June home improvement checklist

istockphoto - This is a good month to tune up a bike and get out riding. You can pay a repair shop, of course, but there are other options. The Bike House (www.thebikehouse.
org
), a community-based bicycle repair co-op in Washington, offers free bicycle clinics Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. at Annie’s Ace Hardware in Washington’s Petworth neighborhood and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Bloomingdale Farmer’s Market, at 1st and R streets NW.

June is a great time to tackle all sorts of projects: You can enjoy the results all summer, and the days aren’t yet too hot and muggy. Here’s a to-do list.

Clean out the garage

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Open up the garage door and enjoy the fresh air as you sort through your boxes and sweep away dirt that collected over the winter. Instead of simply dividing items by ones you will keep, toss or donate, save time by establishing more specific categories right from the beginning. For example, instead of creating a big pile of items to give away, set out boxes labeled for things your friends might use, ones you will donate to a thrift shop and those you might try to sell.

If you decide to have a yard sale, ask your local planning department about regulations, including for signs. In Fairfax County, for example, residents are allowed two garage sales a year, provided nothing sold was purchased specifically for the sale. The county allows up to five signs, but for only two weekends a year. The signs can’t be bigger than three square feet or more than four feet tall, and if you post more than one sign along a street, you need to keep them more than 500 feet apart. Who would guess? Better to ask first.

Tune up the bikes

As you clean out the garage, do you confront bicycles gathering cobwebs, perhaps because the tires are flat or the gears don’t shift right? This is a good month to tune them up and get out riding. You can pay a repair shop, of course, but there are other options. The Bike House (www.thebikehouse.
org
), a community-based bicycle repair co-op in Washington, offers free bicycle clinics Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. at Annie’s Ace Hardware in Washington’s Petworth neighborhood and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Bloomingdale Farmer’s Market, at 1st and R streets NW. The Bike Rack, a bike shop in Washington (202-387-2453; www.thebikerackdc.com) also offers free maintenance classes from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. several Saturdays a month. A class just for women is scheduled Saturday, and one open to anyone is set for June 29.

What if the problem isn’t just the bike, but also your nerve (or lack of it) in pedaling around the city?

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (www.waba.org) can help with that. It has classes in Confident City Cycling scheduled Saturday at 10 a.m. in Arlington and June 15 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in Alexandria. Sign up via the “education” section of the Web site.

Purge the toxics

Also at the back of the garage, you’re likely to find old containers of finishes, pesticides and other nasties that qualify as household hazardous waste. If you don’t plan to use them, get rid of them through your local household hazardous waste program. In Washington, the place to go is the Fort Totten Transfer Station on the first Saturday of each month from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., except holidays. You can drop off everything from acids to wood preservatives, but not ammunition or explosives (those go to a police station) or old latex paint (dry it and toss in regular trash).

As for unwanted medicine, the Washington waste program says to put it in the trash, but the issue is complicated. Check the label and read the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines by searching for “unused medicine” at www.fda.gov.

For a more complete list of do’s and don’ts in the District, see the Department of Public Works’ Web site, dpw.dc.gov.

Clip those weeds

Letting weeds take over your yard isn’t just unsightly. In Washington, it can cost you. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs enforces grass- and weed-cutting rules all season (May 1 to Oct. 31) and issues fines of up to $500 to property owners who refuse to trim to under 10 inches any weeds or grasses that cause hay fever. The rule also applies to kudzu, poison ivy, oak and sumac, plants with obnoxious odors, and any weeds that create a breeding place for mosquitoes.

What if you’re doing your part but your neighbor isn’t? The department invites reports about suspected violations. You can call the department at 202-442-9557, e-mail complaints to dcra.housingcomplaints@dc.gov, or send a tweet to @dcra. The department suggests including a photograph and the exact address.

Test outlets

Before you plug in that electric weed-cutter or the rotisserie on your barbecue, take a few minutes to test the ground fault circuit interrupters on your outdoor electrical outlets, as well as those in the basement, garage, bathrooms and kitchen. To test a GFCI receptacle, plug a nightlight or other lamp into the outlet, and switch on the light. Press the test button on the GFCI. If the reset button doesn’t pop out, replace the GFCI. Hardware and building-supply companies sell these for about $12 each. (Turn off the circuit breaker before you begin work, or call an electrician.) If the reset button pops out but the light stays on, the GFCI isn’t properly wired. An electrician can fix it. If the reset button pops out and the light goes out, the GFCI is working correctly. Press reset to restore power to the outlet.

Feel the breeze

If you have a ceiling fan that’s still set for wintertime operation, get out a stepstool or ladder so you can reach the slide switch that controls the direction blades rotate. On most fans, you slide the switch downward for the summer. Check by turning on the fan and watching whether the blades rotate in the direction that they tilt upward; this pushes air down, so you should feel a breeze when you stand underneath.

Using a ceiling fan can save on your electrical bill — but only if you also adjust the thermostat so the air conditioner switches on at a higher temperature, use energy-efficient lights and switch off the fan when no one is in the room. Ceiling fans cool people by helping sweat evaporate. The air temperature doesn’t change, though, so leaving the fan running when no one is around just wastes electricity.

If you’re buying a new ceiling fan, get one with an Energy Star rating. It will move air more efficiently than other models. Consumer Reports magazine recommends buying the largest fan that works in a space. You’ll be able to run a large fan on lower speeds, minimizing noise.

Clean or refinish the deck

Wooden decks and even those made of wood-and-plastic composites need regular maintenance. At a minimum, sweep off leaves and pollen and scrub away any slippery moss. Use a scrub brush and a hose if you want to avoid risking the wood damage that a power washer might cause. Run a putty knife between boards to dislodge twigs or other debris trapped in the gaps. This helps air to circulate around the boards so they dry more quickly after a storm and are less likely to rot or become covered with mildew.

If you have a wooden deck and it still looks dirty, it’s probably time to refinish it. Use a deck stain and finish remover to strip away any paint, stain or water repellent. Or, if the deck is uncoated, use an oxygen-bleach cleaner to remove mildew stains and loose wood fibers. For the new coating, avoid paint, because film-forming finishes tend to peel when wood is exposed to the weather in a horizontal position. Instead, use a stain that includes pigments that block ultraviolet light, which degrades wood fibers. Opaque stains last longer than ones that are more transparent, but don’t apply several layers because they build up into a film that’s likely to peel.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

 
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