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Spring 2021 Home Maintenance
Posted on Mar 25, 2021

Advice for stuff to do around your home over the next few weeks, every spring. This is NOT a weekend list; it’ll take WAY longer than a weekend. 
 
Wasn’t it a bone-chilling, snow piled-up winter? I actually nearly forgot I spent a tidy sum last year getting the 20 sq ft old concrete patio torn out, a tree removed and a new patio that can accommodate more than four people huddled together installed. The new patio was buried in snow for so long I have to look at pictures to remember it. At the time of this writing, the snow that was drifted across it is less than a foot deep. I expect to see it again soon.
 
New drywall cracks
I don’t know if you noticed anything at your place, but my house has settled during this winter more than in the last dozen years. My (assumed) dozen year timeline is supported by about a half-dozen thin, drywall cracks that formed since the last time I painted, about a dozen years ago. Cracking occurred only on the walls resting that stand on shallow footings(?)…read on. 
 
Foundation
Shallow footings are the portions of a home that rest on concrete placed about 42” below the ground. Most of our concrete support walls are three times wider at the base. Less common in Brookdale are those that are the same eight-inch wall width all the way down. Shallow footings support any area of a home built on a crawl space or that is on a slab.  My home (like many if not most Brookdale homes) was built with part of it over a crawl space. Thirty years ago, I added on a couple small rooms over new shallow footings.  
 
Basements rest on a much deeper placed spread footing. Deeper footings are typically more stable, over time. 

Year round, fluctuations occur in the soil temperature and moisture content. Since the moisture content is likely more consistent (whether usually wet or dry) deeper down, the basement foundation is subjected less to movement. When it gets and stays cold (especially like during our recent polar vortex), moisture in the ground freezes deeper than in the past. Freezing soil may expand unevenly and can put excessive pressure against the concrete walls, causing them to crack. 
 
Concrete is crazy strong in compression, so it’s OK if you rest a house on top of it. However, when force is applied laterally against the side of a foundation wall such as from frost or tree roots, that laterally applied force can cause a crack. Cracks occur most readily in places where there is a square cornered area i.e., around a basement window or an I-beam pocket. However, if you think of your foundation as one or more rectangles, its not unusual to find cracks on facing walls and have wall cracks mirror each other. 
 
Often, cracks are first noticed when moisture comes through them. Although moisture seepage occurs when the ground is wet, the crack it comes through likely occurred when the soil was unusually dry. That’s when the support footings sank a little, causing the walls to sink a tad (not much) and the sinking forms the crack. 
 
When do you need to have a foundation wall crack sealed or repaired? The shortest answer from many home inspectors typically is that “any crack ¼” wide or more requires professional attention”. There ARE more criteria but this is my short answer. In my opinion, any wall cracks less than ¼” (in width) only require repair if they allow water in. Before finishing any area of your home that is below grade, I’d encourage you to get every crack professionally fixed before spending money on finishing.  
 
Just attending to these four items will go a long way to prevent moisture from seeping into your home:
  • keep your roof gutters and downspouts clean
  • discharges from your sump pump & downspouts need to empty well away from the foundation
  • ensure the grading is sloped away from your home
  • keep your window wells covered with plastic covers. 
Of course, if seepage occurs in a finished area, you want to get that corrected as soon as possible to prevent moisture damage and potential mold growth. I’ve seen thousands of basement moisture repairs after inspecting homes in my thirty plus years. The method I’ve seen that is the longest lasting is epoxy injection. Before you get this or anything done to your home, be sure to check reviews from past clients. Use a combination of good reviews and cost quotes from two to three reputable contractors. Again, this goes for any professional repair to your home. A review I will trust most is from someone I know who ACTUALLY used the contractor and especially if I can see the completed work. 
 
If your crawl space is a bit musty smelling you might want to look at this list:
 
  • If your floor is not covered with concrete, know that concrete can be pumped in and is a great option. I did that thirty years ago and consider that to be some of the best (invisible, un-fun) money I’ve ever spent on my home. Otherwise, ensure the entire crawl space floor is completely covered with heavy plastic sheeting. Two layers with overlapping seams are recommended. Bring the sheeting up about a foot on the walls and secure it to the concrete walls. If your home has a professionally installed radon mitigation system, you might be able to ignore most of this bulleted list since most of these suggestions was required as a part of that work. 
  • Operate a dehumidifier in the crawl space. Connect a hose to the water collection tank to continuously drain it into the ground water sump or a floor drain. No one wants to empty the dehumidifier tank. 
  • Open the register that is likely already installed in the crawl space heating supply ducting. This will discharge heating/cooling into the crawl space. This can help warm the floor in the room above the crawl space. Bonus tip: If you’ve installed laminate flooring in the room over the crawl space and wondered why the joints opened up during cold weather, keeping the crawl space warmer could help.  
  • Leave any crawl space vents to the outside closed. Vents were required years ago but building science has data that show a conditioned crawl space area should never have ventilation to the outdoors. 
  • Install vent grills in any wall between the basement area and the crawl space to promote air circulation. In some cases, a mini blind works as well or better than a grill if you are looking for visual isolation. 
  • Never store anything in the crawl space that might support mold growth (i.e., cardboard, carpet, suitcases, wood, family photos, guitars, etc.). Seal most stored items in plastic bins with lids. 
Landscaping
Spring is a good time to trim the vegetation around your home. Trees and landscaping grow. Like with our children, this kinda happens while you aren’t looking. If you didn’t do this during the fall or winter, now’s the time. I usually trim tree limbs to at least ten feet from my home and bushes to about a foot from the siding. 
 
While you are out there doing spring cleanup, pickup leaves or anything else that has accumulated around your home. The almost made it recycled items often escape while being hydraulically lifted way high and being dumped into the truck. The typical prevailing wind is such on Tuesday mornings that some stuff always finds its way from the street and comes to rest in my bushes or against my foundation. On Wednesday mornings I try to be a good neighbor and pick-up (nearly) recycled stuff I find in the street near me. I found switching to the wheeled trash and recycling containers for sale by the City cut way down on stuff that missed the truck. Also, I feel it shows appreciation for the workers who collect it by making their job a little easier. 
 
Please do this: If you live anywhere close to MY house please pay someone to treat your yard for mosquitos. Then I won’t have to get mine done. Thanks in advance!
 
Evaluate your grading ensuring the soil is sloping away and that there aren’t any low areas to form puddles or a moat around your home. Pay close attention to where the water ends up from your sump pump discharge. 
 
Grass:
Before you cut the grass is a great time to pickup whatever fell off trees, etc. I’ve found that picking up an advertising circular is easier when it is still one piece rather than after being shredded by the lawnmower. If you haven’t sharpened the lawnmower blade, know that it will make your mower work better. Is yours sharp enough? After cutting grass next time look at the ends of the grass a couple days later. They should look like they were cut off, not like they were ripped off and appear jagged-tipped. Last year I finally “got around to” leveling my old riding mower grass cutting deck. I hadn’t thought it could get out of adjustment. After that ten-minute procedure I noticed that when I cut the grass it no longer scalps and gouges the lawn down to the soil as I went around corners. Ten maybe twenty minutes of my time… Not sure why it took me so many years to make that adjustment. 
 
Motor powered items:
A snowblower and lawnmower really benefit from having the tank drained and run dry at the end of their season. That saves a lot of much more complicated corrective maintenance.  Ask me how I know that… I drain out as much fuel as possible and then run gas engines till the engine quits. Then the tank and fuel lines are empty. I’m thinking the newer battery powered implements appear to require a lot less care.  
 
Wood deck, pergola, etc.
You might want to see that wood gets cleaned and sealed. I found this is easier to do when it’s not mid-July, a thousand degrees outside and all the relatives are coming over tomorrow. Home inspectors consider wood decks to have a twenty-to-twenty-five-year life. Every year many decks fall or fall off houses when the decks are overloaded and especially if the decks are older. People get really hurt when this occurs. Consider having a NADRA qualified inspector look at your deck, especially if it is more than ten to fifteen years old. Pretty much EVERY deck that I see past ten years old or ANY deck that wasn’t built fairly recently with municipal oversight has safety issues. 
 
For stone/brick patios and other outdoor walkways remove any grass or weeds growing in the seams to prevent problems with displacing the pavers. The grass plants grow and lift the stones.
 
Patio or front porch stone steps often present a safety hazard?
Stone or paver steps are typically “glued” in place. As a home inspector I find frequently they will “pop up” when I step on the outboard end. Most of us hate to fall. For me. the list of people I would like to see injured around my home is zero. You can secure these again with the same caulking gun applied adhesive stuff landscape contractors use, or maybe just pay one of them to do it. As the advertising slogan goes… JUST DO IT. 
 
Roof, chimney and water collection system:
If your gutters aren’t clean, this would be a great time to clean them out (AGAIN). There is no substitute for a good gutter cover system. My twenty-year-old cover system is OK, but next time I’ll get a better one...Look around before committing.  
 
Look at the concrete cap at the top of your brick chimney using binoculars or the zoom on a camera. If you see some smallish cracks, that IS normal. However, cracks need to be sealed with masonry caulk. That can prevent having to rebuild your chimney every fifteen to twenty-five years.  It is a LOT cheaper to pay someone with a long enough ladder to get up there and completely seal the top than to pay for rebuilding/repairs. Water that gets in the cracks freezes and acts like little jack hammers all winter long to break your chimney apart. I said you should “pay someone” because if you don’t typically climb long ladders, you are a lot more likely to have a hurtful experience. There, now I officially advised no one to climb a ladder, ever. 
 
Air Conditioner outdoor unit:
Clean any debris from around your unit. The condensing coil (radiator thingy) sucks air in and blows it out the top whenever the unit is operating. That means that leaves, dust and seed pods get sucked against it. If it is REALLY dirty that affects air flow through the unit and can affect unit operation. Sometimes you might need to get the outdoor unit professionally cleaned. Crazy but true - every year for the last thirty, I’ve done home inspections where I mention that apparently dog urine (leg-lifting males) has dissolved the A/C heat rejecting fins. At best that makes the unit less efficient. 
 
Smoke alarms and CO detectors:
When I was 18 and had curly hair halfway down my back (to help me play guitar better?) I never dreamed of being a mostly bald old guy. I guess nothing lasts forever. I ROUTINELY inspect homes (for potential buyers) and find the occupied home has NO CO detectors. Really!  in homes at all price points…weird. Also, it seems that few people know that smoke detectors do NOT have an infinite life. Even permanently installed smoke and CO detectors up there on the ceiling need to be replaced every five to ten years. 
 
HVAC systems:
Ideally you could schedule professional checkups on your furnace and A/C on a day when it is between 65 and 80 outside so the tech can operate both systems. 
 
Check your furnace humidifier water panel in the spring and replace as necessary. Depending on the model you might need to turn off the bypass damper for the humidifier air supply in summer. A nasty, moldy humidifier has the air inside your home passing across it all summer and might be distributing nasty stuff into your home’s air for you to breathe… Ewwwww! I change my Aprilaire water panel in the late spring every couple of years. 
 
In Spring I (mostly) close the registers on the lower level of my home and (mostly) open most of them fully on the upper level. In October I’ll reverse the process. Heat rises (or cold falls depending on what class you took in school to learn this information). Its amazing how much more comfortable your home can be by delivering the cooling to the upper floors and most of the heating to the lower floor. Changing register settings is simple and often is the most effective thing you can do on your own. 
 
Inside stuff:
I’m not about to even acknowledge that thing called “deep spring cleaning”. Otherwise, Marianne might enlist my help, not that I can likely completely avoid helping some. MY clean enough and hers apparently apply different standards.

Electrical
Test EVERY ONE of the GFCI devices in your home. Include the bathrooms, kitchen, garage and those located outside by pushing the “Test” button. Easily 90% of the homes I inspect have one or more GFI devices that will not trip off (or reset after I trip them). These always need to be replaced. Have a QUALIFIED person* replace them now to improve your chances for a longer life rather than as an annoyance when you eventually sell your home. I find improperly wired GFCI outlets all the time during my home inspections that CREATE a shock hazard rather than helping to prevent one. It IS possible to wire any electrical outlet backwards (reversed polarity) - it usually seems to work fine and not injure or kill anyone for MANY years, and then it does.

*Person: any human capable of doing it correctly. If you enlist a robot or a pet to do this properly, I’m sure that will be fine too. Most qualified people I’ve met have at least read the directions that come with a product at some point in their life. Be one of those people, I TRY to be one too. 

 If you are going to be a DIY person, make sure you know how to DIY it. I find improper info on how to do things WRONG about half the time I use the internet. More than once I’ve had (angry, defensive) home sellers send me links on how to create the unsafe, non-code acceptable wiring or unsanitary plumbing they performed. Just because something is commonplace in another state doesn’t mean it is OK here. Just because its in print (including here, by me) doesn’t mean it’s the last word. 

If tiny tots frequent your home you likely employ plug-in outlet protectors. For many years now, they make tamper resistant electrical outlets that a qualified person can use to replace your receptacles and permanently provide protection for your loved ones while making life a tiny bit more aggravating by ensuring you plug things in perfectly straight.  FYI – that word choice is a CONSTANT struggle for me… 

Should I say an Outlet or a Receptacle? Saying “outlet” promotes thoughts of getting a bargain on something stuffed back in an open box or without the original price tag still attached. A “receptacle” in my mind is a container I toss garbage or recycling towards before I have to walk over and pick it up off the floor to actually get it in there. In school I was always picked for team sports during Phys Ed one or two persons before the person with casts on BOTH broken arms or legs.  I got pretty good at bench warming and recording stats. 

Appliances:
Dirty clothes dryer ducting causes house fires. Shorter smooth metal ducting accumulates less (flammable) lint and helps your clothes dry more quickly. Make sure you dryer duct is as short and smooth as possible. I take mine apart and clean it at least annually. 
 
Look above your cooking range and if needed, clean (or replace) the kitchen fan filter.  Many filters can be cleaned in the dishwasher. I’ll never forget the first time I heard about this and looked at mine…

Look at the grills on your bathroom vent fans. You might want to put the brush attachment on your vacuum hose and do these. While you are at it, vacuum all the cold air return grills for your heating/cooling ductwork throughout the house. The returns are easy to tell because they suck dirt in when the furnace or A/C fan is operating. Some of the airborne dust and dirt is gonna stick to the cover grill. Cleaning them makes me feel like accomplished something and was helpful. 

Check bathroom tile grout. Remove and replace cracked sealant material as needed to help prevent often mysterious and extensive water damage to your home. While you are at it, NOW is a GREAT time to tighten up the fasteners for the glass shower door, before it falls off. The hinges, rollers and seals are pretty much all replaceable when necessary and will make your life better. 

If a toilet rocks a little it can end up causing a huge, expensive mess. I definitely see loose ones and the damage they have caused as a home inspector. CAREFULLY tighten those two nuts to the floor so the toilet doesn’t rock at all. Sometimes you might need to add plastic wedges (shims from the hardware store) to fix this. If you crank it too tight against the floor, the porcelain toilet will BREAK (been there, done that). Now you’ll need to go to the store and get a new toilet. Toilets traditionally used a “wax ring” underneath them but now there are much better options for the connections under the toilet. Surprise… most of the newer type don’t cost much, if even more than a decent quality wax ring. If the toilet isn’t loose, rocking or leaking, don’t mess with it!

Look closely at EVERY flexible water line in your home. This would include connections to any of your sink faucets, toilets, ice maker, dishwasher and washing machine (and some dryers). You don’t want to find bulges in the hoses or any sharp bends.  It is alarming when you wake up in the morning or come home and find hundreds of gallons of water has leaked into your home. Nothing lasts forever. 

Drain water heater sediment from the water heater tank into a floor drain. I connect a garden hose, turn on the faucet at the bottom of the water heater and open it all the way until it runs clear – about one to two minutes a couple times a year. I thought when Lake Michigan water started coming out of our faucets in Brookdale about thirty years ago, I wouldn’t have to do this anymore but there is still a benefit. 

Make repairs to nuisance items such as a leaky faucet, a toilet that refills itself when no one has used it, cupboards with doors out of alignment or that do not close well, etc.

Again, this is a list of things over a period of weeks, not in a weekend.