Andy Wojtowski

Podcast: Fall Maintenance for Minnesota Homeowners

Reuben and Tessa talk about several of the required fall maintenance chores that Minnesota homeowners need to take care of. Bill laments about how difficult it is to be a homeowner, and how he’d rather be watching football ;-).


The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.

Voice 1: It takes a lot of work to maintain a home. Well worth it, of course, but how do you remember what needs to be done? A home maintenance checklist just might help you keep organised.

Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everybody, you’re listening to Structure Talk. Well, fall is in the air, which means it’s time to do a whole bunch of maintenance on your house, which doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to me, but we thought we’d go through a list of all these really important things that should be looked at this time of the year. We’re gonna spend the next few minutes with my co-host, Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman, getting to the bottom of your home maintenance fall checklist. So, Tessa, let’s go with you. What is your top items that must be taken care of each fall?

Tessa Murry: Gosh, there’s a lot of things. And actually, Reuben wrote a blog on this. [chuckle] We say that every single time. Check out our website and check out his blog, it’s great. It kinda highlights all the main things to take care of. But we’ll talk about water, things to do with water, things to do with air, things to do with your roof, exterior, mechanical systems, all of that. Starting off, Reuben, do you wanna talk about water-related things?

Reuben Saltzman: Being in Minnesota, water is probably the biggest one. Make sure that you don’t have water freeze. Any water in your pipes…

TM: Water will freeze outside of your house.

RS: Yeah, we’re gonna let that go.


RS: We’re gonna let that water freeze, but related to your house, number one, I’m thinking about your outside hose bibs, your lawn faucets.

TM: Hose bibs, for the normal listener, what does that mean, Reuben? [chuckle]

RS: Sillcock. No, just kidding.


RS: We call that an outdoor faucet.

TM: That’s an outdated term, I feel like.

RS: It’s an outdated term.

TM: Outside faucet, okay.

RS: So the way to winterise those is you go down in your basement, you shut off the water at your shut-off valve, you go to the outside, you open up the outside faucet, and then you go back inside. And typically, on your shut off valve in the basement, you’re gonna have a little bleeder, a little cap that you unscrew, and depending on which way the pipe pitches, either water is gonna go out of that hole and you drain it into a bucket, or air is going to enter into the hole, and it’s gonna drain water out of the faucet at the outdoors. So that’s like A1. Make sure that you drain the water out to your faucets.

TM: Do you think that those little styrofoam caps that you see people put on the outside of their faucets really do anything, Reuben?

RS: I think they’re better than nothing. The whole idea there is that you have such a poorly insulated rim area that you have so much heat escaping through your wall that it’s gonna keep your faucet from freezing. And I’ve heard from people who swear by ’em who say they’ve had good luck with it. Personally, I don’t like ’em. I would never rely on that thing. If I didn’t have an accessible shut-off valve in my basement, I’d probably wanna have a plumber add one. And you’ll hear from people say, “Well, I’ve never winterised my faucet, I’ve never had a problem.” Wonderful, good for you. I’m not gonna rely on that to not have a freezing faucet. But, yeah.

TM: Just wait till they insulate their rim joist, and then they will.

RS: Exactly, exactly, that’s when people have a problem is you insulate your rim joist. So, do that even if you have frost-free faucets. It doesn’t mean you’re off the hook, you still have maintenance to do. Go out there and disconnect your garden hose, because a frost-free faucet is gonna do nothing if you still have your hose attached. And then, if you have a utility sink in your garage, be sure to drain the water out of the trap and be sure to winterise those water lines.

BO: I had to call the plumber to have my frost-free faucet replaced a couple of springs ago because I had forgot to disconnect my hose, that just happened to have the squirter thing on the end. And I thought, “Well, maybe I can get away with this.” And whenever they re-did the plumbing in my house, they didn’t provide a shut-off valve to the exterior faucet. It was frost-free and I forgot. $350 later, I believe I learned my lesson, and I got an interior shut-off valve now. So, this stuff is real.

RS: Well, that sucks.

BO: I walked past it and I knew I was in trouble because the little plastic thing that’s on top of the sillcock was all broke in pieces. So, it happens.

RS: Oh, Bill, I’m sorry. But the last one for water is gonna be, if you have a lawn sprinkler system, technically called an irrigation system, if you’ve got one of those, hire somebody to come and blow it out. And Bill, you were just telling me like 85 bucks [04:22] ____ pay somebody regularly.

BO: 85 bucks and 15 minutes later, thank you very much, I have nothing to worry about.

RS: Yeah, and if you don’t blow it out in the fall, it’s gonna leak like crazy in the spring. That’s a really important part of having a sprinkler system.

TM: You water your lawn?

BO: Yes.

TM: In the sustainable urban core?

BO: Absolutely. Not often, because you water infrequently and deeply, but you still need to make sure your grass is maintained.

TM: Okay. Alright.

RS: Bill, the enigma. Okay Tessa?


BO: Your shrubs, your flowers, things of this nature, they need to be given water.

RS: We love you, Bill, we love you. Alright, that’s all I have for water. Tessa, I know your favorite part is air. You’re all about energy in the home.

TM: Airflow is very important, especially when it has to do with your mechanical system. Most houses have something called combustion air intake. It’s this 6-inch flexible duct that just brings air from the outside into your, usually, into your utility room in your basement. And it’s just a passive duct that allows that fresh air to come in so that your furnace, water heater, boiler, whatever combustion plants [05:26] ____ that you have can work properly. On the exterior of your house, you need to check that intake and make sure that it stays clean. Usually, there’s a metal cover, metal hood, and if you look underneath, there’ll be this mesh screen. And a lot of times, it gets completely clogged up with cotton wood and other things. And so if that’s clogged, you don’t have proper airflow coming in and proper combustion air coming in.

TM: So, check that, definitely check that in the fall and maybe a couple of other times a year. And with that, too, if you have an air-to-air exchanger at your house, this would be newer houses or houses that have added that system. Usually, people call it an HRV or an ERV system. There’s also intakes and exhausts on those. And so, if you’ve got that system, check the intake and it usually looks the same thing, it’s just similar to a combustion air intake as well. So check that screen, make sure it’s clean so that that air-to-air exchanger can work properly. And with those systems, too, there’s other maintenance you need to do, checking the filters on the inside of the HRV and ERV system and cleaning the core regularly, too. And usually, when you open up the cover on those systems, the manufacturer will have the instructions on how to clean them and how to maintain them. So I’d say just open up your own HRV, ERV, and see what it says. But it’ll tell you to wash the filters, wash the core, maybe once a year, check the filters regularly, clean those as needed.

BO: It seems like the most neglected mechanical…

TM: Oh, it is.

BO: Piece of mechanical equipment in any house.

TM: The only time I’ve seen…

BO: Nobody knows they open.

TM: No, no one knows they open. And usually, the only clean ones I see are ones that have been off and never turned on, or ones that, yeah, people don’t use, or they’re broken. People don’t maintain them. They need attention. And then two other things related to air, check your dryer duct, check where that lint comes out because a lot of times, those just get caked with lint and the damper won’t close properly and that’s when you get air intrusion and pest intrusion, so clean that off. It’s also a fire hazard. If you have a screen on it, remove the screen. You know what? This is an inspection fail. Tell you a short story…

RS: Oh, I know the story.


TM: You know which one I’m talking about. I was doing an inspection for a very involved buyer, and she was following me every step of the way, really into it. And we were on the exterior, and I noticed that the dryer vent terminal had a screen on the end of it on the outside, and it was completely stuffed with lint. Like stuffed where it was just… The lint was coming out of the screen, pushing out. I’m sure that damper wasn’t opening; I’m sure the clothes weren’t drying properly. And I pointed that out the buyer and I said, “The screen needs to be removed; that’s a fire hazard.” The next thing I know, I turn around for a second. She has climbed up my ladder and has taken off the screen on that dryer vent cover.

BO: Oh, it was on the roof?

TM: No, it was kind of high up on the exterior wall. And I was like… [chuckle] Well, it was too late, I was just gonna let her do it. It’s not hurting anything; if anything, it’s helping ’em. They’re gonna be happy when their dryer actually works. But little did I know, that transaction, I guess they decided not to move forward with buying that house for some reason, and the sellers were not happy about it. And they contacted our company and complained about how we removed the pest screen from one of their vent terminals, and how that was a big issue, [chuckle] right.

RS: They were mad.

TM: They were very angry about the removal of that screen, and it was not a “Thank you for reducing the fire hazard and improving the functioning of our dryer,” it was a “We’re really really angry at you for doing that.” So yeah, check your dryer exhaust and make sure you don’t have a screen on them.

BO: I’m gonna make you take a break. We’re gonna step away for a minute, and when we come back…

TM: But there’s only one more. This is all from Reuben’s blog. But, you know what? This is why I own a condo and I don’t actually own a home, so I don’t have to do all these things. [chuckle]

BO: I like it. Home ownership’s no joke. Everybody thinks that they wanna own a home, and I used to always just welcome people to the misery of a lot of work.

TM: Yeah.

BO: And say, “Are you sure you want to sign up for this?” Your Fantasy Football and enjoying every Sunday in the fall to watch your teams and take in all the games, that gets shelved in favor of doing this, doing that.

TM: Yeah, totally.

BO: Anyway Tess, sorry, I digressed.

TM: Well, this is the last thing on the list talking about air. If you have bath fan vents or kitchen vents that vent out through the roof or through the side of the wall, just check the dampers on those, too, because sometimes bees like to build nests inside there, and that can keep the damper from opening properly and keep them from functioning the way that they should.

RS: The next topic will be the furnace and the air conditioner. I got some great news on the air conditioner.

BO: What’s that?

RS: You really don’t need to do anything; You’re good to go.

BO: Wait. You don’t put the pretty little cover on and put the bungee cords around it…

RS: No, no, you don’t need to do any of that.

BO: And then put a piece of wood on top of that just to make sure that…

RS: No. If you want to, if you’ve got a bunch of leaves, a bunch of pine needles or whatever that are gonna fall down and get inside the AC, yeah, God bless. Go ahead and get a piece of plywood and set it on top of your AC unit, maybe even put a big rock on top so it doesn’t blow away, but that’s all you gotta do, that’s it. If the manufacturers actually designed their units to where it wouldn’t withstand winter, don’t you think they’d tell you you need to put a cover?

TM: Yeah.

RS: Of course they would. You don’t need to do anything. If you do decide to put a cover on, fine, but just get the little cover, the one that comes down a few inches. Because if you get the one that comes all the way down to the bottom and you totally wrap it, you can actually trap moisture in those things, and it can create a great place for animals and pests to create a home. So no, put a piece of plywood on top, if anything.

BO: I love when people do that and nothing else.


RS: Any other maintenance.

TM: Disconnected downspouts, but they have their AC all wrapped up nicely.

RS: Yes.

BO: Good try; go back the manual.

RS: Yeah, start over. So that’s for AC, you don’t really need to do much. Now, for your furnace or your boiler, it is a good idea…

BO: Boilers, too?

RS: Boilers, too, yes. If you have a fuel-fired heating appliance, it’s a good idea to have annual maintenance done. And we would need another 20 minutes to get into that, that’s a whole different topic, but I wrote a blog post covering that. Are annual furnace inspections really necessary? It was a topic there. And yeah, there’s a lot of good reasons to have this done. This is not just some scam by HVAC contractors to get into your home to recommend further service. That’s what a lot of people believe, but that’s not true. There is a lot of value in having this done.

BO: So Reuben, what’s the single most important reason to actually get these annual inspections done on your furnace? ‘Cause if you’ve got a warranty and your furnace goes down and the HVAC company comes out, your warranty might not be in place, so do it.

RS: Excellent point, Bill. And then the one thing to always do with your furnace every fall and probably every three months or so, change your furnace filter…

TM: Check your filter. Check your filter.

RS: Oh my goodness. That’s the number one thing that homeowners don’t do. And this isn’t about having clean air, that’s not why you change your furnace filter. You do it so you don’t destroy your furnace.

TM: Gosh, we have some great epic photos of bad furnace filters on our website, don’t we?

RS: Oh my gosh, yeah. We should have a blog post just dedicated to the worst furnace filters we’ve ever found.

TM: Yeah, oh man. And if… And sometimes, dirty filters can actually cause your furnace to short cycle and to not work properly and to shut down.

BO: Yeah. Okay, back up short cycle. You’re talking inspector geeks.

RS: Alright, no, we don’t have time.

TM: That’ll be another podcast.

RS: We’re not even half way through our list man.

BO: It just means your furnaces aren’t running right.

TM: Yeah.

RS: Thank you Bill. Alright. So that’s all I got for the heat… Wait, no, last one, I gotta tell people this, change the batteries in your thermostat. If your batteries run low and you decide to go out of town for a week and it doesn’t have enough juice to kick on your furnace or your boiler, you might come home from vacation to a winter wonderland so, be sure to change the batteries in your thermostat.

TM: If it’s not hard to do.

RS: It’s really important.

BO: Because double AA batteries, and triple AAAs or whatever AAs are in that thing, you could shut your furnace down?

RS: Absolutely, yes. I’ve had that happen to me personally, I’ve had it happen to family members where we just came home and it was really cold. Thankfully, things hadn’t frozen.

TM: Oh my gosh.

RS: And not all thermostats have batteries but a lot of them do. Alright, so sorry I had to bring up that last thing. Alright, Tessa, we’re back to you. The roof.

TM: Yeah, roof. So you say rough, I say roof.

RS: Rough.


TM: I don’t know if there’s a right way.

RS: I thought I said roof.

TM: We’re building inspectors, not English majors.

RS: I don’t know how to pronounce words.

TM: I don’t either. But okay, and the soffit, the part of the roof that overhangs, if you look up, there’ll be these vents usually. And they can look different, usually they’re rectangular-shaped or they can be continuous perforated soffit vents. Whatever they are, you should clean those because they also get clogged and you wanna have good airflow through the attic to help keep that attic cool, to help reduce potential for ice dams, and so clean these soffit vents. And also, if you’ve got static roof vents, the ones that look like a box, sometimes the design on those is such that birds can build nests in them. So just take a look, usually you can look from the ground, if you see straw hanging out of that square roof vent, along the peak of your house somewhere, get up there and clean that out. Again, it impedes airflow through the attic and reduces the amount of ventilation. One of the most important things we talk about is water management, right, you guys? So a big part of that is if you’ve got gutters, you got a gutter system and downspouts, making sure that those gutters stay clean, and so if you got a lot of trees in your yard, that’s something you definitely wanna make sure that you do.

RS: So important, so important.

TM: Yeah. Can we expect a blog from you, Reuben, about different options for gutter guards?

RS: Tessa, by the time this podcast airs, there will already be a blog post on gutter guards.

TM: Magical.

RS: Head to our website and read all about gutter guards.

TM: So that’s what you’re doing over there. You’re typing up the blog post while we were talking about other things.

RS: That’s exactly right. I’m not paying any attention to you guys. I’m just in my own world.

BO: So, I’m sitting here wondering, Tessa, you’re advocating people to climb up on their roof and check out their roof vents. That’s home owner of the year award-winning material.

TM: If it’s safe, I would…

RS: If it’s safe.

TM: If it’s safe, you can go ahead and do that, but that’s up to every individual homeowner. The same thing with gutters, if your gutters are three stories up and you’re not comfortable, hire someone to do it.

BO: Well, isn’t it the most dangerous job in America according to some commercials?

RS: Is that it?

TM: No.

BO: There’s actually one. [laughter]

RS: Wow.

BO: I’m surprised you haven’t run into that in your research.

TM: Yeah, and then the last thing with roofs, if you’ve got downspouts or if you’ve got a drained house with some of the sump pump that has an extension out into the yard that dumps into an underground drain, make sure that that’s disconnected, and so that that water doesn’t back up and freeze and damage the downspouts or damage the sump pump.

BO: Alright, Reuben, we’re back. Let’s wrap this up. I’ve got things to do.

RS: I know, I’m sorry, Bill. I’ll tell you, Tessa was just talking about the importance of if you got one of those corrugated things in your sump pump discharge, don’t leave it attached during the winter.

TM: Thank you for saying that. I don’t think I got into the detail. I saw Bill’s face and I was trying to get through that one fast. [laughter]

RS: Bill’s getting really annoyed. Bill doesn’t like owning a house, it’s clear.

BO: No, I mean, let’s go on vacation, let’s enjoy life. Life should be experienced, not spent toiling over these four walls and a roof.

RS: I know, I know, it’s just horrible. I’ll tell you, I had one of those corrugated things, the first year I had moved into my last house, and I come downstairs in the basement and I hear this humming noise, and it kept bugging me, and I’m like, “What is that?” And I finally, I went to check it out, it’s my sump pump running in the dead of winter, and it’s trying to pump water out of the sump basket, but I had that corrugated thing at the outside of my house, it’s completely filled with ice, the water is going nowhere. And so, I probably took five years off the life of my sump pump. I think I told that story or something about it.

TM: Yeah. Luckily you didn’t burn it out, though, did you?

RS: I didn’t, but I did have to replace it a couple of years later.

TM: Not in time for you… Before you moved? Okay.

RS: Yeah, so, important thing to do. Alright, next topic was fire places. It’s a good idea, if you have a wood-burning fireplace, to have that inspected somewhat regularly. A good rule of thumb might be every 30 to 50 fires, get somebody out there to inspect it and make sure it’s safe…

BO: They do it on the fire level, not necessarily time.

RS: Exactly.

BO: That’s interesting, that’s interesting.

RS: Exactly. Yeah, that’s what’ll make a big difference. And then if you have a gas insert, clean the dust out of the bottom of it, and yeah, that’s about it. There’s not a whole lot else for fire places other than professional inspections.

BO: The gas ones can be tricky sometimes, because if you just let them sit there all summer long, insects will get in there and they’ll build nests or spider webs. And so, I got on this yearly maintenance program with Fireside Hearth and Home. I’d be happy to talk about it. They come out to my house in the middle of the summer, they clean the gas fireplaces inside out, make it look all great, they turn on the pilots and tell me very sternly, “Do not turn these off until you start using them regularly in the winter.”

TM: Makes sense. Okay, Bill, you’ll be happy to know, this is the last item.

BO: Perfect.

TM: Just general exterior stuff to take a look at. Take a walk around the outside of your house, and look for any gaps or holes around penetrations that go through the wall. If you’ve got an AC unit, all the refrigerant lines, make sure that there aren’t any gaps around those. Because that’s how mice get into your house.

BO: Mouse highway.

TM: Oh for sure. Mouse highway.

BO: Soft and spongy and sticky, and they can… And there’s always a nice big hole. If there’s a gap by those things, it’s big, because whatever inch and a half, going through your house.

TM: Yep, so look around any penetrations. Make sure that you cock or seal around all of those. Any cocking that’s dried up or split, you wanna make sure that you seal that back up again. And if you’ve got weather stripping around doors and windows that’s damaged or lose or coming off, you can always redo the weather stripping, too. And that’ll help reduce air leakage and save you money, too.

BO: That’s awesome. Alright, thank you for this great to-do list. I’m tired already thinking about it.

TM: Me too, me too. I’m gonna go home to my condo and just relax.

BO: Alright, excellent.

RS: I got a lot of work to do.


BO: Thanks, everybody, for listening. We’ll catch you next time. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, brought to you by Structure Tech, the most highly-rated home inspection company in the Midwest.

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