Do It Yourself Guide to Home Maintenance - September
As the long, hot days of summer are thankfully coming to a close, homeowners need to focus on exterior Fall maintenance items and begin preparing their heating systems for another cold Winter.
Testing GFCI Outlets and Breakers
Washing Machine Hoses
Repair Damaged Window Screens
Test Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Hot Water Heater Flushing and Testing
While we don’t often go into the attic unless we have to, you should take a few minutes this month to give the space an inspection.
You probably have not had much reason to look on the underside of the roof unless you have had a leak in the past few months, but the hot weather can damage the roof system as much as water infiltration. High temperatures due to inadequate ventilation can damage the sheathing.
You can tell if this is the case if you see small beads of brown or yellow sap covering the underside of the plywood and rafters. The excessive heat in the attic causes the sap to bleed out from the wood and dry it out. Over the years, this will weaken the structural integrity of the roof system. See my article on Attic Ventilation Components and Requirements for further information.
Along with the ventilation of the attic, check to make sure that there are no openings in any ductwork in the attic and that exhaust fans are not open to the attic space.
Another thing to look for in the attic is to see if you have any insects or pests. You will know if you have a woodpecker waking you up at 6 in the morning, but you may not know if a squirrel or wasps are building a nest in the eaves. Use a flashlight to look in between every rafter to see if there are any insects or pests using your attic as their home.
You should be changing you filters regularly, but now is a good time to pull out your floor registers and vacuum them out to keep your ductwork clean. Pet hair and dirt can fall into the registers and then get redistributed throughout the home. Not to mention the toys and food that can be found for everyone with small children. You should also remove your return grilles and vacuum inside the duct or wall cavity. Cobwebs and dirt can accumulate on the back side of the grille.
Before the leaves start falling, although due to heat stress some trees have begun to drop some of their leaves already, it is a good idea to clean out your gutters and install some type of gutter guard. There are several types that can be installed by the do-it-yourselfer or professionally installed. Some are in the form of a metal guard that tucks under the shingles and has a small gap between it and the front edge of the gutter; another commonly found at home centers is a 4 or 5 inch wide roll of plastic mesh that you can tuck into the gutter or secure to plastic rings; another type consist of a foam matrix that is inserted into the gutter.
Each system has its pros and cons; metal guards rely on surface tension to allow the water to follow the curve of the cap, but can allow water to flow past the edge in very heavy downpours; screens are inexpensive, but are sometimes visible from the ground and can blow off if leaves or sticks get caught in the screen; foam inserts are flush with the surface of the gutter, slightly expensive, but may become clogged with fine debris like pine needles and tree pollen. The foam can be taken out and cleaned, but this would be another maintenance item.
Foam Gutter Insert
Do your own research and see what system works best for your home and budget.
Exterior Washing and Painting
Fall is the best time for painting as the days are still warm and dry, and the angle of the sun is lower and won’t bake the paint onto your siding. Whether or not you choose to paint your home, just touch up a few spots, or hire someone to do the work for you, you can save money by renting a pressure washer and wash the siding yourself. Plan to do this at least a week before you or someone else paints to allow the siding to dry completely. Even if you don’t paint, your home will look better for it.
See my article on Exterior Home Painting Tips
While you still have your air conditioner on, you should consider cleaning your fireplace and ash pit. You may also want to have your chimney inspected and cleaned if you use your fireplace regularly. See my article on Chimney and Flue Inspections
Also go to the Chimney Safety Institute of America for additional information. You can replicate a Level 1 Inspection which is primarily a visual inspection to determine if further inspections or repairs are required.
Wear safety goggles or glasses so you don’t get any dirt in your eyes; Look at the interior of the fire box, open the damper and look up the flue. The damper should fit securely and not show any signs of excessive rust. From the roof, the chimney cap should be in place and once removed, look down into the flue and check for obstructions such as bird’s nests, leaves, or twigs. If you notice a black tar-like substance on the sides of the flue, you may have creosote build-up that may need to be removed.
Use caution when using chimney cleaning logs as these typically contain chemicals that combine with the surface of the creosote to make it inert, but don’t remove the build-up.
Creosote is the unburned wood particles and condensed flue gases which deposit in the chimney interior. The rate of creosote buildup is affected by how long the smoke remains in the flue (residence time), the smoke density, and stack (chimney) temperature.
Although is seems counterintuitive, oversized chimneys can increase the residence time of the smoke and promote creosote build up. Also inadequate oxygen supply produces smoke with more creosote. An open campfire produces little smoke and almost no creosote because there is almost complete combustion of the wood. The warmer the chimney, the less likely creosote will be able to adhere to the flue, but you should not build a fire that is too large for the fireplace. Have a professional inspect it for you if you find any problem.