Getting Ready For Spring

by David Hollies

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Spring is the perfect time to give your home a check-up. Every home needs some maintenance each year, and most folks do about one home improvement project a year. As you look ahead to the best months for exterior repairs and remodeling, a little planning can save you both money and time.

Here are answers to some of the most common spring maintenance questions:

Q: My air conditioning company sells a service plan that includes a spring tune-up. Is that necessary or just a way to get more money out of me?
Many heating and air conditioning companies sell such services. If you still have the paperwork that came with the air conditioning unit, it will include recommended maintenance. Most units do not require annual, professional maintenance. However, there are simple things you can and should do yourself. Most important, you should keep the outside unit clear of debris, vines and shrubs.

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Many people opt to have annual servicing by a professional firm to reduce the chances of a breakdown during a heat wave. The technician can often spot problems before they are noticeable to you, and by taking care of it on the spot, prevent a system failure at a time when it might be very hard to get a technician out to your home.

Q: I barely have time to deal with the obvious repair items, how am I supposed to find time to do a thorough inspection of my home?
Most people who use a checklist as an organizing tool report that ultimately saves time. When you know the full range of projects you face, you can group projects. How many times have you had a plumber out for one problem, like clearing a drain or fixing a leak; but forgotten to have him fix a toilet or change a washer at the same time.

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If you have a complete to-do list, you'll get all your plumbing problems taken care of in just one visit by the plumber. This is true for electrical projects as well. For small painting and carpentry jobs, you can save a huge amount of time by getting it all done as one project.

Q: My house just needs one or two minor repairs, but I can't find anyone who's willing to do such small jobs. What can I do?
If you take the time to look over your whole home, you'll probably find there are quite a few minor things. Besides repairs, there might be small improvements as well; things like adding a shelf in the pantry, replacing faulty kitchen cabinet handles, or adding a longer handrail to the back steps.

If you take a little time you will usually find that you can put together a bundle of small jobs that starts to be pretty attractive to a carpenter or a handyman. If you are planning a more significant project this season, such as a deck or porch enclosure, it is fairly easy to get the small items taken care of in conjunction with the larger project.

Q: I'm a retired widow and my husband used to take care of all the house things. I don't think I can do an inspection myself. What can I do?
Working with a good checklist, almost everyone can inspect his or her own home. While you won't be as effective as someone with more experience, you'll get better every time you do it. It's a good idea to get more familiar with your home, and doing an inspection is an ideal way to start.

Q: This past winter, we had problems with ice dams forming on the roof. We haven't had any more leaks for the last few weeks, but now that the weather is improved, we'd like to do what we can to prevent future problems. What do you suggest?
There is very little that can be done about an ice dam when it is occurring, so you are smart to focus on prevention. Ice dams are caused, in the majority of cases, by poor attic ventilation.

There should be unobstructed vents along the peak of your roof or in the gables (the triangular walls below the roofline at the ends of your house). There should also be openings along all the eaves. On many homes, these eave vents are either covered with insulation on the inside of the attic, or covered with siding material on the outside of the eaves.

Either one will defeat effective attic ventilation and invite ice dams during winter snowstorms. If insulation is the problem, pull it back far enough so that it can't resettle on top of the vents. If your eaves (also called overhangs or soffits) are obstructed, replace the covering material with the kind with holes in it. Also make sure the vents are free of cobwebs, leaves and other debris. Ice dams are very rare in homes with good attic ventilation.