Fall Maintenance: The Short List

Photo: johnglenn513/morguefile.comFeel like your list of important tasks to get done in that precious little time between boiling hot summer and frigid fall is getting longer every day? The kids are starting school, your boss just got back from vacation, football season is beginning...how many of those "critical" maintenance items are you really going to check off your list? If it's 10 or more, good for you. Your house probably looks a lot nicer than mine.

For the rest of us, five is a reasonable goal. But in the interest of being realistic, let's prioritize further and shoot for four. We'll be sure those four count. And while late summer may seem premature for a few of these, they'll likely save you money and headaches if you tackle them early.

1. Fixing Gutters

Gutters don't get enough respect. They're annoying, for sure, but their uncanny ability to collect debris just keeps us from appreciating how much they protect many other (expensive) house parts. A roof basically is one big watershed, and the gutter is the river that channels the water away. When that river can't flow, the water spills over onto the fascia and down along the siding (that means peeling paint and rotted wood), eventually pooling near the foundation (that means wet basement).

In cold-winter climates, clogged gutters contribute to ice dams (that means wet ceilings and moldy attics). Late summer to early fall is a good time to clean and inspect gutters and make any necessary repairs, such as reattaching sagging sections that no longer slope enough to do any good. Make no mistake, you'll have to clean your gutters again when the leaves fall, but then it can be a quick job you can do during halftime (depending on how many beers went down during the first two quarters).

2. Yard Equipment Storage

If you didn't have to take your lawn mower into the shop last spring, chances are you either remembered to deal with the fuel last fall or you got lucky and your mower started anyway. The small-engine problem commonly referred to as "bad gas" keeps repair shops in business -- and keeps them very busy in late fall, when everyone comes in with snow blowers that won't start. Bad gas is really just old gas that's lost some of its volatile components through evaporation, leaving behind additives that gum up the teeny-tiny ports and other passages in the fuel line and carburetor.

After the last mow of the season, be sure to run out the tank of gas or add a fuel stabilizer to the tank (as directed). Do this even if you completely ignore the rest of the "seasonal storage" checklist in your owner's manual. Just keep in mind that fuel stabilizer probably won't work if the gas has been sitting around for a few months, and it can't help with engine parts that are already gummed up.

3. HVAC Checks

Beat the late fall rush and have your furnace and other heating equipment inspected while the plumbers and HVAC pros aren't overwhelmed with cold customers. This also could prevent an emergency plumbing repair in Minneapolis or another chilly locale during a cold snap, when it's kind of like heating your house by burning money. Same goes for chimney sweeping. It's hard to imagine curling up in front of a blazing fire when you're still rolling out the Slip 'n Slide, but it pays to get this maintenance task done early, especially if your chimney needs work.

4. CO Detectors

No "must-do" checklist is complete without a safety item, right? (Yay, safety!) Fall is the time to remind people to check their CO detectors and change the batteries, or to install some detectors if they don't have enough, because soon we will all become shut-ins and any combustion appliances (including furnaces, hot water heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves) pose a real risk of killing us.

Of course, smoke detectors are even more important, and only an idiot doesn't have these. (Yay, non-idiots!) Checking your detectors and alarms now will take this fall maintenance task off your plate, leaving more room  for BBQ chicken wings. Also, if you're one of those people who changes the batteries along with Daylight Savings days, you eliminate the risk of getting screwed up in the event that Congress approves another president's ineffectual attempt to save energy. (Yay, Congress!)

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