Fall Home Maintenance check list


#1 Clean and Stow Your Mower

If you’re not familiar with fuel stabilizer, get to know it. If your mower sits for months with gas in its tank, the gas will slowly deteriorate, which can damage internal engine parts. Fuel stabilizer ($10 for a 10-ounce bottle) prevents gas from degrading. Add stabilizer to your gasoline can to keep spare gas in good condition over the winter, and top off your mower tank with stabilized gas before you put it away for the winter. Run the mower for five minutes to make sure the stabilizer reaches the carburetor.

Another lawn mower care method is to run your mower dry before stowing it.

  1. When the mower is cool, remove the spark plug and pour a capful of engine oil into the spark plug hole.
  2. Pull the starter cord a couple of times to distribute the oil, which keeps pistons lubricated and ensures an easy start come spring.
  3. Turn the mower on its side and clean out accumulated grass and gunk from the mower deck.

#2 Remove Garden Hoses From Faucets

Remove garden hoses from outdoor faucets. Leaving hoses attached can cause water to back up in the faucets and in the plumbing pipes just inside your exterior walls. If freezing temps hit, that water could freeze, expand, and crack the faucet or pipes. Make this an early fall priority so a sudden cold snap doesn’t sneak up and cause damage.

Turn off any shutoff valves on water supply lines that lead to exterior faucets. That way, you’ll guard against minor leaks that may let water enter the faucet.

While you’re at it, drain garden hoses and store them in a shed or garage.

#3 Drain Your Sprinkler System

Time to drain your irrigation system! Even buried irrigation lines can freeze, leading to busted pipes and broken sprinkler heads.

  1. Turn off the water to the system at the main valve.
  2. Shut off the automatic controller.
  3. Open drain valves to remove water from the system.
  4. Remove any above-ground sprinkler heads and shake the water out of them, then replace.

If you don’t have drain valves, then hire an irrigation pro to blow out the systems pipes with compressed air. A pro is worth the $75 to $150 charge to make sure the job is done right, and to ensure you don’t have busted pipes and sprinkler head repairs to make in the spring.

#4 Seal Air Leaks

Grab a couple of tubes of color-matched exterior caulk ($5 for a 12-ounce tube) and make a journey around  your home’s exterior, sealing up cracks between trim and siding, around window and door frames, and where pipes and wires enter your house. Preventing moisture from getting inside your walls is one of the least expensive — and most important — of your fall maintenance jobs. You’ll also seal air leaks that waste energy.

Pick a nice day when temps are above 50 degrees so caulk flows easily.


#5 De-Gunk Your Gutters

Clogged rain gutters can cause ice dams, which can lead to expensive repairs. After the leaves have fallen, clean your gutters to remove leaves, twigs, and gunk. Make sure gutters aren’t sagging and trapping water; tighten gutter hangers and downspout brackets. Replace any worn or damaged gutters and downspouts.

If you find colored grit from asphalt roof shingles in your gutters, beware. That sand-like grit helps protect shingles from the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun. Look closely for other signs of roof damage (#5, below); it may be time for a roofing replacement.

Your downspouts should extend at least 5 feet away from your house to prevent foundation problems. If they don’t, add downspout extensions; $10 to $20 each.

#6 Eyeball Your Roof

If you have a steep roof or a multistory house, stay safe and use binoculars to inspect your roof from the ground.

Look for warning signs: Shingles that are buckled, cracked, or missing; rust spots on flashing. Any loose, damaged, or missing shingles should be replaced immediately.

Black algae stains are just cosmetic, but masses of moss and lichen could signal roofing that’s decayed underneath. Call in a pro roofer for a $50 to $100 eval.

A plumbing vent stack usually is flashed with a rubber collar — called a boot — that may crack or loosen over time. They’ll wear out before your roof does, so make sure they’re in good shape. A pro roofer will charge $75 to $150 to replace a boot, depending on how steep your roof is.

#7 Direct Your Drainage

Take a close look at the soil around your foundation and make sure it slopes away from your house at least 6 vertical inches over 10 feet. That way, you’ll keep water from soaking the soils around your foundation, which could lead to cracks and leaks.

Be sure soil doesn’t touch your siding.

#8 Check your furnace

Schedule an appointment with a heating and cooling pro to get your heating system checked and tuned up for the coming heating season. You’ll pay $50 to $100 for a checkup.

An annual maintenance contract ensures you’re at the top of the list for checks and shaves 20% off the cost of a single visit.

Change your furnace filters, too. This is a job you should do every two months anyway, but if you haven’t, now’s the time. If your HVAC includes a built-in humidifier, make sure the contractor replaces that filter.

#9 Prune Plants

Late fall is the best time to prune plants and trees — when the summer growth cycle is over. Your goal is to keep limbs and branches at least 3 feet from your house so moisture won’t drip onto roofing and siding, and to prevent damage to your house exterior during high winds.

For advice on pruning specific plants in your region, check with your state extension service.


#10 Have your chimneys Inspected and cleaned

To make sure your fireplace is safe, grab a flashlight and look up inside your fireplace flue to make sure the damper opens and closes properly. Open the damper and look up into the flue to make sure it’s free of birds’ nests, branches and leaves, or other obstructions. You should see daylight at the top of the chimney.

Check the firebox for cracked or missing bricks and mortar. If you spot any damage, order a professional fireplace and chimney inspection. An inspection costs $79 to $500.

You fireplace flue should be cleaned of creosote buildup every other year. A professional chimney sweep will charge $150 to $250 for the service


There have never been so many easy and useful ways to upgrade your home’s tech. We haven’t quite arrived at the utopia we were promised by decades of sci-fi movies and TV shows.  But a growing number of smart home innovations have made it to the marketplace over the last decade that have the potential to automate many of our daily tasks and offer other conveniences.

As you research your options and update your home, you’ll find that smart cameras, security systems, speakers, and sensors have attributes of two kinds: wired and wireless. Both product categories have distinct pros and cons, making product selection tricky for consumers who are new to smart home tech. Here are some guidelines to consider as you evaluate which products are the best fit for your family and lifestyle.

Wired for Stability

Wireless may be all the rage these days, but there’s a reason that wired smart home technology still makes up a significant portion of the products sold every year: it’s hard to beat the stability and functionality of products that have a constant power source and a rock-solid connection to your home’s network.

First and foremost, there’s nothing worse than relying on a device that could have a dead battery when you need it the most. Products that plug into an electrical source (or, even better, have a battery backup) are ready to work as long as you have power. In addition, a hard-wired ethernet cable is the ideal connection for high-bandwidth devices. Although high-end WiFi systems offer increasingly impressive bandwidth, their high-speed range may be less than optimal, and they may be prone to radio interference from microwaves, cordless phones, and other household appliances and electronics.

Wired products are traditionally more reliable as well, using secure closed networks that require hard-wired access. You also don’t have to worry about compatibility with different networking technologies because any device with an ethernet port is compatible with your home or router’s ethernet jacks.

Although wired-only products are dependable and fast, you might struggle to find a lot of options when you’re shopping for smart home devices. Many new products hit the market first with WiFi-only variants due to WiFi’s overwhelming popularity as the preferred networking technology. As wired-only products typically consume more power, you’ll also find that the available products are generally larger and more difficult to hide than their wireless cousins. Still, if reliable networking and power-hungry usage are important to you, hard-wired smart home products are the way to go.

Wireless for Flexibility

On the flip side, WiFi and battery-powered smart home products are growing more popular by the month largely because of the extreme flexibility these technologies can provide.

Connecting devices to the internet via WiFi can be significantly more convenient than having to hunt for a free ethernet port, and this “connect anywhere” freedom makes products like smart thermostats and small motion and temperature sensors possible in scenarios where hard-wiring just wouldn’t make sense. As WiFi and Bluetooth products get faster every year, they’re also making tremendous headway in longevity, thanks to better battery technology and more efficient wireless radios. You can pull off some truly innovative home automation with just a handful of wireless sensors, light bulbs, and a good wireless router. The experience is further improved if you add a hub that enables you to manage and control your many smart home devices from anywhere—which your local internet service provider may offer.

As popular as WiFi products have become, they’re still not without their quirks and drawbacks. WiFi-enabled smart cameras, for instance, can be problematic if they’re positioned too far from your wireless router or in an area that’s prone to network interference. Nothing’s more frustrating than a security camera losing its feed right when it’s recording some important activity. That’s why it’s vital to make sure you have a strong network connection for wireless security devices—and it’s best to have professionals come in and help install them.

Battery-powered gadgets can also be challenging if you don’t have a plan to charge them on a regular basis. Their batteries can last as long as a year, but if you use a sensor or a camera in a high-traffic area, you may find that the batteries drain faster.

Whichever technology you choose, do some research online and buy from a trusted brand when you’re ready to jump in with both feet. Whether you go wired, wireless, or a mix of both worlds, you’ll find that your “smarter” home will be a more welcoming, convenient and comfortable place to live.


Eric Murrell is a software developer and technology contributor to Xfinity Home. He enjoys sharing tips on how people can benefit from incorporating smart home automation and security in their homes on his blog At Home in the Future.  


by Nick Gromicko, Alan Nguyen and Kate Tarasenko


Water quality testing is a specialized but simple test that checks a home’s water supply for contaminants and pollutants, such as chlorine, lead, and coliform bacteria.  Testing can also reveal chemical imbalances of the pH, and other attributes, such as hardness. Testing ensures that the home’s water is potable and safe for everyday use. With some basic training and equipment, home inspectors can offer water quality testing as an ancillary service or as part of their standard home inspection.


Water Quality or Potability Testing May Be Required

In many areas, mortgage lenders require water quality testing for properties with private wells. Testing a community well may not be required by individual lenders, as this is normally the purview of the municipality. Most lenders will accept a home inspector as an independent tester, who’s required to check for bacteria, including E. coli and coliform. The results for such tests are usually available within 48 hours. Tests for minerals and other contaminants may take weeks to complete.

What Testing Can Reveal

Public and private water supplies should be tested because they may be affected by the following:

  • dangerous levels of bacteria, including E. coli and coliform;
  • elevated levels of nitrates and nitrites from fertilizers that leach into the groundwater;
  • fluoride levels;
  • mineral contaminants, such as iron and arsenic;
  • heavy metal contamination, including lead; and
  • water hardness.

No natural water source is completely free of impurities; contaminants and pathogens must be monitored and mitigated. With the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set standards that determined the level for the safe consumption of 80 contaminants.

Water system plants test and treat water. However, these protections can and do fail. As a home inspector, it is your job to look for material defects in the home to ensure that it is safe for the occupants; adding water quality testing using a reliable test kit can enhance the information you report to your clients.

Performing Water Quality Testing

The EPA recommends that a residential water supply be tested annually for bacteria, nitrates, solids, pH levels, and other factors. The frequency of these tests may be increased based on the age of the home’s occupants (infants are particularly susceptible to the effects of lead exposure), whether there are known risks of contamination, or whether any repair or construction work was recently conducted on or around the well or plumbing system. The EPA lists many conditions for whether a water quality test should be performed.

Guidelines provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that water samples be taken from locations that are representative of access points to water. Sampling should be done uniformly and at zones that are particularly high-risk. After collecting samples, testing should be done to determine the level of contamination. Remediation should be performed, if necessary; the EPA and WHO advise that remediation be carried out only by those trained to do so.

On-Site and Laboratory Testing

Sampling may be done onsite with specialized kits. Water testing kits can be purchased online or at hardware stores. They all work similarly. The majority of these tests rely on dip sticks and test strips, which may be inaccurate and are not EPA-approved. Portable test kits give home inspectors independence from labs, drastically reducing the cost of such a service, and are easy to use.

State laboratories and local health departments are reliable sources of water sampling kits, analysis and advice. Some states and local communities may have restrictions on who can legally perform fee-paid water quality testing, so home inspectors should consult their local health board or state public health department for details.

Pros and Cons

Portable test kits carry some disadvantages, including the following:

  • Dip sticks and test strips may be inaccurate and vary between matrices.
  • Results may not be covered by E&O insurance riders.
  • Not all tests are EPA-approved.
  • These test kits can have limited technical specifications.
  • Samples may require analysis by a licensed lab for results.

Many testing kits have a limited-time use and must be discarded and replaced after a few samples have been collected, and this can incur additional costs. Improper disposal can be harmful to the environment.  For these reasons, testing by inspectors can be cost-prohibitive.

Many state health departments offer lab services for water testing, but these can sometimes be time-consuming and costly for the home inspector and the homeowner. But results are usually reliable. Lab testing also offers a wider range of testing parameters for more types of contaminants.


Water quality testing is practical for both urban and rural areas, where the possibility of contamination is increased by outdated municipal plumbing systems, nearby fracking and other mining activities, livestock farming, and even natural disasters, such as flooding, which can affect the local water table or aquifer.  It’s also useful for homeowners who rely on private wells or cisterns for their water supply.

Home inspectors can provide this service during their standard home inspections with little additional time and without the need for heavy or complex equipment. Alternatively, lab testing can be offered as an ancillary service for more comprehensive and accurate results.  Regardless of method, water quality testing is a relatively quick and easy protocol to perform, and home inspectors should consider offering it along with their other services.


Thanks to InterNACHI® member Terry Stange of Trusted Water (Windsor, Colorado) for his contribution to this article.




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