#1 Prepare Your Mower for Storage
If you're not acquainted with fuel stabilizer, it's time to get acquainted. For mowers that will sit idle with gasoline in their tanks for extended periods, the fuel can gradually degrade, potentially causing harm to internal engine components. Fuel stabilizer, which costs around $10 for a 10-ounce bottle, serves as a guardian against gas deterioration. Add stabilizer to your gasoline to preserve any spare fuel over the winter, and be sure to fill your mower tank with stabilized gas before putting it away for the season. To ensure the stabilizer reaches the carburetor, run the mower for five minutes.
Another method to care for your lawn mower is to run it until it's out of gas before storing it.
1. When the mower has cooled down, remove the spark plug and pour a capful of engine oil into the spark plug hole.
2. Give the starter cord a few pulls to distribute the oil, keeping the pistons lubricated and ensuring an easy start in the spring.
3. Turn the mower on its side to remove accumulated grass and debris from the mower deck.
#2 Disconnect Garden Hoses from Faucets
Disconnect garden hoses from your outdoor faucets. Leaving hoses connected can lead to water backup in the faucets and plumbing pipes just inside your exterior walls. If freezing temperatures occur, this water could freeze, expand, and potentially damage the faucet or pipes. Make this a priority in early fall to avoid sudden cold snaps causing harm.
Don't forget to turn off any shutoff valves on water supply lines leading to exterior faucets to prevent minor leaks that may allow water to enter the faucet. Drain the garden hoses and store them in a shed or garage.
#3 Winterize Your Sprinkler System
It's time to winterize your irrigation system, as even buried irrigation lines can freeze and result in damaged pipes and broken sprinkler heads.
1. Shut off the water to the system at the main valve.
2. Turn off the automatic controller.
3. Open drain valves to remove water from the system.
4. Remove any above-ground sprinkler heads, shake out any remaining water, and then reinstall them.
If your system lacks drain valves, consider hiring an irrigation professional to blow out the system pipes with compressed air. Spending $100 to $250 on a pro is a wise investment to ensure the job is done correctly and to avoid potential springtime repairs.
#4 Seal Air Leaks
Get a couple of tubes of color-matched exterior caulk (typically $8.50 for 10 fluid ounces) and take a tour around the exterior of your home. Seal any cracks between trim and siding, around window and door frames, and where pipes and wires enter your house. Preventing moisture from infiltrating your walls is a cost-effective and vital part of your fall maintenance. Additionally, you'll eliminate air leaks that waste energy. Choose a day when temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit for easy caulk application.
#5 Clean Out Your Gutters
Clogged rain gutters can lead to ice dams and potentially expensive repairs. After the leaves have fallen, clean your gutters to remove leaves, twigs, and debris. Ensure that gutters aren't sagging and trapping water; tighten gutter hangers and downspout brackets as needed. Replace any worn or damaged gutters and downspouts.
If you discover colored grit from asphalt roof shingles in your gutters, be cautious. This sand-like grit helps protect shingles from the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays. Inspect your roof closely for other signs of damage (#6 below); it might be time for a roof replacement. To prevent foundation issues, make sure your downspouts extend at least five feet away from your house. If they don't, consider adding downspout extensions (low cost solution).
#6 Inspect Your Roof
For steep roofs or multistory homes, stay safe by using binoculars to examine your roof from the ground. Look for warning signs such as buckled, cracked, or missing shingles, as well as rust spots on flashing. Replace any loose, damaged, or missing shingles promptly.
While black algae stains are mainly cosmetic, extensive moss and lichen growth could indicate underlying roof decay. If you spot these issues, call in a professional roofer for an evaluation.
Check the flashing around plumbing vent stacks, usually sealed with a rubber collar (known as a boot), which may crack or loosen over time. Boots typically wear out before the roof, so ensure they are in good condition. Replacing a boot by hiring a professional roofer typically costs between $200 and $500, depending on your roof's steepness.
#7 Manage Drainage
Examine the soil around your foundation closely and ensure it slopes away from your house by at least six vertical inches over a ten-foot distance. This slope prevents water from saturating the soil around your foundation, which could lead to cracks and leaks. Keep the soil from touching your siding to avoid potential issues.
#8 Check Your Furnace
Arrange an appointment with an HVAC professional to have your heating system inspected and tuned up for the upcoming heating season. The cost of a checkup typically ranges from $125 to $400. Consider an annual maintenance contract.
Don't forget to replace your air filters, a task you should perform every two months. If your HVAC system includes a built-in humidifier, make sure the contractor replaces its filter as well.
#9 Prune Your Plants
Late fall is the ideal time to prune plants and trees, as the summer growth cycle has ended. Your aim is to keep branches and limbs at least three feet away from your house to prevent moisture from dripping onto your roofing and siding, as well as to safeguard your house exterior during strong winds. For advice on pruning specific plants in your region, consult your state's extension service.
#10 Inspect Your Fireplace(s)
To ensure your fireplace's safety, use a flashlight to examine the inside of your fireplace flue. Confirm that the damper opens and closes correctly. Open the damper and inspect the flue for any obstructions such as bird nests, branches, leaves, or other debris. You should be able to see daylight at the top of the chimney.
Check the firebox for cracked or missing bricks and mortar. If you notice any damage, arrange for a professional fireplace and chimney inspection.
Your fireplace flue should be cleaned of creosote buildup every other year.
Tom Schlotter, licensed home inspector.