Low-Cost Fall Maintenance Planning to Avoid Costly Housing Repairs Later

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home maintenance tipsIt seems hard to think about fall maintenance when it is still warm and sunny outside — at least for some parts of the country. Although tempted to put it off until the weather gets chilly, I’ve learned the hard way that getting someone to come out and fix a broken water heater or balky furnace in the middle of freezing cold temperatures isn’t nearly as easy as getting someone to prevent potential problems ahead of time — preferably during mild fall weather. My wife and I have lived in the same home for over 10 years, inevitably making some mistakes along the way when it comes to fall home improvement and maintenance projects. Hopefully, passing along what we’ve learned can end up saving you money as well. Here’s our top 10 fall home improvements and “musts” that help maintain our home’s value, year after year, while possibly saving us money on costly home repairs in the long run.

Before we do anything else, our first fall home improvement step is to pick up the phone and call a good home inspector.

This may seem a bit puzzling. Why would anyone want to call a home inspector during the fall? A home inspector might seem necessary when buying or selling a home… but as part of a fall home maintenance program? However, we’ve found that a good inspector can catch small problems early and alert us to issues we might have missed before we face the harsh reality of a home repair problem in the winter. Having an inspection as part of our fall home maintenance process has caught exterior siding issues as well as roofing problems. With a steep roof, my husband and I aren’t inclined to go crawling around up there ourselves. Last year’s inspection caught some loose roof tiles that could have led to a major leak if snow, ice and slush had gotten under those tiles and caused major roof damage.

Cost for a home inspection: This can vary. In our area, it costs between $250 and $400. According to the receipt I have, last year’s inspection was $400 for a two-story home, including the crawl space. When you think of the potential savings, this seems a very reasonable price. A roof leak can quickly turn into an expensive problem, requiring major roof repairs.

How to find a good home inspector: Start with the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors at www.nachi.org.

Alternately, you can go with someone your neighbors recommend or anyone who has a proven record of finding potential home maintenance or repair issues. References are a must.

Next on the list of fall home improvements is to get our furnace thoroughly checked and make sure it is in fine running order.

Yes, it is a bit uncomfortable to have the heat running at full blast when it is a hot day — all to make sure the furnace is working fine. But we’re always grateful we’ve taken this step when the snow falls (along with the temperatures) and we have a warm, comfortable home. We’ve suffered through the results of neglecting this step. Going through it before was enough to put it on our to do list for fall home maintenance projects.

Cost for getting a furnace checked and maintained: Again, this can vary widely but many furnace companies have fall specials so look for those. By the way, every single repair person we’ve used has told us they’d prefer to check furnaces before the weather gets terribly cold and they seem willing to spend more time outside when they aren’t shivering with cold.

Third on the fall home maintenance list? We make sure the chimney is clear of bird nests and that the chimney cap is still in place. We also call a chimney sweep and make sure we don’t run the risk of any fire hazards that spread to the rest of our house.

One year, we didn’t call a chimney sweep or home inspector and had a family of raccoons make a home in our chimney. One of the babies actually fell down into our living room during the day, scaring me and putting our cat on high alert. It was a wild, chaotic experience and not one I’m eager to repeat. I could only imagine what might have happened if we’d had a roaring fire in the chimney or the potential risks of bird nests in the chimney opening with a fire in the fireplace.

Cost for a chimney sweep: We paid $200.

Okay, so we’ve had a home inspection, checked the furnace and made sure our chimney is in good working order. Fourth on the list of fall home improvement projects is to take care of any window problems or issues.

It is a rare year when we don’t have to fix at least one of our windows. We have quite a few of them and it is a routine task to make sure they are caulked and the seals between the windows are nice and tight, unable to let in water. This is an excellent time to check for drafty windows, too.

Cost to check the windows: Because we do this ourselves, it takes time to inspect each window carefully. We set aside a good two hours for the process and it can take longer. If everything is in place, we don’t have to spend another cent. If we need exterior or interior caulking, then we have to pay for that as well as any wood to replace broken or chipped window boards or trim. Replacing a window can cost anywhere from $200 to $400 or more, depending on the window and the trim chosen.

We’d never go through list of fall home improvement projects without checking our programmable thermostat — or adding one to our home.

We’ve changed our regular thermostats to programmable ones and got a tax deduction or energy credit for making the switch. Each year, we make sure that their thermostats work correctly and we do test them out during the fall season. They’ve ended up saving us money on our heating bills although it has been hard to figure out exactly how much we’ve saved because gas costs have gone up and they do vary from year to year. Some fall and winter seasons are milder than others.

Cost for programmable thermostats: Ours cost about $70 each, and we did get to list them for potential tax deductions, an extra tax savings.

Next step on our fall home maintenance list? Winterize our pipes.

This is a fairly easy fall improvement and one that pays off big time. You can actually buy insulation that is pre-fitted to wrap around your pipes. You’ll want to check out the variety of types at your local hardware or home improvement stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot — or even Wal-mart. If you can’t afford to winterize all your pipes, try to cover the ones that are most likely to freeze or are most exposed to the cold. You’ll be glad when you don’t deal with a frozen pipe later. (Yes, we’ve faced that problem, too.)

Cost to winterize pipes: If you call a professional, it can be expensive but this is an easy DIY (do it yourself) project. Simply go to Home Depot or Lowe’s or another store and buy the material. You can adjust what you purchase to your budget, covering all your pipes or just the ones most likely to freeze.

Another must on our list of fall home improvement projects would be making sure our home is free of unwanted pests and mice.

When fall arrives, so do the mice and the pests, particularly spiders. Mice can be a problem for us since we live near woods and the creatures apparently find a nice, warm home more to their liking than a hole in an old tree. We set up traps, both inside and out, and make sure all our food is in covered storage containers. We pay attention to any signs that they might be in our home and (happily) are able to stop any invasions before they get too far.

Cost to get rid of mice or keep them away: We tend to do this ourselves and a mouse trap costs around $2 if you go with the traditional, spring type trap that kills mice. I should warn you that you may hear that sudden snapping sound at any time of day or night and would have to deal with the dead mouse. If you’d prefer to have someone else handle this unpleasant task, you can call a professional pest control company. That would be more expensive than using a few traps, of course.

An absolute necessity when it comes to fall home chores is cleaning out our gutters.

Because our home is a bit contemporary, we have relatively few gutters but it is still vital to make sure they get cleaned out during the fall season. If we forget this step, we can wake up to gutter fall of frozen leaves, ice and snow and increase the risk of a roof leak. This is one fall home improvement project that definitely can save hundreds of dollars.

Cost to clean out the gutters: Our time and energy and a good ladder, plus some strong plastic or other gloves to avoid getting germs on our hands.

Don’t forget to repaint or repair any interior or exterior doors while completing your fall home improvement projects.

If you’re clever enough to save leftover paint in small cans or bottles, you’ll save yourself time and money each year. If not, it isn’t hard to find matching paint to cover any worn sections of your doors and windows. Winter can be brutal and you’ll be well-served if you make sure your doors are fully protected.

Cost to repaint or repair interior and exterior doors: It can cost $10 or less, depending on any paint you have on hand. Of course, if you are repainting or replacing doors, the costs can be significantly more.

While inspecting your home, don’t neglect your mailbox, often the odd duck when it comes to fall maintenance projects.

I don’t know why, but I see plenty of mailboxes in a sad state, even in front of homes that seem perfectly maintained and with lots of curb appeal. A lopsided or old mailbox is likely to fall over when winter comes along and snow piles up. Besides, it doesn’t add much of a finishing touch to an otherwise nice home. So take some time and pay attention to your mailbox while completing your fall chores.

Cost to repair or update mailbox: The cost will depend on whether you replace the whole mailbox or simply straighten the post and add some new paint. Prices can range anywhere from $10 to hundreds.

My final tip may seem odd, but it has become a tradition for us. We always take a photo of our garden as we empty garden pots of dirt and put them away in the garden shed for the year.

Ever forgotten to tend to your garden while tending to your fall home improvements? It can be a major mistake because spring can greet you with the sight of broken and shattered pots. It is a bit easier to head into fall if we have some reminders of our garden to comfort us during the long winters. So we take photos of garden arrangements and plants that we particularly like, serving as inspiration for next year’s garden.

Cost to take photos of the garden and put away old pots in the garden shed: Minimal cost. We have a camera and we simply take the photos, empty the pots of dirt, clean out the pots and put them away.

Here’s to a great fall season and a minimum of home repairs!

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