And if the weather’s bad, there are plenty of things to do indoors. After all, as the increasingly shorter days remind us, we’ll all be spending a lot more time there soon.
Here are nine home maintenance tasks you should take care of in October.
Mow the leaves
Fall foliage peaks this month, and about a week after that happens, you can count on the leaves to start wafting down. Piles of leaves can smother a lawn, so many homeowners pull out rakes and leaf blowers and stuff the leaves into bags as yard waste. But there’s an easier, better solution: Mow the leaves to break them up, then leave the chopped bits on the lawn. (Take the grass catcher — if you use one — off the mower first.) The small pieces will settle between grass blades and gradually break down. Even Scotts, a company best known for its lawn-care products, now recommends mulch-mowing leaves, based on research that shows it works. Scotts suggests following up with a high-nitrogen fertilizer to speed leaf decay, but you can also skip that and let nature do the job over the winter.
Touch up paint
As days grow shorter and the sun angle gets lower, eventually there isn’t enough time each day with the right temperature and humidity for exterior paint to dry properly. In much of the country, the first half of October is usually the last call for outdoor painting projects, such as touching up scraped patches of siding or repainting a porch. Once you’re done, bring leftover water-based paint into a heated space for the winter. The paint can survive a few freeze-thaw cycles, but too many can give it a clumpy consistency that you can’t stir out. It’s also a good time to check labels for other products that require frost protection, such as wood glues, and move them to a warmer location as needed.
Winterize outdoor faucets
When water freezes and thaws in an outdoor faucet, it can burst pipes and cause thousands of dollars of water damage. If you have frost-free faucets, you can prevent this simply by disconnecting hoses. Water will dribble out, draining the faucet and the pipe that connects it to a main valve inside the basement or other frost-protected place in your house. (Leaving a hose with a nozzle would prevent this by keeping water pressurized.) If you don’t have frost-free exterior faucets, you’ll need to make a couple of trips in and out to remove hoses, shut off exterior supply lines (look for a lever handle with a bleed cap in the basement ceiling or near the main water shut-off), open faucets and, finally, drain bleed caps. To save the back and forth, consider hiring a plumber to retrofit your outdoor faucets to the frost-free type.
Tune up your heating system
If you have an oil or gas furnace or an electric system that combines heating and air conditioning, schedule a tuneup now and clean or replace the filters. If you burn wood, get your chimney cleaned and check the gasket on the door. (Replace the gasket if it’s frayed.) If you have electric baseboard or wall heaters, vacuum out any lint and wipe down the grills. Radiators? Drain trapped air by opening each radiator’s valve counterclockwise, using a radiator key, socket or flat screwdriver, depending on the valve type. Use a cup or bowl to catch the water. Steam radiators have an air hole at the top of the vent that you can clear with a sewing needle.
Clean the dryer vent
Even if you clean the filter after every load, lint can build up in the dryer vent and cause a fire. October is a good month — think ghosts and cobwebs as a memory aid — to start an annual routine of pulling the dryer away from the wall, detaching the vent pipe and vacuuming it out. If the piping is plastic, replace it with metal. Plastic piping is a fire hazard. If lint has collected on the baffles where hot air vents to the outdoors, clean those, too. If you find lots of lint, repeat this process more frequently than once a year.
Pack up the patio gear
Depending on where you live, outdoor dining season may be coming to a close. Clean your grill thoroughly and empty the pan where grease drips before you move the grill indoors or cover it for the winter. Don’t bring the propane canister indoors, though; if the valve leaks even a little, it could lead to an explosion. Also clean outdoor furniture before you store it or cover it for the winter. If you plan to leave it outdoors and uncovered for use when the sun’s out, it still makes sense to clean it now. Clean surfaces are far less likely to become covered with mildew, which can feed on grease and other smears.
You probably won’t notice a drafty door until the weather becomes colder. But if you wait until then to replace mangled weatherstripping, your fingers will probably become numb before you finish. Take advantage of a warm October day to do the job. Felt or open-cell foam weatherstripping is inexpensive and easy to apply, but it doesn’t last long. You’re better off going with closed-cell foam, vinyl, silicone or metal weatherstripping. Attach the weatherstripping to the surface that the door closes against. On the latch side and the top, that’s along the lip in the door jamb. On the hinge side, it’s in line with the outside edges of the hinges.
All those Halloween decorations featuring brooms are a good reminder to pay attention to sweeps of a different sort: the ones that close gaps at the bottom of exterior doors. Place a piece of paper on the threshold (the bottom trim in the doorway), close the door and see whether the paper pulls out easily. If it does, you might need to replace or adjust the sweep or door shoe, which is another way of plugging the gap under a door. Sweeps have a mounting strip along the bottom back edge of the door and a flexible blade that brushes against the threshold. Caps hug the bottom edge. If your door has neither — or you need to replace what’s there — sweeps are easier to install and adjust, and, unlike with caps, you can do the work without taking the door down.
Clean window wells
Window wells allow a basement to have windows, even if part of the glass needs to be lower than the ground outside. Under the gravel that’s at the base of the window well is a drain pipe that carries away water. But without regular maintenance, leaves and dirt can plug the gravel and block rainwater from reaching the drain. Before winter sets in, clean out whatever has collected over the gravel. It’s a great time to wash the window, too. Installing a cover over the well will help keep the gravel and glass clean, but if the window well provides an escape route in case of a fire, be sure to get a cover that meets safety standards. It must push open easily from inside, without the need for tools.