A Seasonal Check List for a Snug House (Guide to Defending a House from Disaster)

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Home Emergencies | Glossary

Emergency repairs come at the wrong time, in the wrong weather, when tools and materials to do them properly seem to be missing. It you don't wait for the emergency but tackle each job at the appropriate time, you can make minor re pairs before they become major ones. The following calendar indicates the sea sons best suited for the maintenance that will keep your house weathertight.


Gutters: The weight of winter snow and ice can force gutters out of alignment or start leaks at low points. During a heavy spring rain, look for drips and points of over flow—or, in dry weather, run water through the gutters from a garden hose. Reposition nails or gutter hangers to re turn a gutter to the correct pitch; scrape rusted spots clean with a wire brush and coat both the rusted area and the surface immediately around it with gutter cement or asphalt-aluminum paint. A small rust hole can be stopped with an aluminum patch and a coat of gutter cement, but if a gutter is pitted with many holes or has rusted through in long seams, re place the entire run.

Roofs: Repair or replace curled, split or missing shingles. Use quick-setting roofing cement, applied with a caulking gun, to reseat a curled shingle; a slightly split shingle can be reseated in the same way, then fastened down with roofing nails. If a shingle is badly damaged or rotted through, replace it completely: use a hacksaw or slate puller to remove the nails that hold it in place and substitute a new shingle or strip of shingle. On a flat roof, check for blisters and make repairs before water gets through the roof sheathing. Cut each blister open, dry the underlying felt if necessary, and seal the cut with asphalt roofing cement and a felt patch. Finally, remove rust spots from metal flashing with a wire brush and coat the rusted areas and the surfaces around them with primer and aluminum paint; if necessary, renew the roofing cement that seals flashing to shingles.

Bird Nests: Some nests are welcome, others are dangerous. If, after migrating to your area, birds nest against an attic vent or the outer cover of a venting fan, remove the nest. Recheck the spot periodically for the remainder of the season—other birds are likely to find the same good nesting place. (A spring chore in most of the United States and Canada, it should be done in fall in the Southern states.)

Tornado Precautions: In the tornado belt—essentially, the Great Plains of the United States and Canada—take measures to protect your home and yourself before the high tornado months of May and June. Make or repair strong wooden covers for your windows and consider building a storm cellar—plans for cellars are available in free or inexpensive government publications. If you have a mo bile home, anchor it to concrete posts or directly into the ground.

Lightning Protection: Before an electrical storms begin, make your annual inspection of your lightning-pr system, but don't try to repair system yourself—an amateur repair ca dangerous than the defect itself. If any air terminals, ground rods, cables, conductors or clamps are loose, dam aged or completely missing, have the installer repair them.


Insect Nests: By early summer, most bee and wasp nests are well established, but still small enough to be easily removed. Look for them at eaves or other under-roof areas; use binoculars on the outside of the house to check eave or soffit vents or look from inside an attic to see if insects have worked their way into the louvers of a roof or attic vent. If you find a nest, don't attempt to remove it while it's still inhabited—first kill the insects with a spray, then knock the nest down and clean the area to which it was fastened.

Vent Blockages: On a hot day you should be able to perceive rising currents of air starting at soffit vents and moving toward vents on a gable or roof, if you don't , clean the vents—they can be clogged with leaves— and make sure that the insides are not blocked by furniture stored in the attic.

Kitchen Fans: In summer grease builds up fast but is easily removed. Wash the filter, then take out the motor-and-fan assembly (in most models the assembly is secured by two or three screws and the motor can be disconnected by pulling a plug). Use a solution of household detergent to clear all surfaces of grease, but don't submerge the motor. Be very careful not to bend fan blades, which generally are thin. Be fore replacing the assembly, oil the motor and clean the housing.

Moisture: At points where wood meets other materials, or where a wooden structure such as a porch meets the main house, look for water damage indicated by flaking or blistered paint. (Remember that water can flow along these seams for some distance before lodging and damaging wood or paint.) Re-caulk the points from which water penetrated the paint, but don't try to touch up the paint that still adheres directly over the moist wood. First remove the blistered or loose paint and let the wood dry thoroughly; if moisture has raised a nap on the damp wood, sand the area smooth before repainting.

Hurricane Precautions: Along the Atlantic and Gulf prepare for the high hurricanes of early fall in much the same way that inlanders prepare for tornadoes (see Spring: Tornado precautions). Both types of storm inflict the same kind of damage; hurricanes, however, give more warning of their approach, and you can usually get out of their way. If an alert does come, take a few hours to anchor outdoor objects to the ground or move them into the house. and because hurricanes may cause flooding or power failures over a large area and for a considerable length of time, store canned food and fresh water (in a bathtub, if necessary) and lay in battery-powered lights and radios—and perhaps a kerosene lantern or two.


Caulking: The freezing water of winter, which can expand inside or alongside a caulked seam, is even harder on caulks than the warm moisture of summer. Before the first frost, go over all the caulks in your house, from roof to basement—even a caulking material that is guaranteed for years should get this annual inspection. The spots of greatest danger, and the ones that most often need re-caulking, are window wells and the frames of windows and doors.

Gutters: As the trees begin to go bare, install leaf guards on gutters and wire cages on downspouts or, if necessary, repair or re place existing guards and cages. Later in the season, clean your gutters of fallen leaves and other debris—do not count on rain to move this material, which is likely to mat up and clog your entire rain carry- off system. Use a stiff brush to get at dirt and mineral granules washed down from an asphalt-shingle roof; if necessary, dig out encrusted matter at the bottom of a gutter with a small trowel. Finally, flush the gutter out with a garden hose, and cover rust spots with a metal primer.

Weather Stripping: Like caulking, weather stripping is usually guaranteed for a period of years but should be inspected annually. The strip ping itself may be perfectly sound, but settling of a house and the friction of a moving sash or door can weaken or destroy the seal. On a windy day hold a lighted match near the edges of every weather-stripped opening to see if there are leaks. Apply new stripping wherever it's needed, and adjust door saddles if necessary for a tight fit.

Storm Windows and Doors: Before putting up these winter necessities, wash them thoroughly—and while you are at it, wash the windows and glass inserts in the doors of the house itself to keep from sealing in films of dust and dirt during the months ahead. Storm windows and doors fitted with wooden frames may need a fresh coat of paint or a new set of metal reinforcing straps. Metal frames may need treatment for corrosion; use steel wool to clean corroded areas down to smooth bare metal, and cover these areas or the entire frame with a protective coat of paste wax. Check both wood and metal frames for warping and , if necessary, adjust the clearance and fit of doors and sill strips.


Insulation Check: Weak spots in your insulation cover are often hard to detect during the warm months of the year, but may show up clearly when snow blankets your roof. Examine the roof for bare patches or streaks—they are almost certainly places insulation has settled and matted, or where batts or blankets have been pierced or have pulled away from their fastenings. These areas of high heat loss are expensive; repair the insulation immediately. At the same time, check the attic for leaks: melting snow may have penetrated the roof, or old leaks may have soaked the insulation. Roof leaks are difficult to repair in winter, but a bad leak is so dangerous to the structure of a house that the job should be undertaken—by a professional, if necessary.

Ice Dams: Despite all precautions, snow may freeze to ice at the edge of a roof, usually starting at a clogged gutter or downspout. Snow builds up above the ice and at the first thaw—or even with the melting caused by a normal heat loss from the roof—melting snow can work its way between shingles to produce serious leaks. At least once during the winter, check the roof for ice dams; if you find any, break them up and remove them.

Termite Check: Termites in their winged stage often swarm in February; check the basement for them. Even if you don't see any, take the time for a systematic termite check. Look for small heaps of sawdust on the floor, and for the mud-walled tubes through which termites tunnel toward moisture. To check the interiors of studs and joists, drive a sharp tool—an awl or an ice pick will do—deep into the wood and work it in and out, searching for small hollows and honeycombed areas caused by termite infestation. At any sign of infestation, call in a professional exterminator immediately.

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