Hot and humid July isn’t the greatest month to tackle outdoor chores. So push through the tasks you can’t avoid, then reward yourself with indoor projects or, at least, outdoor ones that keep you out of the sun.
If you own a deck, you probably know that you should clean and seal the wood every few years. But do you know to regularly check for rot and other problems?
Because decks are elevated and exposed to the weather, they don't last forever. Ten people were injured in June 2010 when a deck collapsed at a townhouse in Kingstowne in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County. At least 30 people died in deck collapses between 2000 and 2008, according to the North American Deck and Railing Association.
Test for rot by stabbing the wood with a sturdy screwdriver. If you find spongy spots, that means the wood is probably decaying. If only a few boards are damaged, replace them. If many are rotten, especially if you also find soft spots in the support posts or beams, you may need to rebuild the deck (a job that requires a building permit).
Also assess whether the structure seems solid and is properly attached to your house. The deck association has a checklist of things to inspect at its Web site (PDF). When decks collapse, it’s usually because they weren’t attached properly. So pay particular attention to inspecting the beam that links the deck to the house. The beam should be solid and attached with a row of half-inch-thick bolts or masonry anchors, not just nails or skinny screws. The fasteners shouldn’t be loose or corroded. When you walk on the deck, you shouldn’t feel it move. And it shouldn’t tilt. The railing should be firm, as well.
If you find signs that the deck might be unsafe, avoid using it while you arrange for repairs or reconstruction. Avoid having a party there. Deck collapses often occur when a lot of people are on the structure. If you decide to rebuild, you can download a free how-to guide (PDF) from the American Wood Council. Even if you aren’t doing the work yourself, knowing the right details equips you to check on the work a contractor does.
July is when bats are most likely to show up indoors in the Washington area. But should you panic if one whizzes by as you’re watching TV? Of course not. A single bat might just be lost. Open a door, switch on a nearby outside light and turn off indoor lights; the furry creature will probably fly out on its own. Never try to pick up a bat. Although the risk is low, you might get rabies if it bites.
If you see several bats, you probably have a colony in your attic. By July, the young bats, called pups, are learning to fly but can’t yet fend for themselves. “Like teenagers, they don’t really mind mom,” says John Adcock, a wildlife-control expert based in College Park. “You often don’t know they’re in your house until they go on the frequent-flier program and start buzzing around.”
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Web site offers coping advice. Or call in a wildlife control expert to help you figure out where the bats are getting in. They can fit through cracks as narrow as a quarter-inch. You can start now to seal potential entries, but wait until September, after the babies leave, to close off active routes. Even then, do it by installing flaps of window screen as one-way doors so you don’t trap any bats inside. Dead bats stink.
On a day when you’re loath to leave your air-conditioned home, take the time to establish a home office or make the one you have function better. If you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated room, you might just need to sort through stacks of bills, catalogues and whatever else is piled up. Cull what you no longer need, and set up files or bins to organize and store the rest.
If you don’t have an office, create a miniature one in a room that also has another purpose. You might be able to fit a desk into a corner of a dining room that you don’t use often. Or set up a mail-sorting area in a mudroom or laundry, especially if it’s by the door you use most frequently. Another possibility: Clean out one shelf of a bookcase and add trays or file boxes (like ones made for storing magazines) to hold bills and the like.
Getting rid of books you no longer need or have room for is easy. Many local libraries are grateful for donations, which they sell to support other library programs.
To keep the biggest moving part in your house working smoothly, spray lubricant on your garage door’s hinges, rollers and tracks. While you’re at it, look for signs of more serious trouble:
— Inspect springs, hinges, cables and other parts for signs of wear.
— Check whether the door is balanced. To do this, close the door and disconnect the opener. Then lift the door manually. Make sure it goes up evenly and stays open.
— Test the reversing mechanism, which is designed to keep the door from closing on someone. While the door is open, place a piece of wood directly underneath. Then turn the door opener back on and signal the door to close. It should reverse the instant it touches the wood.
If anything is amiss, call a service technician from a garage door company. Adjusting a garage door isn’t a DIY project; there’s a serious risk of injury if you don’t do it right.
With a few simple steps, you can significantly reduce the load on your air conditioner, reducing your power bill and your contribution to global warming:
— Set the thermostat at 78 degrees or higher. Every degree below 78 costs you about 8 percent more on your power bill.
— Install a ceiling fan and use it when people are in the room. Switch it off when the room is unoccupied.
— Limit the use of kitchen and bath fans while the air conditioner runs. They exhaust the cool air you just paid for.
— Keep your air conditioner running efficiently by cleaning the indoor and the outdoor coils. (Find specifics at the Family Handyman.)