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13 Fall Home Improvement Projects That Pay Off Big in Winter

Some are simple DIY tasks, others should be done by a professional

person caulking a window sill
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As winter approaches, fall is the perfect time to prepare your home so you stay warm and dry in colder weather.​

A checklist of inspections and projects will ensure your home’s systems and appliances work properly, which may increase its energy efficiency and lower your utility bills. Think of it as an annual checkup for your home just like you see your family doctor regularly.​

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“Staying on top of simple maintenance pays dividends in the long run,” says John Wessling, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors. “Little things can make a huge difference … and prevent bigger problems. That window caulking now may prevent a $35,000 wall repair because water got behind the siding.”​

Lora Novak, an editor for the House Method website that provides home service recommendations and reviews, advises scheduling service sooner than later. It may take longer to get an appointment as many companies may be short of staff or parts due to supply chain issues, she adds.​

Here are 13 home chores to focus on this fall:​

1. Fine-tune your furnace

Novak says a furnace check is crucial so you don’t risk losing heat during winter. Change the air filter, which becomes dirty and inefficient over time. Hire a professional for a full maintenance check, which may include a furnace inspection, duct cleaning and an airflow evaluation.​

A furnace inspection could cost less than $100, but a tuneup may cost more than $200. If you’ve got a tight budget, Wessling suggests getting a heating and cooling inspection every other year but only if you change the filter regularly yourself. Look for HVAC specialists through Air Conditioning Contractors of America and North American Technician Excellence.​

2. Clear gutters and downspouts

Man on ladder removing autumn leaves from gutter
Marc Dufresne/Getty Images

Even if you don’t have trees, leaves, pine needles and other debris can clog gutters in the fall. That can cause ice dams or water to back up, potentially damaging the roof, siding or trim. Clean out gutters and downspouts, and direct downspouts 2 to 4 feet away from the foundation, says Mark Graham, vice president of technical services for the National Roofing Contractors Association. DIY is possible, but if you don’t feel safe on a ladder, hire a professional. The average cost for a single-story house is about $160.​

3. Check seals and weatherstripping 

Man sealing cracks along window sill
AvailableLight/Getty Images

If you see gaps between exterior windows or door frames, you may need to re-caulk them or install new weatherstripping. Check that storm windows are secure. Cover screen doors with glass or replace them with storm doors for energy efficiency, says Wessling, who owns Wessling Home Inspection Services in St. Louis.​

4. Repair roofs

Remove branches and other debris that collect on roofs, Graham recommends. Repair or replace loose shingles and deteriorating flashing seals around vents and chimneys to keep out water. If you have a flat roof, patch cracked or blistered seams. DIYers should be cautious about getting up on the roof and take safety precautions. You may want to hire a handyman to repair a few shingles or a roofer for larger sections.​

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Don’t overlook skylights. Have a professional check for deteriorating seals on the roof and inside your home that may need patching, Graham advises.​

5. Do a sweep of fireplaces and stoves

Clean chimneys before winter to ensure the flue isn’t blocked, soot hasn’t accumulated and the brick-and-mortar joints aren’t leaking water or fumes, Wessling says. Check that a gas stove burns properly and is free of carbon buildup, he adds. DIYers should make sure to use a non-combustible sealant. A professional chimney sweep may cost $130 to $380. Look for one through the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

6. Tackle yardwork

person raking autumn leaves
David Burton/Getty Images

Clearing tree limbs and other vegetation from steps, walkways and yards may help prevent falls and wildfires. Studies by Michigan State University and Purdue University recommend mowing leaves without the bag, instead of raking, because the smaller leaf pieces decompose more quickly. Remove tree limbs close to your home or a power line. Prune trees overhanging the roof or if you live where winter storms can topple trees onto your home.​

This is the season when your lawnmower needs a bit of TLC too. Any fuel inside the engine will decompose during winter, which may make it difficult to start next spring. Mower maker John Deere recommends cleaning the machine, lubricating it and following the manual for tire pressure in colder temperatures. If you use a fuel stabilizer, fill the tank; otherwise, run the engine to empty it. Store the mower in a dry place or outside covered by waterproof material.​

7. Drain exterior water

Water left in pipes and garden hoses can freeze, causing them to burst. Disconnect, drain and store hoses. Wessling also recommends turning off outside water at the surface valve and draining any water remaining in the faucets. If you have a lawn irrigation system, have your sprinkler service drain it for $50 to $200 to avoid leaks or damage from freezing.​

8. Put swimming pools to bed

Not properly preparing a pool for winter can cause major damage. First, remove all pool accessories. If you have an inflatable pool, disconnect the water source and pump, empty it, deflate it and let it dry completely before storing it in a dry place. For a hard-sided, above-ground pool, follow the instructions of the winterization kit you’ll need to buy. ​

For an in-ground pool, clean it, adjust the water chemistry, lower the water level to 6 to 12 inches below the skimmer (a filter on the side of pools). Drain the filters, pump and heater (you may not need to drain if you live in a warmer climate) and store them indoors. Cover the pool securely. ​

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9. Insulate attics

Insufficient insulation or air leaks in the attic can cause ice dams on the roof in winter. Inspect your attic, looking for light coming in (a sign of holes or cracks that need caulking) or moisture buildup (a sign of inadequate sealing). Make sure the attic hatch is insulated, weatherstripped and closes tightly. This can be a DIY project, or you can hire a roofer or pay $200 to $700 for a professional home energy assessment, which uses equipment such as infrared cameras and moisture meters. ​

10. Reverse ceiling fans

Close up shot of a hand using a remote control to operate a ceiling fan
Giuliano Benzin/Getty Images

After turning on the heat, reverse the switch on your ceiling fan at low speed so the blades turn clockwise. This creates an updraft to push down warm air near the ceiling, according to Energy Star. It’s especially helpful for rooms with high ceilings. Doing this may allow you to lower your thermostat, saving you money.​

11. Give solar panels attention

If you have elevated solar panels on your home or garage roof, clear branches and other vegetation from underneath that can block water or harbor squirrels and raccoons, Graham says. You may want to clean the panels for $15 to $25 each to improve their efficiency. Consider hiring a professional for $150 to $300 because the panels are heavy.​

12. Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

replacing batteries in a smoke detector
Highwaystarz-Photography/Getty Images

Make sure the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors work properly. Do it yourself, or hire a handyman. If you live in a retirement community, the staff can help.​

13. Secure handrails

Make sure outdoor handrails are secure, Wessling says. If you or a loved one is starting to age, add railings to steps to help prevent falls.​​