Zen and the Art of Fall Home Maintenance

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Some view home maintenance as tedious drudgery best left alone until it works its way to the top of their honey-do list. Others look at it from the bright side, an enjoyable and pleasurable way to spend a lovely fall afternoon. Fall (and early winter for those who like to procrastinate) is one of the best times of the year to take on the challenges of maintaining an aging home. Use the following fall home maintenance checklist and reach your home maintenance nirvana before you’re completely covered in snow.

Let’s Get Philosophical

Once the leaves fall, it's time to sweep the roof clean
Once the leaves fall, it’s time to sweep the roof clean

In the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, one guy rides his brand new motorcycle but refuses to learn how to maintain it. His partner drives an older motorcycle and knows how to keep it well maintained. Together they drive across the country and have all sorts of adventures and discover that rational thought and live-in-the-moment romantic ideas can harmoniously coexist.

My adventure with home maintenance parallels the novel by Robert M. Pirsig, minus driving around on a motorcycle (although it was quite a trek to Lowe’s for supplies). What I’m trying to get at is you don’t have to be a gung-ho home maintenance freak, and you don’t have to be a home maintenance slacker either. You can happily coexist in the middle with the following basic home maintenance checklist.

Let’s Get Outdoors

My poking pole found a soft spot that needs some fill dirt
My poking pole found a soft spot that needs some fill dirt

Now that you’ve had a taste of philosophy and you’re in that Zen-like home maintenance state, you can start outdoors because you’ve got your work cut out for you. I always start my visual walk around inspection with soil, foundations, walls, soffit, drip edge and roofing – from the ground to the roof. I start on one side of the house (usually the shady side), work my way from the top and bottom and continue the process on the next side of the house until I’ve done a full loop around the house.

I also like to have a nice and light stick of lumber or metal pole on hand. This I use to poke around at stuff, mostly spider webs and such, but I also use it to poke around the foundation soil. Whether it’s burrowing animals, sinkholes or my imagination, my handy little prodding stick will let me know what’s down there and if I need to bring in a little fill dirt or just leave it be.

One more tool I like to use for home inspections is a pair of binoculars. If you’ve got a small house, it’s no big deal, but if you’re in a large two story house, why make the dangerous effort of climbing up on your roof when you can just look at it through a pair of binoculars?

The Fall Home Maintenance Outdoor Checklist

  • Soil- Fill any holes, washouts or other erosion around foundations.
  • Foundation- Check for cracks, loose materials or erosion and don’t fall into any sinkholes.
  • Walls- Seal around any open gaps i.e. windows, doors, vents, plumbing, electrical outlets, butt joints, transfers, ledges. Repair damaged paint where it’s necessary.
  • Cracks in the foundation should at the very least be sealed before ice can make them bigger
    Cracks in the foundation should at the very least be sealed before ice can make them bigger
  • Soffit, Fascia, Drip Edge- These metal, vinyl or wood materials need to be thoroughly checked for dents, gaps, loose pieces or other damage. It’s a good thing you brought along the poking stick so you don’t have to climb the ladder to clean away any debris and to check for loose pieces. Just don’t jam it up too hard or you’ll cause more troubles than it’s worth.
  • Roofing- Whether you’ve got a metal, shingle, slate or shake covered roof, it’s a good idea to check it out before winter comes along. While my Florida winters usually consist of a long Wednesday of cold, for you northern folks, things tend to get a bit nippy for a few months (or more) at a time. Snow isn’t an issue where I live, but if the white stuff comes to your neck of the woods, you should make any repairs to damaged roofing materials right away. Look for broken, loose or missing tiles and clean any debris out of your roofing valleys, gutters and downspouts. Also check for rusty or black streaks, damaged ventilation stacks or black patches. These are all warning signs that might mean a roof-damaging ice dam is going to form when the snow starts falling.

Let’s Go Back Inside – It’s Getting Chilly Out Here

Warm up the furnace, heat pump and fireplace because it’s freezing outside! Or at least it’s going to be soon. For my interior inspection, I always start with the big stuff first, then work my way down to the small stuff, room by room. And I like to start first with checking out the furnace, fireplace and heat pumps.

It might be scary in there, but at least poke your head in and have a look around
It might be scary in there, but at least poke your head in and have a look around

I also like to check for air leaks indoors. This I achieve with a simple stick of incense. All you have to do is close all of the doors and windows tightly, turn on the bathroom and kitchen ventilation fans and light up your incense. Waft the smoke gently near windows, doors, outlets and exterior walls. If the smoke billows straight up, no leak. If it wafts and dissipates, then you’ve got outside air coming through the house and needs to be sealed.

The Fall Home Maintenance Indoor Checklist

  • Furnaces, Fireplaces and Heaters- Bottom line with these heavy duty pieces of equipment is if you don’t know anything about it, hire a pro to inspect it. Most of the time a modest maintenance bill is much easier to handle then spending an entire weekend tinkering with the furnace.
  • Air Leaks- Sealing air leaks is critical for the winter months. And just because you sealed them last year doesn’t mean they are still sealed.
  • Spray foam insulation stops air leaks in their tracks
    Spray foam insulation stops air leaks in their tracks
  • Window Treatments- Hanging heavy curtains across large windows during the winter can significantly reduce your heating bill and has been known to make your significant other significantly happier. Bonus!
  • Crawlspaces- It’s a wise idea to poke around inside of your crawlspace just to make sure there are no signs of insect or animal infestation. Look for any water stains as well from ventilation and plumbing pipes. Be sure all ducts are sealed and everything is securely attached.
  • Safety Equipment- Last but not least, I replace all the batteries in the smoke detectors. Just a few batteries twice a year are a small price to pay to keep alive if there’s a fire in your home.

Any fall maintenance tips I missed? If so, feel free to add them in the comments below.

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About Eric

Since Eric built his first skateboard ramp in his parents driveway; he’s breathed, slept and eaten DIY construction. As a second generation master carpenter who runs two Florida-based construction firms, Eric’s had the chance to work on everything from Mcmansions to your local mall to the cat lady’s bathroom. So when it comes to dealing with construction s@#t; he’s the man—literally. There isn’t a tool or construction material that Eric hasn’t used and abused, and if there is; it’s rocking in a dark corner nervously waiting for him to show up for work.

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