Fall Maintenance Checklist – Your Home’s Defense Against Winter

by Bruce JonesSeptember 27, 2017

In January we all make resolutions to get our bodies in better shape for the upcoming summer months. Well, consider fall the best season to get your house in shape for the rough winter months ahead. Winter weather can deliver some fierce blows to your home by way of high winds, ice dams, cracked pipes, and ice damage to just about anything that allows water intrusion including your foundation and siding. From 1996 to 2015 winter storms resulted in $30 billion in insured catastrophe losses according to Insurance Information Institute. Take advantage of the longer days and moderate temperatures of fall to prepare your home for the impending havoc winter brings. Our guide is not just for damage control of harsh winters, this list also has information about increased energy efficiency all winter long which equates to more money in your pocket!


Your future self will thank you for starting on the exterior and avoiding an uncomfortably cold living environment or possibly even an unsafe one.

Holes and Cracks

As temperature drops, insects and other pests will begin to look for shelter and it doesn’t take much of an opening to welcome these little guys inside your home. Mice can squeeze through a hole as small as a nickel. Rats only need a gap as wide as a half dollar. You will want to look for entry points around windows, doors, soffits, and holes drilled into the exterior for utility lines. Rodents can chew through foam and caulk to fill any gaps with copper wool or block off with an aluminum window screen to ensure no unwanted guests will be living within your walls.
A little mouse running along a wall.

Inspecting Your Roof

Your entire home and all the contents inside rely on the integrity of your roof. A small leak can end up costing you a fortune if left unchecked. Winter can wreak mayhem on your roof, especially one in need of repair or replacement. Look to see if your shingles are curled, buckled or missing. Not sure about an issue you can see from the ground? Call a professional to inspect the roof, the small fee to have your roof inspected is well-worth your personal safety.


Not all cracks are equal, nor are all cracks originated by the winter cold. When water freezes, it will expand by around 9 percent according to USGS Water Science School. Over successive cycles of thawing and freezing, a minor crack can become a major problem.

Most cracks in your driveway are caused by ground movement. Any cracks on your driveway are an open invitation for water to enter where it shouldn’t. Small hairline cracks can be repaired by applying a clear or grey silicone caulk. A larger crack will require a driveway filler or vinyl concrete patching compound. Concrete will act as a sponge if not properly sealed. A liquid concrete sealer fills the pores on the surface of your driveway preventing the absorption of water and future cracks as well as protecting any repairs.

Cracks in your foundation can undermine your home’s structural integrity. If you locate a crack smaller than 1/8 of an inch, you can typically repair it by cleaning it out and using a concrete patch with some sort of elasticity additive. This additive allows future movement without future cracks. If your crack is larger than 1/4 of an inch, I would recommend having a contractor to inspect to ensure there is not a structural issue.

Cracks in the mortar of your brick siding occur over time. The deteriorating mortar joints not only disrupt the visual appeal of the siding, but they also diminish the integrity of the surface. Tuck-pointing brick or block is the procedure to repair these cracks, which means removing and replacing damaged or missing mortar.
A crack in brick foundation.

Exterior Paint

Cracks or missing mortar located in brick siding is mentioned above but what should you look for in a siding that is painted? While inspecting your siding look for any blistering, bubbling or cracking paint. Typically these are signs that the paint has lost its elasticity and is no longer protecting the siding. This exposes your siding to potential water intrusion and rot. Do not fix this issue by painting over the old paint, paint is only as strong as the surface it adheres to. Remove the old paint and then repaint with a flexible latex based paint.

Trim and Windows

When inspecting along your trim and windows, look for cracks that may allow moisture and air to enter your home. Silicone caulk offers the best in durability and movement capability but beware of purchasing a caulk that paint doesn’t adhere to if painting is necessary. Applying caulk and sealing openings are a cheap way to increase your home’s energy efficiency and keep potential water intrusion out.

Weatherstripping Exterior Doors

Moisture and air intrusion can also work their way in and around your doorframe. Leaks between the frame and the door can be countered by removing the trim surrounding the doorframe and using an expanding spray foam. Leaks most commonly occur between the door and the doorframe and are a result of an aging weatherstrip. Removing and replacing a damaged weatherstrip can stop the intrusion of air and moisture. Properly addressing air leaks and sealing can improve whole-house energy savings by 10 to 20 percent according to a guide by the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.

Gutters and Downspouts

One of the potential hazards of winter is the formation of an ice dam. Clogged gutters or downspouts are a major cause of ice dams allowing melted ice access below your shingles. Also when inspecting joints and brackets, tighten where necessary. You want to ensure that rain and melted snow are exiting through your downspouts and not running along your soffits.
An image of a drain with raindrops

Storm Windows and Doors

Install storm windows and doors to increase the overall efficiency of your home. Store your window and door screens in a location to ensure they won’t be damaged during the winter months. According to a guide by the U.S. Department of Energy, exterior or interior storm windows and doors can reduce heat loss by 25 to 50 percent. Adding storm doors and windows could save you a significant amount of money, considering the same guide reports that “windows and doors allow around 10 to 25 percent of your heat out.”


Now that the exterior of your home is prepared for the upcoming winter months, let’s get the inside squared away.

Heating Systems

Heating and cooling your home uses more energy and costs more money than any other system in your home, typically making up about “54 percent of your utility bill,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Have a licensed HVAC contractor come inspect your heating system. Heating systems that are regularly serviced will increase your system’s efficiency and the system’s life expectancy. The U.S. Department of Energy also recommends you clean or replace filters once a month and clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters and radiators as needed. Taking a few simple steps with your heating system now can ensure a comfortable winter with more of your money saved.

Woodstove and Fireplace

Fireplace flues are made from metal and the repeated change of temperature can create warping or breaking which creates potential moisture and air intrusion. By opening your fireplace flue and using a flashlight, you can inspect any potential obstructions or damage. Also, look along the fireplace or wood stove inserts to ensure the gasket around the door is properly sealed. Because of the potential risk of fire and the difficult nature of inspecting a fireplace, you will most likely want a professional to inspect your fireplace. The National Fire Protection Association Standard recommends chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Take the necessary steps now so you can enjoy a cozy fire this winter.

An inspector during a fireplace inspection
via The Hearth and Patio Shoppe

Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors

Three out of five home fire deaths result from fires in properties without working smoke alarms according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA.) The NFPA also reports that “the risk of dying in a home fire is cut in half” in homes with working smoke alarms. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends you change the batteries in your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors at least once a year and to replace the units every 10 years. You can find the manufactured dates on the back of the alarms.


You may not be going into hibernation but most of your lawn and garden equipment will be.

Lawnmower & Garden Tools

Your mower may not come to mind as snow sits outside but come spring you’ll be satisfied to know you took the proper steps winterizing your mower. Gas sitting for as little as 30 days can begin to clog the fuel system and the carburetor. A simple way to clear the gas tank is to allow the engine to run until it’s empty. You could also add a fuel stabilizer to the tank before storing it away. This same step should be taken with leaf blowers and chainsaws.

It is also a good time to clean your garden tools and stow them away for the winter.
An image of a lawn mower being pushed.

Garden Hoses

Drain garden hoses and store them inside. Hoses run the risk of allowing water back into the faucets, and with freezing temperatures present, frozen water can possibly crack the faucet or pipes.

Home maintenance is an undeniably annoying part of being a homeowner. Maintenance begins the day the home is completed and runs until the structure no longer exists. There are benefits to home maintenance though, maintaining your home can increase your home’s safety, comfort, home value, and energy efficiency. While home maintenance may feel overwhelming at times, creating a seasonal maintenance checklist really simplifies the process.

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About The Author
Bruce Jones
Bruce Jones is a lifelong resident of Virginia Beach. He has been a member of the Hampton Roads Realtor Association since 2013. Bruce has mentored numerous agents, is an active member of a Business Networking International chapter located in Chesapeake, an elected member of his neighborhood Civic League, and a brand ambassador for Homes.com.