Seasonal Home Maintenance Guide
The holidays are just about here, the kids will soon be back from school and now that you’ll likely have a few days away from work, this could be a great time to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions. You may actually relish the opportunity to take a breather from constant socializing and have a moment with yourself. Bonus: You can get some of that deep thinking done while you shovel the driveway.
Of course, even if you’re someplace a little more temperate, setting aside a few minutes to think about the year ahead and how you can accomplish new goals is never a bad idea. Especially when it comes to your home.
Home maintenance is home health
As a homeowner, there is never a perfect time to start thinking about home maintenance. You just have to find the time—preferably before things are on the blink. And no, we don’t mean to imply that frightening surprises are right around the corner as a first-time homeowner; rather that the responsibility of ownership is vast and never ending, and you need to keep an eye on maintenance to ensure a smooth, secure, efficiently running home for you and your family.
You may be a new homeowner who’s not used to making the rounds and looking out for potential problem areas. No problem. Whether you’ve just purchased your home or have been settled for several years, we’ll walk you through some items to inspect for possible damage or performance loss—both on the inside and outside of your home.
It’s easy to get started
The good news? Even though it’s wintertime and conducting repairs in the seasonal chill is less than ideal, there’s plenty you can do right now from the inside of your home (with perhaps some occasional excursions to the great outdoors) to address a range of potential issues. But we also want to lay out a plan for the whole year.
The following list is in no way exhaustive—but it’s a crucial start to familiarizing yourself with the ins and outs of your home and establishing a set of ongoing best practices when it comes to maintenance. Remember: You don’t have to be a handyman (or woman) to keep your home in shape. A simple toolbox, some patience and a willingness to put in a little time here and there can go a long way to maintaining the health of your home.
Home maintenance: Schedule
Let’s begin by first saying there are some things you should be doing throughout the course of the year to properly maintain your home, and there are other things that can be relegated to a seasonal schedule. The best approach is to have a basic plan of what you want to accomplish over the course of 3-4 hours twice a month. This way, the work is done in manageable chunks and prevents you from feeling overwhelmed.
To (somewhat) oversimplify things, let’s break the tasks down by season.
Home maintenance: Winter
Let’s first look at what can be done around the home during the winter months to keep your home free of costly repairs and functioning in top form. After all, that’s the whole idea of “maintenance”—addressing small issues, monitoring performance and making sure little problems don’t become big expensive ones.
Every house needs dependable plumbing and yours is no different. While professional plumbers exist for a reason, there are a number of relatively simple things you can do on your own to keep things problem free. The following are a few suggestions that can be done anytime of year, but since they don’t generally involve a visit to the outdoors, might be best accomplished in winter.
- Check the local shut-off valves and water supply lines underneath sinks to make sure they aren't dripping.
- Test the emergency shut-off valve that governs the water supply for the entire house. This is essential for you to locate in case of emergency. Typical locations include the basement, laundry room or garage. In states with warmer climates, the shut-off valve might be on an exterior wall near an outdoor faucet.
- Check visible pipes for corrosion. If they look seriously worn, contact a plumber.
- Clean out p-traps (the u-shaped pipe under your sink) to prevent future clogs. The p-trap always holds a little bit of water (by design) and it can sometimes fill up with other associated grime. Simply unscrew the two nuts that hold the pipe in place, making sure you have a bowl underneath to catch the water. Rinse, wipe, then reinsert p-trap .
- Look at your fridge: Does it have an ice maker or dispense filtered water? First, change the filter on a regular basis (check with manufacturer) but also examine the water supply tubing to ensure there are no leaks or fraying.
- If you have a garbage disposal, give it a quick cleaning with some ice cubes made from white vinegar.
- Inspect the caulking around your bathtub, shower, sinks and base of toilets. If you notice dried out areas or patches of caulk missing, be sure to scrape away the old caulking and lay down some new silicone (easily available at your local hardware store).
- Does your toilet “run”? Make sure the flap lies flat against the drain and that the chain isn’t too long. These can negatively affect the quality of the seal and keep water running needlessly—a wastely annoyance that will also add to your monthly bills.
Other interior (winter) maintenance:
While plumbing issues might occupy the first order of interior home maintenance, there are a range of things homeowners should keep an eye on. Examples include:
Smoke alarms and fire extinguisher
You depend on things like smoke alarms and fire extinguishers to help you out in the event of a fire, so make sure they are fully operational.
- Smoke alarm: Replace the batteries in your smoke alarm and if you haven't done so already, consider installing alarms in every room in your house. While that may seem excessive to some, it can actually be a lifesaver.
- Fire extinguisher: Take a look at your fire extinguisher. Many of them have gauges indicating proper pressure. Look at the needle and make sure yours is in the proper operating range. Check for damage and to see if the inspection tags are up to date. Lastly, think about placement. Is the fire extinguisher in an easy-to-access area that all family members can get to in case of emergency?
- Examine existing insulation for moisture, mold, dirt, shredding and even signs of rodent contaminants. Poor insulation leads to energy loss which leads to higher energy costs, particularly in winter.
- If you have windows in your attic, make sure they are sealed and caulked.
- Soffit vents should also be examined. Good attic airflow prevents mildew growth, keeps energy costs down and helps extend the life of your roof shingles (which can overheat in hot weather).
- Dryer: Make sure the vent is working properly and vents to an exterior location. Clean out the lint tray and inspect the dryer interior.
- Washer: Inspect the interior of your washing machine drum for mildew. You’ll likely have to scrub a bit. To be certain it’s 100% clean, it’s best to wash your washing machine with two cups of white vinegar at the hottest setting. After you run the vinegar-cleaning cycle, add one cup of baking soda and run that for one cycle. Lastly, just like sinks and toilets, make sure the shut-off valve works and hasn’t calcified for any reason.
Note: Your washer/dryer will almost certainly plug into a GFCI outlet. Make sure there is no frayed or exposed wiring and that GFCI outlet is fully functional. It’s recommended that you test all GFCI outlets roughly once a month and fully replace (or have an electrician examine) once every 10 years. There’s even a test button that will produce a snap sound to demonstrate that it has “tripped” and is working properly. Contact a trusted electrician for more information.
Home maintenance: Spring
As the weather warms up and moving around outside becomes more appealing, there are plenty of things you can do to help maintain your house from beyond your home’s interior. There are also a few seasonal-related appliances that need to be inspected before it gets too hot. Let’s take a look at some key areas that will demand your attention as a new homeowner.
If you own anything resembling a modern home, you no doubt have an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) system. They need to be maintained to work properly. Your mission:
- Clean air filters: Try to do this every three months to optimize air quality.
- Clean condensing unit: This is your outdoor AC unit/heat pump and it needs cleaning to get rid of dirt, grime, dead leaves, etc. A gentle spray is all you need.
- Clear drain pipe blockage: Your HVAC system has a drainpipe and pan that can get blocked with mold/algae, etc. The best way to clear debris is by pouring ¼ cup of white vinegar into the condensate drain. You may have to ask a service technician where this is; it’s often located in the attic or in the basement.
- Make sure windows close and fully lock.
- Examine window frames and sashes. Make sure there’s no rot, which is a sign of moisture infiltration and energy inefficiency.
- Make sure weather stripping isn’t worn out. Reapply as necessary. Check for gaps between window casing and wall. Fill in with caulk as needed.
- Wash and clean windows. You’d be surprised how much more light can be transmitted when your windows have been cleaned properly.
Homeowners could potentially spend entire springs and summers up on their roofs looking for problem areas and figuring out how to best address them. We’ll just focus on a couple:
While this should be done periodically throughout the year (especially again in fall), early spring is an essential time to clean them, before the heavy rains of April and May.
Gutter cleaning: You’ll need a sturdy extension ladder, a bucket for collecting debris and a helper to steady things from below. Depending on the square footage of your house, you may want to consider breaking down this activity over a couple weekends. Simply scoop and remove.
Some folks like to use leaf blowers or portable power vacs to assist them. There are also tools available to help you clean gutters while staying safely on the ground. Check with your local hardware store for more information
Downspouts: Clearing your downspouts of debris is every bit as important as cleaning your gutters. The best method is to take a leaf blower and insert the nozzle into the end of your downspout at ground level and turn the device on. It will send a powerful burst of air all the way up to the roof and loosen any debris that might restrict the passage of water.
You can also gently tap your downspout with the backside of a hammer to loosen any blockage or even use a pipe snake or a garden hose. Just insert the hose or pipe snake and work it up until you can’t go any higher, moving it back and forth. For hoses, turning on the water at full blast (briefly) can also dislodge any buildup.
You'll need to get back on your ladder and inspect things up close and personal. We realize this isn’t for everyone, but regular roof maintenance is important and can prevent costly repairs down the road.
Inspect shingles: While the best way to inspect your roof is to get up there and walk around (very carefully, of course), many DIY experts contend that all you need is a proper vantage point and good pair of binoculars. Either way, you’re looking for:
- Missing shingles
- Curling shingles
- Cracked shingles
- Peeling flashing (that thin metal material used to direct water away from certain areas such as roof, walls, chimney.
- Missing granules
If there are damaged shingles, this is a red flag and a telltale sign that you need to bring in a roofing expert to address the issue.
Wash your roof: We know what you’re thinking: “Doesn’t the rain already do that?” Unfortunately, the answer is no. There’s a very real possibility that algae and even fungal elements are slowly growing on your roof and over time could affect the integrity of your shingles. The solution: Spray your roof with a combination of 50% bleach and 50% water. This will kill the algae. Make sure to rinse your roof (and eaves) with plain water from a hose afterwards.
Home maintenance: Summer
These are the best months to be outside and it’s a great time to concentrate on projects that address the exterior condition of your home as well as the property itself. Let’s take a look at a few tasks that any weekender can accomplish without too much trouble:
- Look for loose or rotted siding: Walk around your property and examine the house itself. How does it look? Loose or rotting siding will need to be replaced. But more often than not, it's a question of stubborn grime—dirt, tree sap, bird droppings, etc. This is an opportunity to have it power washed and keep things clean and mildew free.
- Be prepared to do a little painting: If you didn’t realize it when you were a renter, you will surely know it now: Summertime is paint time. Walk around your house, get on a ladder and inspect, inspect, inspect. A chipped, cracking or faded exterior is a call to action. Head to your local paint store and prepare to prime and sand as well as paint. While this potentially could be a larger project you might want to farm out to a pro, the main thing is to get on it now before it’s a much bigger job. Note: You should also examine shutters and repaint them, if necessary.
- Check tuckpointing and foundation: If you have a brick house it’s essential to examine the mortar work for signs of deterioration. Also take time to get down on your hands and knees and stringently look for foundation cracks. These can be a gateway for moisture, mold, leaks, insect invasions and an entry point for toxic radon gas. For more information on radon, check with the EPA and familiarize yourself with the risks and how to address them.
- Check fences: Go around back and walk the property. How does the fence look? Depending on upkeep, it may be time to reseal, restrain or repaint. You certainly don’t want a rotten fence post. If it’s already rotting, you’ll have to take measurements and go to the local fencing company and find a beam that matches in size. Depending on the fence post in question, this could be a big job or a little job. Ask a professional how to proceed but be prepared to use a shovel, a hammer and a circular saw.
- Wash patio/deck: With the warm weather emerging, you’ll probably be having friends and neighbors over at some point for cookouts and cocktails, and you don’t want to leave them with the wrong impression. One of the best ways to aesthetically enhance your property is to have a sparkling clean deck and patio. Remember that power washer that you obtained to wash your house? Dig it out, because you’ll be needing it. For the patio, it can help you get rid of algae and other microbial growths. For the deck, the power wash can prevent wood from splitting, graying or rotting. Resealing is also important to protect it from the ravages of the sun and rain.
- Inspect walkways: Cracks in cement and asphalt are pretty much inevitable. If it’s the first year in your new house and the previous owner left things in good condition, you may be fortunate enough to skip this activity in year one. But soon enough, you’ll have to refill cracks in the cement and patch up imperfections in your asphalt driveway. Take note of the problem and then head to your local hardware store for the appropriate fillers, patches and sealants.
As you might imagine, this is only a partial list of home maintenance things that you can do around the house in the summer months. This is really the best season for robust projects like exterior house painting and fixing the roof. But you should also walk your property and see what else can be done. Everything from installing outdoor lights, cutting down trees, trimming branches and cleaning out your entire garage (and organizing it) should potentially be on your list.
Home maintenance: Fall
Many of the things you do in spring can be duplicated in fall. In fact, it’s essential that you at least clean your gutters before winter sets in. Dead leaves could block water flow and cause a big drainage problem. But there are other things you should check on as well before the cold weather arrives.
If maintaining heat is important to you (and we’ll wager it is), then you’ll want to make sure your furnace is clean and operating without flaws. While it’s always wise to have a professional look at your furnace, there are things you can do on your own without too much trouble to ensure it’s working properly. The first thing is to locate the furnace (usually the basement houses it) and pop the combustion chamber door. Next, turn off the power switch. Now you’re ready.
- Clean and replace the filter system as needed. New filters should be installed every 1-3 months.
- Check the thermostat to make sure it’s functioning correctly.
- Blow dust off the pilot area and clean the vents.
- Vacuum out the blower blades. Also use a stiff brush to get all the dust.
- Conduct an inspection of the fan for dust. If it looks dirty you may need the help of a professional.
- Check your furnace exhaust flue and to ensure toxic carbon monoxide has a direct path to exit your house.
Speaking of carbon monoxide, this is a good time to refresh the batteries in any carbon monoxide detectors you have around your home. This should be done once every year.
Other fall home maintenance ideas
Examine your windows/doors: Inspect exterior caulking and make sure everything closes tightly. If your door gets a lot of sunlight, it might prematurely fade and warrant a fresh coat of paint. You may need to lightly sand beforehand.
Inspect your garage door: If you have an automatic garage door opener, you may have a professional come out periodically to check on things as part of a service contract. To keep those visits to a minimum, you can take a few minutes to lubricate the garage door pulleys and rollers—specifically, the bearings. Don’t use an oil lubricant, opt for a lithium- or silicone-based one instead.
Clear patio and disengage grill: It’s fall and winter is coming. Time to take things in for the winter like patio furniture, deck chairs, etc. You’ll also need to address your outdoor grill. Unplug it if it’s electric and wheel it into your garage. If it runs on gas or propane, make sure to turn off the tank before storing it. Follow your owner’s manual and be sure to remove gas tubes off the gas lines and completely remove the tank before storing it. Note: Gas and propane tanks should never be stored inside.
Prepare AC and chimney for winter: Place a covering over your outside AC unit to protect it from the upcoming winter. If you have a working fireplace, you’ll want to begin on the inside and clean the flue with a metal bristle brush. Use a power vac to suck up the debris. Then if you’re serious about DIY maintenance, you’ll need to (very carefully) get on the roof and inspect the chimney crown and look for any spider cracks or missing chunks. Be prepared to spread a sealant around the base of the crown. You should get the hood/liner inspected as well. Many homeowners strive for an annual chimney cleaning. Call a professional for advice on how to proceed.
Service your snowblower: Not everyone needs a snowblower come winter, but if you do, you’ll want it to perform reliably when those flakes start to fall; hence, some basic maintenance. This includes changing the oil, inspecting and replacing the belts, scraper bars and skid shoes; changing the spark plug, adding new fuel (gasoline) into the tank and generally examining and tightening the various nuts and bolts.
Winterize your power tools like leaf blowers, chainsaws as well as lawn mowers and the like before you bring them inside for the winter. Winterize just means following a few basic steps so internal engines on gas-powered outdoor equipment don't corrode during the offseason due to inactivity.
Note: Because the steps differ depending on whether your appliance has a two-stroke engine or a four-stroke engine, it’s essential to consult your owner’s manual. The key takeaway is that you’ll want to be proactive in the autumn months so peak performance is guaranteed come springtime.
When homebuying ends, homeowning is just beginning. If you thought painstakingly selecting the perfect house, outmaneuvering competitors to strike a deal and obtaining an affordable mortgage was all that was required of you to live a secure and happy life in your new home, you may have overlooked the responsibilities of home maintenance. While not labor intensive, keeping your house in top shape definitely requires some attention—and not just once or twice a year.
But here’s the thing: While the responsibilities of home maintenance are ongoing and will demand your participation from time to time, taking care of your home is actually pretty easy; it’s also the number one way to prevent bigger, more expensive problems from emerging on the home front. At the end of the day, basic home maintenance is just a series of common sense steps that will preserve the integrity of your home and help build value for the long term.
Whether you’re new to homeownership or have purchased properties in the past, ensuring your home is functioning at peak performance and free from unnecessary deterioration is the goal of every homeowner. After all, homeownership is the investment of a lifetime. A well-maintained house is something you can walk through every day and feel good about.
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