Fall & Winter Seasonal Maintenance Guide — Northwest

If you live in the Northwest, here are maintenance jobs you should complete every fall and winter to prevent costly repairs and keep your home in top condition.

All major pruning should be done in winter, when trees are dormant. Image: Liz Roll/FEMA

Certain home maintenance tasks should be completed each season to prevent structural damage, save energy, and keep all your home’s systems running properly. These home maintenance tasks are most important for the Northwest in fall and winter. For a comprehensive list of tasks by season, refer to the to-do lists to the right of this article.

Preparing for fall and winter in the Northwest means gearing up for wet weather. “In the Pacific Northwest we have two seasons: rain and not rain,” says Jim Katen of Benchmark Inspection Services in Gaston, Ore. Because fall is when the rain starts in earnest, it’s important to take steps to prevent moisture problems at the beginning of the season. Further from the coast, home maintenance requires more attention to weathering cold and snow.

Key maintenance tasks to perform

Check your drainage. In early fall, when the weather is still nice, walk slowly around the house and inspect the ground where it meets the foundation. Soil should not be touching siding and should slope away from the house, dropping at least 6 vertical inches over the first 10 feet.

Clean gutters. It’s imperative that your gutters are ready for the heavy workout they’ll receive from winter rains. Most homeowners in the Northwest will need to clean their gutters several times during the fall, Katen says, because the leaves won’t be finished coming down until the first big winter rain or snowstorm. Once winter is under way, walk outside in your rain gear during a downpour to inspect the flow of water through the gutter system and ensure there are no obstructions.

In the mountainous areas of Idaho and Montana, your gutters may need heat tape to keep ice from forming, says Lamar Rase of Complete Home Inspections in Missoula, Mont. “Make sure the tape is intact and ready to go so that you don’t have ice and snow damming up there,” Rase says. If the tape has detached from the gutter or has lost heating power, contact a roofing contractor or electrician to get an estimate for repairs.

Have your furnace checked and tuned up. Schedule a fall appointment promptly to get your furnace ready for winter (it’s a good idea to have a biannual HVAC service contract so that fall and spring tune-ups are automatic). Find out what items are on your HVAC professional’s fall checklist and ask questions about any maintenance. The service should include checking fuel connections, burner combustion, and the heat exchanger. Expect to pay $50 to $100 for a furnace tune-up.

Check your furnace filters monthly and change them whenever they’re dirty. Inspect and vacuum out the floor grates and return duct regularly, especially if you have children or pets.

Combat moss on the roof. Fall is the time to apply moss-killing granules or liquid solution to your rooftop.  Be sure to buy the granules that are made especially for roofs, not those for lawns. Lawn granules contain iron, which will rust on your roof and make a mess. For even distribution, Katen applies roof granules in a bead along each side of the roof ridge rather than sprinkling them all over; the first big rain wets the granules and spreads the moss-killing agent uniformly over the roof.

Check weatherstripping and caulk on doors and windows. Walk around outside and examine the areas where window, door, and corner trim meets the siding; caulk any gaps. Open doors and check the condition of the weatherstripping. If the doors are drafty or the old weatherstripping foam is crumbling, remove it and apply new weatherstripping.

Disconnect hoses and winterize your lawn irrigation system. These steps are important anywhere you experience freezing temperatures—keeping water from freezing in pipes prevents potentially expensive repairs.

If you have a lawn irrigation system, make sure all the water has drained from the system before the first freeze. Depending on the type of system you’ve installed, this may require the assistance of a professional. A pro charges $50 to $150 to winterize an irrigation system.

Take a flashlight and visit your crawl space in January. This is where moisture and drainage problems can cause the most damage. Because the summer is often so dry in the Northwest, standing water typically doesn’t show up in a crawl space until January or so, Katen says, when the soil has been fully re-saturated. If you have standing water, try to pinpoint whether it’s coming from pipes inside the house or from water flowing in through cracks in the foundation. For advice on fixing the problem, consult a credentialed home inspector or building contractor.

Prune trees. Contact with trees is bad for roofs and siding; friction and trapped moisture shorten the lifespan of building materials. All major pruning should be done in winter, when trees are dormant. Fall and winter is also a great time to tackle any landscaping projects and plant perennials, shrubs, and trees, as they’ll have a chance to get established long before dry weather hits.

Spending a weekend or two on maintenance can prevent expensive repairs and alert you to developing problems before they become serious. Be sure to check out our comprehensive project to-do list above, read our lawn aeration article, and visit the links below for more detailed information on completing tasks or repairs yourself.