For many families, the main focus of August is getting out of town on vacation. But there are a few simple maintenance tasks to tackle first.

Replace hoses on washing machine

Washer hoses become brittle with age. That’s a problem because water in them is under pressure except when the machine is filling. So any crack quickly becomes a serious issue, especially if you’re not there to notice. State Farm, which estimates that leaking washer hoses cause $170 million in damage each year, recommends replacing hoses every three to five years or anytime you notice signs of bulging or cracking. For extra protection, install a leak-detection device that shuts off water automatically. The insurance company offers a list of manufacturers (PDF) on its Web site.

Clean the dryer vent

While you’re in the laundry room, clean out the dryer exhaust vent. Too much lint keeps a dryer from operating at peak efficiency and could start a fire. Cleaning the vent is easy: Just loosen the screws or nuts that hold the vent piping in place and vacuum out the tubing. If the vent is made of flimsy plastic, replace it with metal ductwork. Also clean any lint off the fins where the vent releases the exhaust air to the outdoors.


Check toilets

Your water bill should drop if you’re away for a couple of weeks, but you could be in for a rude surprise if you leave when a toilet flapper isn’t sealing tightly between flushes. This kind of leak doesn’t leave a puddle or even make a sound, but it can waste 200 gallons of water a day, enough to make a big difference on a water bill. To test for a toilet leak, put a few drops of food coloring in the tank and wait 10 minutes without flushing. If the color shows up in the bowl, you have a leak. The Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program details how to repair the problem.

One smart tip: When you go to a hardware store for a replacement flapper, take the old one with you so you get one that fits.

Fix leaks

A dripping faucet or a leaky sprinkler head might seem like a trivial home maintenance issue. But if the drips continue while you are away for a few weeks, you could be wasting a significant amount of water. And if the water winds up causing wood to rot or water to seep into your basement, you could be out of thousands of dollars in repairs. Damage from a leaking toilet, for example, averages about $10,000, according to State Farm. The Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense Web site tells how to check for many kinds of leaks and has links to videos on how to fix the problems.

Upgrade locks

More residential burglaries occur in August than any other month. (February has the least.) To keep your house from becoming a statistic, replace or repair any locks that don’t work. If your house doesn’t have deadbolts, install them. Deadbolts that require a key to open on the inside might make you feel more secure, especially if you have a door with glass, but they aren’t legal in the District and many other communities because someone without a key couldn’t escape a fire. The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs posts details of what’s required at its Web site focused on helping homeowners create legal basement apartments. Although you can install a lock yourself if you are handy, calling in a locksmith might be wise. A professional can also evaluate your doors and door frames and make sure you have high-security strike plates and heavy-duty screws long enough to bite into the framing behind the door trim.