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Easier Home Maintenance This Fall

Tips for fixing, cleaning and tightening things up to prevent winter damage and save money, too

Fall Home Maintenance Tips

— plairpicture/Corbis

Autumn may beckon with beautifully colored leaves and apple-crisp days, but any homeowner knows it’s also the time of year for preventive maintenance that guards your house against winter’s bluster. If you’d like to spend more time enjoying autumn’s splendor and less time on chores, here are several laborsaving ways to make short work of your annual upkeep routine.

Stop air leaks cold
If your house is buttoned up against fall’s cooling temps but you still notice chilly drafts and cold floors, you probably have air leaks around your windows and doors. Even added insulation and a high-efficiency furnace can’t keep your rooms warm if outside air is sneaking in through gaps and cracks in your home’s exterior. In fact, the federal government’s Energy Star program cites air leaks as a primary cause of heat loss, which can cost you up to 10 percent of your annual heating bill.

The remedy? A couple of tubes of top-quality, exterior-grade caulk should solve the problem for years to come. Choose acrylic latex caulk ($5 for a 10-ounce tube) that’s formulated for windows and doors and has a 30-year guarantee. Seal cracks and gaps on a warm day to ensure good adhesion.
Tip: You can pinpoint leaks fast by conducting your own energy audit. Working inside your home, take a stick of incense (make sure it’s a scent you can tolerate) and slowly wave the lit stick near the casing around the perimeter of windows and exterior doors. If the smoke wavers, you’ve spotted an air leak. Note the location, and caulk around the exterior trim. Have an air leak under the door? Replace the threshold gasket if it’s worn, or buy a thicker gasket if there’s a gap.

Guard your gutters
In the fall, cleaning gutters is a must to prevent clogs, backups and winter ice dams. But keeping gutters free of debris is a tricky 

proposition: Just when you’ve removed the last of the gunk, swirling winds inevitably deposit a new batch of leaves in your freshly cleaned gutters.

You can avoid this nagging chore by installing gutter guards. Gutter guards work by screening out leaves, twigs and seeds while letting water flow into the gutter and out the downspout. Various types include screens, foam inserts and surface tension guards that flush debris over the top while channeling water into the gutter.

The price can be a drawback, however. Professionally installed guards can cost up to $30 per running foot. On a 2,000-square-foot home with 180 linear feet of gutter, that’s $5,400.

Fortunately, some of the most effective types of gutter guards are relatively inexpensive do-it-yourself versions that are readily available at home improvement centers for $1 to $5 per foot. Consumer Reports says to look for top-performing guards from Gutterglove, Amerimax Home Products and Raindrop. You can install them in half a day, saving yourself hours of ladder time down the road.

Tip: Buy the guards yourself and have a pro install them for $300 to $500. That’s still thousands cheaper than the brands provided by dealer-installers.

Paint outside surfaces
Extend the time between major exterior repainting projects by touching up any painted surfaces that have cracks, chips or blisters. Clean the area thoroughly and sand lightly. Apply top-quality exterior paint to keep your siding and trim looking new. When repainting your house, spend a little extra on best-quality paints, which last years longer than bargain-priced paints, saving you time and money in the long run.

Tip: Buy touch-up paint in quarts with screw-top lids for easy storage.

Repair the trim
Replace cracked and rotted wood trim with synthetic trim that’s virtually impervious to moisture and insects. Made from plastics and wood fibers, today’s synthetics come in an array of sizes, shapes and textures, and they are readily available at home improvement centers. They come either primed or prepainted, and they are easy to work with and install. The best part? Once synthetic trim is in place, you can say goodbye to ongoing maintenance.

Tip: Today’s wood composite trim is made with reclaimed wood fibers, has no formaldehyde and can be recycled.

Let in the light
Sparkling clean windows let in lots of light and help chase away winter’s doldrums. Zip through this essential fall cleaning task using a homemade cleaner made from two parts environmentally friendly ammonia and one part warm water.

And forget wiping windows with newspapers — all you’ll get are hands blotched with newsprint and piles of soggy newspapers. Instead, use streak-free microfiber cloths that absorb water and reduce wiping time. Sizes made for cleaning windows come in multipacks — a pack of ten 12-by-16-inch cloths costs about $20.

Tip: Microfiber cloths are reusable. Drop them in the clothes washer and pop them in the dryer for a fresh set of ready-to-use window wipes.

Do an ounce of prevention

Disconnect hoses before the first frost. You’ll prevent outdoor spigots from freezing and cracking, which can cause major leaks and require hours of time to repair. While you’re at it, be sure to drain your garden irrigation system to avoid leaks and busted sprinkler heads in the spring.

Tip: Take the worry out of cold weather by installing frostproof hose bibs.

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