June 23, 2024

Fall is the perfect time to refresh your home by tackling your home maintenance to-do list.  To help you get started, we have consulted with some of our favorite home service companies asking them to share their expert tips.

Clean or Replace Your Gutters
The violent summer storms have left a lot of debris in our gutters. Broken branches, sticks, and leaves may have clogged up narrower downspouts.  Add the falling leaves of autumn and it is imperative that you get gutters cleaned out.  Kevin MacKay of MacKay Roofing (202-210-2179) suggests waiting until later in the fall to schedule a gutter cleanout, since in our area the leaves tend to keep falling for quite a while.  If the leaves are not removed, when the winter rains and snow come, the weight can crack the gutters. Then you could have leaks into the roof area or spills down the side of your home, causing damage to the house.

Check and Repair Your Roof and Skylights
Many homes, condos, and apartment buildings on Capitol Hill have flat roofs.
A fall inspection of the condition of the roof is important to spot cracks or holes.

Flat roofs are coated with liquid waterproofing, single-ply membrane or reenforced bitumen membrane.  The heat and UV rays can cause the coating to blister and peel. Shingle roofs can lose shingles over time, causing a gap in the roof.  Experts say a flat roof coating should last two to four years.

Flat roofs are also problematic during winter if we have a lot of snow and ice.  The snow accumulates and can add weight to the roof.  Of course, one solution is going up and shoveling excess snow off the roof, which can be dangerous. Another option is to use what Kevin MacKay suggests – heat tape.  It is applied in the fall and helps the snow melt off by running an electrical cable (tape) that melts the snow.  If you have had snow accumulation issues in the past, it may be worth investing in.

And have your skylights checked to make sure they are properly sealed before the winter sets in.

Change Your Filters
When the temperatures start dipping, heating systems begin to fire up. Most Capitol Hill homes and apartment buildings use a combined air conditioning and heating unit (HVAC).  The lucky thing is the heating unit is usually easier to maintain and there is far less that can go wrong than with the AC side of things.  There are security features that should be checked before heating systems start up. Zoe of Polar Bear Air Condition and Heating (www.polarbearairconditioning.com) says her company and many others offer a one-time maintenance pre-winter checkup or homeowners can sign up for a year-round maintenance schedule.

Fragers’ basement has a full array of HVAC filters from large to small. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

Sila (https://sila.com), a 30-year HVAC and plumbing company in our area, encourages homeowners to regularly change the filter in their HVAC unit.  “It ensures you get the best indoor air quality throughout the year.”  A tip they suggest is to buy two or three filters at a time, so you always have one handy the next time you need one. Also, if you have a furry pet, changing the filter monthly is highly recommended.

Smoke Detectors
The National Fire Protection Association suggests that smoke detectors be tested

and, if necessary, batteries changed every six months.  Steve Wilcox of Wilcox Electric( https://www.wilcox-electric.com) reminds homeowners that if their smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarms are not the wired type with backup batteries, your system is out of date and out of code.  As we begin to shut windows and turn inward this fall, it is a matter of life and death to make sure your house is safe from carbon monoxide known as the silent killer because it is odorless, tasteless and invisible.

Outdoors Lighting and Security
As days grow shorter, think about lighting outdoors and other ways to make the home more secure.  Judging by the number of social media posts capturing images of thieves stealing packages from front doors and other security issues, installing ‘Ring” and other home security systems is becoming very popular on the Hill.  Wilcox Electrical can help you wire the devices properly, and yes, most require an electrical connection to work. Repairing or installing outdoor lighting is also a great way to help keep your home safe.

Paint Inside and Out
A fresh coat of paint can really lift your spirits, and after the year we all have had, painting is an inexpensive way to give your home and yourself a quick boost.  Image Painting Company  (www.imagepainting.com)  cautions that “If you paint when the weather is too warm, the paint dries too quickly, leading to possible problems.”  That is why fall is a great time of year to give your exterior a new look.

Maybe a complete makeover is too much right now.  Just repainting your front door can be an easy way to achieve a new look.  If you are doing it yourself, make sure you know the kind of wood and what paint or finish is already on the door.  Experts in the paint department at Fragers Hardware can help you choose the right paint base, sanding equipment, and paint.  Feeling a little less ambitious?  Then buying a fall wreath or pumpkins for the front of the house can also help make your home brighter.

Tech Painting company has deep ties to the Capitol Hill community, and 90 percent of their customers are either from repeat or word-of-mouth recommendations. If you are thinking of sprucing up your interior, the professional painters have experience dealing with many different wall situations found in older Capitol Hill homes.  It’s wise to get on the schedule early this fall. That can ensure you will be able to get the job done in time to enjoy your new look over the holidays. The company is compliant with CDC Covid regulations and all employees are masked and gloved when inside your home.  (https://www.techpainting.com/)

Sometimes we are ready to refresh the interior of our homes, and want to make sure the new colors are going to be modern and not more of the same old look.  Sam Lewis of Certa Pro Painters (https://certapro.com/washington-dc) says checking out colors that have won the Color of the Year award is a good place to start.  This fall, Urbane Bronze, is that color.  “It can be used in almost any room, or would be excellent for statement wall,” says Sam.

Shut Off The Outside Water
Before the first hard frost when the temperature drops below 28 degrees for a period of time, it is important to shut off your outside water.  If there is water in the pipe, it can freeze and cause the pipe to burst. Also, remember your flowerpots including ceramic birdbaths should be brought inside or placed near your warm house. Otherwise, extreme cold may crack the pots. Freezing weather can also damage terra cotta pots, causing the clay to fall off in sheets or chunks. While you’re at it, check to make sure there is not standing water around your foundation or walkways.

Fertilize Your Yard and Plants
Fall can almost be as busy a time for gardeners as spring.  As the last annual flowers bloom, it is time to tidy up the garden. “It is a great time to prepare the soil for the next growing season, letting the organic matter and nutrients slowly release over the fall and winter months,” says April Thompson, a representative for Bloom Soil. (bloomsoil.com)  The local company is an offshoot of DC Water and Bloom Soil is a soil supplement that can  restore urban soils and help bring a healthy balance to your gardens, big and small.  The product is now available for purchase at Frager’s and WS Jenks as well as other garden outlets in the area.

These fall months are also the time to plant your spring bulbs.  The trick is deciding exactly when the time is right to plant the daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, and lilies.  It needs to happen before the first frost, when digging through soil becomes impossible.  But too early and a warmer than usual Indian summer and your bulbs can pop up prematurely.

The Friends of the National Arboretum  (www.fona.org) will be holding a fall bulb sale on Saturday, October 2 providing a great opportunity to obtain both bulbs and information

Cleaning your Chimney and Vents
Santa is going to want you to get ahead on this one.  The beginning of fall is a great time to get the chimney cleaned and inspected.  Over time, there can be a soot and creosote buildup in the lining of your fireplace chimney that can cause carbon monoxide buildup or fires.  Many chimneys also engage with your heating system, so making sure the chimney is ready for the cold season is essential.  Most services start around $100 and are well worth the peace of mind.  Also remember to make sure your fireplace draft is closed so your heat isn’t going up in smoke.

You don’t have to tackle all of this in one weekend. In fact, many of the chores we’ve outlined naturally spread out across the season.  The key is making a plan, so you aren’t caught in the dark or without heat. Preparing for fall and winter can really be a pleasing fresh start and who isn’t ready for a chilly autumn day, a pumpkin latte, and a roaring fire.

Rindy O’Brien is a longtime resident and homeowner and can be reached at [email protected]

Fall Home Improvement Tips from the Pros