June home-maintenance checklist
While you're at it, inspect the gutters. Look for joints separating, loose connections and attachments, sags, dips and corrosion. Tighten or reattach loose gutter connections.
Clean out downspout ends (also called "leaders"). These should extend out at least 3 feet at the ground, though some experts suggest 5 or 10 feet. The idea is to prevent water from running back to your home's foundation. At the same time, take care that your downspouts don't drain onto your neighbors' property, causing problems for them. Some cities have ordinances regulating the distance you can discharge your gutters from your property line (ask for details at the city planning department).
After you've cleaned and repaired your gutters, test them by having someone run a hose into the gutters while you walk around the house, looking for leaks and observing where the water drains. Or walk around the house to check during the next heavy rainstorm.
Consider gutter guards
If your gutters fill up frequently, you might want to investigate installing gutter guards (or screens, filters or covers) to reduce — perhaps eliminate — cleaning. There's a wide variety, made from various metals or synthetics. Costs vary from around 60 cents a foot to $7 per foot, plus installation (the average house has roughly 200 feet of gutters), which means you could pay up to $1,500 for materials alone. You could hire someone to clean the gutters (at around $75 each time) for many years for that amount. Although gutter protection is marketed aggressively, systems vary in effectiveness. Check claims by searching product names, and get three or more references from customers who've used the product for several years. Then, call and interview each company.
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Inspect for roof leaks
Start on the ground, using binoculars to scan for evidence of roof damage, including shingles that are curling, broken, cracked or missing. To check your roof for structural stability, stand across the street and look at the roof line. If it appears to sag, get a professional to inspect it. The cause could be damage to the roof supports from heavy snow or many layers of roofing materials.
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Next, look for telltale signs of roof leaks. Inside, inspect the attic — look at the ceiling, rafters and walls, particularly right beneath the roof — for discoloration or stains. (While you're up there, check to ensure that attic fans are working.) Pay attention to skylights and chimneys, which are prone to leaks. Seepage is most likely at joints and openings where one material meets another and where the flashing (seal) is weak. Go outdoors again and check the siding beneath the eaves for evidence of leaks. Call a roofer to repair leaks and reinforce flashing. Don't put off patching a roof leak, since collected moisture can cause expensive rot and decay. (For DIY roof repairs, read "5 roof repair tips: How to fix leaks and broken shingles.")
Check for foundation cracks
Make a yearly tour of your home's foundation to spot any cracks. Hairline cracks and diagonal cracks that start at windows are unlikely to signal serious problems, but keep an eye on them to see if they change. Call a structural engineer if a small crack grows wider or if you find any of the following:
- a crack wider than the thickness of your fingernail
- horizontal cracks
- a stair-step crack that break bricks, blocks or solid concrete
- a pattern of cracks that rounds a corner
- a crack with one side higher than the other
- a crack that starts narrow and grows wider
To keep moisture out of cracks that you've found to be stable, fill them. Purchase a foundation crack repair kit (many include an instructional CD, goggles and gloves) that uses an expanding polyurethane filler for a permanent seal. Caulk and concrete aren't effective for this. Learn more about foundation cracks and repairs at InspectAPedia.
Patrol the grounds
Spend a half-hour walking around your house with an eye to where the foundation meets the ground. Make sure the earth around the house slopes away from the structure — about an inch per foot is good — so water does not collect around the foundation. Dampness invites mold and mildew and, in worst cases, weakens a foundation. Also, keep your eyes open for signs of termites: wings or droppings that look like little pellets. Rake leaves away from the foundation to discourage mice and rats. Keep garbage cans tightly closed. Store recycling securely and clean bottles and cans well before putting them out so food odors don't attract rodents. Turn compost piles regularly and compost only vegetable matter, not animal products.
Scrub the decks and porches
On a sunny day, wipe down and hose off lawn, garden and deck furniture. Sweep decks and porches. Inspect wood decks and porches for rot by pressing the wood with your hand, foot or a tool to find any soft spots. Gently probe soft spots with a screwdriver to learn the extent of the damage. Paint stores carry epoxy putty used to harden, seal and stabilize rotted wood. (These are potentially toxic products, so follow directions carefully.) If the damage is severe, replace rotted boards.
If you're painting your deck, make sure to scrub it first. To remove mold from wood decks, use a solution of three quarts warm water, one quart household bleach, one-third cup detergent and two-thirds cup tri-sodium phosphate. Rinse thoroughly after scrubbing, then treat the deck with a commercial fungicide (found, along with TSP, at paint and hardware stores). Caution: Wear rubber gloves, work in a ventilated area and do not mix bleach with any products containing ammonia; the combination creates toxic fumes. To clean composite decking, follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Seal decks against weather
Wood decks need to be painted or stained every two or three years — more often if they face extreme weather. Watch the weather forecast for a spell of several dry days before treating decks. (You don't want to seal moisture into the wood and encourage rot.) If you're unsure if the wood is sufficiently dry, borrow a moisture meter from a paint store (sales people will explain how to use it). Take readings in many spots. When the wood is dry, thoroughly strip old stain or paint before applying the new finish. Paint stores carry products for this purpose. When renting a power washer, ask for instructions and use it cautiously. Pressure washers can easily gouge and splinter wood decks and railings.