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Spring Maintenance

Keeping your home and its operating systems clean and in good working order will make everything safer, more energy efficient and will cut utility and repair bills. What's more, regular maintenance can prevent damage that can lead to hundreds or thousands of dollars in repairs.

Many home maintenance projects offer a two for one—they improve appearance and prevent costly repairs down the road. For example, a fresh coat of paint will do wonders to improve the appearance of your home. That coat of paint will also offer weather protection that prevents deterioration and rot.

Many home maintenance tasks offer multiple benefits. Changing a furnace filter will not only improve the air quality in your home; a clean filter also means that the system won't have to work quite as hard and, thus, will save money on repairs and your utility bill.

Though home maintenance is a year-round task, spring and fall are two of the most important times for it.

Fall is the best time to prepare your home for winter rains and snow. Projects such as exterior caulking will prevent leaks and drafts. Repairing gutters and downspouts, roofing and drainage systems will help prevent roof leaks and flooded basements.

Spring is a time to assess how well your maintenance work held up during the winter and what other maintenance work or repairs must be made as a result of winter. Here's our list of spring home maintenance tasks that will keep your home humming for another season.

  • Gutters and downspouts: Even if you cleaned them in the fall, a mulch can collect in the gutters that can hasten rust and deterioration and make gutters sluggish during spring showers. Use a garden hose, a gutter scoop and a nylon brush to flush the gutters and downspouts. Use a wire brush to remove rust and peeling paint. Repair leaks and seal joints with a high-quality exterior grade caulk. Prime bare spots and add a fresh coat of paint.
  • Siding: No matter the type of siding, after a long winter's wear, it needs a good cleaning. One of the best means of brightening dingy siding is with a thorough pressure washing with water. If the siding is chalked or streaked, scrub it using a nylon truck brush along with a mild solution of powdered laundry detergent and hot water. Rinse thoroughly with fresh water. Check for cracks, peeling paint, missing or damaged mortar and caulking, and make the needed repairs.
  • Roof Leaks: Inspect the roof for loose or missing shingles. Binoculars work well for making an on-the-ground inspection. Look in the attic for water stains on the underside of the roof sheathing and on the rafters. They are telltale signs of a roof leak that might yet produce enough water to make its way to your ceiling. You don't need to wait till it rains to check a roof for leaks. Use a garden hose at suspicious areas to determine if your roof is leaking. Unless the roof needs replacement, damaged shingle replacement, flashing repair and roofing cement or caulking usually will do the trick.
  • Caulking: Caulking can take a real beating during winter. Spring is a good time to caulk around window trim and door frames, especially if you missed doing it in the fall. Do this after you have washed the exterior siding. Caulk tends to crack in concrete, foundations and basement walls.
  • Window and door screens: If you have trouble getting a good view of your spring flowers through your freshly washed windows, it might mean your window screens need cleaning or replacement. Remove window and door screens and give them a cleaning with a solution of powdered laundry detergent and hot water. Brush the screens with a nylon brush and give the screens and frames a rinsing with a garden hose or, better yet, a pressure washer. Mend tears and replace deteriorating material with new fabric. Lubricate hinges on screen doors and adjust hydraulic closers to make sure that the door closes fully.
  • Decks and fences: Decks, fencing and other exterior wood finishes should be cleaned and finished regularly to keep them looking good and to extend their life. Most high-quality exterior stains and wood finishes will last for two to three seasons—depending upon climate and the severity of the elements. However, a good spring cleaning is always in order. A solution of liquid chlorine bleach, powdered laundry detergent and hot water will remove mold and mildew from almost any exterior surface. For best results on wood decks, use a commercial deck-cleaning product that won't damage the finish. If the deck cleaner doesn't do it, try using a commercial deck brightener. If the finish is worn, try light sanding along with a fresh coat of finish.
  • Landscape irrigation: April showers may bring May flowers, but after the showers are gone, a good irrigation system will keep flowers blooming and turf green all summer. Spring is the time to clean, adjust, lubricate and tighten sprinkler heads. Most heads have an adjustment screw that will control water volume and, thus, the area covered by the sprinkler. Most modern sprinkler heads contain a filter that can be removed and cleaned. Replace broken filters. Clean or replace valve diaphragms to make sure that they are sealing properly. If you have an automatic timer, adjust the program to provide adequate watering time and don't forget to replace the battery that backs up the irrigation program.
  • Concrete patios, paths, driveways and carports: If your driveway or carport looks like an Indy 500 pit stop, a good cleaning is in order. Clean and degrease exterior concrete surfaces with a commercial concrete cleaner-degreaser. Use cat litter to absorb as much of the grease or oil first—by grinding it into the area with the soles of your shoes. Dispose of the oil-tainted cat litter as you would paint, used motor oil or other household toxic substances.
  • Air conditioner: Don't wait until the first heat wave to have your air conditioner serviced. If you do, chances are you will have a long wait. Save money and beat the heat by having a heating and air conditioning specialist give your system a good going over. Change filters, clean the coil case, check the blower, the temperature drop and the coolant pressure, lubricate the system and make sure that all components are operating to capacity.
  • Barbecue: Make sure the barbecue is in tiptop shape for serious spring and summer grilling. A good cleaning is all most barbecue grills need. Clean rust using a wire brush and rust solvent. Spot-prime using a heat-resistant metal paint. For gas barbecues, use compressed air to remove spider webs from burner assemblies. Clean or replace grates as necessary.

Dealing With Doors That Rub or Stick

In an earlier article, we mentioned that a sticking door could easily be repaired by planing the spot where a rub was occurring.

Although we still feel that doors that rub can be quickly fixed with a small block plane or a pad sander, the sticking condition eventually is likely to reverse itself as winter rains return. The tight joint that currently exists between the door and frame will widen. So, be careful not to overdo the removal of what will again become precious and needed door material. Simply put, plane or sand sparingly.

Before beginning any type of repair, check the hinges to be sure the problem isn't loose hinge screws. A loose top hinge will allow the weight of the door to fall against the opposite side of the door frame—resulting in an annoying rub that is not unlike one caused by a door that has shifted because of house movement.

An alternative to sanding or planing

There is an option to sanding or planing when only a slight rub exists. Slightly—and permanently—move the door frame at the point where the rub is occurring. This increases the distance between the door and the frame. This technique is a common one, and takes only seconds to perform. It could take you longer to read this article than to make the repair. This repair is most successful when only a moderate rub exists between the door and the door frame. This is because it is generally difficult to move the frame more than a sixteenth- to an eighth of an inch.

You'll need a hammer, a box nail, a fat nail punch and a small block of wood. Any hammer will do. We usually use a 10- to 16-ounce finish hammer. We use 16d sinkers, but any size between 8d and 16d will work. A short piece of 2x4 or a piece of 2x2 works well as the block of wood, although any smooth piece of wood will do. Rough-sawn wood should not be used. It will leave an irregular pattern in the door frame.

  • First, locate the rub and drive the nail through the face of the door frame and into the adjacent stud.
  • Don't hammer the nail all the way in. Use the punch to finish the job to prevent hammer marks in the door frame. At this point you might already have completed the repair. Often, by simply driving a box nail into the door frame, it moves just enough to create all the clearance you will need.
  • If the door still rubs, countersink the nail with another blow of the hammer, and test to see if you have clearance.
  • Use the block of wood and the hammer to force the frame to move a bit more. Place the block on the frame and strike it firmly with the hammer. The block allows you to strike a forceful blow without damage to the frame.
  • Make sure the nail is still countersunk. If it's not, use the punch again so that there will be a bit of room for putty.
  • Paint the spot with a cotton swab, and let dry.

This repair is sometimes more effective when it also is performed on the hinge side. Rather than moving the frame only at the side where the door is rubbing, the frame can be moved at the hinge side as well. Moving both door frames can result in a wider gap.

Other things, too, can cause a door to rub. Often the weight of the door is just enough to pull the top hinge and the door frame away from the house frame. Besides the rub at the top of the hardware side of the door, this condition is most evident when the gap at the top of the door is wider at the hardware side than it is at the hinge side. In this case, the nail trick should be used to push the hinge back against the frame. This will bring the frame back to its original position and eliminate the rubbing.

Normally, the nail is placed just above the hinge. However, there are times when two nails work better—one just above and one just below the hinge. For this repair, we use a 16d box nail. If you move the door too much, you can loosen the hinge and insert a shim between the hinge and the door and-or frame. In this way, you can do finite adjustments that will get the door precisely where you want it.

Checked Your Roof Lately?

Many assume that a leaky roof means replacement is imminent.

Often that's the case, but leaks could be caused by a flashing problem. Flashings are a part of every roof. They keep water out at certain locations where the roofing itself can't. For example, most types of roofing aren't capable of sealing themselves to pipes and ducts, or to skylights, or to intersecting roofs or intersecting walls. Flashings make watertight connections possible at these locations.

A flashing is a shingle of sorts. When a vent pipe goes through a roof, a vent-pipe flashing is used to seal the penetration. The flashing is a large, flat metal shingle that contains a piece of rubber at its center. The rubber portion seals itself tightly around the pipe and the large, flat metal portion laces into surrounding shingles. On a flat roof the same rubber grommet also is used to seal itself to the pipe while the large, flat portion provides ample surface area to facilitate a good connection to tar and other types of flat and low-slope roofing materials.

Flashings are made from a variety of materials – galvanized sheet metal, fiberglass or plastic, lead and copper. Heavy-gauge galvanized sheet metal is the most common flashing in use today. It is relatively inexpensive and easy to install. If properly maintained, it can last a lifetime. Lead is used almost exclusively on certain tile roofs, and although copper flashings can last longer than galvanized sheet metal, the cost generally is not worth the extra life.

By telling you a little bit about how roof flashings are connected, we hope to give you an idea about how they can leak, and how they can be repaired or replaced.

Wall-to-roof connections on flat roofs

In places where the roof intersects with a wall, the flashing is L-shaped and travels the entire length of the connection. It's placed behind the wall covering (siding or stucco) and beneath the roof covering and, therefore, it isn't obvious. The flashing travels up and behind the lower edge of the exterior wall covering at least 6 inches and prevents leaks from even the most torrential of downpours. The roof side of the L-flashing is connected to the roof material with hot tar or some other sealant.

Wall-to-roof connections on pitched roofs

On pitched roofs, wall-to-roof connections are slightly different. Where the roof and wall are parallel, the flashing resides behind the wall covering and above the shingles. Where the roof slopes along a wall, the flashings still are L-shaped, but not continuous. At pitched areas the flashings are shingle length and overlap in the same way that shingles do – one end lacing into the shingles and the other side fitting behind the exterior siding.

Chimneys and masonry walls

A slightly different technique is used to connect the flashing to masonry. The connection to the roofing is the same. However, with stone and brick, the flashing is laced into a mortar joint and mortared in place. A second flashing is used to cover the point where the first one is mortared into the masonry. It also is tied into a mortar joint – 6- or 7 inches farther up the masonry wall. The upper flashing is known as counter flashing or cover flashing. With two flashings together – both mortared in place – watertight connections can be made between the roof cover and a vertical masonry surface.

Valley flashings

The point at which two pitched roofs join (at an inside corner) is known as a valley and is where most shingle materials rely on a piece of metal for a watertight connection to each other. This one is known as valley flashing. With all the shingle nailing that goes on along the valley flashing, there is a good possibility that a leak can result. This occurs occasionally in new roof installations.

Edge flashings

Flashings also exist at the roof's edge to protect damage to barges, fascias, rafter tails and other wood parts that readily can be damaged by watershed. Edge flashings travel under the roof covering and over the wood in question. Generally these flashings would not be a culprit in the case of a roof leak because they normally are outside the leak area, at the outermost edges of the roof.

Walls and decks have flashings, too

Off the roof, many other connections depend of flashings for water-leak prevention. Horizontal joints between stacked sheets of plywood siding use something called Z flashing to keep water out. The flashing starts on the face of the lower sheet, bends over to cap the top of the lower sheet and then travels up behind the sheet above (sort of in the shape of a backward Z). Other Z flashings are used at horizontal connections between exterior siding and penetrations such as doors and windows. A similar flashing is used at cantilevered wood decks and at waterproof decks, whether cantilevered or not. What you might have thought was a roof leak could be a leaking deck flashing letting water into a wall from one or more stories above. Water can travel down as many walls as exist.

Flashings of all types play a big role in preventing water from getting into your home through the roof and walls. Because they are metal and-or rubber (and generally not regularly maintained), metal flashings corrode, rust and otherwise deteriorate to a point where they can leak – sometimes long before the roof or siding material is even close to failing. The rubber section of a pipe flashing usually fails long before the metal portion does.

Whether you have a roof or siding leak, check the flashings first. Regardless of where they are, they usually are easier and less expensive to repair than alternative patching, or replacement.

When "drip, drip, drip" is what you're hearing, it's time to check flashings. And don't just look for a leak in a flashing. Sometimes the hole is hidden under roofing, counter flashing or mortar. Test flashings in the area of the leak. If rubber is near the leak, test that part first.

Flashings of all types last longer if a fresh coat of paint is applied every several years.