August in the Washington area is usually a couple of degrees cooler than July, but it’s still sweltering. It’s a good time for indoor projects and preparations for what August is all about: getting out of town.
More residential burglaries occur in August than any other month. (February has the least.) To keep your house from becoming a statistic, replace or repair any locks that don’t work. If your house doesn’t have deadbolts, install them. Deadbolts that require a key to open on the inside might make you feel more secure, especially if you have a door with glass, but they aren’t legal in the District and many other communities because someone without a key couldn’t escape a fire. The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs posts details of what’s required at its Web site focused on helping homeowners create legal basement apartments (rentmydcbasement.wordpress.com).
Although you can install a lock yourself if you are handy, calling in a locksmith might be wise. A professional can also evaluate your doors and door frames and make sure you have high-security strike plates and heavy-duty screws long enough to bite into the framing behind the door trim. To find the most secure lock, buy one with a high-security ANSI Grade 1 rating; locks labeled as Grades 2 and 3 offer less protection. If the packaging doesn’t say, check the manufacturer’s Web site.
Washer hoses become brittle with age. That’s a problem because the water in them is under pressure except when the machine is filling. So any crack quickly becomes a serious issue, especially if you’re not there to notice. State Farm, which estimates that leaking washer hoses cause $170 million in damage each year, recommends replacing hoses every three to five years or anytime you notice signs of bulging or cracking. For extra protection, install a leak-detection device that shuts off water automatically. The insurance company offers a list of manufacturers on its Web site (learningcenter.statefarm.com).
A dripping faucet might seem like a trivial home maintenance issue. But if the drips continue while you are away for a few weeks, you could be wasting a significant amount of water. Fixing a faucet leak is simple enough — once you understand the type of faucet you have. This Old House has published a guide on how to figure out which of the four main kinds you have, and how to fix them (www.thisoldhouse.com).
Your water bill should drop if you’re away for a couple of weeks, but you could be in for a rude surprise if you leave when a toilet flapper isn’t sealing tightly between flushes. This kind of leak doesn’t leave a puddle or even make a sound, but it can waste 200 gallons of water a day, enough to make a big difference on a water bill. To test for a toilet leak, put a few drops of food coloring in the tank and wait 10 minutes without flushing. If the color shows up in the bowl, you have a leak. When you go to a hardware store for a replacement flapper, take the old one with you so you get one that fits.
If you have an old toilet or even a relatively new one that forces you to flush multiple times to get the job done, this is a good month to replace it because you can do all of the work indoors, in air-conditioned comfort. The best new toilets work on the first flush and use dramatically less water than old ones, enough to save more than $110 a year in water costs, according to the EPA’s WaterSense program. Price isn’t a reliable indicator of performance. Instead, look for toilets with the WaterSense label. The EPA partnership program identifies toilets that work well and are water-efficient. To find toilets that perform even better than the WaterSense standard, look at the model-specific ratings from a program known as Maximum Performance (www.map-testing.com).
As summer moves into the final stretch, give the air conditioner a little attention so it stays humming along as efficiently as possible. Unless you’ve done it recently, replace the filter, or clean it if you have a type that you can rinse or vacuum. Air conditioners work better when the filter is clean because it takes extra energy to pull air through a dirty filter. Although some manufacturers recommend cleaning or changing the filter only every three to nine months, the U.S. Energy Department recommends doing it every month or two during the cooling season, and even more frequently if you have furry indoor pets.
It’s easy to be in a languid mood on a hot August day, but sometimes you just want to feel like you accomplished something. Look around and pick one easy upgrade. If you have older kids lounging around, enlist them to help — it’s the best way to learn lessons schools don’t teach. Among the possibilities: Update hardware on old kitchen cabinets. Install new curtains. Swap out a standard shower curtain rod over a tub with one of the new curved ones to make the space less cramped. Reduce clutter by whatever entry the family uses most often by adding shelves, hooks and a chair or bench for taking shoes on and off.
August is the month for back-to-school sales. If you need to set up a home office or want to redo one you already have, it’s a great time to get the furniture and supplies. Or if a summer of hosting guests on the couch has persuaded you to set up a dedicated guest room, check out the sales aimed at teens setting up a dorm room or a first apartment.
When your other chores are done and you’re headed out of town on vacation, protect your home from break-ins by making it look as if you never left. Buy a couple of timers and set them to turn a radio and key lights on and off at hours similar to your usual ones. Keep shades and blinds in their normal position. Arrange to have mail stopped, newspapers taken in and the lawn mowed, perhaps by a teenage neighbor who’s hungry for a summer job.
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