House and Yard Maintenance Tips for Fall

If you live in an area of the country that gets hit hard by winter weather, now's a good time to prepare your house and lawn for the onslaught. Hoping for the best just won't cut it if you're planning to enjoy your lawn and other outdoor areas next spring and summer. While it's not the most fun autumn activity, doing some house and lawn maintenance can save you a lot of trouble in the long run. Here's how to get started.

Replace screens
If you have screens on any doors or windows, you'll need to replace them with storm windows to help keep out cold air. Before you put the screens away, make sure they're clean and do any repairs that are necessary so they'll be ready to go next spring.

Look for exterior damage
Start out by walking around your property and looking for any signs of damage. While they may seem small now, they could turn into big problems later if they're not addressed. TV host Bob Vila's blog recommended checking the foundation for cracks, then looking at the caulk around areas where masonry meets siding, pipes or wires enter the house, and around windows and door frames to prevent heat from escaping. Repairing any damage can keep water from getting in and freezing, which could lead to bigger cracks and mold buildup.

On the roof, look for missing, broken or loose shingles, which can result in water damage if they're not replaced. Have a roofing professional come over and inspect your roof if you don't feel confident doing so. If you have a chimney, that also needs to be inspected for damage.

Clean gutters
Before the weather gets rough, you'll need to clean out your house's gutters and downspouts to prevent blockages that could lead to leaks. Manually remove any leaves and debris, then flush the gutters out with water and make sure the joints are secure. To make the job easier next year, you may want to install gutter guards. This is especially smart if you need to replace any sections of your gutters anyway.

Shut off valves
According to DIY Network, turning off the valves to your exterior hose bibs can help prevent the exterior water pipes from bursting when the temperature gets below freezing, which can cause a lot of damage. Run the water until the pipes are empty, then make sure all of the water is drained before turning them off.

Clear outdoor areas and tools
Put away all of your gardening tools, patio furniture and other outdoor accessories before the weather takes a turn for the worse. Give every tool and piece of furniture good cleanings before you put them away for the season, otherwise you could take them back out only to find that they're rusted or moldy.

Maintain the lawn
Keep cutting your grass during the fall to maintain a healthy lawn. This Old House magazine pointed out that grass keeps growing up to the first hard frost. Keep it trimmed to 2 1/2 to 3 inches tall. If it gets too long, it can become matted and moldy during the winter. If it's too short, however, your lawn won't be as likely to make it through the winter in good shape. As an added bonus, regular mowing helps clear the leaves, chopping them up and leaving behind mulch that will nourish the grass.

Aerating your lawn once every couple of years is also important, reported the source. It prevents the soil from becoming compacted and covered with thatch that blocks water, oxygen and nutrients from absorbing. Use a core aerator to punch holes through any thatch and pull up plugs of soil. Once that's done, add some fertilizer and spread grass seed on any bare spots. With any luck, you'll have a nice green lawn come springtime!

Weed out and replant your garden
To make way for new growth during the spring, you'll need to get rid of any old, dead foliage from your garden. Trim back bushes and flowering plants, and remove any dead leaves and flowers. Take care of any weeds for the last time, then spread a layer of fresh mulch to help insulate the roots. If you use any containers in your garden, remove the soil from the pots if you're not taking them inside. Otherwise, the soil could freeze and crack your containers.

If you want to beef up your garden with some flowers for spring, now's the time to plant bulbs. They'll have plenty of time to take root by the time they're ready to bloom. Make sure they're covered with several inches of compost or mulch to stay safe from the winter weather.