This article appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.
6 Summer Home Maintenance Tips
Fix loose deck railings
Wobbly deck railings aren’t just unnerving; they’re also unsafe. Toe-screwing rails to
the posts by driving fasteners in at an angle offers a clean, hardware-free look. To do it:
- Use 3-inch deck screws. The fasteners need to be long enough to grip the post since you’re driving them diagonally.
- Set a drill bit on the rail’s bottom face about 11/2 inches away from the post, then drill a pilot hole up into the post at about a 45-degree angle.
- Drive the screw into the pilot hole. As it sinks into the rail, the screw should pull the two pieces together.
- If the post itself isn’t rock-solid, use a metal bracket or wood blocking to reinforce the post-to-framing connection
Repair leaking outdoor faucets
Outdoor faucets always seem to start leaking in peak gardening season. If the hose bib is dripping near the handle, try tightening the packing nut (A) one-eighth to one-quarter turn with a wrench. If this doesn’t work (or the leak is coming from the spout), shut off the water, remove the handle, loosen the packing nut, and pull out the valve stem (B). Bring this with you to the hardware or plumbing supply store to find replacement parts, either a new washer (C) for inside the valve or at the base or a waterproof string called valve packing. Install the new washer (or packing), and reinstall the valve stem. Reattach the handle and turn the water on. If the faucet’s still dripping, gently tighten the packing nut until the leaking stops.
Test outdoor GFCI outlets
Give exterior GFCI outlets a test run to ensure plug-in yard tools have the juice they need. With exposure to the elements, these outlets wear out in as little as five years. To make sure the GFCIs are ready to run, test both receptacles by plugging in a fan and pressing the TEST button. If this fails to trip the circuit and shut off power, the outlet needs replacing. (If the fan stops turning, press RESET to restore power.) If a new GFCI continues to trip, the problem may be due to a faulty appliance or another damaged outlet or wiring on the circuit. If you can’t identify the culprit, call in an electrician.
Refresh your siding
Grit and grime buildup doesn’t merely make wood and vinyl siding look dingy; when combined with wind and rain, it actually reduces the life span of these exterior surfaces. A store-bought house-cleaning solution applied with a hose-end bottle sprayer, and followed by a thorough scrubbing, will do a better job than power-washing alone, with less risk of damage to your siding.
How to clean siding
Follow these steps to give your siding a fresh start:
- To prevent suds from drying before you have time to scrub and rinse, schedule your cleaning sessions for mornings, late afternoons, or cloudy days.
- To minimize damage to plants, avoid chlorine bleach. Choose a cleaner that contains ammonium chloride or oxygen bleach (hydrogen peroxide) instead.
- Working from the top down, spray on the solution, wait a few minutes, scrub, and then rinse. Pay special attention to spots where dirt collects: the bottom rows of siding, windows, roof overhangs, and beneath windowsills.
- Ladders can get slippery when they’re wet. To help you scrub the high spots with your feet safely on the ground, use a long-handled brush like the one shown.
Clean the condensate line
One easy thing you can do to maintain your central AC: Make sure its drain line is clear. As it produces cold air, the evaporator coil in an indoor unit also dehumidifies. The resulting moisture flows through a drain tube that drips outside; it should be flushed regularly to ensure algae, dirt, and insects don’t clog the line over time. Without a clear exit, water can overflow the drain pan, potentially damaging the unit or getting into your ceiling or walls. To clear the tube, first turn off the AC, then locate a T-shaped PVC pipe at the bottom of the indoor unit. Remove the cap or cover and pour in a cup of distilled white vinegar to remove mold or algae. If the line seems clogged, use a shop vac on the outside end to suck out the blockage. Then flush the pipe with water to make certain it’s draining freely.
Sharpen lawnmower blades
A dull mower blade can turn the tips of healthy turf grass brown and raggedy in no time; those torn ends in turn make your lawn more susceptible to disease. On average, a mower blade should be sharpened once or twice during the growing season. If you can’t find a sharpening service nearby and haven’t mastered doing the job with a file, a drill-powered sharpener like the one shown (Rotary Mower Sharpener, $17; leevalley.com) ensures a proper cutting angle.
Additional tips to keep in mind:
- Before you remove it, mark the blade’s bottom face with spray paint to avoid reinstalling it upside down.
- Aim for butter-knife sharp; you should be able to touch it without getting cut. A thin, razor-sharp edge is more susceptible to damage from pebbles and roots.
- Before you reinstall the blade, hang it on a nail to check the balance. If it doesn’t hang straight, remove the material from the heavy side until it is balanced.