dry, apply peel-and-stick foam weatherstripping. Start at the top of the door frame and work your way down, being careful not to stretch the foam strip, which can weaken the adhesive.
Inspect windows and doors for any gaps between the trim and the exterior siding that allow air to penetrate from the outside; these gaps should be caulked. Be sure to scrape out any crumbling old caulk or paint — applying new caulk over old is fine, but first get rid of loose chunks and remove any grit with household cleaner.
Spending a few hours here and there on home maintenance tasks helps you spot developing problems quickly and prevent costly repairs. For best results, complete the tasks described above as well as those on the to-do list following this article.