Goldilocks and the Fall Maintenance Checklist

by Matt Goering

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We all know the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, but have you ever really thought about the long-term effects that encounter may have had on the poor bear family? Imagine the fear of worrying that every time you leave your home, some little blonde kid is going to invite themselves in, eat your food, break your furniture, and take a nap in your bed! Now put yourself in their shoes come fall. With three or four months of hibernation right around the corner, you think that they're not nervous about what things are going to look like when the alarm clock finally sounds off come spring? The truth is that shoring up our homes in autumn (whether you're a bear or not) is an important preventative step in warding off major repairs when spring time rolls around again, and the best way to do that is to keep up on your basic fall maintenance tasks. After doing a little research, here's some advice from the experts on what to focus on, if you can bear it.

Know Your Climate
"Obviously (fall maintenance chores) are going to vary, depending on where you live," says Jennifer Gillon, owner of Mr. Handyman in Orlando, Florida, who stresses that homeowners need to get familiar with their own regional needs before they write up a schedule for their fall fix it weekend. After all, the Coca Cola Polar Bear family is going to have a different to do list than the three bears in their Appalachian log cabin, who are in turn going to have a different honey-do list than Baloo the Bear of the Jungle Book as he prepares his sub-tropical bungalow for the rainy season. Nevertheless, there are some universals that every bear needs to pay attention to, no matter where they dig their den.

  • Hire a Chimney Sweep—Gillon puts a chimney cleaning towards the top of her fall maintenance list, a designation with which State Farm Insurance Company agrees. After all, soot and other deposits, especially creosote buildup inside your chimney pipe, can turn your average chimney into a fire risk that would make Smokey the Bear cringe.
  • Inspect and Test Carbon Monoxide Detectors—Following along that same vein of thought, State Farm Insurance and Smokey the Bear also note that fall is the best time to service your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms, since furnaces and fireplaces are a common source of dangerous carbon monoxide fumes, and a potential source of residential fires as well.
  • Improve Insulation, Including Caulking and Sealing—If, like Mamma Bear, you're looking for ways to keep your bowl of porridge hot a little bit longer, you might want to consider investing in a fall insulation upgrade. "Insulation is a key opportunity in the fall," says Gillon, noting that even minor upgrades, such as caulking and sealing around windows and doors, can make a big difference when it comes to reducing home energy costs, and enjoying a more comfortable home.

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  • Lawn Maintenance—Most homeowners are ready to write off their lawns when the leaves start turning, but experts suggest that the opposite is in order. Talk to any greenhouse or nursery, and they'll tell you that fall is prime time for planting new grass seed, aerating your yard, and laying down fertilizer. It's also a good time to run any gas-powered lawn tools, such as lawn mowers and weed whackers, out of gas for winter storage.
  • Check Plumbing—The worst possible thing the three bears (and you) could wake up to come spring, besides the ravages of a hungry and tired little girl, is the nightmare of busted pipes. If your plumbing runs through areas at risk of freezing, such as an uninsulated garage, or beneath a mobile home, State Farm recommends that you wrap your pipes with heat tape, and insulate before the weather turns cold.

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  • Trim Trees—It's true that bears don't usually trim trees. Instead they climb them or use them as backscratchers. Nevertheless, Gillon is quick to point out that "fall is a good time for pruning and trimming trees, especially up north where they can bring down power and phone lines in big winter storms." In fact, it's a good idea no matter where you live, since pruning in fall is one of the best times for a tree when it comes to quick recovery times and reducing the tree's chances of contracting disease.
  • Gutter Cleanings—Regardless of where you live, fall is an important time to clean out your gutters. Poorly functioning and clogged gutters can lead to a host of problems, including water damage to roofing, soffits, fascias, and siding, as well as more serious problems involving your home's foundation. And when you throw cold climate issues like ice damming and dangerous ice buildup into the mix, this is one fall maintenance task that it bears paying attention to.
  • Spruce Up the Outside—The three bears are usually preoccupied with how Goldilocks has mistreated the interior of their home, but Jennifer Gillon also points out that "fall is a great time for sprucing up the outside of your home, since time will be short for that kind of thing when winter arrives and the weather gets colder." Gillon recommends focusing on chores like touching up your home's exterior paint, staining and treating decks, and pressure washing your home's decks, driveways, paths, and patios.
  • Service Heating Systems—Perhaps the smartest maintenance chore you can do is hire an HVAC technician to come in and service your furnace, boiler, or other home heating system before the weather turns cold. "It's something that we recommend everybody have done," says Gillon. Why? Not only is an annual service check your best guarantee against going cold when winter hits, an annual tune-up also ensures that your heating system runs at peak efficiency, which saves you money on heating costs over the winter.

It's true, most of us don't have to worry about our homes falling to pieces while we hibernate until spring. And it's unlikely that many people out there suffer many sleepless nights at the hands of wandering, disrespectful, and destructive 5 year old girls with curly golden locks. That said, the value of keeping up on home maintenance tasks can't be understated. If you've been putting off your fall repair list, it's time to bear down, eat a few bowls of porridge for strength, and get this stuff out of the way before the long, cold winter starts bruin!

Matt Goering, formerly a carpenter and house painter, is a freelance writer for the home improvement industry who has published over 600 articles.