DIY Do's And Don'ts

Top 5 Home Improvement Projects for Fall


Of all the home improvement projects Hyedi Cribben and her boyfriend had on their to-do list, building a patio was one project they were looking forward to completing so that they could it enjoy it during the summer months. So why then did they get started in the fall?

"No one likes to do that kind of work in hot weather," said Cribben. She and her boyfriend, Jesse, are lucky enough to have parents willing to help them get their Minneapolis fixer-upper into shape.

"There was some sifting through dirt, because there was a lot of rock," she said, "and bringing in concrete. It's pretty labor intensive.

"With the humidity and hot weather this summer, it would have been too much. With our parents helping us, I thought, for health reasons, we should wait until fall."

Saving those heavy lifting jobs for fall makes a lot of sense, said Spike Carlsen, former executive editor of Family Handyman magazine and the author of "Reader's Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual" and, most recently, "A Splintered History of Wood."

"If you have the time to wait until fall to do them, it will be less strenuous and more enjoyable," Carlsen says. Here's what else he suggests tackling this fall:


1. Insulate the attic

"Going up into the attic on a hot day isn't something I would choose to do," he says. But there is another reason to wait until fall to do any projects that have to do with insulating your home. "You can feel a draft when the weather starts to cool down," he said. "That's an easy way to tell where you need to improve your insulation."


2. Become energy efficient

Caulking around windows, doors and siding is a simple, inexpensive way to save some money, said Carlsen. "Unless you keep warm air in and cold air out, money is going out the smokestack," he says. A trick he uses to test where you need to caulk is to walk around the interior of your home with a lighted incense stick. "If the smoke starts blowing, that tells the story pretty quickly," he says.

Carlsen recommends using silicone caulk because it's flexible, waterproof and crackproof. You do it on the outside of your home, so make sure you do it before it gets too cold. "If the temperature drops below 40, you shouldn't caulk," because the caulk won't take as well, he warns.


3. Clean the gutters

"Moisture is the number one problem in maintaining a home," says Carlsen. "Getting moisture away from the foundation is key. And the way the do it is to clean your gutters and check your downspouts to make sure water is being funneled away from the house." Clogged gutters in the winter mean ice can build up and cause damage. "In the spring, you want them running free and clear, so do it as soon as all the leaves are off the trees."

Another place where moisture can build up is between the slats of a wood deck. Carlsen offers a simple way to clean them out. "Take a dull handsaw and run it between each board and push the crud out. If you don't, moisture can build up, and you get mold. This will help the wood to breathe, and it will look better, too."


4. Plant a tree

Because trees are dormant in the fall (as they are in the spring), it's easier on the root system, says Carlson. Think about where you plant it so that it can help with saving energy, he advises. If you get it in the right position, it will be a windbreak in the winter, and provide shade in the summer. "Plus," he says, "It's a fun project."


5. Organize the garage

Right now, you've probably got bicycles, lawn tools and the beach umbrella taking up the space your car could occupy, if only you could get everything back where it belongs. "A lot of people never get their car inside the garage in the winter because the garage is overflowing with stuff," said Carlsen. "There are so many great organizing systems -- shelving, hooks that allow you to hang bikes from the ceiling -- that you can get everything into a place and find room for your car." And it's easier to get junk to the dump on a nice fall weekend than a cold, wet, winter day.

And while you are in the garage, advised Carlsen, check the snowblower, shovels and snow brushes to make sure everything is in working order. It's easier to buy replacements in the fall, before the first snow sends everyone to the hardware store.

One other benefit to cleaning the garage: It allows you to be outside to enjoy the beautiful fall weather.

That is what Hyedi Cribben and her boyfriend intend to do, after all the hard work they've put in earlier this fall on their patio. Cleaning that site, putting up a fence, and laying stone and sod have taken up all their free time since the weeks after Labor Day. And now, two weeks into October, it's nearing completion. Said Cribben, "We might even have a week or two to enjoy it before it gets too cold here."


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