Enter If You Dare: Inside a Real-Life Haunted House

With no city lights for miles, The Pillars Estate stands alone in the darkest of nights.

Inside, guests are greeted by dim candlelight, a windy staircase and a gentleman from Scotland.

Tony McMurtrie purchased the Civil War-era estate in Albion, NY when it was ready to be torn down. Restoring it to its former glory over the past decade, he’s carefully curated every detail – from the grandfather clocks to the silver.

“I don’t know where it comes from,” he explains. “I just like that time and that era.”

His love of antiques and a refined way of life hasn’t gone unnoticed. Cora Goyette moved to Albion from England and bonded with McMurtrie over their shared appreciation of European culture.

Today, she takes care of the 13,286-square-foot house as if it were her own, hosting tea parties and events in the grand ballroom.

But unlike McMurtrie, Goyette won’t stay at The Pillars alone. In fact, most of McMurtrie’s friends refuse to spend the night.

“A spirit really is within the house,” Goyette says without blinking an eye. “It’s quite serious.”

From mysterious footsteps to children’s voices and a piano that plays itself, strange happenings have been reported since McMurtrie started restoring the house.

Some believe he’s unlocked a haunted past, while others remain skeptical.

Originally published October 2015.

Video and photos by Awen Films.

Related:

  • Video: Get Ready for Four-Legged Halloween Fun
  • 5 Haunted Homes You Can Own Today
  • For Sale: A ‘Slightly’ Haunted Home

How to Throw the Perfect Pumpkin-Carving Party

Nothing says Halloween like carved pumpkins, festive treats and fun costumes. Try these tips for throwing the perfect pumpkin-carving party with all your friends.

1. Create a casual atmosphere

Head out to the backyard, set up a few long folding tables with tablecloths and let the fall atmosphere be your decor. Play some music to get the party started.

2. Assemble a self-serve buffet

Don’t worry about serving a full meal that creates a lot of work for you. Instead, set up a self-serve buffet stocked with enough goodies for the evening, so you can enjoy the party. Think of a few simple savory dishes, add some fun and festive sweets – you’ve got it covered. Include a drink station with a few options in dispensers. Label them, set up a stack of glasses and let your guests enjoy.

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3. Set up carving stations

Arrange a simple but structured carving station so your guests can enjoy the main event. Stock a table with an assortment of carving templates for those who want something other than the traditional jack-o’-lantern face. Don’t forget tape – you’ll need to hold the templates in place while you carve.

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On other tables, place cute buckets your guests can scoop the pumpkin seeds and pulp into. Then put out smaller containers to hold the carving utensils. Just add some pumpkins and you’ve provided everything your guests will need.

4. Hold a carving contest

What good would pumpkin carving be without a little friendly competition? Have some judges and a variety of prizes on hand for the event. Think outside the box with the awards and go beyond just the “Best Pumpkin.” Think in terms of “Most Creative,” “Most Adventurous,” “Scariest” and so on.

5. Commemorate the evening

All that hard work should be documented! Make sure you gather up the carved masterpieces for a group shot at the end of the evening, and don’t forget to share the party photos with your guests after the fact.

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Get out those pumpkins, set the tables and crank up the music for the best pumpkin-carving party around.

Need some more inspiration? Check out our video tutorial for easy ways to make your space spooky in no time.

Related:

  • Sharpen Your Pumpkin Carving Skills With a Pro
  • 5 Tips for Haute Halloween Decor
  • Set a Fabulous Table for Fall

Originally published October 2016.

This Studio Came From a Feed Store

A California couple decided to move east and preserve this Tyringham, Massachusetts, studio. Decades before that, it was a studio of a different kind.

In the 1920s, a local sculptor converted his backyard silo – originally purchased as a kit from a feed store – into a place where he could perfect his craft.

Large mill windows let in plenty of natural light for him to create. Today, that same light casts an ethereal glow over the second-floor bedroom.

Down the spiral staircase, a wood-burning stove and vintage decor give the first floor charm from a bygone era.

The two-story studio sits just behind Santarella, a dwelling lovingly dubbed the Tyringham Gingerbread House – appropriate, since it looks like it’s from a storybook.

The 450-square foot home has one bedroom and one bathroom, and unique features like Gothic doors and repurposed barnwood.

Today, the couple describes the studio as a sculpture in itself. We think the sculptor would agree.

What Kind of Bugs Are in Your House?

Pests are everywhere, and having a few in your home is pretty much inevitable. But knowledge is power when it comes to critters, says Dr. Nancy Troyano, director of technical education and training at Rentokil Pest Control.

When you know how to recognize and prevent an infestation, you can keep unwanted visitors at bay. The first step is learning which pests might become an issue for you.

Here are the top pests to watch out for, according to Troyano.

Wood-destroying bugs

Termites and carpenter ants eat away at the foundation, and you have to call a professional to remove them. They’re usually hard to see, but you can still find evidence that they’re around.

In the Northeast, subterranean termites build mud tubes that you can usually spot. Look for brown staining around the house, both inside and out, and pay special attention to baseboards in the basement.

Other hints are blistering paint, loose siding, piles of droppings or a substance that looks like sawdust.

Homeowners in the Southwest and California should look out for drywood termites. They create colonies in the wood instead of the ground, and they need very little moisture. Watch for piles of droppings or swarms of termites flying out of the wood.

Cockroaches

Cockroaches are a big problem in crowded cities and apartment buildings. While they don’t actually cause damage to a home, they do require professional extermination – and they’re just gross.

Cockroaches are attracted to food and garbage, and they’re usually brought in from the outside. Secondhand or rented furniture is a big culprit of cockroach infestations.

The one “upside” to roaches is that they’re big, so you will definitely know when you have a problem.

Nuisance pests

Most unwanted critters are pretty harmless – just annoying.

After the Zika outbreaks, mosquitoes are generating more concern than in the past. Standing water creates a breeding ground for these pests, so try to minimize the water that collects around your home.

Bed bugs are a big issue in cities, where it’s easy for them to be brought in by furniture, clothes or people – and they’re notoriously hard to get rid of. Homeowners with pets should also be wary of ticks and fleas.

Rodents

Bugs aren’t the only unwelcome guests you may encounter – keep your eye out for rodents, too.

Bird feeders are a “mouse buffet,” says Troyano, so keep an eye on those. Mice are also drawn inside to escape the cold, so homeowners in colder climates should make sure their homes are tightly sealed.

Then there are our flying friends: bats. Bats are usually found in homes with attics or chimneys, because they like to hang out in dark, cavernous areas.

You can easily lure out one or two bats, but if you have a big problem, you’ll want to call a professional. A word of warning about these winged creatures: They can carry rabies, so be careful with any DIY measures you undertake.

What to look for where you live

The types of pests you encounter largely depend on where you live.

  • Tropical, humid places like Florida are breeding grounds for water-loving pests like mosquitoes.
  • In wooded areas, you will find spiders, ants and beetles.
  • In the desert, you’ll have to worry about snakes and scorpions.

The type of home will also determine what kinds of pests you get. Log cabins are the most pest-prone homes, Troyano reports, and can attract beetles, termites and bees. Houses with vinyl siding or brick tend to be safer bets.

Older homes are also a concern, because they are full of cracks and crevices where pests can enter or take up residence. Spiders and silverfish love these nooks.

New construction homes come with their own issues. When wooden beams are exposed to the elements during construction, they gather moisture, which attracts fungus beetles. These tiny beetles are very common and will go away on their own once the material dries – but that could take up to a year. The fungus beetle has been nicknamed the “new-house pest,” says Troyano.

How to prevent pests

The good news is that most pests are easily lured out of the home.

Troyano trains people on the biology and behavior of pests. Rather than putting down a pesticide, she says, you can “outsmart” the bugs. “If I have an ant problem, and I know what they like to eat, I will take away their food source.”

Don’t forget to think about how the critters are getting inside. Plants and trees can act as a superhighway for pests. “I’ve watched ants walk along tree limbs into a home,” Troyano says.

Here are Troyano’s top tips for keeping your home free of unwelcome intruders:

  • Don’t let them inside. Keep your house sealed up nice and tight. Use window screens, seal window and door frames, and plug up other exterior entry points.
  • Keep your home’s exterior tidy. Mow grass regularly, trim shrubbery and trees to prevent branches from touching your home, and keep mulched beds away from the house.
  • Watch for water pools and drainage issues. You don’t want water pooling up by your home’s foundation. Make sure your gutters direct water away from the house. Similarly, you don’t want hills sloping toward your house. You’ll also want to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in your yard by keeping an eye on stagnant pools of water, like birdbaths.
  • Inspect your house inside and out. Regularly check for signs of pests.

Related:

  • 12 Tasks to Tackle Before Fall Arrives
  • Is Your Home Trying to Kill You?
  • DIY: Fixing 3 Common Household Problems

Originally published August 2016.

Is Your Home Trying to Kill You?

Home is where you feel comfortable and safe. It’s where you tuck your kids into bed and lazily watch hours of Netflix on the couch.

Without your care and vigilance, however, your home may develop conditions that can make you severely ill – or even kill you.

Here are five ways your home can potentially harm you and expert advice on keeping these issues from affecting your household.

1. Mold

Though mold isn’t a pathogen (a disease-causing agent), it’s still an allergen that you don’t want hanging around your house.

“When people say they have a mold allergy or they have a mold condition, it’s an allergic reaction,” says Peter Duncanson, director of business operations for disaster restoration specialists ServiceMaster Restore. “[Molds] generally considered toxic are ones like stachybotrys, which are black in color – but not all black molds cause the same reactions.”

Molds, including black molds like stachybotrys, form if moisture concentrates in an area where a food source is present, such as skin cells or paper. You know you have mold growing in your home if you smell an earthy, musty scent. Though mold exposure won’t severely harm the average person, repeated exposure is not advised for your health.

“The buildup [of mold] causes a more violent reaction, and those reactions are generally respiratory in nature and pulmonary, so you have trouble breathing,” Duncanson explains. “A very severe reaction to mold can be anaphylactic – you can’t breathe, and you go into an anaphylactic shock.”

Luckily, you can prevent mold by keeping your home dry, running the exhaust fan when taking a shower, and purchasing a dehumidifier for the basement in the summer.

If you do find black mold (or what’s commonly referred to as toxic mold) in your home, don’t panic. Contact a professional who can safely remove the mold and eliminate the water source feeding it.

2. Exposed asbestos

Asbestos was a commonly used building material up until the mid-20th century, when it was determined to be a very dangerous carcinogen that causes mesothelioma cancer. Though builders aren’t legally allowed to use asbestos in building materials and other products anymore, traces of it are often found in older homes.

“Asbestos is not harmful to you if you don’t disturb it,” Duncanson says. “The problem arises when you start cutting or doing demolition and asbestos becomes airborne.”

It may be tempting to DIY an open-concept living space in your vintage bungalow, but if your home was built before the 1980s, seek the advice of a professional before you start knocking down any walls. The latency period of mesothelioma cancer can be years, so problems may not arise until much later in your life.

Handling asbestos is a dangerous task, and professionals have the equipment to remove it safely without risking your health.

3. Carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning, which kills thousands of people each year, occurs when there’s too much carbon monoxide in your blood. This can result in tissue damage or death.

Improperly ventilated appliances like stoves, water heaters and gas appliances can release carbon monoxide. Improperly cleaned chimneys cause smoke to circulate throughout the home – this can also give you carbon monoxide poisoning, according to Andy Kerns, a home maintenance researcher.

To protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning, properly ventilate appliances and clean heat sources like wood-burning stoves every year before use. Call a professional if you have any doubts about the safety and security of your appliances or ventilation within your home.

4. Fire

Seven people in the U.S. die each day from house fires, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. Most of these house fires are the result of normal, everyday use of appliances, candles and cooking equipment. The most surprising fire starter, however, lives in the laundry room.

“Dryer lint can collect in the dryer and become an electrical fire starter,” says Kerns. “Dryers are the number one cause of house fires.”

To prevent house fires, ensure that your appliances have the right rating before you plug them into outlets. Always extinguish candles after usage and carefully watch the stove when cooking.

5. Slippery bathroom surfaces

The bathroom is often ranked as the most dangerous room in the home. Wet, slippery surfaces often lead to falls – and result in anything from embarrassment to a fractured hip.

“Bathtubs, especially, are an area where you can fall and hit your head,” notes Kerns. “A lot of people get pretty severely injured in the bathroom, particularly when they’re older.”

As we get older, bathroom safety gets more pertinent, so it’s a great idea to install things like grab bars or a walk-in tub for ease of use as you age. Be sure to wipe down any wet surfaces, and place bath mats by the sink and tub to prevent bathroom falls.

Keep tabs on your home

Taking the time to slow down and keep your home safe is essential for any homeowner. Give your home a monthly, semiannual and annual checkup to keep it in tip-top condition for years to come.

“Given how busy our lives are, and all the different things we have to keep track of in our digital environments, it’s harder and harder to keep some of the physical maintenance issues top of mind. I think a lot of people tend to let things go until there’s a problem,” says Kerns. “Don’t leave it up to your memory. Have a good, reliable organizational system that keeps you up to date.”

Related:

  • 12 Security Tips for Living Alone Safely
  • Suds and Duds: Laundry Room Maintenance 101
  • 7 Safety Upgrades and Tech Tools for Seniors Living Alone

Originally published May 2017.

12 Tasks to Tackle This Fall

The days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting cooler. The kids are trudging off to school again with their backpacks, and leaves are falling from the trees.

Yep, it’s official: Fall is here. Now’s the time to finish up any pre-winter maintenance projects and get your home and yard ready.

Take care of these 12 tasks to get your home clean, warm and cozy for the cool days to come.

Exterior prep

1. Fix cracks in concrete and asphalt

Depending on where you live, these may be the last weeks this year when it will be warm and sunny enough to repair driveway and sidewalk cracks.

2. Clean out the gutters

No one loves this job, but we all need to do it annually. A few hours of work can prevent big problems later on.

While you’re up on that ladder, visually inspect your roof for damaged shingles, flashing or vents. You can also inspect the chimney for any missing mortar and repair it by tuck-pointing, if needed.

3. Turn off outdoor plumbing

Drain outdoor faucets and sprinkler systems, and cover them to protect them from the freezing weather to come.

4. Start composting

If you don’t already have compost bins, now’s the time to make or get some. All those accumulated autumn leaves will bring you gardening gold next summer!

5. Clean outdoor furniture and gardening tools

It may not yet be time to put them away, but go ahead and clean your outdoor furniture and gardening tools so they’re ready for storage over the winter.

6. Plant bulbs for spring-blooming flowers

Plant bulbs in October, as soon as the soil has cooled down, to reap big rewards next spring. If you’ve never planted bulbs before, select a spot in your yard that gets full sun during the day.

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Interior prep

7. Prepare your furnace for winter duty

If you didn’t already do it last spring, consider getting your furnace professionally serviced in time for the cold season. At a minimum, visually inspect your furnace and replace the furnace filter before you start using it on a daily basis.

8. Clean the fireplace and chimney

Clean out the fireplace, inspect the flue, and ensure the doors and shields are sound. Have the chimney professionally swept if needed. Now’s also the time to stock up on firewood!

9. Keep the warm air inside and the cold air outside

Inspect your windows and doors. Check weatherstripping by opening a door, placing a piece of paper in the entryway and closing the door. The paper should not slide back and forth easily. If it does, the weatherstripping isn’t doing its job.

Also, now’s the time to re-caulk around windows and door casings, if needed.

10. Light the way

Bring as much light into your home as you can for the colder, darker months. To accentuate natural light, clean your windows and blinds, especially in rooms that get a lot of sunlight.

Add lighting to darker spaces with new lamps. And consider replacing traditional incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs.

11. Create a mudroom

Even if you don’t have a dedicated mudroom in your home, now’s a good time to think about organizing and stocking an entryway that will serve as a “mudroom” area for cold and wet weather.

Put down an indoor-outdoor rug to protect the floor. A fun and rewarding weekend project is to build a wooden shoe rack, coat rack or storage bench for your entryway.

12. Home safety check

Replace the batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide monitors. A good way to remember to do this is to always replace the batteries when you change the clock for daylight saving time.

Create a family fire escape plan, or review the one you already have. Put together an emergency preparedness kit so you’re ready for any winter power outages.

Once you finish with your autumn home checklist, you can enjoy the season in your warm, comfortable home.

Related:

  • This Checklist Is the Key to Taking Care of Your Home (Without the Stress)
  • 4 Ways to Cozy Up Your Kitchen for Fall
  • 9 Updates Your Home Needs Every 10 Years

Originally published September 2016.

Getting Your Home Ready for Trick-or-Treaters

As we settle into fall, many of us start looking forward to Halloween. It’s a holiday adults can enjoy as much as kids. But, homeowners do have one serious obligation on this fun night: If you expect trick-or-treaters, you must make sure the path to your door is a safe one.

Take no trips

Inevitably, some giddy ghosts and ghouls will race excitedly to your door. Be prepared.

In the full light of day, inspect your lawn, driveway and front path for trip hazards like exposed tree roots, cracks in concrete or missing pavers. Make repairs where possible, or, at the very least, cut off access to unsafe areas.

Meanwhile, if you’ve decorated the front yard with decorations like light-up pumpkins and animated figures, keep electrical cords away from your walkways.

Light the way

Make sure the path to your house is bright enough for trick-or-treaters to approach safely.

You don’t need to install a full suite of year-round landscape lighting simply to accommodate visitors on Halloween night. There are plenty of temporary and affordable options for illumination, from glow sticks to tea lights.

And although it may seem more in keeping with the mood of this spooky night to switch off your porch light, it’s much safer – not to mention more inviting – to keep it on.

Resist flammable decor

Whether vandals or accidents are to blame, there are many more fires on Halloween than a typical October night, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Holiday decorations are often quite flammable, involving materials such as paper, hay and dried cornstalks.

If you can’t resist adorning your home and yard with such potentially dangerous items, then be sure to keep them away from candles and other heat sources. If jack-o’-lanterns or luminaries figure into your celebrations, illuminate them using LED tea lights, not open flames.

Curb your dog

Chances are yours is a friendly dog. But if some Halloween costumes are convincing enough to frighten small children, those same get-ups could be equally disturbing to your pooch – particularly on such a high-energy night.

It’s good sense to contain your dog in an indoor space that’s comfortable and secure.

A festive parade of goblins and ghouls, princesses and superheroes will soon be marching to your house. Do your part by clearing the path and lighting the way. Be safe out there, and have a happy Halloween!

Related:

  • Sharpen Your Pumpkin Carving Skills With a Pro
  • How to Plan a Celeb-Worthy Halloween Party
  • Enter If You Dare: Inside a Real-Life Haunted House

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Originally published October 2014.

Buying Your First Home? Plan for These Hidden Costs

You’re excited because you just found the perfect home. The neighborhood is great, the house is charming and the price is right.

But if you’re a first-time home buyer, you might find out that the price is pretty far from perfect.

If you’re shopping for your first home, prepare for additional – and often unexpected – home-buying costs. They catch many home buyers unaware and can quickly leave you underwater on your new home.

Expect the unexpected

For almost every person who buys a home, the spending doesn’t stop with the down payment. Homeowners insurance and closing costs, like appraisal and lender fees, are typically easy to plan for because they’re lumped into the home-buying process, but most costs beyond those vary.

The previous owners of your home are the biggest factor affecting your move-in costs. If they take the refrigerator when they move out, you’ll have to buy one to replace it. The same goes for any large appliance.

And while these may seem like a small purchase compared to buying a home, appliances quickly add up – especially if you just spent most of your cash on a down payment.

You’ll also be on the hook for any immediate improvements the home needs, unless you negotiate them as part of your home purchase agreement.

Unfortunately, these costs are the least hidden of those you may encounter.

When purchasing a home, definitely hire a home inspector (this costs money too!) to ensure the home isn’t going to collapse the next time it rains. Inspectors look for bad electrical wiring, weak foundations, wood rot and other hidden problems you may not find on your own.

Worse still, these problems are rarely covered by home insurance. If an inspector discovers a serious problem, you’ll then have to decide if you still want to purchase the home. Either way, you’ll be out the cost of hiring the inspector.

Consider the creature comforts

Another cost is your own comfort. There are a number of smaller considerations you may not think about until after you move in.

Are you used to having cable? If so, is your new home wired for cable? It’s much harder to watch a technician crawling around punching holes in your walls when you own those walls.

And if you’re moving from the world of renting to the world of homeownership, you’ll probably be faced with much higher utility bills. Further, you could find yourself paying for utilities once covered by a landlord, like water and garbage pickup.

Plan ahead

The best way to prepare for the unknown and unexpected is through research and planning. This starts with budgeting before house hunting and throughout your search.

Look at homes in your budget that need improvements, and then research how much those improvements could cost. Nothing is worse than buying a home thinking you can fix the yard for a few hundred dollars and then realizing it will cost thousands.

There’s really no limit to how prepared you can be. Say you find a nice home that’s priced lower than others in the area because of its age. You may save money on the list price, but with an older house, you could be slapped with a much higher home insurance payment, making the house more expensive in the long run.

This is where preparation comes in. Research home insurance and property prices in the areas you’re considering to make more educated decisions before you ever make that first offer.

Clearly define how much you intend to put toward your down payment, and then look at how much cash that leaves for improvements and minor costs, like changing the locks. That way, when you find a house at the high end of your range, you’ll know to walk away if it requires a new washer and dryer or HVAC system upgrade.

Establish a rough estimate for as many costs as you can think of, and be extremely critical of homes at the top of your budget – otherwise, you could easily end up being house-poor.

Know your budget and plan ahead. Buying a home is a lot less scary when you know what you’re getting into.

Top featured photo from Offset.

Related:

  • Insurance FAQs for First-Time Home Buyers
  • The Huge Risk Home Buyers Take When They Waive Inspections
  • 3 Weird Things You Can Ignore When Home Shopping

Originally published August 2016.

This Sky-High Water Tower Doubles as a Rustic Beach Retreat

In the 1940s, this Huntington Beach water tower – which stands at around 100 feet tall – serviced the local trains that came through town, connecting the inner city to the beach. Today, it’s a 3,500-square-foot high-rise with unmatched views of the Pacific Ocean, downtown Los Angeles and Catalina Island.

The historic and beloved water tower has long been a fixture of the Huntington coastline, but it was nearly torn down in the 1980s – until the local community pulled together and demanded it be saved.

“There was a huge community outcry to keep it,” said Scott Ostlund, the owner of the water tower home. “People were selling quilts and having meetings on ‘Save Our Water Tower.'”

Luckily, the tower was spared, and a local professor decided to turn it into a home in 1986. And in 2017, Ostlund purchased it and did extensive renovations, which were sorely needed.

“There was literally dust dropping from the termites in the ceiling, so it needed a lot of work. We went through and restored it after the buy,” Ostlund said.

A crew of 70 worked round-the-clock for three months to update the features and bring the water tower back to its former glory. The hard work and renovations paid off, and the one-of-a-kind-home will remain a neighborhood institution for years to come. Though the outside of the home still looks like the traditional structure of a water tower, the inside is cozy and rustic with 4 bedrooms and 3.5 baths.

Sprinkled throughout the home are artifacts of its past life of servicing trains, such as the barrels and burlap sacks decorating the first-floor bathroom as a nod to how trains carried cargo back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A tiny train track also hangs on the ceiling of one of the home’s lounge areas, giving the house a feeling of nostalgia and a sense of its history.

Beyond the historic details, the water tower’s living spaces are impressive: A lounge area boasts sweeping, panoramic views of the ocean…

…and the spacious kitchen features fire-engine red cabinets, open shelving, subway tiles and floor-to-ceiling farmhouse paneling.

The sizable bedrooms upstairs have multiple windows that pop open, offering enviable and unobstructed views of the ocean right from the comfort of a bed.

The water tower’s best feature, however, is its wraparound deck that’s perfect for sunset views, catching a good ocean breeze and soaking in the hot tub, which is conveniently located next to a built-in wine fridge and wet bar.

The novelty of a water tower-turned-home isn’t lost on Ostlund, who knows how unique it is to the area as well as the whole country.

“The value in the water tower is the permanence to build a house on the beach 100 feet in the air.  You look out over every other house in Southern California. There is no house that’s this tall in the country,” he said.

11 Fall Maintenance Tasks to Do This Weekend

By Shannon Ireland

The scent of pumpkin spice has begun to fill the air, sweaters are moving toward the front of the closet, and leaves are changing from their summer green to the vibrant hues of fall.

But before you cozy up with a fleece blanket and a cup of tea, take the time to tackle a few home maintenance projects.

Why is seasonal maintenance important?

The answer is simple: Seasonal maintenance can help keep your home looking and functioning properly, and save you money because you’ll catch problems before they get out of hand.

Plus you’ll get the added bonus of sleeping easier at night knowing you’ve taken all necessary precautions.

‘Tis the season to …

1. Rake it in

Few things are more beautiful than a yard speckled with crimson, gold and tangerine-colored leaves. But failing to dispose of them can kill your grass and inhibit growth in the spring months.

Grab your rake and enjoy the crisp temperatures of the season. You can always treat yourself to a pumpkin treat when the raking is done.

2. Clean the gutters

Speaking of leaves, when they clog your gutters, rainwater can’t flow through and will eventually spill over. So what, right? This overflow can damage your home’s siding, roof and foundation.

It’s better to remove the leaves from your gutters than to chance the buildup turning into a costly problem.

3. Check the roof

While we’re on the subject of the roof, fall is a great time to check that all shingles are in place and in good shape before winter snowstorms pop up on your radar.

4. Conduct a walking inspection

Take a walk around the exterior of your home, keeping an eye open for damage along the pathways leading to your doors. Cracks could mean loose cement or gravel, increasing the likelihood that someone could trip or slip and fall.

To ensure the safety of visitors, seal any cracks you see. Be sure to inspect the siding and foundation while you’re at it, and tackle any repairs as soon as possible.

5. Cracks and gaps can cause problems indoors too

When you shut doors and windows, make sure there aren’t any spaces allowing air to escape. If there are, seal them.

You may not think much of these little gaps right now, but you will when you open your heating bill and see how much you’re paying to keep the whole neighborhood warm, or when you find out that a mouse has made your cabinet his home for the winter.

6. Store summer staples

Patio furniture is susceptible to damage from winter weather. Since you probably won’t spend as much time outside – except for roasting marshmallows over the fire pit – move outdoor furniture, trampolines and other summer staples into storage.

7. Make it a clean sweep

Schedule a time to have your chimney and heating system cleaned and maintained, including swapping old filters for new ones. It’s important that everything is in good working condition to decrease the likelihood of house fires.

8. Pipe down

Shut off the water supply to exterior faucets and insulate your pipes before the weather dips below 32 degrees. This will help prevent pipes from freezing, bursting and flooding your home.

9. Take time to vent

Your dryer vent, that is. Cooler weather means more static electricity, which means lint buildup in your dryer can ignite more easily. Clean your dryer vent to help prevent this problem and keep it working more efficiently.

10. Testing … 1, 2, 3

Test safety devices, such as smoke alarms, and check the expiration date on your fire extinguisher. In case a fire ignites, it’s important to know that you and your family will be alerted and able to get out of the house quickly and safely, or able to extinguish smaller fires before significant damage is done.

11. Check your home insurance coverage

Can your insurance weather the storm? The final item on your fall home maintenance checklist should always be to call your insurance agent. Arrange a time to walk through your coverage to ensure your home will be protected, no matter what situation may arise.

Related:

  • Why Halloween Scares Insurance Providers (and Should Scare You)
  • Insurance 101: Review Your Insurance Policy at Renewal
  • 12 Tips for a Safer, More Organized Home

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Originally published October 2016.