Minnesota Fall Maintenance Checklist
Welcome to autumn! The colors are blazing, chill winds are blowing, and the whole state smells like a pumpkin-spice soy-protein latte. Time to break out the sweaters, pick up a rake, and get your yard and home in order before the snow flies. Here are a few helpful hacks and tips.
Put Your Lawn to Bed
Pulverize and Compost Leaves
Wait! Before you rake, bag, and toss, remember that there’s gold in them-thar leaves! Give your grass a nutrient-rich spa treatment by mowing leaves to smithereens. The debris will settle between the blades and produce compost loaded with soil-enhancing carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Your lawn will thank you with lush green growth in the spring.
Bring Out Your Dead
If areas of your yard are brown, bristly, and dying, chances are you’ve got a thatch problem.
Over the seasons, dead grass and other plant material settle at the bottom of your lawn, creating a dense barrier that keeps air, water, and nutrients from reaching the roots. If there are just a few spots, you can tear up the thatch with a dethatching rake. For more widespread dead zones, consider renting a dethatching machine. After clearing thatch, use a core aerator to increase airflow and stimulate microbes that will feast on the dead material and release nutrients. Finish off the project by sowing grass seed in the bare spots.
Feed Your Grass
As the weather cools, your grass needs a feast before it slumbers. Winter-formulated fertilizer helps roots absorb and store the nutrients for lush spring growth. If possible, do a soil test to determine the right fertilizer mix for your lawn.
Shut Off the Water
Turn off the valves supplying external faucets, drain the pipes, and stow the hose inside. If you have a lawn irrigation system, save some time and play it safe by contracting a professional service to clear the lines, and shut off the water.
Enter the Tao of Pruning
If you’re philosophical, you’ll shrug off the big dead oak hanging over your roof, knowing it will fall if it is meant to fall. If, however, you have a mortgage and a high-end insurance deductible, you know that if a tree falls during a January blizzard, the only sound that can be heard is your bank account draining.
So, apart from looking out for dying trees that could damage your house, this is a great time to remove dead growth and suckers from smaller trees, and prune bushes to improve their appearance. Not only will it look tidier, but the plants will produce healthier growth in the spring.
Go for the Gutter and Land on the Roof
Time to get vertical and head up the ladder for a gutter inspection. Fish out leaves, branches, and other debris, and don’t forget to check the downspouts for blockages. While you’re up there, take a good look at the roof. The Frisbee that landed there two years ago is now full of leaves, moisture, and a thriving moss colony that’s expanding on to and under the shingles. If left unchecked, it will cause a lot of damage. Clear off the leaves and other detritus and kill the moss and mold with a spray solution made from one cup of white vinegar and a gallon of water. And remember, never walk on a wet roof. If heights give you vertigo, call on the unemployed brother-in-law who’s been living on your couch since May. Or better yet, hire a roof maintenance pro.
Stow the BBQ, Fold the Lawn Chairs, and Shed a Tear for Summer
From beer brats to shrimp shish-kabobs, you had some epic cookouts. Now it’s time to dump the ash, clean the grill, and store the cooker in the garage or shed. Likewise for the lawn chairs and other outdoor furniture on your deck or patio. If you’re one of those hearty souls who keeps the coals burning through the dead of winter, be sure to invest in a cover that protects your barbecue from the elements.
Fortify and Purify Your Home for Winter
Seal Leaky Windows and Doors
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, drafty, improperly sealed windows and external doors account for 30% of all household heat loss. Check weatherstripping and caulking in all of these areas and replace if necessary.
Insulate Plumbing in Cold Spaces
When pipes are exposed to cold air, ice blockages can form, causing enormous water pressure to build. If not thawed, the pipes will burst and cause extensive water damage. That’s why it’s important to inspect pipes in the attic, basement, crawlspaces, garage, or other areas they might be impacted by freezing temperatures. Prevent blockages by wrapping exposed plumbing with pipe-insulation foam or tape, which you can obtain from the hardware store.
Sweep the Chimney
There’s nothing cozier than a crackling blaze in the fireplace. However, few things are more dangerous than a dirty and improperly maintained chimney. Every year, there are over 125,000 chimney fires in the United States, causing in excess of $100 million in property damage. , a substance that forms from the residue of smoke, vapor, and unburned wood, is highly flammable. When it ignites, fire moves rapidly, cracking, warping and melting masonry, and spreading to other areas of the house.
The best defense is scheduling an annual chimney inspection with a chimney sweep who is certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. It’s a small investment to keep the home fires burning where they belong.
Replace Filters in the HVAC System
During those lazy summer days your central air conditioner sucks in clouds of pollen, dust, and other contaminates. By autumn, the filter in your HVAC system in a nasty grey mess. Switch it for a high-quality filter that can perform efficiently up to three months. And while you’re at it, schedule an HVAC inspection and cleaning to ensure your furnace is operating optimally and all the ductwork is clean.
Test the Smoke Alarms
Although most smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors start chirping when their batteries are low, it’s still a good idea to periodically test them. Replace batteries as needed and look at the manufacturer’s replacement recommendations. The average lifespan for a smoke alarm is 10 years. Units combining smoke-and-CO detection should be replaced every five to seven years. And stand-alone CO detectors last about seven years.
Prime the Pump
Eventually, that White Christmas (and White Valentine’s Day, and White St. Paddy’s Day) is going to melt into a moving river of water. For most basements, it’s only a matter of time before some—or a whole lot—of that water floods in. A working sump pump is your first line of defense. So, it’s important to make sure it’s in top operating order. Test it periodically, and if it has a backup battery make sure it’s still functioning. As the battery ages, its run time decreases to as little as half of its original capacity. If you have a voltage meter, measure the voltage between the positive and negative terminals. Anything less than 12.1 volts shows that the battery is nearing the end of its lifespan and should be replaced.
Clear the Air
When the windows are shut tight, the air can become a toxic stew of molds, mildews, and off-gassing chemicals. Allergies, asthma, and even cardiac disease can be irritated by environmental triggers. Fortunately, there are many easy and economical ways to purify the air.
- Tame allergenic dust by vacuuming weekly, regularly cleaning bed sheets, and damp mopping floors where dust accumulates.
- Discourage mold and mildew by keeping bathroom and laundry areas dry. Toss damp mats and towels in the wash and dryer and run a ceiling fan while showering or bathing. Consider using a dehumidifier in stubbornly moist areas like laundry rooms.
- Keep toxins out of the air by replacing volatile chemical cleaners with gentler citrus, soaps, and vinegars.
Deep Clean the Stove and Oven
All that sautéing and frying takes a toll on the range hood, filters, and fan. Take it all apart, scour the greasy gunk, and replace the filters. If you have a gas stove, inspect the burners for clogs that can create uneven heating. Get your oven ready for prime-time baking season by running the self-cleaner if it’s equipped with one. Otherwise, try this recipe for a powerful, all-natural cleaning paste:
- 1 tablespoon Castile soap
- 1 ½ cups baking soda
- ¼ cup vinegar
Blend together and apply to oven with cloth. Let sit for 20 minutes (or longer), and scour with an abrasive sponge. Wipe down with clean, wet cloth before using dry cloth to finish.
Clean the Fridge—Inside and Out
Remember that potato salad you stowed from the July 4th cookout? Well, it’s still in the back of the fridge cultivating a healthy mold colony. Fall is a perfect time to purge your “food museum” of ancient relics and make room for all those pies and leftovers you’ll shove in there after Thanksgiving. This is also a good time to roll the fridge forward and vacuum the condenser coils. It will operate more efficiently and help expand the appliance’s lifespan.