How to Save Money on Fall Maintenance around the Home

The weather is getting colder, the nights are getting longer, and before you know it, the brisk fall weather will turn into ice and snow.

If you’re a homeowner, before you can snuggle up to a fire and enjoy the winter season, you’ll need to conduct routine fall maintenance on your home. Adhering to an annual fall maintenance routine will help prevent damage and the resulting costly repairs.

You can stretch your budget for home maintenance and repairs if you’re able and willing to do them yourself, but there are other ways to save money as well. You don’t have to be a handyman to save money on the necessary projects for your home.

Lawn maintenance

Lawn Care
Taking care of your lawn in the fall will help you save money on lawn care for the following spring and summer. If you want lush, healthy grass again you will need to do some basic fall maintenance to preserve your lawn, including the following tasks.

Debris cleanup

Don’t let fallen leaves and broken limbs compact your yard and kill the grass underneath. Remove fallen leaves and clean up any debris before winter sets in. Hiring a lawn care company could set you back $50 or more for a small yard. If you don’t want to DIY then hire out the work to a willing neighborhood kid, or list the gig on Craigslist. You’ll be able to save the difference or use the extra money to put towards another project.

Aeration

If your grass looks a bit too brown, or if your yard soil is comprised mostly of clay, you will want to aerate your lawn. Especially after a long, dry summer aeration will literally breathe life back into your lawn by breaking apart the hard soils and allowing water and nutrients to penetrate the ground again. To cut down the cost of the job, ask your neighbor if they would be interested in splitting the price to rent the equipment. That way you will both have beautiful lawns in the spring at half the cost.

Reseeding

The perfect time to reseed your lawn is right after you finish the aeration. Instead of paying a lawn care company to take care of reseeding, pick up a grass seed spreader from your local hardware store. You can rent seed spreaders for practically nothing, or you could even look at your local Habitat for Humanity Re-store or other thrift stores to see if they happen to have any for sale.

Fertilization and pest removal

Fertilizing your lawn with nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, usually in a 5-10-5 ratio will make your grass strong and healthy for the spring. This is one cost you don’t want to skimp on since a bad brand or unhealthy mix could burn your lawn and kill off all of the grass. In order to keep the cost down, though, measure out the exact surface area you need to cover, so you aren’t spending too much money on a product that will go to waste if you don’t use it all.

Basic lawn care, debris removal, aeration, reseeding and fertilization could cost hundreds of dollars if you were to hire a lawn care company. Look for lawn care tools at local thrift stores to get the job done, or rent the equipment from your local hardware store. By doing the footwork yourself, you will save a lot of money on your fall lawn maintenance. If you don’t have the ability to take care of the fall maintenance yourself, hire out the work to a competent friend or neighbor who will take the work for less than a professional.

Store your lawn care equipment

Tool Storage
If left unattended through the winter, your machines could rust, crack or break down. Once you complete your fall lawn care maintenance projects, you will need to store the equipment for the winter by removing any batteries and cleaning off any blades. Remember to remove built up grass and debris from the bottom of the machine as well.

If your lawn equipment has a full tank of fuel, you will need to either run it down to empty or add a fuel stabilizer into the tank to keep the fuel fresh for up to six months. For riding lawn mowers especially, a full gas tank actually works in your favor since it prevents moisture from seeping into the tank and causing cracks or rust damage that could harm the carburetor. Replacing a carburetor could cost upwards of $100 while fuel stabilizer only costs about $1 per ounce.

Next spring, when it’s time to break out the equipment again, look for 100% ethanol-free gasoline to use in your small engines and lawn equipment. Ethanol-free gasoline does not require the use of a fuel stabilizer, and would save you money on maintenance next fall.

Gutter maintenance

Leaking Gutters
Gutter maintenance can be a hassle, but it’s an absolutely essential task to take care of to protect your home. Ideally, gutter maintenance should take place at least quarterly. At the very minimum, though, you should have your gutters maintained after all of the leaves have fallen. Neglecting to clean out your gutters could cause water damage to your roof, eaves, and even the foundation of the home. If your gutters are full and the rain has nowhere to go, it will cascade out wherever it can, leaving costly damage in its wake.

If you want to hire a professional, you can expect to pay about $150 on average per gutter cleanout, depending on the size and height of the home. If you have the strength and ability to DIY your gutter cleanouts, you could save upwards of $600 per year. If you feel really handy, you could even try a cost-saving DIY gutter screen method, instead of paying thousands for a professionally installed covered gutter system.

If you don’t feel comfortable enough to risk the ladder by yourself, however, it might be worth the return on investment to have covered gutters installed on your home, which would eliminate the need for such frequent gutter maintenance and debris removal.

Inspect your roof

Roof Maintenance
Your roof is the first line of defense against the elements getting into your home. Carefully walking the roof to look for defects in the shingles or tiles could save you thousands of dollars in costly repairs if you didn’t catch a leak in time. Leaks lead to water damage, water damage leads to structural damage, and structural damage leads to thousands of dollars in repair fees. Keep your home safe and dry by replacing damaged shingles as needed. The cost of replacement shingles pales in comparison to the cost of a new roof altogether.

Prune your trees

Tree Pruning
Once the leaves have fallen, and the trees lie dormant, inspect the trees that surround your home and look for any dead or unhealthy looking limbs. If you can safely reach the limbs by yourself, you should remove them before the snow and ice turn them into a hazard. If the limbs are too high or too dangerous to remove yourself, you will need to hire a tree limb removal specialist. If you blanch at the thought of hiring out to a professional, remember this: Tree trimming costs much less than having your roof replaced or repaired if a limb were to crash onto your home.

If you decide that you need a professional for help, don’t hire the first person you call. Invite at least two or three local companies to come out and give an estimate on the project cost. You can use those quotes to your benefit when deciding to hire. Show the competing businesses the quotes from the other companies and ask if they would be able to beat the best price point. Most companies would rather get your business for less than to lose your business completely.

Seal your driveway

Driveway Sealing
Applying a coat of sealant to your driveway to extend the life of your asphalt is an easy DIY project that will save you hundreds of dollars. Sealing your driveway fills in cracks and acts as a protective barrier from the invasive ice sheets in winter that can cause your driveway to crack and crumble.

Basic winterization

Home Insulation
As part of your basic fall maintenance every year, make sure to complete basic winterization tasks. Fill in any cracks or air leaks in the exterior of your home. Drain and store your garden hoses for the winter. Remove mesh screen doors and replace with a winter glass door instead.

Do a complete walk through of the interior and exterior of your home and look for any visible damage or cracks to the structure or foundation. Make sure your attic and crawl space have enough insulation to act as a barrier to the icy wind that tries to seep into your home. Winterizing your home will keep your heating costs down and your home safe from structural damage caused by ice and snow.

Have your furnace or HVAC system inspected

Home Furnace
Unless you happen to be a certified HVAC technician, you will want to hire a professional to inspect your furnace or heating system before the cold weather sets in. A small repair left neglected now could become an expensive replacement after the snow and ice hit.

Is it really worth the technician fee to have a certified professional look at your unit? Yes, it is. $80-$150 of preventive maintenance will make sure that your heat is good to go for the winter. You won’t have to wake up at 2 AM freezing cold (and then pay emergency service rates) because your unit stopped working, and you’ll have peace of mind about some of the dangerous things that can go wrong (such as carbon monoxide leaking into your home). Having your heating unit inspected really could become a matter of life and death.

An ounce of prevention

Stick to the old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Small maintenance jobs and easy repairs will cost you a lot less than complete replacement. Use your fall maintenance checklist to ensure that your home is ready for a snug, tight and cost-effective winter. DIY when possible and hire out to individuals instead of big companies for the less involved tasks. This will allow you to spend the money on a professional for the home maintenance projects that truly matter. And when you’re done, you can start thinking about the next big seasonal chore: winterizing your home.

Kristi Muse is a family finance writer who loves talking about strategies to save money, get out of debt, and live a frugal life. She shares her experiences about debt, parenthood, and life as a law-enforcement family on her blog Moderate Muse. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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