John Riha and Stacy Gilliam Preventive maintenance is crucial to the value of your home. Keep your place in tiptop shape with regular check-ups to save you the headache and cost
Nothing like getting outside after a long winter. It’s so invigorating, even household chores are refreshing. So while you’re reveling in clean spring air, get after these simple maintenance jobs that fend off potential moisture problems, prevent costly repairs, and pave the way for a trouble-free summer.
What? Again? Yup, consider this the early-spring edition of a twice-yearly (at least) outdoor maintenance task (a big reason folks love single-story houses). Look in gutter bottoms for loose granules that signal your asphalt roof may need replacing (see Roof Inspection, below).
Got gunk in the downspout gooseneck? Ream it out with a garden hose. Take off any nozzle and have a helper turn on the water when you’re ready. Shove the hose into the downspout to power out of gooseneck bends. Make sure your downspouts channel water at least five feet from foundation walls.
Inspect Your Roof
Your roof does the hard work of shielding you from rain, hail, snow and scorching heat. Return the favor with some TLC — knowing your roof is a system where little problems can turn into big headaches.
If you’re cool with heights, do an inspection from a securely set ladder. If not, use a pair of binoculars. You’re looking for: curled and missing shingles, rusted and pitted flashing, and cracked caulk around pipe collars, skylights and other roof penetrations.
If your roof is relatively flat and you’re confident about working on a roof, do the repairs yourself. Steep roofs require safety equipment, such as a harness. If you’re unsure, opt for safety first and call in a pro. Expect to pay a licensed roofing contractor $100 to $200 for minor repairs; $300 to $500 to replace flashing and boots.
The typical lifespan of an asphalt shingle roof is 15 to 20 years. How do you know? Lots of granules in your gutters is one tip-off that your roof may be getting old. “If the shingles are curling, buckling or crackling, it’s time to replace the roof,” adds Dan Cornwell, president of CC&L Roofing in Portland, Ore.
Keep painted surfaces in good repair by scraping off any chipped and peeling paint and spot painting exposed surfaces. “The worst thing you can do is leave wood exposed, because that’s when it will begin to rot,” says Brian Gummel, president of The Painting Company in Edgewater, Md.
Before beginning repairs, use an inexpensive lead test kit to make sure your home’s previous paint jobs are lead-free. Almost 90% of lead contamination comes from homes built prior to 1978 (when lead paint additives were banned). If you have lead paint, refer to the EPA guidelines for safe removal.
Choose a warm (but not hot) dry day to spot paint. Scrape off any failing paint. Sand it down so there are no rough edges, prime the bare wood and paint it with a high-quality exterior paint. To best camouflage your spot-paint job, paint boards completely from seam to seam.
Spring is a good time to trim branches of shrubs and trees away from your house —get an early start before leaves grow and while you can see individual limbs. Keep branches 5 to 7 feet away from your house so they can’t conduct moisture onto your roofing and siding. You’ll also help discourage squirrels and raccoons from exploring ways to nest in your attic.
Always use clean landscaping trimmers and cutters to prevent the spread of plant diseases. Clean off blades with a little bleach on a rag, and dry the cutting surfaces thoroughly. Keep tools sharp to prevent tearing bark.
Ensure Good Drainage
Good drainage is the soul of a happy house. To keep your hacienda smiling (and help put the kibosh on mold, mildew, termites and basement leaks), check to make sure the soil slopes away from foundation walls at least six vertical inches over 10 feet. That’ll move rain and snowmelt far enough away to prevent problems.
A straight 10-foot 2x4 or other piece of lumber makes checking easy. Holding the lumber edgewise, put one end by the foundation. Hold the board perpendicular to your house. Put a bubble level on top of the board, and when you’ve got it leveled up, measure down from the free end.
No straight 10-footers? Use a line level. Stake a string where the ground meets the foundation, then measure out 10 feet and mark the string. Pull the string taut and level it with the line level. Measure down from the 10-foot mark to check slope.
If you don’t have enough space or the drainage is blocked by slopes, you may have to channel water away from your house with swales or French drains.
Check Foundation Vents
A house with a crawl space has vents along the foundation walls. The vents provide air circulation that helps dissipate excess moisture and prevent mold growth. The vents have screens that keep critters from taking up residence under your residence. The screens usually are recessed and become catch-alls for leaves, twigs and assorted debris.
Spring is a great time to clean out foundation vents and check screens for damage. Clean the vents by hand or a shop vacuum. Repair any damaged screens knowing that a rat can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter, and mice can get inside a hole barely bigger than the diameter of a pencil!