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A top-to-bottom list of what to check outside your home post winter

This house looks tidy and in good repair, but problem areas are not always readily apparent. (Tim Carter)

I’ve live in a quaint Cape Cod-style home and try to keep it in great shape. I’ve seen lots of checklists for spring exterior home maintenance, and most just have the same old advice. I thought you might have some extra things to look at that others overlook. Imagine I were to hire you to do an exhaustive walk-around of my house after winter. What are the small things you’d be looking for that could cause massive headaches down the road? — John J., Decatur, Ga.

I’ve seen those standardized spring checklists over the years, and I sort of chuckle at many of them. I realize the authors have good intentions, but I often wonder if they’ve ever done any hands-on repair work for paying customers. If they had, then they’d probably add a few other items to their lists.

Here’s the normal things I see listed: Check the roof for shingle damage. Caulk cracks around windows and doors. Repair chipped paint. Check windows and doors. Check chimneys.

Often the lists lack detail as to what to really look for. For that reason, I feel they are of not much value.

Water and ultraviolet (UV) light are the two big things that cause problems to homes, so I suggest we focus on these. I suggest we start at the top and work our way to the bottom.

Chimneys are very important. If you can’t safely get on your roof to inspect it, hire a pro. The most important thing to look at is the chimney crown or cap. It’s the roof of your chimney. Most of the ones I’ve seen have been installed incorrectly and they crack. You don’t want water getting into a crack in the crown. There are special mastics that can coat the crown, and they perform quite well. Check for missing mortar and replace as necessary using hydrated lime and volcanic ash with sand for the strongest and longest-lasting mortar.

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Look at your roofing materials and pay close attention to the flashings. Look for excessive shingle granule loss in small patches, cracks in shingles and any slight curling at the shingle tips. Replace these damaged shingles as necessary.

Some common trouble spots are the cheap aluminum and rubber flashings around plumbing vent pipes. The black rubber boot tends to crack over time where it touches the vent pipe, allowing water to leak into your home. The best plumbing vent flashings I’ve seen are the ones that have a special siliconized-rubber compound that stands up against the harsh UV light from the sun.

If your home has gutters and downspouts, be sure they’re clean. Spring is the worst time of year for gutters, as the flowers from deciduous trees and the winter buildup of bark, twigs and other debris can choke gutters with an organic smorgasbord. After the gutters are clean, do a water test with a garden hose. Test to see if there are any leaks in the system. There are special caulks meant to seal the seams in aluminum gutters; they’re available online.

Be sure the water from downspouts is piped to the lowest part of your yard or, in urban areas, connected to approved storm drains. Water dumping out on the ground next to your foundation on splash blocks is a very bad thing, as the water simply enters the soil next to your home. If you have a basement or crawl space, this water will almost always cause nightmares.

Don’t just go around caulking cracks around windows and doors willy-nilly. Your home may have vinyl siding and the j-channel around doors and windows shouldn’t be caulked. It needs to expand and contract.

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Decks are big problem spots. Many people ignore their decks. You need to inspect the railings closely to ensure they’re sturdy and will not fail if lots of outward pressure is applied. Get under the deck and look at all the galvanized metal connectors. Look for corrosion. If the corrosion is severe with lots of rust, you may have to replace a connector.

Look at the fasteners used to install the metal connectors. Are they corroded, or have they pulled out? Each time water enters a crack in treated wood, it has the tendency to make the crack bigger because the water gets deeper into the wood, causing it to swell. Important structural nails can pull out. Consider replacing all nails with special exterior screws meant for the newer treated lumber that contain lots of copper.

I’d take a good look at the soil around your home. Be sure you have excellent, positive drainage. You want the soil to slope away from your foundation. It’s best to have at least six inches of foundation exposed above the soil line. Don’t add mulch to garden beds, which creates a moat around your foundation. Don’t allow water to be trapped between the foundation and the mulch.

Look for damage to any concrete or blacktop pavement, sidewalks and patios. Cracks in concrete can be repaired with special epoxies that are applied with a common caulk gun you probably own. You can use this same epoxy to repair cracks in blacktop, disguising the compound with small rocks and sand you press into the fresh epoxy.

If the surface of concrete has flaked off, you can make up a stucco mix with Portland cement and sand to repair it. To get a fantastic bond, be sure to paint the old concrete with cement paint before applying the stucco. Cement paint is made by mixing Portland cement with fresh water. It’s a secret trick taught to me years ago by an old mason.

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