Autumn brings pumpkins and—love 'em or hate 'em—pumpkin spice lattes, sweater weather, and spooky skeletons. But most importantly, fall brings an end to a summer of outdoor adventures—and tedious yard tasks like weeding, mowing, and watering the lawn.
But just because the weather's cooling off doesn't mean your to-do list will, too. Before busting out the cinnamon spice and mulled wine, take on a few home maintenance tasks that will put you in good standing once temperatures dip.
"It's easier to prepare for a winter emergency in the fall," says Jericho McClellan, who works in construction management.
But fear not: We've got you covered with our checklist of home maintenance chores to tackle this season. Read on for details about where to start, and whom to call if you need backup.
1. Properly store your yard equipment
One of the best parts about fall: You can usually put your lawn mower into hibernation mode until spring.
But before you forget about that pesky piece of machinery entirely, remember this: Spring will suck if you don't prep your equipment this fall. That's because gasoline reacts with the air in the tank if left long enough, causing oxidation, which creates small deposits that can affect the performance of your mower.
And it's not just gas-powered equipment that needs a fall refresh.
Lester Poole, Lowe's live-nursery specialist, recommends running pressurized air through your pressure washers to remove any remaining water in the system, which will prevent freeze damage to the pumping mechanisms.
If your winter is particularly snowy and gritty, you'll be glad to have your pressure washer on high alert.
DIY: This project is easy to do yourself—just get rid of any spare gasoline. Many cities and counties have hazardous-waste programs, or your local auto parts store might take the old gas for you, too.
2. Protect your pipes
When temps dip below freezing, unprotected pipes can burst from exposure. Guard against burst pipes by wrapping them in foam insulation, closing foundation vents (more on that below), and opening cabinet doors under sinks to allow warm air to flow around supply lines. And make sure to keep your thermostat at 60 degrees or higher overnight.
If you haven't tracked down your home's water shut-offs yet, now's the time. They might be located outside your house or in your crawl space. Once you've found them, give them a test.
"The winter is not a fun time to try to figure that out, especially should a pipe burst," McClellan says. (More on that, too, in a minute.)
Now's also a good time to drain all of your exterior water hoses to prevent an icy emergency.
DIY: If your pipes do freeze, leave the affected faucets on and turn off your water supply, says Jenny Popis, a Lowe's Home Improvement spokeswoman. Then locate the freeze point by feeling the length of frozen pipes to determine which area is coldest. You can attempt to thaw it by wrapping the frozen section in washcloths soaked in hot water—then thaw until you have full water pressure.
Call in the pros: If you can't locate the freeze point or your pipes have burst, call in a licensed plumber, which will run $150 to $600 on average (depending on the severity of the leak).
3. Clear out your crawl space
While you're winterizing your pipes, peek around your crawl space. Is your HVAC system blocked by boxes of 50-year-old Mason jars? Can you get to any leaking pipes quickly?
DIY: While it's still warm, clear out any debris from your crawl space to ensure clear passage when winter's worst happens.
Call in the pros: Creeped out by the idea of crawling around under your house? Professional crawl space cleaners charge about $500 to $4,500, depending on the size of your house and the state of the space.
4. Close your crawl space vents
During your crawl space expedition, this is a must-do: Close the vents that circle your home's perimeter.
"The vents were placed there for a functional reason, not just aesthetics," says real estate agent, broker, and construction expert Ron Humes. "The problem is that most homeowners have no idea why they are there."
Here's why: In warm, wet seasons, crawl space vents allow airflow, which prevents moisture buildup. But if you leave them open during cold, dry weather, that chilly air will cool down your floorboards—making mornings uncomfortable.
DIY: "When the temperatures drop, slide those crawl space vents closed," Humes says. "Just remember to open them again in the spring."
If one of your vents is broken, replacements range from $20 to $50.
Call in the pros: If your crawl space stays damp through the fall and winter, you might want to consider waterproofing, dehumidifying, and sealing off your crawl space to prevent wet air. This can cost $1,500 to $15,000.
5. Kick-start your composting efforts
Now's the perfect time, with all those leaves and dead plants, to start a compost pile. You don't even need a fancy compost spinner; sectioning off a corner of your yard is enough.
"Put yard waste to work by piling green leaves and clippings into a pile near your garden," Poole says. Next, layer with brown materials such as soil, dead leaves, and coffee grounds. Next up: kitchen scraps.
"Through the season, turn your mound using a pitchfork to expose oxygen to all ingredients and use it in the spring for fertilizer," Poole says.
Next year's tomatoes will thank you.
DIY: If your yard lacks space for a compost corner—or you have no interest in regular pitchforking—consider a tumbling composter. This well-reviewed model from Amazon costs about $100.
6. Protect your trees
Not all species of trees are winter-hardy—especially thin-barked ones like beech, aspens, or cherry trees. For these varietals, "sun-warmed sap quickly freezes at night and causes bark to split," Poole says.
He recommends wrapping your tree trunks with paper tree wrap, covering the entire bark from an inch above the soil to the lowest branches. Adhere the wrapping to the tree using duct tape to keep your trees in tiptop condition.
DIY: You can find 150 feet of paper tree wrap on Amazon for $18, although you may need a few rolls depending on how many trees need winter protection.
Call in the pros: Are your trees already looking the worse for wear? A tree service can help you sort out what's wrong. Pruning costs anywhere from $75 to $1,000.