The days are getting shorter, and while the weather may still be pleasant, you notice a chill in the early morning or late at night. Summer is slipping away, ushering in fall and all that accompanies the change of seasons.

Before you swap your shorts and sandals for cozy sweaters and boots, take this opportunity to help your home recover from the summer and prepare for colder weather. These fall home maintenance tips will guide you through the end of the year, and keep you ready when the warmth returns.

Safety First: Check Your Detectors for Peace of Mind

The change of the seasons is an ideal opportunity to check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Safety experts recommend replacing smoke alarms every 10 years and carbon monoxide detectors every five to seven years. Test your alarms now, replace if needed, and step into the season with fewer safety concerns.

If your alarms are battery operated, replace with fresh batteries, and mark the new ones with the date in permanent marker. For hard-wired or lithium battery detectors, make a note of the expiration date so you can rest assured that your family is protected.

Before it Gets Too Cold, Tidy and Prepare Your Lawn

It’s tempting to spend the last warm moment of summer and early fall enjoying the outdoors, but a few hours of outdoor work can make a difference when it comes to lightening your load come springtime.

Lower your mower height anywhere from one to two inches shorter than normal until the lawn stops growing. This will help protect your lawn from damage over the winter.

Mulch, rather than rake, fallen leaves to add nutrients to your soil. Once the mulched material has settled in your lawn, apply an appropriate fall lawn food to keep your grass green as is hibernates for the cold.

Inspect Your Exterior For Potential Cold Weather Problems and Uninvited Guests

On one of these last warm weekend mornings to give your house a good look-over.

Start at the roofline, scanning for missing or loose roof shingles and making note to have these repaired or replaced.

This is also a good time to clean gutters and make sure that downspouts are not blocked with leaves or any other debris.

When the temperature outside drops, your basement, attic and porch roof areas can attract animals looking for warmth. If you’ve had problems with mice in the fall and winter before, pay some attention to where your exterior siding meets your foundation and roof. Fill large gaps with spray foam or steel wool to discourage invading critters.

Put Your Lawn Tools Away, The Right Way

Do you spend too much time each spring trying to organize and prep your lawn tools and machines for the upcoming season? Take the time to clean and prepare your tools and you’ll be ready to switch into action in the spring with little or no prepwork.

After your last mow of the season, pressure wash or hose off the underside of the lawn mower, drain the fuel tank or add a fuel stabilizer, and check the oil levels.

Clean and sharpen manual tools and organize anything else, such as lawn and leaf bags, trimmer string, and gardening gloves.

Don’t forget your outdoor furniture! If you have room in your garage, storage space or shed, clean and storing patio tables, chairs and cushions can help extend their useful life.

Prepare Your Garage For its Intended Use

Summer can take a toll on your garage, with sports equipment, camping supplies, bikes, toys, and garden tools piling up and getting in the way of optimal garage functionality.

Get rid of junk and organize everything now before it gets too cold, and enjoy parking in your garage when the cold weather strikes.

Garages easily become dumping grounds. Apply some basic decluttering guidelines — such as tossing broken tools and disposing of old paint cans — and purge your parking area, and start off the season on an organized and calm note.

End summer with a garage sale, and get rid of things you no longer need. You’ll enjoy the extra space, and you might make a few dollars, too. Anything left over can be tossed or donated.

Organize Your Entryway For Coats and Boots

In summer, our mudrooms and foyers often host a smattering of flip flops, sunglasses, and bottles of sunscreen. Make room for coats, hoodies, and boots now, and you can get a leg-up on the clutter.

If you have a shoe rack or boot tray, clear summer shoes out of the way. Give your family a central place to hang their outerwear with a decorative coat rack. If you have little ones, you can use temporary easy remove plastic wall hangers set lower on the wall for coats and sweaters.

If you have room, add a bench or combination coat rack and bench storage solution. It will provide a landing pad for all of your family’s cold weather gear.

Swap Out Summer Gear for Winter Toys and Tools

Think of all the things your family needs in the fall and winter: lawn rakes, leaf bags, skis, sleds, snow shovels, and snow boots. Are they all ready and up to the task?

Don’t wait until you need to scatter ice melt to learn that you used the last bag in the early spring. While organizing and storing summer stuff, start staging for your winter needs. This way, you and your family will be ready for the cold when it marches into your life.

If you have a snow blower, take a few minutes and check for optimal operation. Make sure it starts easily, and if it needs a tune-up, start the process soon to beat the rush at your local small engine repair shop.

Metal snow augers can rust over time, and shear pins snap during the winter, so make sure that you have a few spares for the winter. A snow blower is an expensive tool, but it’s useless if it doesn’t start when there is a foot of snow in your driveway.

Think About Your Furnace Before You Crank Up the Thermostat

As with any of the systems in your home, your furnace needs periodic maintenance. Before you need to fire the system up, check to make sure that it is in good working order.

Schedule a service call with your local HVAC company for a cleaning and diagnosis, especially if your system is older or if you experienced less than ideal operation last season. A clean furnace and HVAC system not only operates better, it also can lower your energy costs.

Fall is a good time to check your furnace filter, too, as it should be replaced every few months, depending on the type of filter used.

Clear away any clutter around the furnace, as it can be a serious safety hazard and can make repairs and maintenance more difficult. Also, replace thermostat batteries if necessary.

Keep the Cold Out by Winterizing Windows and Doors

While you are in energy-efficiency mode, take a good look at your windows and door frames for air gaps. You’ll save on heating bills and enjoy greater comfort if you seal drafts. Add caulking to any visible gaps on the outside — be a multitasker and attack this job when you are sealing gaps from critters — and add weatherstripping on the inside of door frames.

If you have older or especially drafty windows, you can seal them for the season with a plastic sheeting-based winterizing kits. These are quite effective in lowering energy bills since they create an impenetrable barrier that keeps the warmth in, and the cold out. The downside? You have to wait until the spring and warmer weather to be able to open your windows.

Add Fall Colors to the Décor

Preparing for the colder weather isn’t all about cleaning, organizing and planning. You can help bring your home into the season by replacing your decor with colors and items that evoke the season.

This seasonal redecoration can be as simple as swapping your bright floral front door wreath for something autumnal, with colors like golden yellow, burnt orange, or other earth tones.

Put a few pumpkins on your front porch. Replace your summer annuals with mums.

Don’t stop the fall decorating at the front door. Scatter some autumn looks throughout your house, and make an effortless transition from summer to fall. Throw pillows and blankets are cozy additions.

Add small pumpkins, interesting gourds, and dried corn to your kitchen, dining room, and living areas for a punch of seasonal flavor.

Keep an eye out for the changing leaves and grab a few for a cheap, easy wall hanging. For a budget-friendly fall decoration, you can press the leaves and hang them in frames purchased from a discount store.

With some planning and a little organization, you can not only enjoy a wonderful fall season, but also be prepared for winter and spring. Organize, clean, prep, and decorate, and have a wonderful autumn.

Kevin Wheatley