Install an outdoor clothesline
Celebrate spring with the fresh scent and texture of air-dried sheets and towels. True, May is usually the wettest month in Washington. But between showers, the weather can be glorious. Free yourself from using the dryer, which is typically second only to a refrigerator as a home’s most energy-guzzling appliance. If you have only a deck for outdoor space or if you live where condo or subdivision rules prohibit outdoor clotheslines, invest in a fold-away stand or a retractable clothesline and use it toward dusk. If you have more space, consider an umbrella-style clothesline; it fits in a space about 6 feet by 6 feet and folds up and lifts out for storage. Or, if you have more room, you can install an actual retro-style clothesline with wooden or metal T posts at each end. A company in Maine (www.clotheslineshop.com) sells all the fixings, or shop at a local hardware or home store.
This is a chore that might warrant doing in the spring, not just in the fall, especially if your house is near evergreens, which shed needles year-round, or trees such as oaks that take a long time to drop their leaves in the fall. Efficiently cleaning gutters is a bit counterintuitive to some. Rather than starting next to a downspout, start at the far end of a gutter (or in the middle, if a gutter drains in two directions). Otherwise, each area you clear will simply send more debris toward the downspout. As you scoop out gunk, stash it in a bucket rather than flinging it on the ground; that saves you from having to pick up the debris later. If shrubbery keeps you from positioning the ladder so you cannot reach a section of gutter, get a stick and use it to pull or push the leaves to a place where you can reach them. If you’re not comfortable working on a ladder, call a pro.
Deal with rain runoff
Once the gutters are free-flowing, wait for a rainy day when you can go outside and check whether water spills over the top. If so, you need more downspouts; call a company that installs gutters.
Also 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 stormwater 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 (www.dof.virginia.gov, search “rain garden technical guide”).
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 a troubleshooting guide, such as the one that manufacturer Flotec provides at www.easysump.
com. Or call a plumber or a basement waterproofing company — it’s a lot cheaper than dealing with a flooded basement. If your pump operates only when power is on, take advantage of the pro’s presence to inquire about installing a battery-powered backup sump pump or one that operates on water pressure.
“Spring cleaning” is a term usually applied to interior chores, like tackling a cluttered closet or removing cobwebs from ceilings. But an outdoor cleanup makes a lot of sense, too. Besides making your yard more inviting for summer barbecues, hauling away piles of branches, half-rotted wood and other debris can go a long way toward making your yard less hospitable to rodents. The Washington Department of Public Works collects up to five bags per week of yard waste from residences that receive DPW trash and recycling collection services. For leads on places in the Washington area that will take bricks, dirt, concrete and other construction and demolition materials, check out the Builders’ Guide to Reuse & Recycling at www.mwcog.org/builders
Get DIY tips
Banish the bunker mentality that set in during the recession and begin dreaming again about ways to improve your house. Fairfax County Public Schools’ adult and community education program offers short courses in DIY projects including electrical basics (starting Saturday), installing ceramic tile (starting Tuesday), how to improve the look of your home by replacing or installing moldings (starting May 9) and bathroom remodeling (starting June 4). The school system’s Web site, www.fcps.edu, lists details; click on “Academics & Programs” and then “Community Education.”
Companies that sell remodeling materials to consumers also sometimes offer free workshops; Home Depot and Lowe’s do this, as do specialty stores such as the Tile Shop. Michael & Son, a remodeling contractor in the Washington area (800-948-6453; www.michaelandson.com) also offers free DIY classes in Falls Church. A session on plumbing repairs and improvements is scheduled for May 11; one on electrical know-how is scheduled for June 8.
Clean or buy a dehumidifier
With humid summer days on the way, 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 (search “dehumidifiers” at www.energystar.gov). 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 to fresh air. Wash the screens outdoors on a lawn (not on the driveway, where the runoff might go directly into a stormwater 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.
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