Five home-maintenance jobs to tackle in Autumn

Living Well | Blanche Clark | Posted on 08 April 2020

Get your place ready for winter with Walt Collins’ maintenance tips.

With more time confined at home, TV presenter and carpenter Walt Collins says he’s planning to prepare for winter.

As the co-host of Channel 10’s Healthy Homes Australia and house and land series Buy to Build, Walt also knows there are important but often neglected home-maintenance jobs that people should consider at this time of year. With this in mind, he highlights five jobs to tackle in Autumn that will save you time and money in the long run.

Walt Collins
Walt Collins cleaning barbecue
Walt Collins

Five easy home maintenance projects to tackle in Autumn

Prepare your barbecue for winter hibernation 

We love our barbecues in summer, but come winter many people tend to cover up the barbecue and wait until spring to clean it. I have an annual ritual of cleaning my barbecue every Easter weekend. It’s not fun exactly, but it can prolong its life and efficiency.

The first step is to remove the gas bottle and store it safely. I like to carefully insert a big blob of Blu Tack into the outlet of the gas bottle. This stops dust and bugs calling it home. When you remove the Blu Tack in spring, any debris left inside is removed with the adhesive. I also use a strip of electrician’s tape to protect the regulator nozzle. 

The next step is to remove the burned-on carbon, grease, food debris and old marinade, which can become corrosive during the damp, cold winter months. Some people soak the grill and cooling racks in caustic chemicals. I prefer to use an environmentally friendly method that still kills bacteria – a quality steam cleaner. Clean the nooks and cracks of the grills with the correct brush tool. This will bring the metal surfaces back to life. Clean around the control dial and inside the lid. You’ll have it gleaming in under an hour. Imagine how good you’ll feel when you remove the cover on the first day of spring. 

Tradie’s tip: Spray hot steam over each area before using the scrubbing tool on the steamer. This will give the burned-on gunk time to break down and it will be easier to get off.

Watch out for: Try to avoid excess water and steam in and around the burners. With some brands, the metal isn’t designed to get wet and can rust over winter. Make sure your gas bottle is turned off tightly and stored safely. I store mine in the cupboard area of the barbecue.

Check your decks and balconies to prevent disaster

It’s important to do a full check of your decking or balcony at the end of summer. In the past few years, balcony and decking collapses have resulted in a number of injuries and even deaths. Carefully examine the support beams, posts and decking for any damage. Timber dries, cracks, moves, expands, shrinks and all the stuff in between. Over a season, fixings (bolts, nails, screws or plates) can loosen and supports can crack, putting you and your family at risk. 

Start at the bottom and look for cracks, mould, rot or excess discolouration around the concrete foundations. Follow the timber legs up, running your eye and hands up the timber. Feel for any movement and look for cracks or bends and check the fixings attached to the actual balcony. Give it all a firm shake. In most cases, the balcony or deck (if raised) will be fixed to the side of the house, often by what’s called a waling plate, which is a long piece of timber that’s bolted to your house. Again, check for cracks, rot, movement, and rusty or aged fixings. 

Next check the joists – the long, wide timbers turned on their edges which the decking boards sit on. Check for cracks, rot, dampness and bends. Make sure it’s rock solid. Often water runs down the house and on to your joists and over time this can cause hidden rot. 

Finally check the decking boards, balustrades and handrails for movement, rotting and ageing timbers. 

If you spot any damage or if you’re concerned, contact a qualified professional such as a registered builder or experienced carpenter, to visit and do a thorough strength check. Don’t rely on a handyman for this one.

Tradie’s tip: Use a spirit level on the key areas to see if anything has moved out of plumb or is not vertical.

Watch out for: Be careful if you need to use a ladder to do these checks. Get somebody to support the base of the ladder. Also watch out for spiders.

Seal your timbers.

I know, I know, it’s the least-loved job! It’s up there with cleaning the gutters. But it’s important to make sure exterior, exposed timbers are sealed and ready to weather the harsh Victorian winter. This includes decks, balustrades, furniture, window and door frames. Strictly speaking, your timber decks should be oiled or stained twice a year. 

Your options for decks, timber window and doors include:

  • Oiling, which uses tannin pigments to soak into the timber fibres.
  • Staining which is effectively a runny stain that soaks into the timber
  • Painting, which completely coats and seals the wood. 

Most hardware stores sell decking paint. It’s UV resistant and comes in a range of colours.

It isn’t the choice of product that will determine the quality of the finish; it’s the prep work. You also need to pick a run of dry, sunny days to do it in (good luck with that.) If the timber has been previously stained and has faded, generally you can get away without sanding the timber back. There is a product that lifts out old tannin and brings the wood back to glory, which is painted on with a broom and hosed off, without being an acid wash. 

Otherwise, hire a sander or use your own to sand the old stuff off. Depending on the product, you will need to do two or even three coats of stain, oil or paint. Check the manufacturer’s instructions on the tins. Take your time. Make sure the timber is dry after cleaning and sanding before applying the first coat and allow the prescribed drying times between each coat. There are plenty of video tutorials online.

Tradie’s tip: Start with a rougher sandpaper first to remove the excess and then finish with a finer paper for a smoother, glossier look. 

Watch out for: Nails or screws that have lifted over time will destroy your sander belt. Go around with a hammer or impact drill and make sure they’re back in place. If the deck screws have popped up above the surface over the years and there is no screw thread left, use a punch and a hammer to tap them back below the surface line.

Walt Collins
Walt Collins
Walt Collins

Upgrade your roof insulation

Chances are you might be living in a home that’s older than 20 years. The good news is there have been some huge advancements in roof insulation over the past two decades so it’s worth replacing old, inefficient insulation bats with a stronger, more effective product. It’s not a difficult job, just time-consuming and a bit messy, and you need to follow the safety instructions carefully. 

Choose an insulation that’s environmentally friendly, such as EarthWool, and something that has a high R-value. That’s the grading system used to rate the effectiveness of the insulation. 

Step one: You MUST turn off your power to the house. If it’s an older house, old wiring can cause huge risks. After turning off the power, take battery-powered floodlights and do a full walk-though first, having a look at all the cabling for signs of nibbles, splits or burns. If you see anything that looks not quite right, you need to call your sparky. They will make it safe for you to continue. 

Calculate the amount of new insulation you will need by measuring the length of the runs between each joist. It’s also worth measuring the distance between the joists as insulation comes in various widths. 

Then it’s just a case of removing the old stuff and laying the new stuff. If your roof is tiled, remove a few roof tiles to create a hole so you can feed out the old insulation and pass in the new. Otherwise you will need to carry it through the manhole in your home and out to the skip. 

Be careful when walking inside the roof. You don’t want to fall through a ceiling.  

Once the new insulation is in place, you’ll be warm over winter and you’ll save money on your power bills.

Tradie’s tip: Roll the old insulation into rolls and tie with string to hold them before removing from the roof. Much easier to transport to the skip.

Watch out for: You need to wear a suitable mask, eye protection and long sleeves with gloves. Older insulation can be itchy and irritate your skin for days. 

Clean your air-conditioning unit

When was the last time you cleaned the filters inside your air-conditioning unit? This is something you should do twice a year. Take a split-system AC unit installed on the wall, it sucks in air from your room, heats or cools it, then spits it back out into your room. Which means it sucks in dust, hair, pollens and more. 

It’s really simple to clean it. Open the cover of the unit, carefully remove the filter. You’ll see all kinds of nasties caught in there. You need to take this out, rinse with warm water or spray with a reasonably powerful hose. And then let it air dry. I like to spray a bit of Glen 20 on once it’s dry… then replace.

In the case of built-in, ducted units, you’ll notice there’s an air grille somewhere in your house. Normally it’s in the wall or in a hallway ceiling. Remove this filter and clean and dry it. Better still, invest in a brand-new HEPA-grade filter, which you can find online. Just measure the size of the grille and order correctly. This will improve the health of your home and those living in it.  

While doing this, I also change the batteries in all my device remotes and smoke alarms, which is a great little combo to get you through the next season.

Tradie’s tip: Dishwashing liquid makes a great cleaning agent for filters and can cut through the captured grease.

Watch out for: Turn the heaters/coolers off before you remove the filters. Otherwise, your device will distribute the disturbed dust and nasties while you’re in the middle of the job.

Need help with home maintenance or renovation jobs? RACV Home Trades and Services is there to help. From carpentry to bathroom renovations, RACV Home Trades and Services can help you find the right tradie for the job.

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