Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring and Summer Maintenance Checklist

Certain home maintenance tasks should be completed each season to prevent structural damage, save energy, and keep all your home’s systems running properly. These maintenance tasks are most important for Spring and Summer. For a comprehensive list of tasks by season, refer to the to-do list at the end of this article.
Take advantage of the weather, get outside, and check for any damage that may have occurred from winter rains or freezes.

Key tasks to perform for Spring:

• Schedule HVAC maintenance. Spring is a good time to make sure your air conditioning unit is ready to handle the intense summer heat. It’s smart (although not required) to purchase a service contract with a local HVAC professional to ensure your system is regularly maintained, and to have someone on call if anything goes wrong. An annual maintenance agreement runs from $150-$250; a single tune-up generally runs $50-$100.
Ask your HVAC professional about the maintenance checklist he uses; it should include checking thermostats and controls, checking the refrigerant level, tightening connections, lubricating any moving parts, checking the condensate drain, and cleaning the coils and blower. Duct cleaning, while it probably won’t hurt anything, is not necessary. Some contractors may offer to coat the inside of the ducts with antimicrobial agents, but be aware that research has not proven the effectiveness of this method and any chemicals used in your ducts will likely become airborne.
It’s your responsibility to make sure your furnace filters are changed, and to inspect and vacuum out all your floor registers regularly.

• Inspect roof and chimney for winter damage. Look for any loose, missing, or damaged shingles or rotten roof decking. Examine where your plumbing pipes vent to the roof; the sealing agent should not have any gaps or cracks. Look for loose chimney bricks and mortar, rotting boards if you have a wooden chimney box, and rust if you have a chimney with metal parts and flashing.
Anything that looks amiss merits a call to your roofing contractor or home inspector, says Max Curtis, owner of MaxInspect in Livermore, Calif. Even if your chimney doesn’t require repair, spring is a good time to have it swept (cleaned) in order to prevent fires and carbon monoxide buildup. Expect to pay $75-$200 for a chimney sweep; look for a contractor certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

• Check your gutters. Even if you cleaned them in fall, check them again for additional debris and winter damage. Be attentive not just to obvious cracks or sections that have detached from the roof, but to slight twisting or bending that may allow water to stand in areas it didn’t before. You can usually repair damage yourself at minimal cost (under $50) by adjusting or reattaching brackets, gently hammering out bent areas, or replacing the affected section of gutter if necessary.

• Inspect your siding. No matter what type of siding you have, check it for damage it may have sustained over the winter, including rotting boards, loose bricks, missing mortar, or loose panels of vinyl. If siding is dingy, clean it with soapy water, a stiff brush, and a garden hose.

• Flush your water heater. Especially in areas with hard water, sediment can build up in the bottom of the water heater and make it difficult for the heater to do its job. Once a year, flush your water heater by attaching a garden or heater hose to the valve at the bottom of the tank (if you have a gas heater, be sure to turn the burner to the “pilot” setting first). Run the hose to the floor drain or outside the house and open the valve. Keep water running through the heater until it runs clear.
Curtis says that while some people refer to this as “draining” your water heater, it’s really a “flush,” because you’re running water continuously through the sediment until it’s all carried away, not simply emptying the water heater. “Don’t turn the water off at the source,” he says. “Just keep running the water out until it runs clear. If you do this once a year, your water heater will last twice as long.”
Home inspector Bill Richardson of Responsive Inspections in Albuquerque, New Mexico, adds that if you don’t perform this task regularly, it can be difficult to shut the valve off after you’re finished. “In that case, you’ll have to call a plumber,” he says. “So don’t try it on Sunday!”

• Check your GFCIs. Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) protect you from harmful electrical shocks by shutting off the power anytime even a slight disturbance in current is detected. They’re the electrical outlets with two buttons in the middle (“test” and “reset”) that should be present anywhere water meets electricity: kitchens, bathrooms, basements, garages, and the exterior of the house. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends monthly testing, so incorporate it into your spring maintenance routine to keep it top of mind.

To test a GFCI, plug a small appliance (say, a radio) into the GFCI receptacle. Press the test button, which should click and shut off the radio. The reset button should pop out; when you press reset, the radio should come back on.

If the radio doesn’t go off when you press the test button, either the GFCI itself has failed (and should be replaced) or the outlet is wired incorrectly (and should be rewired). If the reset button doesn’t pop out, or if pressing it doesn’t restore power to the radio, the GFCI has failed and should be replaced. These distinctions can help you tell an electrician what the problem is-neither job is one you should attempt yourself if you don’t have ample experience with electrical repair.
A little prevention in the form of home maintenance tasks goes a long way in recognizing developing problems and preventing costly repairs. The to-do list following this article contains all the above tasks plus others you should complete this season for maximum impact. Visit the links listed below for more detailed information on completing tasks or repairs.

Karin Beuerlein has covered home improvement and green living topics extensively for,, and In more than a decade of freelancing, she’s also written for dozens of national and regional publications, including Better Homes & Gardens, The History Channel Magazine, Eating Well, and Chicago Tribune. She and her husband started married life by remodeling the house they were living in. They still have both the marriage and the house, no small feat.

Make sure everything is in working order this Spring using this checklist:

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