October to-do list


Upgrade your outdoor lighting, which can keep trick-or-treaters from tripping. (Bigstock)
October 2, 2013

Daylight saving time is still in effect this month, so you have enough light to get you through an outdoor chore or two after work. If the weather’s bad, there are also good things to do indoors. After all, as the shorter days remind us, we’ll all be spending a lot more time there soon.

■Brighten up

You don’t need to change the light bulb to brighten up a dim room. You can coax out significantly more light simply by taking down ceiling fixtures and cleaning them. First wipe away any cobwebs (they show up best if the bulb is on), then cut power to the light at the circuit box. Don’t rely on a wall switch, because ceiling fixtures sometimes have a hot wire. Remove the fixture’s cover, taking care to put any knobs, chains or other removable parts in a safe place. Dust off dead insects and other debris from the cover and the bulb, then wash the cover in warm, soapy water. Rinse, dry and reinstall. Switch the power back on at the circuit box.

■ Add outdoor lights

With nightfall coming earlier each day, this is a good time to assess whether the outdoor lighting at your house is what it should be. This doesn’t mean adding spotlights, which can actually make things in shadows even harder to see. Instead, focus on illuminating areas where someone might trip. Choose fixtures that shield the bulb and aim the light low, at your feet. Low-voltage lights are safe and effective. Solar lights are a breeze to install because they need no wiring. But though they are good for marking out a path, they often don’t put out enough light to help people see uneven surfaces.

Before you buy, check with your local government about any rules governing outdoor lighting. In Fairfax County, for example, most outdoor home lighting is no problem, but if you have a light pole taller than seven feet, special rules prevail.

■Boost your power IQ

If you get squeamish at the thought of taking down ceiling lights or installing path lights, this month is a good time to demystify home wiring. Home Depot stores are offering a free workshop on “Electrical Updates” on Oct. 19 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Sign up at workshops.homedepot.com/workshops/
home
. If you want something more in-depth, consider taking “Electrical Wiring for the Homeowner” through the adult education program at Arlington Public Schools. The three-week course begins Oct. 21 and will be offered Monday and Wednesday from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Fees total $199 for Arlington residents and $225 for non-residents; people 62 or older get a discount. Register at www.apsva.us/
adulted
.

■Store the mower

You’re probably done mowing the lawn for the season, unless you use your mower to chop tree leaves. But even those eventually stop falling. When the mower’s last outing is ending, run the motor until the gas runs out. Why? Gasoline these days often contains ethanol, which pulls moisture from the air. If you leave gas in the tank for an extended time, that moisture can cause metal to corrode, and the ethanol and water can settle to the bottom of the tank over time, causing engine problems and damage. Clean the mower before you put it away, and if you cover it, use cloth; plastic can trap moisture.

■Whisk away webs

Just in time for Halloween, spiders make their webs unusually noticeable this month. Neither webs nor the spiders themselves damage a house, but torn webs clogged with insect parts do look unkempt. So a little tidying up might be in order. Indoors, whisk away webs with a brush attachment on a vacuum wand. Outdoors, pin an electrostatic-charged dust cloth around a broom. Warehouse stores sell these cloths by the bundle in the auto-care section. You can wash and reuse them numerous times.

Except for black widow spiders, which live mostly in secluded spaces outdoors, most of the spiders in the Washington area aren’t particularly dangerous. Most spider bites here probably come from yellow house spiders, which cause lesions that can take two weeks to heal. These spiders move into houses in early fall. To keep them out of your house, the best strategy is to plug gaps with caulk or weatherstripping and clear an 18-inch-wide band free of plants and debris around your house.

■Check sweeps

All those Halloween decorations featuring brooms are a good reminder to pay attention to sweeps of a different sort: ones that close gaps at the bottom of exterior doors. Sweeps come in different styles but have just two basic components: a mounting strip that you attach along the back of the door and a flexible blade that brushes against the threshold, the bottom trim in the doorway. If you don’t like the look of a sweep, another option is a door cap, which hugs the bottom edge. Sweeps adjust easily to fit uneven gaps where floors sag. Caps are more complicated to install because you need to take the door off its hinges first, and they aren’t as forgiving when gaps are uneven. Both styles depend on having a fairly flat surface to seal against. If a threshold is rough, you might need to replace it. Hardware stores, lumberyards and home centers carry the parts.

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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