This article appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.
Ways to Prep Your Home for Spring
Make a clean start at the front entry
Muddy footprints, salt stains, grime from who knows where: That’s winter’s legacy to your front entry. To clean this area, remove the furniture and mats, then sweep away cobwebs and dirt.
Dip a soft-bristled brush into a solution of oxygen bleach—1/2 cup of powder per gallon of warm water; scrub the walls, window frames, door, and floor.
Start low and work up, so runoff won’t leave streaks, and rinse wellwith a hose before the solution dries. Use glass cleaner on windows; scrub furniture with mild soap and water. Launder or brush out mats before setting them back in place.
Fill low spots in the lawn
Yard areas that puddle after a rain and stay that way for even a few days make ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes come summer. Fill them in now, in one of two ways.
For shallow depressions of no more than 3 inches, spread ½ inch of a loose, dry divot mix, such as Fast Fix (terramaxag.com). Rake this blend of sand and grass seed into the soil with a metal lawn rake; water as needed. Repeat in six weeks.
For deeper depressions, strip off the low spot’s existing turf layer and set it aside. Level the area with topsoil, then replace the turf and water well.
Check your sump pump
During the rainy season, a failed sump pump increases the risk of a flooded basement. Make sure your pump is working with this simple test: Pour a bucket of water into the sump (the pit the pump rests in) to lift the float switch; that should turn the pump on.
Make sure the float moves up and down freely, the pump runs smoothly with no unusual noises, and the sump empties swiftly. If that doesn’t happen, you could have a clogged pipe, a stuck impeller, or a broken check valve. Call a sump-pump repair service to get a diagnosis. And if you don’t already have a backup battery for your pump, consider getting one: An overflowing sump is the last thing you need to worry about if the power fails.
Give garden soil a boost
By adding biochar, a type of highly porous charcoal, you can improve your soil’s water-holding capacity, fertility, and microbial activity while keeping nutrients from leaching out. First, blend the char (nextchar.com) with an equal amount of compost and let it rest for at least 10 days while the char locks in the compost’s nutrients. Then add more compost to the fortified blend to make an 80-20 mix and rake it into the soil.
Cover your window wells
These basement openings allow in natural light, but also collect debris that has to be cleaned out regularly, expose windows to rain and snow, trap small animals, and pose a trip and fall hazard.
As a preventive measure, install window-well covers made of tempered glass or polycarbonate plastic. They still give you light while keeping everything else out of the well. If you have a below-grade living area that requires emergency egress, make sure that the cover you get can be opened or removed from the inside.
Time to do a termites check
These tiny insects can nibble on wood undetected, unless you keep an eye out for their telltale signs each spring. Outside, look on foundation walls for the mud tubes made by subterranean termites traveling from their nests up into your house.
Inside, a different type—the dry-wood termite—leaves tiny pellets resembling salt and pepper on floors and near window- and doorframes. As the weather warms, both kinds fly off in search of a new home, then shed their wings, leaving them in piles on windowsills. See any of these signs? Call in a professional exterminator.
“If a nailhead pops up on your wood deck, don’t just hammer it back down. Pull it out and replace it with a longer nail or screw. If the wood in the nail hole is soft and wet, fill the hole first with a wood splinter covered with polyurethane glue to get a tight fit.” – Tom Silva, This Old House General Contractor
Keep conifers in shape
Cut back these evergreens, when they’re pushing out new growth, but take it easy when you do; conifers don’t recover quickly from pruning mistakes. To control the size of those with whorled branches, like pine and spruce, remove just ½ to 1⁄3 of the new growth’s tips once they’re 2 to 4 inches long.
To maintain the plant’s current size, remove the entire tip when it’s an inch long. On random-branching conifers, like juniper and arborvitae, prune anywhere along a branch ahead of a dormant bud. When you prune only the green branches early in the season, new growth will hide any cut ends.