Fall is the best time to tackle these 6 home improvement projects

A contractor weighs in on which projects and products are worth investing in now.

A contractor weighs in on which projects and products are worth investing in now

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Can you smell that? It's the scent of big sweaters, back to school and pumpkin spice but for those of us who consider September an unofficial 'new year' of sorts, the fragrance of fall also smells like renewal and rejuvenation.

If you're not ready to commit to a personal fall-inspired fresh start that may involve crossfit or artful lunch making, why not turn your attention to your house instead? Fall's cool temperatures make working on your home's exterior a more comfortable experience, so take a walk to the curb, turn around and decide which project you want to tackle. Once you've made a decision, you'll need to know the best tools for the job so we asked contractor Darren Voros which products he thinks are worth the investment.

Siding

Siding protects a house from the elements and if it's breaking down, peeling or falling apart it can't do its job properly (and it's likely become an eyesore as well). If this is a job you're taking on before winter hits, you need to know a few things about your options.  

  • Vinyl is popular choice because it's water resistant, inexpensive, and easy to maintain but it can weaken over time which makes it susceptible to damage - particularly when you play baseball in the backyard and home base is within a bat's throw of said siding.
  • Aluminum siding is more of an investment but lasts longer than vinyl. It also regulates temperature well, doesn't fade as easily as vinyl, and stands up to the elements but it's easily dented (see baseball note above) so most contractors choose to use it on the higher floors of a home.
  • Wood siding is a classic choice. It's warm and homey and it can be installed vertically or horizontally. It's also fairly inexpensive, impact resistant and versatile in that it allows you to choose an infinite number of finishes (stains and paint colours). The downside of wood is that it's susceptible to insects and requires continuous maintenance.
  • Cement siding by James Hardie is Darren's choice because it won't rot or combust, it's insusceptible to pests, and very durable. Also, cement lasts such a long time that the initial investment gets spread out over the life of the product making it an affordable option. The downside is that cement siding is fragile during transport and installation requires protective gear so Darren warns, "It's very important to get the proper equipment when cutting these products. The right saws and blades and above all a good respirator. You don't want to inhale any of the cement dust when cutting cement."
HardieTrim® Boards, Arctic White (Credit: James Hardie Building Products Inc.)

Permeable pavers

If your driveway is warped and cracked and sprouting various types of weeds, why not remedy it before winter hits so when the snow melts in spring, you have one less project on your 'to-do' list. Darren suggests permeable paving stones rather than traditional asphalt because, "storm water collection is becoming a significant issue for municipalities across the country and many are implementing measures to avoid the installation of products that are not permeable to water (such as non porous asphalt). Permeable pavers not only look great, they recharge groundwater and discourage pooling of water and, therefore, ice on the driveway in winter." This project is not for the average DIYer however. The stones require the proper base material in order for the product to be effective so Darren recommends professional installation.

Mondrian® Plus 80 Pavers — Range Norvick grey (Credit: Permacon)

Fencing

Fall is a good time of year to consider getting your fence replaced because installers are are busiest in the spring and summer. Also, if you are an avid gardener like myself, you won't feel as murderous about seeing your plants trampled on if you've had the opportunity to enjoy them all summer and you know they're about to go dormant. Like siding, there are a variety of fencing options for your consideration.

  • Chain link fencing is ubiquitous because it's inexpensive, durable and requires no maintenance so though Tom Sawyer would likely be a fan of it, chain link doesn't score high marks in the looks category.
  • Vinyl is virtually maintenance free as well and sold in a variety of styles. It won't warp or rot and it's not hard to instal but it's pricey and it can break down in harsher climates.
  • Aluminum is a good choice for areas where you are more concerned about looks than privacy. It's also affordable and durable and doesn't require maintenance. If you're looking for something stronger and more decorative, consider wrought iron but know that it's expensive, difficult to work with because of its weight, and you'll have to sand and paint it every few years or so.
  • Wood fencing is a favourite choice for most homeowners because it's natural, attractive, fairly inexpensive and can be installed in a variety of ways for more or less privacy. However, I think Tom Sawyer would agree that its downside is the amount of maintenance it requires, and it can be prone to warping and pests as well.

Darren suggests a combination of wood and aluminum fencing in a product called Slipfence; an aluminum fencing system that uses wood planks as well. "It's a durable, strong and long lasting product that won't rot, warp or shrink over time. The posts install in 8' (or less) sections and then you can use whatever wood product you want to create your panelling. The horizontal aluminum rails tie everything together and give this product a unique and sharp finish. Also, the wood sections can easily be replaced if a board gets damaged or weathered over time." Just make sure you have the right tools if you plan on building the fence yourself.

(Credit: Slipfence)

Decking

If you spent this summer regretting that you didn't bother to fix the deck last summer, don't do it again next year. Fall's a good time to get it done because the temperatures aren't 'sunbather friendly' so you might as well break a sweat making yourself useful.

If you want a wood deck, there are different types to choose from. Pressure treated wood is chemically treated to resist rot and insects and it has a slight green tinge to it. It's inexpensive and widely available, and easy to work with. Purists may prefer redwood or cedar because both woods are nice to look at, naturally resistant to decay and pests and less likely than pressure treated boards to crack. However, they're almost three times the cost of pressure treated and all three of these options require regular maintenance in the form of pressure washing and/or staining.

If a wood deck sounds like too much work, Darren suggests composite decking. Composite is made up of recycled materials and is exceptionally resistant to damage and fading; it also doesn't need to be sanded or stained. Though it may not have the same warmth or character as wood, Darren likes it because, "It's long lasting, eco-friendly and can be assembled with invisible fasteners to provide a smooth finish that requires very little maintenance over the life of the product. It installs and cuts like wood and is available in many colours and finishes." The downside is it's heavy and needs proper support between deck boards or it can sag between joists so follow the manufacturer's installation instructions to avoid warranty issues.

(Credit: Trex Company Inc.)

Artificial grass

If you're sick of cutting, watering, weeding and feeding your lawn, why not replace it with artificial grass? For those not familiar with this new landscaping product, synthetic grass is much like astroturf but the blades are longer to mimic a natural lawn. The filaments are plastic and woven onto a porous backing which is laid out on a tamped drainage layer of gravel and nailed into place.

If you're doing the work yourself, you'll have to be patient because there are a lot of steps and it will require your undivided attention (and likely 3 or 4 good friends) in order to get it looking as natural as possible. However, fall is a good time to take the plunge because the ground is softer and it needs some time to settle so doing it when you don't expect to play a lot of bocce is ideal.

Darren suggests starting small, "Synthetic grass is a great alternative for pet owners or anyone who lives in a more urban environment where they may have a small space that they want to bring some greenery in to." Though it'll save you watering and cutting, keep in mind, this type of lawn heats up more than a natural lawn and it's not biodegradable so when it breaks down in 15 or 20 years, it's headed for landfill. Finally, at a cost of 10 to 20 dollars per square foot, it's not inexpensive either.

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Leaf guard

If you're looking for a smaller fall project that still offers a significant reward, consider adding leaf guards to your gutters. Darren thinks they're a good investment because, "They keep large debris (leaves, maple keys, pine cones, etc.) out of your gutters and you can install them over existing systems. The benefit is that you don't need to get up on a ladder and clean out your gutters as often. They also prevent downspouts from getting clogged with debris and backing up your drainage system, and they make your gutters more durable as well." Just make sure that if you're climbing a ladder and doing the install yourself, you have someone there to spot you. You don't want to spend all winter in a cast.

(Credit: lowes.ca)

Smart Screen Aluminum Gutter Guard, $49.99, lowes.ca


Portia Corman is the executive producer of CBC Life.