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July home-maintenance checklist

Use the good weather to clean and repair asphalt, concrete and fences. Prune or remove problem trees and protect landscaping from deer. Conduct your own home-energy audit and put insulating foam jackets on hot-water pipes.

 

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 for $3 to $4 each or install foam inserts — also called gaskets — for about 49 cents each. 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. (Prices vary but, for example, a 6-foot-long piece of foam insulation for half-inch copper pipe might cost less than a dollar.)

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.
Clean concrete 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 ($5 to $15 a tube) 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 ($50-$100 for a five-gallon bucket). Brush it on with a squeegee or push broom. 

Prune or remove problem trees Get a certified arborist to inspect your trees and tell you if any are hazardous. Trees hanging over your roof, rubbing against gutters or dropping loads of leaves and sticks onto the roof should be pruned. Overhanging branches can provide a ladder for rats and squirrels, and diseased or damaged trees may fall on your home in a storm. A typical arborist’s fee is $65 an hour.

Trees can bring up boundary issues. They may straddle the property line between you and your neighbor or the branches from your neighbor’s tree may drop fruit onto your land. Although state tree laws vary, in general you have the right to trim branches on your side of the property line as long as you don’t endanger the life of the tree. If you kill the neighbor’s tree, you are liable. An arborist who understands local laws can be a great mediator between neighbors.

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.

Repel deer Deer can demolish hundreds or thousands of dollars of landscaping in an evening or two. There are several things you can do to keep deer away from your investment:

  • Use deer-proof plantings. Identify deer-resistant plants or check a plant’s status with Rutgers University’s New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station’s tool. Bear in mind that such lists are no guarantee: Deer often eat plants they’re not supposed to like.
  • Install a mini fence or put bird netting around prized plants. Garden stores have these materials and can instruct you how to use them.
  • Spray with a home-made deer repellent. Search online garden forums for recipes for repellents that blend eggs, hot sauce (or cayenne pepper), raw garlic, yogurt or buttermilk and dish soap. Spray every three or four days and after a rain.
  • Purchase one of the better commercial deer repellent sprays. Check with your local garden store or cooperative extension master gardeners for recommendations. Wikipedia lists cooperative-extension services around the country, as does Bayer.

By Marilyn Lewis

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