Ah, fall: The nip of the first chill in the air. The colorful foliage. The pumpkin spice lattes. The pumpkin spice everything.
Oh yeah, and the long list of home maintenance tasks awaiting you at the start of the season.
We hate to intrude on your fall bliss, but the postsummer months are a critical time for knocking out routine home maintenance to keep your household running smoothly into winter. Luckily, many of these tasks are easy DIY projects, with options to call in the pros if you prefer.
We asked home experts which items should be at the top of your to-do list this fall. Here are the musts to tackle before the falling leaves turn to ice and snow.
1. Check windows and doors for air leaks
Lower temperatures mean higher thermostat settings, and anyone in a cold climate knows the pain of opening a gas bill in the dead of winter.
To keep cold air out and utility bills in check, Mike Bidwell, president and CEO of Neighborly, suggests checking all of your windows and doors for air leaks.
DIY: If your issues are minor, a few low-budget options to fix leaky doors and windows include caulking around gaps, adding or updating the weatherstripping, and using foam sealant.
Call in the pros: If you have major gaps or just want peace of mind that leaks are sealed properly, call an expert.
“Depending on the size of the leak and the number of leaks identified, the cost will vary from a minimum-charge service call to something more if more extensive work is called for,” Bidwell says.
Window seal repairs can run between $70 and $120—still a bargain compared with the cost of replacing an entire window or door.
2. Clean the chimney
If you have a fireplace, fall is a great time to give it a thorough cleaning and inspection, says Craig Gjelsten, vice president of Rainbow International Restoration.
Maintaining a clean fireplace is the simplest and best way to remove creosote, a byproduct of wood combustion that contains tar and toxins.
“Eliminating this from the chimney liner and the smoke box reduces the risk of a fire,” he says.
DIY: If you’ve been keeping up with cleaning your chimney on a yearly basis, you can handle this task on your own, “as long as [you] feel capable of using an extension ladder to get to the roof and scrub the chimney,” Gjelsten says.
Call in the pros: “If you haven’t cleaned the chimney in a long time, it is recommended that you call an expert to do a thorough clean,” Gjelsten says.
You can expect to spend anywhere from the low $100s to upward of $300, depending on where you live (and how fouled the chimney has become).
3. Schedule a furnace tuneup
Don’t wait until the first bitterly cold day to finally turn on your furnace. If you have any issues, you’ll want to know before the mercury drops and you find yourself shivering indoors.
“Homeowners should listen for strange noises, such as booming, clicking, and squealing, when they turn on their furnace for the fall season,” Bidwell adds. “They should also pay attention to odd odors coming from the furnace.”
If you notice anything unusual, call an HVAC professional right away.
DIY: Change your filter regularly and often.
“Every season, homeowners should replace the furnace filter,” Bidwell says. “They can also vacuum dust and debris from and around the furnace to help it operate like new.”
Call in the pros: Even if you change your filter regularly, it’s a good idea to schedule a furnace tuneup, Bidwell says.
HVAC pros can inspect and clean the air ducts, check and adjust the pilot light, lubricate the furnace bearings, and inspect and tighten fan belts and pulleys.
“The typical price for fall heating tuneups ranges from $89 to $159, but prices can vary by services needed and by region,” Bidwell says.
4. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
It’s easy to forget about smoke and carbon monoxide detectors (unless a cooking disaster sets off the alarm—we’ve all been there).
“That’s why as we approach this time of year, it’s important to test these alarms and detectors, as well as replace those that are 10 or more years old,” Gjelsten says.
DIY: This is a quick and easy project most homeowners can handle on their own. Simply press and hold down the “test” button for a few seconds on each of your detectors.
“If working properly, these detectors will emit a loud ping or siren,” Gjelsten says. “Should the sound be weak or not there at all, you should replace the batteries and test the detector once more to ensure it’s working properly.”
5. Run ceiling fans in reverse
The hot, humid days of summer are officially in the rear-view mirror (in most parts of the country, at least).
“That’s why now is the perfect time to start thinking about reversing the direction [of] fans in the home to make the space warmer,” Gjelsten says.
Reversing the direction of your ceiling fans helps circulate warm air near the ceiling back into your living space. (Heat rises, remember!) This can cut your heating costs by as much as 10%, Gjelsten says.
DIY: All you need is a ladder or stool for this task—and make sure the fan is off. Then simply flip the switch that is commonly found on the side of the motor to change the fan’s direction.
6. Winterize your sprinkler system
It’s a good idea to winterize your outdoor irrigation system to prevent damage from freezing water. This process clears leftover water from the pipes in your irrigation system.
DIY: “Due to the need for high pressure to clear water out of the lines, winterizing sprinkler systems is not a typical DIY project,” Bidwell says.
But if you’re handy and you have the right equipment—including an air compressor—it’s possible to tackle this project on your own.
Call in the pros: In warmer climates, sprinkler winterization service averages between $50 and $70, Bidwell says. In areas where temperatures dip below freezing, the process is more intensive, so you can expect to pay more—generally between $70 and $140.
7. Disconnect and empty your garden hoses
Speaking of freezing water, “a frozen hose can cause the water inside the wall to freeze and burst,” Bidwell says.
Don’t let this happen to you, homeowner!
DIY: Disconnect your hose and let it drain on an angle. Once the hose is empty, coil it up and pack it away for the season.
8. Clean the gutters
Throughout the year, your gutters fill up with leaves, sticks, and other debris. Failing to clear this gunk from your gutters can mean rain and melting snow won’t be able to drain easily—potentially causing seepage and leaks into your home.
DIY: If you’re comfortable climbing on a ladder to clean your gutters, this is a DIY-friendly task,
“Using a bucket, gutter scoop, and heavy-duty gloves, you can remove any debris found in your gutters,” Gjelsten says.
Use a hose to wash away any remaining debris and to make sure the downspouts are working properly.
Call in the pros: If you’re not keen on climbing, you can call in a professional. The national average cost for gutter cleaning is around $157.
Lauren Sieben is a writer in Milwaukee. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, Washington Post, Milwaukee Magazine, and other outlets. Follow @laurensieben