Fall means vibrant red, orange, and yellow foliage, lots of pumpkins, and refreshingly cool temps. But, it also means winter isn't far away. Here are a few projects—from looking after your exterior to maintaining your heating system—that can help your home brace for the cold and save you some cash.
Install and Maintain Paths and Walkways
When crossing your muddy yard to fetch the daily paper turns into an obstacle course of slips and slides, perhaps it's time to think about an alternative path—literally. Holiday guests to come would also appreciate safe passage to your door. So, take a weekend to lay a brick walkway.
Make sure you check sidewalks and driveways for cracks. If you don't fill them now, water can seep in and freeze, making them even larger. Take the time to resurface worn concrete now and save you a lot of work down the line in repairs.
Light the Way With Outdoor Lanterns
Less daylight calls for illumination. You can also enhance the nighttime curb appeal of your home, while adding a measure of safety and security, by installing low-voltage landscape lighting. These exterior-grade fixtures are typically placed along walkways and driveways, but they're also ideal for illuminating steps, trees, stonewalls, fences and other prominent garden features.
You can also add a charming lamppost to mark the start of your driveway.
Prep Your Landscape and Start Composting
"Grass roots keep growing until the ground gets down to around 40 degrees," says landscape contractor Roger Cook, "so this is a good time to feed them." Apply a high-phosphorus (12-25-12) mix to lawns in fall to encourage roots, so turf greens up earlier in spring.
It's also a good time to seed a new lawn, start a compost pile, and trim shrubs and trees.
Build a Trash Shed to Hide Unsightly Containers
Nothing mucks up the holiday season curb appeal of your house more than a bunch of beat-up trash cans and overflowing recycling bins scattered next to the side door.
Build a sturdy storage house that hides two 32-gallon trash cans and several stacked recycling bins. Flip-open lids give it easy access so that you can quickly toss something away in the right place. Bi-fold front doors make it easy to move heavy cans in and out.
Put Light Where You Need It With a Garage Floodlight
If you've never been stuck with the task of taking out trash after dinner clean-up, then lucky you. But, in the fall and winter, the last haul often goes out after-dark. Install a motion-sensor garage floodlight to keep you company. It'll also welcome you and your guests home with its warm illumination.
Speaking of garages, now's a good time to tidy up the place. For most, the garage sees a lot of action during the summer with yard tools and pool accessories moving in and out. It might be handy to actually get the car in there now that winter weather is on the way. Create a garage storage plan and build a work bench to stow tools if you have the space. Consider replacing the stained concrete slab with an epoxy-coated garage floor that'll resist oil stains, bead water, and wipe clean.
While you're in the garage, fuel up the snow blower so you're not caught with your gas down when the white stuff comes. Take some time to put your lawn mower to bed with a tune-up that'll ensure it's working like new come spring.
Freeze-Proof Exterior Faucets
Even the most intrepid do-it-yourselfer shudders at the thought of a burst water pipe. If not immediately noticed, a ruptured pipe can be both expensive and time-consuming to clean up.
Fortunately, the pipe that's most susceptible to extremely cold weather—the outdoor hose faucet—is also one of the easiest to protect from freezing. Replace an existing hose faucet with a freeze-proof faucet. You can do it yourself in just a few hours.
Get Your Entry Guest-Ready
Unfortunately, a door's weather seals, if it has any at all, can rip, compress, bend, or wear out over time, leaving chilly winter air free to enter (or expensive air-conditioned air to leave). Lucky for you, making your door draft-free is a straightforward exercise, far cheaper and faster than installing a new door.
Once that's done, enhance curb appeal with aesthetic entry upgrades like adding exterior trim, flanking the door with sconces, throwing down a doormat, and swapping entry locksets.
Build a Mudroom Bench With Storage
Fall means back-to-school. Create a stopping area just inside the entry where everyone can leave the weather and dirt from their day behind. Build a mudroom bench that's the perfect catchall, complete with an open top shelf, coat hooks, and flip-top bench storage.
Maintain Your Washer and Dryer
Left unattended, a burst washing-machine hose can spill hundreds of gallons of water an hour. Likewise, a dryer can erupt in flame if lint is allowed to build up inside the machine or its ducts.
Preventing such mishaps is as easy as replacing a washer's old rubber hoses, ideally with steel-jacketed ones that can't split open. Or discarding the dryer's flimsy—and flammable—vinyl duct and putting a metal one in its place.
Drape Away Drafts
Even after you've weather stripped and caulked them, windows in older homes can still be drafty. Here's another line of defense against the chills: window treatments.
The right shades, curtains, and even blinds will help retain some portion of the estimated 10 to 30 percent of heat lost through windows in wintertime. Install window shades and you'll also gain control of natural light.
Give Your Fireplace a Facelift
Chipped bricks, a stained hearth, and years of accumulated soot can turn what should be the focal point of a living room into an eyesore. Replacing a hearth and surround—either with seamless stone slabs or with stone or ceramic tiles—makes a big difference in the way a fireplace looks. For added safety, consider adding glass fireplace doors.
Adding an insert is a smart investment that's pure win—it'll keep you warm and slash your heating bills all at once. Complete this energy-efficient upgrade before December 31, and you'll score yourself a tax credit too.
Add Warmth Underfoot With Cork or Carpet
Nothing's worse than waking up to the icy shock of a cold floor. Resilient yet durable, stylish yet earthy, adding a natural easy-install cork floor can turn any cool room into a cozy haven.
Cork not your thing? Warm up rooms with traditional carpets instead.
Create an Efficient Home Office
Few people today would consider remodeling a house without making room for a home office. Chalk it up to the spike in part- and full-time telecommuting, after-hours e-mailing, and an effort to keep the Internet out of kids' rooms.
Whether it's a bare minimum desk off the kitchen or a full-blown study with custom cabinets, multiple work surfaces, and extensive file storage, create a workstation that'll work for you.
For added storage in your workspace, build a bookcase or put up wall-mounted shelves.
Get Your Heating System Serviced
Before the chill sets in, make an appointment for your furnace's annual checkup. Without this yearly cleaning and inspection, a system can wear itself out quickly, pump deadly carbon monoxide into your home, or simply stop working.
If you have forced-air heating, change the furnace filter. You'll notice a difference in the air quality, and your furnace will run more efficiently.