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March 2008
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Spring checklist for the home
Don’t let problems around the house turn into money drains

Illustration of problem areas on a house
Illustration by Bryon Thompson
To help you protect your most valuable asset—your home—be on the lookout for these potential issues and learn how to fix them:


1
Hazardous deck

Look for water stains where the deck ties to the house. Ongoing water leakage can lead to wood decay, weakening the deck structure and the house. If you have any doubt about the structural integrity of the deck, call a pro to investigate.

Rid your deck of moss and mold. Pressure washers are effective. Remember, if you see wood damage, like raised fibers, increase the distance between the spray nozzle and the decking.

CR recommends an electric pressure washer. It’s quieter and easier to store and transport than a gas-powered model (Ratings available to subscribers).

We have a new best overall opaque decking stain in our latest tests (Ratings available to subscribers). Wolman semitransparent DuraStain (18146) lets the wood grain show and requires less prep work but won't last as long.


2
Dirty air conditioner

Disconnect electric power to the outdoor condenser on your air conditioner and clear it of leaves and debris with a vent brush, power blower, garden hose, or the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner. If the cooling fins are exposed, be careful not to bend them. (If your yard has lots of trees and plants, wrap fiberglass mesh around the condenser coil to capture pollen and leaves. Replace the mesh as needed. Don't allow debris to block airflow.) Vacuum the grille and register inside the home to ensure good airflow. And change your furnace filter.

CR recommends 3M's Filtrete, $20, or Utlra Allergen Reduction 1250, $16, furnace filters.


3
Foundation fissures

Hairline cracks in foundation walls might be the result of concrete curing or minor settling and aren't automatically cause for alarm. Mark them with tape and check them again in a few months. If they've worsened, call a structural engineer. If they're stable, fill them with an epoxy-injection system.

Also:

  • Fill in holes in siding and foundation walls with expandable foam.

  • Check that the ground around the foundation slopes away from the house (about 1 inch per foot).

  • Look for pellet-shaped droppings or shed wings from termites.

  • Clear the area of leaves, in which rodents can nest.


4
Faulty garage-door opener

To check that the door is balanced, release it into the manual mode and lift it by hand. The door should lift easily and smoothly and stay open on its own about 3 feet off the ground. If it doesn't, by hire a garage-door technician to counterbalance its overhead spring . Next, set the reversing force on the opener as low as possible. Place a 2x4 board on the ground under the door, wide side down. The door should pop back up when it hits the 2x4. If it doesn't, call a garage-door pro. Test the photoelectric eyes by holding the 2x4 between them. The door should reverse direction. If it doesn’t, have it checked by a pro.


5
Clogged gutters

Clear gutters of debris and check them for corrosion, joint separation, and loose fasteners. Flush out downspouts and unclog leader pipes. Leaders should extend at least 5 feet to direct water away from the foundation.

CR recommends A Type 1A ladder for added safety. Never go beyond the labeled highest step. For projects above 17 feet, you'll need a conventional extension ladder. If you prefer a multiuse ladder, consider the 13-foot Gorilla AL-13 for $100. Never use an aluminum ladder near power lines.


6
Leaky roof

Leaks typically occur around an inadequately flashed chimney, skylight, or other opening. They're easiest to spot in the attic; inspect the rafters for water stains. Patching leaks is best left to a professional. While the contractor is on the roof, have him clean leaves from roof valleys.

Examine the siding under roof eaves, and the ceilings in the rooms below, for water or discoloration, indications that ice dams might have created leaks along the roof edge.

Inspect the roof for cracked, curled, or missing shingles. Asphalt shingles typically last 20 years.

CR recommends thick laminated shingles. They did the best overall in our tests, though some less-expensive, three-tab shingles also performed well.


Weakened trees

Inspect trees for broken branches. If the limb is high up, hire a licensed arborist. If you can reach it from the ground, take it down using the three-cut technique, which prevents bark from tearing and creating an open wound on the trunk:

  • Make the first cut 1 to 2 feet from the branch collar, sawing a quarter way through the bottom of the branch.

  • Make the second cut 3 inches farther out from the first, sawing all the way through the branch.

  • Make the final cut just beyond the branch collar, sawing from the top down.

Check trunks for signs of "sun scalding," which typically affects the south and the southwest sides of smooth-barked trees, such as maples. Inspect for roots poking through the soil, a possible sign that the tree is starting to list. If you had heavy snowfall in winter, look for bending branches. Make a mental note and check that they bounce back and produce leaves in the spring.


Cracked pavement

Nip cracks in the bud in the driveway and paths before weeds take up residence. Home centers sell patching materials and fillers designed for asphalt and concrete surfaces. These DIY fixes might not do the trick on surfaces that have ruptured from the effects of frost heaving. For those, you'll need to hire a professional to pour or pave a new surface over stabilized soil.

If you have a path that was dry set (as opposed to set in mortar), brush stone dust or sand in the joints to lock the pavers in place and prevent weeds from invading.