May Checklist: Make hay whether the sun shines or not
By Jeanne Huber,
Here are a few household tasks to take on during May, which is usually the wettest month of the year in Washington.
Deal with rain runoff
Between rain showers, the weather can be glorious. Use this yin-yang to good advantage.
-- When it's pouring, watch how rain runs off your roof. If water cascades over the edges, the gutters might need cleaning. Even if you cleared them in the fall, there can be build-up over winter from evergreens, which shed needles year-round, and from trees such as oaks that take a long time to shed leaves.
-- Once the gutters are clear, check whether water still spills over the top. If so, you need more downspouts; call a company that installs gutters.
-- Watch how water empties from the gutters. If it splashes back onto the home's siding or puddles next to the foundation, divert the water farther away, usually at least 10 feet. You might need underground piping that leads to a dry well (an underground pit filled with round rocks), which a landscaper can install. Or you can pipe the water to a rain garden, a bed with fluffy soil and water-loving plants.
The Montgomery County RainScapes program has a useful chart at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/rainscapes that compares dry wells, rain gardens and other storm-water solutions in terms of cost and complexity. Homeowners who want to put in a rain garden or dry well themselves can download an easy-to-understand guide from the Virginia Department of Forestry Web site.
Test the sump pump
If your home has a sump pump to keep the basement dry, check the owner's manual for maintenance recommendations. In most cases, you just need to unplug the pump and clear debris in the sump pump pit or tank. Clean the screen, too, if there is one. Plug the pump back in, pour water into the pit, and check that the pump switches on and draws down the water.
If anything's amiss, consult the manual or call a plumber or a basement waterproofing company -- it's a lot cheaper than dealing with a flooded basement. While the pro's there, ask about installing a battery-powered backup sump pump if you don't have one.
Clean or buy a dehumidifier
With humid summer days soon on the way, now's the time to make sure you have an operating dehumidifier to combat musty odors in a basement or back room. Dehumidifiers operate most efficiently when their coils are clean. To clear dust and other debris, remove screws on the cover, lift the casing and go over the coils with a soft brush. If the unit has an air filter, wash it in warm water with a little dish detergent, rinse and let it dry. Also wash out the bucket. Cleaning coils is usually an annual chore. Wash the filter monthly and the bucket every few weeks, or even more often if mildew is a problem.
If you need to buy a dehumidifier, you can find a good overview of features and options on the Web site of the federal Energy Star program. Dehumidifiers use a lot of energy, so this is one appliance definitely worth getting with an Energy Star rating. The electricity you save could be enough to power your refrigerator for six months.
Let in fresh air
Celebrate springtime by washing and patching window screens so you can open your house up to fresh air. Wash the screens outdoors on a lawn (not on the driveway, where the runoff might go directly into a storm-water system) or in a bathtub. Use a soft brush or a sponge and warm, soapy water. Rinse with clear water, allow to dry, then reinstall.
If you spot small holes in the screens, go to a hardware store and buy self-stick patches or a short length of screen material for DIY patches. Cut the patches about a half-inch oversize in all directions and sew them on with a needle and either standard thread or fishing line. If there are large rips, get the screens replaced. Some hardware stores offer this service, or go to a window or screen shop.