Take advantage of warm weather while playing or doing chores to also cast a protective eye on your home and landscaping. By paying attention, you’ll learn to spot deterioration or changes before they turn into problems.
Give your home an energy audit
Take an hour to walk around your home with a notepad in hand, taking inventory of gaps and cracks. Experts estimate that you can save 20% on heating and cooling bills by plugging leaks.
Start your inspection inside. Turn off the electricity at the circuit box, then remove switch-plate covers to look for gaps. (Replace them with insulated covers or install foam inserts — also called gaskets. Both can be purchased at hardware stores.) You can insulate phone-jack covers, too.
Next, check the junctures where windows meet walls, walls meet floors and pipes and wires enter the home, plugging gaps with caulk. Other leaky zones include fireplace dampers, mail slots, window-mounted (or wall-mounted) air conditioners, attic doors, baseboards and weather stripping surrounding doors. Look for daylight, feel for drafts and listen for rattles, all clues to escaping heat. Next, check the house from the outside, examining the places where pipes, vents or wiring enter. Examine siding for gaps or damage, paying particular attention to corners where the material joins and where it meets other materials, like chimneys, windows or the foundation.
If you'd rather get a professional checkup, call your utility company for referrals. Many utilities even provide rebates for home-energy audits performed by recommended auditors.
Insulate hot-water pipes
Insulate the hot-water pipes in the basement or crawl space to save on heating costs next winter. Insulating pipes is done by snapping foam jackets - use pre-slit, hollow-core, flexible foam pipe insulation (called "sleeves"), purchased at a hardware store.
When shopping, know your pipe’s diameter to get the correct fit. Exposed pipes pinch your wallet twice: You waste water running it as you wait for it to heat up, and you waste fuel when heat is lost as hot water runs through exposed pipes.
- Tip: Slip sleeves on pipes running between the hot-water tank and the wall and also insulate cold-water pipes for the first 3 feet after they enter the house.
Clean patio furniture
Mix up a bucketful of soapy bleach solution to maintain your patio furniture. Here’s the recipe:
- 2/3 cup trisodium phosphate (TSP)
- 1/3 cup laundry soap powder
- A quart of bleach
- Three quarts of warm water
Remove cushions before spraying. Launder removable fabric coverings. Use a rag and soft-bristle brush to remove embedded dirt on synthetic coverings, metal and wood furniture. Rinse thoroughly and let dry. Spray wicker furniture with water and protect it with paste wax. Simply shoot the garden hose at resin furniture. To remove rust from metal furniture or bolts use Naval Jelly, available at hardware stores, with a wire brush. Wear rubber gloves and follow directions on the package.
- Tip: Return fabric coverings to the cushions and frames on which they belong while still damp, to prevent shrinking.
Power washers can be dangerous to decks (in the hands of amateurs, they can damage wood), but they’re just the tool for cleaning concrete sidewalks, driveways and patio and pool areas. If your garage or carport floor is marred by oil stains, saturate the area with a solution made from a cup of TSP mixed with a gallon of hot water. (Wear goggles and rubber gloves.) Let the solution soak for a half-hour, then scrub with a stiff-bristled brush. Rinse thoroughly and repeat as necessary.
While washing concrete, watch to ensure that the hard surface directs water away from the home’s foundation. If the concrete sends water toward the foundation, take action. First, inspect around the outside of the foundation for damage, looking for cracks and crumbling. Then check from the inside (go into the basement or crawl space) for water stains and wet soil. If water is getting into the foundation, hire a home inspector or structural engineer to help find a solution. You may need to redirect the drainage by removing or correcting the slope of the concrete. If that’s not feasible, a sump pump could be used to mechanically remove the water. A sump pump’s operation is triggered when water reaches a predetermined level under the home, setting off a floating switch.
Slip 'feet' under deck planters
Since standing water rots wood, make certain that water drains directly onto the ground when you water plants in pots and decorative planters on decks. Make drainage room by setting pots on pot “feet” (sold at garden-supply stores that carry pots). Or use pot stands – some have wheels that enable you to move heavy pots. Or for a frugal solution, just prop bricks under the pots, taking care to ensure that they’re stable.
Patch cracks in concrete
Inspect concrete for cracks. To patch them, clean the cracked area well with a wire brush and small broom. To repair narrow cracks, use masonry crack filler. It comes in cartridges and can be injected into the crack. For bigger openings, apply vinyl concrete patching compound, smoothing the surface with a putty knife.
Patch cracks in asphalt
You can extend the life of an asphalt driveway or path by inspecting it two or three times a year and using a caulking gun and asphalt patching caulk to repair cracks. If you leave cracks, they’ll grow and plants can take root, widening the damage. Squirt the caulk into the cracks and use a disposable putty knife to even the surface. Every five years, treat asphalt to a coat of asphalt sealer. Brush it on with a squeegee or push broom.
Clean exhaust fans
Exhaust fans do a lot of work in your home. In bathrooms, they push out moisture to keep walls and floors dry and prevent the growth of mold. (Be sure to run the fan before taking a bath or shower and keep it running for 15 minutes after you leave the room, so moisture has a chance to clear.) Before you begin cleaning the fan, turn off its power at the circuit-breaker box. Dust the vents on the fan’s cover (do this monthly). Use a screwdriver to remove the cover. Gently clean the inside of the cover and the fan blade with a slightly damp cloth or spray cleaner and a paper towel. Dry and reassemble. Do this twice a year.
In kitchens, exhaust fans vent moisture along with oily fumes. Making sure the electricity is disconnected at the circuit breaker box, start by removing the washable filter from the stove's exhaust fan. You’ll find the fan either in the range between the burners or in a hood over the stove. If the fan can be pulled out, unplug it, remove it and extract the filter. Otherwise, just remove the filter. Put it through the dishwasher or soak it in warm soapy water. Vacuum the opening of the fan, then clean the blades and housing with a cloth and spray cleaner or degreaser.
Mend the fence
Even the cheapest new fences cost thousands of dollars. Protect your investment by looking for damage and making prompt repairs. Before touring your fence line, mow the grass low so you’ll have good visibility. Watch for signs that dogs have tunneled under the fence. Training and a watchful eye are the best ways to prevent dogs from digging. Otherwise, attaching a 2-foot-wide apron of wire mesh around the inside perimeter of the fence may work.
As you walk the fence, test the strength of the connections by gently tugging posts and slats to ensure they’re well-attached. Check fence posts for signs of rot (poke soft spots in the wood for crumbling or decay). Remove and replace the damaged areas. Keep fences painted or stained to protect the wood. Repaint or stain when the original finish is thin, cracked or peeling. Before painting, hose off and scrub dirty boards, letting them dry thoroughly.