Spring cleaning tips that can keep your home in great shape

By Pat Maurer

Review Correspondent

Kiplinger.com has come up with some money saving ideas to add to your annual spring-cleaning ritual that will not only save money but improve your home and save on big-ticket repairs later.

Keeping your home neat and in good repair can also save you a bundle on insurance, said Steve Bonham of Bonham Insurance in Harrison. “It can be tough to buy insurance right now because the underwriting requirements are so strict. A new roof can even mean a huge discount on your home insurance. Upkeep on your home is really important when you are shopping for insurance. All Insurance companies want to make sure that your home is in good shape when they insure it. Companies are much ‘pickier’ than they used to be.” He said another factor in getting the lowest possible rate on home insurance is a good credit rating. “Those are the two most important factors,” Bonham said.

Following just a few of the things you (or your handyman) can tackle to prepare your home for the warmer months that are just around the corner.

Inspect your AC system:

For a small fee, an expert (there are several in the area (including Martin Heating and Cooling just west of Clare) who will come in and tune up your cooling system to manufacturer-rate efficiency, and you won’t have to “sweat the first hot weekend with an out-of-commission air conditioner.” There are several local businesses that specialize in making your summer cool and comfortable, so make this a priority on your spring “to-do” list. By the way, remember to check the filters on your air conditioner every month and replace them at least every three months so your conditioner isn’t working harder than it has to. And if your unit is a window air conditioner, seal around it to keep the cool air in and check the air filter regularly during the cooling season.

Put the temp on autopilot:

AccuAir Heating and Cooling business owner Terry Thayer also recommends a “spring tune-up for your air conditioning system. He also says an initial $50 to $150 investment in a programmable thermostat can save you up to $180 annually on summer cooling and winter heating bills – if you can live with a bit higher indoor temperatures in the summer and a bit cooler temperatures in the winter. Those settings will be more tolerable if you install ceiling fans. Just remember that they cool people, not rooms, and shut them off when you leave the room. Another tip? Set the “hold” or “vacation” feature for a constant and efficient temperature when you are away, even for the weekend.

Caulk the cracks!

If the crack around a door or window is wider than a nickel, you need to re-apply exterior caulk, according to the American Society of Home Inspectors. Check your window glazing (putty) too, and replace if needed. Add some weather stripping around the doors. You shouldn’t be able to see daylight from inside the house. Hershberger’s Hardware has everything you will need for this chore. This task, usually done in the fall, will save you money on air conditioning, and when fall does roll around, it will be one chore already done for the winter!

Clean the gutters:

Even though you cleaned them in the fall, all winter Mother Nature has been doing a job on your gutters, and when spring finally puts in an appearance there will be last minute leaves, twigs and other debris to remove plus those spring petals and seeds flying all over (think maple tree “helicopters”), so they may be in even worse shape than they were last fall. Use a sturdy, safe ladder and trusty blower to clean them, or be safe and hire a professional handyman to do it for you. It will be worth the cost. And while you are at it, add some downspouts to carry that spring rain water at least three to four feet away from your foundation, a very inexpensive fix that could save you a big bundle of cash later on.

Repair your roof:

First you need to inspect your roof for winter damage. Bring out that sturdy ladder again and check it out, or do it another, safer way. You don’t have to climb to check for loose shingles. Use a pair of binoculars and if you find a few, then a handyman can repair them for a minimal amount. If the damage is more extensive you may need to call a roofer and ask for an estimate. This is the best time to check and repair breaks in the flashing seals around vent stacks and chimneys, too.

If you have a flat rubber roof, check for wear and tear in the roof surface. Check the flashing that seals the joints too and caulk if necessary. If the roof is worn, your best bet is to have a local roofer give you an estimate to replace it.

Remove roof stains:

While you are looking up, you may find that your shingles have become discolored. Dark stains or streaks usually mean an algae problem. You can get rid of it by using a garden sprayer to apply a 50/50 solution of water and bleach and rinsing thoroughly after 10-15 minutes. Before you start, be sure to cover your plants below, or wet them down well. Remember not to scrub or pressure wash shingles. You could damage them.

You could also hire a professional to do the job. Call your local roofer for an estimate or a referral.

Pressure wash the house:

Spring-clean your home’s exterior to remove accumulated dirt, mold, stains and the like from the siding, deck, sidewalks, driveway and garage floor, fences, and lawn furniture. If you don’t have your own, you can buy one, or you can rent a pressure washer for $40 to $75 a day or, better yet, hire help to do the job for you.

Wash windows:

That spring sunshine really shows up the accumulation of winter crud on your windows, both inside and out. Now is the time to give both them and your screens a good cleaning. You will be amazed at the difference. First you will need to clean out the sills and window tracks with a soft brush or vacuum attachment. Pour a small amount of water into the sills to ensure that weep holes, which drain rainwater to the exterior, aren’t clogged up. If the water doesn’t exit, use a piece of thin wire to gently clear them. Or, if you prefer, you can hire professional help to do the whole job for you. Either way it will brighten your day.

Repair sidewalks and driveways

Now that you have pressure washed the sidewalks and drive, you can patch or fill any surface cracks, chips or flaking in the concrete yourself using cement-repair products, which are available locally. For deeper cracks, settling or sunken concrete or “frost heaves,” you should call a pro.

Asphalt is a little harder to work with, but you can still fill cracks or seal it yourself if you are ambitious. Filler products and sealer are available at your local hardware. “We have loads of these types of products for spring,” said Jonas Hershberger of Hershberger’s Hardware, just east of Clare.  You should have your drive re-sealed every three to five years depending on climate.

Keep your basement dry!

With those spring rains right around the corner, your basement may be getting ready to flood. If you use a sump pump, make sure it is in good working order now before you need it. If your basement is “musty” smelling or water seeps through the walls, you might need to have a contractor excavate the exterior foundation and apply sealant to keep the water out.

Check your deck!

Spring is a great time to power wash the winter crud away and reseal the deck, but if yours has been around for a long time, you might want to inspect the framework for decay before you invite the clan over for a reunion. If the wood seems soft and spongy, and it doesn’t splinter when you poke it with a screwdriver or pick, you might want to have it inspected and replace it. At least check any areas that seem to stay damp or support a lot of snow for several months.

Once your deck is ready, take a break and invite everybody over! Jonas Hershberger said Hershberger’s Hardware now has brand new wood pellet grills that use food grade pellets and can grill, smoke, bake and barbecue – yum!

Call a chimney sweep:

At the end of the heating season you’ll have no problem getting an appointment to have your chimney cleaned since most people don’t think of doing that until fall. Look for chimney sweeps certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. The sweep will make sure that the chimney caps are in place and the damper is working properly.

With a wood-burning fireplace, you can close the damper whenever the fireplace is not in use. In summer, you’ll save energy and reduce unpleasant odors carried by the inflow of air and aggravated by humidity. For the greatest energy savings, insert a fireplace “draft stopper” in the flue, preferably after you’ve had the chimney cleaned.

Jonas Hershberger said, “This is the very best time to clean wood stoves and pellet stoves and the chimneys. I highly recommend doing it every spring. When the weather becomes nice it is easily forgotten but it is very important, and makes your stove last longer so it is much better to do in the spring.” Hershberger’s Hardware carries all of the brushes needed to do this project yourself.

Prepare to mow!

Dull blades tear the grass instead of cutting it and damage your lawn. Get your blades sharpened at least once or twice every year or even more often if your yard is large or you mow frequently. Check at your local hardware for sharpening service.

You should also tune up your lawn mower after every 25 hours of use to increase its efficiency and reduce polluting emissions. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to change the spark plug(s), oil and oil filter (or clean it). A pro tune up will cost an average of $90, but you can do the job yourself for about $15 — the cost of oil and parts.

If you are considering replacing a mower or buying your first one, you should check out the Open House at Gene’s Power Equipment just west of Coleman on April 11-13. They are featuring a “test drive event” with refreshments and will even provide lunch on Friday and Saturday. Customers will have a chance to try out the new 0-turn mowers with steering wheels and can even test drive any mower on Gene’s own obstacle course. Gene’s carries riding mowers and all types of outdoor equipment. Gene’s son Greg Robinson said, “We are ready for spring!”

Lose the lint!

Back inside the house, besides cleaning the closets and reorganizing your stuff, you need to devote a little extra time to your family clothes dryer. Even if you clean the lint trap after every load (and you should), that vent accumulates lint over time and needs a good spring cleaning, especially if snow covered the exterior backdraft damper any time during the winter. A clogged vent can reduce your dryer’s efficiency and create a fire hazard. To clean the vent yourself you will just need a long handled brush (available at Hershberger’s Hardware) or a dryer vent brush kit. First remove the lint trap and clean it, then disconnect the vent joint closest to the dryer and gently pull the dryer away from the wall. Vacuum the lint trap housing cavity then disconnect each vent section and clean it with the brush. Put it all back together and connect it to the dryer and you are ready to enjoy the season!

Read more about home maintenance at http://www.kiplinger.com.

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