20 Projects to Always Do In Fall
Prevent future headaches by doing these projects in the fall, before it gets too cold.
Winterize Your Lawn Mower or Tractor
- Moisture inside an unused engine leads to corrosion. ‘Fogging’ the engine — spraying an oily mist into each cylinder — prevents this. Just remove the spark plugs and blast in some aerosol fogging spray (sold at auto parts stores). Then, reinstall the spark plugs.
- Storing a battery that isn’t fully charged can lead to permanent damage, particularly in cold weather. Connect the battery to a battery charger and charge it until you get a reading of 12.7 volts.
- Stored gas slowly gums up the whole fuel system, and the repairs can be expensive. So add a fuel stabilizer such as STA-BIL or Seafoam to the gas tank before winter. (Adding stabilizer to your gas can year-round is also a good idea.) But remember that stabilizers aren’t effective in gas that contains ethanol. If you don’t know whether the gas contains ethanol, run the engine until the tank is empty.
Another tip: Cover the air intake and exhaust openings with plastic wrap or aluminum foil to keep critters from homesteading in your engine over winter. Plus, make sure to do these quick and simple yard maintenance tasks in October.
Winterize Your Gas Grill
If you’re not a winter griller, now’s the time to pack away your grill before it’s covered with a foot of snow. In addition to giving your grill a thorough cleaning to remove grease and food scraps, take these steps to help prevent any unpleasant surprises when you fire up your grill again next spring.
Shut off the gas at the LP tank, unfasten the burner, slip the gas tubes off the gas lines and lift out the unit. Coat the burners and other metal parts with cooking oil to repel moisture that can build up over the winter and to prevent rust. Then wrap the burner unit in a plastic bag to keep spiders and insects from nesting in the gas tubes during the winter. This is a common problem that can make for balky starts, uneven flames or even a one-alarm fire the next time you light your grill.
If you’re storing your grill outside during the winter, just keep the propane tank connected (but shut off) and put a protective cover over the entire grill when you’re done cleaning it. If you’re storing the grill indoors, don’t bring the tank inside, even into the garage or a storage shed. A small gas leak can cause a huge explosion if the tank is stored in an enclosed space. Instead, disconnect the tank and store it outside in an upright position away from dryer and furnace vents and children’s play areas. Tape a plastic bag over the grill’s gas line opening to prevent insects from nesting there.
Winterize Your Sprinkler System
You can pay the irrigation company $125 every year to blow out your sprinkler system, or you can use your air compressor and do it yourself. You just have to be careful not to leave any water in the line or it might freeze over the winter and burst a pipe. Also be aware that even the largest home compressor isn’t powerful enough to blow out the entire system at once, so you’ll probably have to blow it out zone by zone.
If you’re into number-crunching and you have the original irrigation layout showing the gallons per minute (gpm) of each sprinkler head, just divide the total gpm of each zone by 7.5. That’ll give you the cubic feet per minute (cfm) your compressor needs to blow out the zone. Otherwise, just rent a 10-cfm compressor and hose from your local tool rental center.
Set the compressor air-pressure regulator to a maximum of 80 psi for rigid PVC pipe systems, or 50 psi for flexible black polyethylene pipe. Then turn off the water supply and set the system timer to open just one zone. Next, open the manual drain valve at the end of that zone (if equipped).
Close off both valves on the backflow preventer. Then remove the plug on the blow-out port and screw in a quick-connect hose adapter. Snap on the air hose and connect the other end to the compressor (see photo). Then blow out the line. The heads should pop up and spit out water. Disconnect the hose as soon as they run dry.
Don’t overdo the blow-out — without water cooling the plastic gears, they can melt in less than a minute. So move on to the next zone and allow the heads to cool. Then, go back and blow out each zone a second time. Plus: Learn how to install an irrigation system yourself.
Winterize Your Pressure Washer or Ice Might Destroy It
I once owned an electric pressure washer. I refer to it in the past tense because a few years ago, I left it in the garage over the winter without draining the pump. The water froze and expanded, and when I fired up the washer the following spring, water sprayed from every part of the machine except the end of the wand.
I should have disconnected the hoses and sprayed in a pump antifreeze/lubricant like Pump Saver from Briggs & Stratton. That forces the water out and replaces it with antifreeze and lube. Pump antifreeze/lubrication is available at home centers. And if your air compressor stalls out, here’s how you can fix it yourself by replacing the unloader valve. — Mark Petersen, Associate Editor
Four Critical Places to Lube Your Car Before Winter
When cold weather is right around the corner, that’s the time to get your car ready for winter driving: lube locks, latches, hinges, window channels and weather stripping. Proper lube can prevent binding and freezing and save you the cost of a busted regulator. You can lube your entire vehicle in less than 20 minutes. All you need is dry Teflon spray, spray lithium grease, a rag and glass cleaner.
Start with the window channels. Lower the window glass and shoot dry Teflon spray down the front, rear and top window channels on each door. Soak the channels. Then run the window up and down several times to spread the lube. Finally, raise the window and clean off overspray with glass cleaner.
Then shoot the door and trunk/hatch lock cylinders. Use the spray straw to force the lock ‘door’ open. Then inject a quick shot of dry Teflon spray into the lock cylinder. Insert your key and rotate the lock to spread the lube.
Next coat all the weather stripping with dry Teflon spray. Then spread it with a cloth. Finish the job by lubing the hood, trunk or tailgate latches with lithium grease. Then spray the door hinges. Operate the latches and doors several times to spread the grease.
If you can see light creeping beneath exterior doors, so can air. Grab a few packages of self-adhesive rubber foam weatherstripping and go to town, sealing any and all doors that lead outside. Weatherstripping already installed, but you’re still suffering from a high gas bill? It might be time to replace the strips installed by the previous owners. Check out this handy tutorial on installing weatherstripping.
Paint doesn’t handle extreme temperatures very well. So, if you live in a cold climate, add this to your fall chore list: Bring the latex/acrylic paint into the house. And while you’re at it, don’t forget the latex caulk. Freezing ruins both latex paint and caulk.
Another temperature-related painting mistake is painting when it’s going to freeze. Paint can’t dry properly in freezing temps. It will only dry partway and will easily come off when touched. At the other end of the thermometer, painting a hot surface is also a bad idea. The paint starts to dry before you can spread it evenly and can bubble and slough off. Plan your painting to avoid direct sun if possible. Or at least try to paint south-facing walls in the morning or evening when the sun is less intense.
Fix Driveway and Sidewalks Before They Get Worse
Changing temperatures and moisture can turn a small concrete problem into a big one. Take some time to repair broken concrete and extend the life of your sidewalk, driveway and steps before they’re in need of full replacement.
Protect the A/C Compressor or Risk Damage From a Falling Icicle
There’s no reason to wrap your entire air conditioner for the winter, and many manufacturers advise against it because it can invite rodents and cause condensation, which can lead to early corrosion. But it’s not a bad idea to set a piece of plywood on top of the unit to protect it from falling icicles. And see our maintenance guide to learn how to clean your air conditioner in the spring.
Get Your Property Ready for Snow
Before the snow flies and you start using your snowblower, take a few minutes to inspect your property. Remove rocks, dog tie-out cable, extension cords, holiday light cords and garden hoses. Then stake out paths that run near gardens so you don’t accidentally suck up rocks and garden edging. Mark your walk and driveway perimeters by pounding in driveway markers. If the ground is frozen, just drill a hole using a masonry bit and your battery-powered drill.
Check Your Water Heater
Extend the life of your water heater tank and maintain your water heater efficiency and safety with a few minutes of basic maintenance once a year. Learn how to clean sediment from your water heater here.
Clean Weep Holes
Weep holes may be the tiniest feature of many sliding windows and vinyl replacement windows, but they serve a big function. The little holes, located on the exterior bottom of the frame, are an outlet for rainwater to drain away from the home, but they often can become clogged up with debris. To make sure they’re working properly, spray the outside of the window with a garden hose – a steady stream of clean water should exit from the holes. If it doesn’t, use a wire hanger or compressed air to force the blockage out. Re-test with fresh water to ensure they’re completely cleaned. While you’re at it, do these ten more vital home maintenance tasks you’ll regret if you forget.
Drain Garden Hoses or Waste Money on Replacements
Due to circumstances (laziness), I sometimes neglect to drain garden hoses before putting them away for the winter. Usually it’s not a problem. But every once in a while, freezing water splits a hose open. I’ve lost a few cheap hoses this way and a super-expensive one (ouch!). That’s just dumb because draining hoses is so quick and easy: Blast out the water with an air compressor or stretch them out on a sloped yard or driveway. If you need to buy a new garden hose, learn how to do a simple test, right in the store, to see if the hose will be kink-free! — Gary Wentz, Editor-in-Chief
Check Your Chimney or Risk a Fire
Creosote buildup causes chimney fires. You should have your chimney professionally inspected or cleaned after every 70 fires. If you burn wet wood (which you shouldn’t), have it inspected or cleaned every 50 fires.
Can’t remember the last time you had it cleaned by a pro? A quick way to tell if your chimney needs cleaning is to run the point of your fireplace poker along the inside of your chimney liner. If you find a 1/8-in. layer (or more) of buildup, call a chimney sweep. For additional expert chimney maintenance advice, check out what two certified professional chimney sweeps have to say.
Install Frost-Proof Outdoor Faucets
Frost-proof outdoor faucets reduce the possibility of the line freezing and also prevent unsanitary water from contaminating your water system. Installing a new outdoor faucet takes just a few hours and will give you peace of mind all winter long. These other fall to-dos are a little less work and a lot more fun.
Drain Mechanical Sprinklers or Buy a New One in the Spring
I bought one of those sprinklers that looks like a little tractor. It’s designed to follow the path of the hose on the ground. It was expensive, but it worked perfectly for my irregular-shaped yard; that is, until it spent the winter in my unheated garage. The residual water froze and destroyed the gears inside. The following spring, all it did was dribble water and make a clicking sound. I should have drained it before storing it. Just to be safe, I’ll keep the new one on a shelf in the basement. If you’d like to find out how to save time and money on lawn watering, check out these 11 clever tips for effective lawn watering. — Editor, Ken Collier
Change Your Furnace Filter
Change your furnace filter to keep your furnace in good shape (twice a year if you have central air conditioning) — it’s easy. If you haven’t changed it in a while, make sure you install a fresh one before you turn your furnace on for the first time.
Take a Peek at Your Furnace
Check the operation of your furnace before you really need to use it. With a few tools and some time, you can perform a DIY furnace inspection to head off problems before they start.
Deep Clean Rugs and Carpeting
Take advantage of one of those beautiful fall afternoons to give your rugs a deep clean. Take area rugs outside and give them a good shake (or a good whack), then give them a thorough vacuum with your shop vac. Don’t forget interior carpets – you can rent a carpet cleaner and give your carpet a deep clean before you start hosting holiday gatherings.
Protect Your House from Critters
As temperatures drop, mice and other vermin want to find warm places to hunker down. Don’t let it be your house. Seal up any critter gaps and have a game plan for getting rid of any critters that might make themselves at home.