Every fall I get a real kick out of the chipmunks running around busily stuffing nuts and seeds into their cheeks and stashing them under rocks and in nooks and crannies for the winter months. You begin to see this as early as September, and it’s a handy way to remember that you need to get your house ready for the winter as well.
Because our homes are likely the largest investment most of us will ever make, with just a bit of preparation every year we can make them last longer with less maintenance and overall cost. If you are a gardener like me, you might have a “master plan” each year that includes how early to put plants in the ground and what they need throughout the growing season. Your house and property would benefit from such a list, whether you do the work or hire others to do it, maybe especially if you hire others to do it! Here’s a month-by-month checklist for next year, and a helpful reminder in case you forgot anything this year.
So, like the chipmunks, let’s begin in September with the traditional “closing of the pool” event we have just after Labor Day in our area. I remember when my kids were young, and we had a big pool I would always think I would get a few more swims in— I almost never did! Just do it, close your pool in the first half of September each year, you won’t regret it. While you are at it, drain any lines, hoses or containers like the skimmer system so freezing water does not crack or break the plastic. I’ve lost a skimmer or two over the years by forgetting about this. Move your filtering equipment inside once you’ve cleaned it, and don’t forget the robot, it’s full of water too!
One more thing to do this month if you have an oil furnace—give it a good cleaning and tune up. Most of us will hire someone to do this, so getting on the schedule before heating season is important and can save you money. The more mechanically inclined you are, the more likely you will be to try tackling this chore on your own. These are relatively simple systems, and the process is fairly simple and straightforward, requires very few inexpensive tools and parts, and takes an afternoon or less to complete. It will get you dirty though, so use your dirty-job clothes. There are literally hundreds of videos on YouTube that cover just about every furnace type out there. Study up, get your parts, and take your time. Video or shoot pics on the “way in,” so you have a reference for your “way out” when you put it all back together. The hidden benefit to learning how to do this is: If your furnace ever goes on the fritz during a snowstorm, you may not be shivering with your family waiting for the repairman to show up. Don’t forget to clean your chimney every few years too!
October is a good month to think about finally getting to pressure washing your home and washing the windows if you haven’t been able to get to it so far. That warm week we always seem to get in October is perfect for procrastinators like me. We usually get a few colder days in late October, perfect for checking if you have any air leaks around windows and doors. We now have thermal imaging cameras available for just a couple hundred dollars (15 years ago I paid $3,600 for one with the same quality) that connect to our cell phones, and it’s one of the best ways to keep tabs on your home. It can spot a water leak behind a wall, drafts coming in around windows and doors that need to be sealed, and walls and ceilings that need more insulation. In an older home, what you can save with energy-related repairs over a year or two could pay for that tool.
Ask anyone who knows me, I spend a lot of time around water. I am a former SCUBA instructor, I love kayaking, swimming, and boating, to be sure, but I also dislike water intensely when it’s running wild near a building. Nothing good comes from uncontrolled water around your home, nothing. Since we usually get a good rainstorm or two in October, it’s a great time to get your raincoat and muck boots on and walk around the outside of your house in the rain to see how it handles the water. Gutters and leaders (downspouts) are some of the most important frontline tools for maintaining your home. Are all of the gutters on the house functioning? Are they all secured and not drooping from damage? Are all the leaders guiding the water away from the house effectively or channeling the water into an underground system? You should never see water flowing over gutters or a leader outlet too close to your house. A minimum of three feet from the house, and that only if the water is flowing away from the building. Now is the time to fix those gutters or make an appointment to have them fixed. Give them a good cleaning too. You might need to remove a few more leaves in November but it won’t be terrible unless you live in the woods, and if you do, you’re cleaning gutters more often anyway. It’s also a good time to look around at anything that might hold standing water and turn it over or clean it up and bring it inside.
November is the month to batten down the hatches for me. That’s when I tune up my snowblower, get whatever spare parts I need (shear pins!) and stage it where I need it. I check my snow shovel(s), buy new ones if I need any, and make sure I have plenty of calcium chloride for walkways and driveways. I never, ever use rock salt because it will destroy just about any paving or concrete surface in very short order and kills bedding plants to boot. Calcium chloride costs more, but its benefits make it well worth it. Remember too that winter accoutrements like this are often on sale this time of year as well. Last, but certainly not least, the end of November is when I shut off my non-freeze-proof outside water bibs and drain them so they do not crack from a hard freeze. Correctly installed freeze-proof faucets, which are usually labeled as such, do not need to be drained.
To me the best part of maintaining my home myself, other than the savings, is the confidence that comes from understanding how my home and its systems work on a mechanical level. That’s real peace of mind.
Jeff Eckes is the CEO of LDR Group, a Passive House design/build/renovate contractor located in the Mid-Hudson Valley.