It’s spring at last — the perfect time to get outside and tune up the yard. For starters: How’s the fence? If yours looks grungy, you might just need to scrub and hose it off, then apply a fresh coat of stain or paint. If it’s wobbly or leaning, a rotted-out fence post is the likely culprit. You can replace the post, but that’s a lot of work, especially if the post has a concrete anchor. For an easier solution, check out Simpson Strong Tie’s Fence Mender (available at Home Depot), a 28-inch-long metal stake designed for pounding in alongside a wooden post, even if it’s set into concrete. For each post, you need two stakes, typically sold for less than $10 each, plus screws and a short-handle sledgehammer or two. Why two? It gives you a bigger target to aim at. Position one sledge on the top of a stake and hit that with the other sledge.
Garden gates tend to sag over time. Then they stick, or the latch no longer works. To get a gate working like new, first check hinges. If screws are loose, tighten them or replace them with ones that are slightly longer and thicker. Next, check the gate itself and tighten up anything that’s loose. Wooden gates typically have a brace that rises diagonally from the bottom on the hinged side to the top on the latch side. If your gate lacks this, the simplest solution is to add one by bolting it to the horizontal supports on the gate. First, prop under the latch side until that side of the gate is the right height and wedge in another prop about a quarter-inch or half-inch thick, to allow for a little future sagging. Then add the diagonal bracing. If your gate already has diagonal bracing, or as additional reinforcing for a wooden brace you’ve just added, install a cable with a turnbuckle (a fitting that you can screw in to keep the cable taut) diagonally across the gate, but in the opposite direction. For all the parts you need, buy a gate repair kit for less than $10, such as Stanley Hardware’s Anti-Sag Gate Kit (available at Lowe’s) or Hoover Fence’s Non-Sag Gate Kit (www.hooverfence.com).
If you have an asphalt driveway where bare stones show, now’s the time to reseal it. You can hire the job out for about 25 to 30 cents a square foot, or do it yourself with sealer that costs $20 to $30 for a bucket that covers 350 square feet. Though that might seem a bargain based on the square-foot cost, your final bill might come out about the same once you rent a pressure washer to clean the pavement first, get application tools and enough sealer to apply two coats, and buy crack fillers and primer for oily areas. So which is the better method? John Brian, an estimator and project manager for Asphalt General (301-937-3900; www.asphaltgeneral.com), an asphalt and seal-coat installer in Beltsville that works primarily on commercial and industrial jobs, had a surprising answer to that question: “You might wind up doing a little better job yourself. You’ll be more conscious of what you’re doing, and you might put it on thicker.” Either way, the key issues are to wait for warm weather — late April is usually the earliest — and to use an asphalt-based sealer, not one with coal tar, which is banned within the District because rain runoff from it pollutes the Chesapeake Bay. (It’s allowed in some other jurisdictions, but Home Depot and Lowe’s have stopped carrying it.) The sealer should contain three to four pounds of sand per gallon, adding traction. If you hire a company, be sure to get one that’s licensed and insured. The Virginia Asphalt Association lists contractors who meet standards at www.aasphalt.org; many work throughout the Washington area.
Dining outdoors is one of the great pleasures of spring and summer. Now’s the time to prepare by getting outdoor furniture in tip-top shape.
●Teak: If the wood is blotchy or black with mildew, scrub with a teak cleaner and a synthetic or brass pad. One-part cleaners are safest; they don’t rough up the wood. Rinse and let dry. Then apply teak oil if you want the wood to stay its natural color. Skip the oil if you’d rather have wood that ages to a mellow gray.
●Wrought iron: If you see rust damage, scrub off as much as possible, ideally down to bare metal, with a wire brush. Scuff up other areas by sanding lightly. Paint with rust-inhibiting primer, then repaint.
●Strap or plastic wicker: Remove brittle plastic and weave on new vinyl strapping. A lattice pattern with a double wrap on the frame is more durable than simple horizontal straps.
Take a break from your own spring chores to help make a home safer or more accessible for someone who is elderly or otherwise unable to cope on his or her own. On April 27, volunteer teams will tackle repairs needed on homes identified by nonprofit housing organizations as part of the 29th National Rebuilding Day sponsored by Rebuilding Together, a national nonprofit group. The Montgomery County chapter, just one of many affiliates in the Washington area, plans to do 25 projects with 1,000 volunteers over that weekend. You can still volunteer to help, but be aware that the program is organized mostly around groups, such as co-workers, alumni groups or church organizations. If there’s no spot for you on a team, or if that weekend doesn’t work for you, never fear: There will be a fall Rebuilding Together Day on the last Saturday in October, says Lee-Berkeley Shaw, director of development for the Montgomery County chapter. Or you can organize a team and schedule a project at any other time of the year that works for you. Find a list of the many local chapters and a sign-up form at www.rebuildingtogether.org.
If you haven’t already done so, have your air conditioner serviced and install a fresh filter. Even if you don’t need air conditioning yet, you might want to run the fan to filter out pollen. April is usually the peak of pollen season in the Washington area. What if you have must-do outdoor chores? Tackle them at midday, and wear a disposable respirator. Pollen counts are usually highest in early morning and late afternoon. Schedule projects when plants that trigger your hay fever aren’t at peak bloom. Find local pollen counts and the chief culprits on the Web site of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (www.aaaai.org/nab). Type “pollen count” into the search box
April is usually a good time to wash windows, but with a harsh March this year, it’s probably better to just schedule a window cleaning and have the work done in May. “You want to wait until most of the pollen is gone,” suggests Ryan McPheters, manager at Virginia Window Cleaners in McLean (www.vawindow.com). “Because of all the weather we had, the trees are a little behind schedule.” But if you wait until May to schedule, window washers are likely to be backed up for several weeks. Is it worth having a pro do the job? Prices range from $100 for modest digs on up to $2,000 for big estates. McPheters’s company typically charges $6.50 per double-hung window, plus $2.50 if it has a storm window. His top tip for DIYers: Use a squeegee, not rags. Overlap passes and wipe off the blade after each one.
Have a problem in your home? Send questions to email@example.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.