For many people, fall is the best season of all – not too hot, not too cold; lots of color in the leaves; and a little less hectic at home with the kids back in school. What a great time to tackle a few important fair-weather home-maintenance tasks.
In just a matter of weeks, fall will be upon us. If you want your home to be well prepared for the coming rain and cold, focus your attention on these four tasks:
DISCOVER WHERE YOU’RE WASTING ENERGY
An energy audit is a step-by-step analysis of your major appliances, your heating and cooling system, your lighting, the major air leaks in your home, the amount of insulation in your walls and ceilings, plus more. The U.S. Department of Energy website (energy.gov) offers referrals to local energy auditors who can perform this task, as well as instructions for a preliminary do-it-yourself energy audit.
GET AN EXPERT OPINION ON OLDER TREES
Winter is when older trees are prone to falling, which can be very dangerous for any people in the area, as well as any surrounding structures. Now is the time to ask a professional arborist to assess the significant trees on your lot and let you know if any are weak, diseased or otherwise prone to toppling anytime soon.
CONSIDER GUTTER AND DOWNSPOUT GUARDS
This is a great time to consider installing leaf guards to prevent your rain gutters and downspouts from clogging once the rain and leaves start falling. Downspout guards are inexpensive metal spheres about the size of a baseball that fit into the openings of your downspouts and prevent leaves from washing down the downspout and creating a blockage. Gutter leaf guards are a bigger investment. They fit over the top of your gutters and keep leaves from ever even entering the gutter (or downspout). While often advertised as a solution that can eliminate gutter-cleaning for good, the truth is, if you live under large deciduous trees, you should check to make sure the guards are working correctly about once a season.
CHECK FOR CRACKED BRICK MORTAR
If you have brick walls or a brick chimney, you’re going to want to check the condition of the mortar (the filler between the bricks). If that concrete filler is cracked, falling out or already missing in spots, get a bid from a brick mason for its repair. Because, once rain starts oozing inside a brick structure for an extended period of time, the metal supports inside can rust, and the entire structure can start leaning and sinking.
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When properly maintained, your air conditioning system will run better, last longer, and operate at a lower cost. Even better, you can do some of the maintenance yourself, without having to hire a technician.
NOTE: Before servicing your air conditioner, turn off all power to the unit (the main shutoff switch on the unit and the air conditioner breaker switch in your home’s main service panel).
CLEAN UNDER THE COVER – Remove the cover on the unit and carefully vacuum the inner workings.
STRAIGHTEN ANY BENT FINS – Improve the air flow between the tiny metal cooling fins y straightening any that are bent.
CLEAN AROUND THE FINS – Spray hose water between the cooling fins.
OIL THE FAN MOTOR – If the motor attached to the fan blades has small oil holes, fill them – until they overflow – with a lightweight oil specifically made for small electrical motors.
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Saving Water In The Garden
During the dog days of summer, your lawn, plants, and trees hunger for water. These three water-savers will help you quench that thirst without wasting this precious resource:
DRIP IRRIGATION – This is like a modern-day, miniaturized, more precise version of the old soaker hose that’s perfect for potted plants, vegetable gardens, and shrubs.
TIMER – The most inefficient time to water is during the heat of the day. Instead, consider installing a timer on your watering system (whatever kind it is) that can be programmed to hydrate your plants during the cool of the evening or morning.
RAIN BARRELS – Connect a rain barrel to two or three of your rain gutter downspouts, and the rainwater that collects there during the winter can be put to use in the garden during the summer.
Home Maintenance Checklist
• Change or clean air filters in your central air system.
• Have septic tank system inspected, if applicable.
• Inspect driveways, sidewalks, patios, bricks, and other concrete or stone surfaces for cracks. Repair as needed.
• Inspect decks, steps, and wooden structures for wood rot and other damage. Make repairs as soon as possible to minimize further complications.
• Check eaves around roof, chimneys, caps, etc. Remove flying insect nests. Fix any damaged areas.
• Inspect washer hoses and dryer vent system.
If your yard is not living up to its full potential as a place for family and friends to relax, enjoy the weather, and gather for fun, then it’s time to get out there and make some improvements before winter sends everyone scurrying indoors again.
Because the yards around most homes account for such a large part of the property, any updates to outdoor spaces can make a dramatic difference for the better – for your own enjoyment, as well as the future resale value. Here are seven yard improvements to consider:
A garden fountain can make your whole yard seem more sophisticated. The moving water is a great attraction for birds, plus, the sound effects are perfect for masking the noise from surrounding streets, commercial districts, and noisy neighbors.
These water-less landscape features use carefully arranged stones to create the feel of flowing water in a nearly maintenance-free setting.
With the right lights staged throughout your yard, you can bring your whole garden into view, make outdoor paths, and walkways safer, and highlight the best architectural aspects of your home’s exterior.
Family and guests love to gather in the kitchen (and cooks enjoy the company), so why not create an outdoor kitchen in your backyard? High-end versions often feature running water and natural gas. But less-expensive layouts can be created using bottled water and propane gas tanks.
While everyone loves the sun, your family and friends may not want to sit directly in it for hours at a time. Freestanding yard awnings (also called sun shade sails) offer an inexpensive way to create some respite. Made of colorful, fade-resistant outdoor fabric, they can be relatively easily stretched overhead and across areas of your yard using cables, turnbuckles, and other inexpensive mounting hardware.
Connect a projector to your existing laptop, erect a temporary screen, and before you know it, you can be watching mainstream movies in your backyard.
Some of the same ideas and principles that professional designers use to make interior spaces look their best can also be applied to your patio. For example:
DEVELOP A THEME. Give your patio a beach feel with umbrellas, beach towels, distressed furniture, nautical accessories, and more. Or use river stones, cabin furnishings and wildflowers to create a creek-side theme.
DRAPE THE SPACE IN LIGHT. Weatherproof, commercial grade string lights (with full size bulbs) are available inexpensively today. Hang them over your patio to create a lighting effect that’s both practical and romantic.
USE RUGS. Laying area rugs on your patio allows you to cover imperfections and add color and personality to create a more intimate setting.
ADD VISUAL INTEREST. Place a few large boulders or decorative pots or accessories around your patio to give the surrounding yard more visual interest.
If you are planning to build a fence, and you want it to provide a good defense against intruders, experts recommend the following features:
A HEIGHT OF EIGHT FEET. Tall fences are harder to climb over. But double-check local building codes regarding maximum height allowed before starting construction.
A LOCKING GATE LATCH. Even if you don’t use it every day, you can lock it when you are on vacation, or when there are reports of burglaries in the neighborhood.
SEE-THROUGH AREAS. If you install a fence that is solid, burglars and other intruders may use it to hide their activities from well-meaning neighbors.
A BELL. Attaching a bell to the gate is a good way to prevent a burglar from making a silent entry.
REGULAR MAINTENANCE. Fence repairs should be made right away to maintain security.