For most of the country, September signals the end of summer's dog days and a return to fuzzy sweaters, chilly evenings, and, of course, pumpkin spice everything (this is America, after all).
But before those first autumn leaves begin to fall, it's crucial to take a few steps to stave off any cold weather home breakdowns. Luckily, we're here to make it as easy as possible for you with our handy checklist of home maintenance chores to tackle this month. These quick, relatively painless tasks can potentially save you major repair costs down the road.
1. Check walkways for cracks
"Before the grass is covered with snow, or it's too cold to venture outside, check walkways for cracks and loose paver material," says Ryan Williams, general manager of 128 Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Electric. "Fix walkway and entryway areas before slippery weather can cause a tripping or falling accident."
DIY: Small cracks can be fixed with simple epoxy and shouldn't take more than a few hours.
Call in a pro: Serious cracking and concrete damage will require professional repair—expect to spend north of $1,000, although exact costs will depend on the severity of damage and cost of materials and labor in your area.
2. Clean and repair the siding
"After a long summer, siding can become dirty or mildewed," says Chris Granger, vice president and general manager of Sears Home Services.
September is a great time to use a pressure washer to clean it up—and inspect for more serious problems before winter comes. Check first for rotten or warped areas, and inspect your caulking, which can shrink and crack over time.
DIY: You don't necessarily have to shimmy up a ladder for a close-up of your siding; the pros we talked to recommend using a smartphone camera or drone to zoom in on problem areas. Inspect the butt joints where two pieces of siding meet and, if you spy cracks, consider tackling the job yourself.
How? A day ahead, thoroughly wash your work surface with soapy water. Once the area is completely dry, squeeze a bit of caulk into the gap in the siding, then smooth it with your finger. Wipe it once more with a damp sponge to even out your work.
(Pro tip: Be sure to never caulk the underside of your siding, which could prevent the boards from expanding and contracting during changing weather.) Once you've fixed any problem areas, let everything set for a few days. Then follow up with a good pressure wash (you can rent a machine for around $35).
Call in a pro: If your siding has seen better days (think missing, bent, or cracked pieces), consider replacing it. As a general rule, fiber cement siding is priciest, followed by wood, aluminum, and vinyl. Replacing vinyl siding on an average 2,200-square-foot home will set you back more than $6,500 (in addition to the cost of removing existing materials). If you choose wood or fiber cement siding, you'll likely spend twice that. For an expert pressure washing, expect to spend $100 to $300.
3. Check and repair leaky faucets
"Before the temperatures start to dip, examine leaky faucets in the kitchen, bathrooms, and utility room locations," Williams says. "Most likely, whatever time and money you spend now will be considerably less than a broken pipe in the dead of winter."
DIY: Just turn on the faucet, turn it off, and watch for any telltale dripping. Your fix might be as easy as replacing the washers on the faucet's knobs, or you might have a worn cam washer, valve seat, or spring. We have you covered with our step-by-step guide to fixing a leaky faucet.
Call in a pro: If you'd rather not deal with it yourself, you can always hire a plumber. Estimates for fixing leaks vary, but expect to spend at least $100.
4. Make sure windows are sealed tight
All double- or triple-pane windows should have a tight seal around their perimeter that separates the individual panes of glass and traps inert gas between them, providing a break between the temps inside and outside your home. If you notice that your windows are frequently foggy, that's likely a sign of a failed seal.
DIY: Try cashing in on your windows' warranty first; many companies will cover failed seals for a decade or longer.
Call in the pros: If your warranty won't cover a total replacement, check out a professional window defogging company. These pros will reseal the window's perimeter and replace the gas between the panes for an average of $300 (depending on location and the number of windows).
5. Sweep the chimney
When temperatures finally fall, you'll want to be ready to light your fireplace. But before your first toasty blaze of the season, make sure your chimney has been cleaned.
"Built-up soot in your chimney can increase your risk of a chimney fire, and a clogged chimney can also increase the presence of carbon monoxide in your home by not allowing it to escape when you have a fire burning in the fireplace," says Lindsey Pasieka of ConsumerSafety.org.
Call in the pros: No DIY here—leave this (dirty) job to a pro, who'll charge an average of $225 for an inspection and sweep.
6. Change the air filters and tune up the furnace
This one really should be a maintenance task you do every month, Granger says. Dirty air filters can lead to higher energy bills and irreparably damage your HVAC system.
DIY: Changing your air filter is a fairly straightforward task—just be sure to check the size of your existing filter before you hit the hardware store. Pros also recommend removing all vent covers and vacuuming pet dander, hair, and other debris that can accumulate and gunk up your HVAC system.
Call in the pros: Take things a step further by hiring a professional to tune up your unit before winter arrives. A good contractor will ensure your thermostat is working properly, fix loose electrical connections and gas connections, and check your unit's blower motor and heat exchanger. Expect to spend $80 to $150.
7. Service the yard equipment
Autumn—not spring—is actually the best time to show some love to your lawn equipment before you put it away for winter.
"It’s harmful for equipment to sit all winter long with old oil in the case and dirt on the other components," says Lisa Turner, author of "House Keys: Tips and Tricks From a Female Home Inspector."
DIY: Change your oil and filter, replace air and gas filters, and install new blades if necessary. Then perform the lubrication and adjustment maintenance required by your equipment's manual. But you don't want to drain the gas tank completely, Turner says. Instead use a premium gasoline without ethanol but with a gas preservative. Just before you store it, fill the tank with this mix.
Call in the pros: If your unit won't start or turn over, the cost for a lawn mower repair pro will run about $35 to $115. If your lawn mower's engine needs to be replaced, you could shell out $800 to $900 for a new engine.