Be an Exterior Expert
More people will see the outside of a home than will ever see the interior. Beyond pure vanity, though, maintaining a beautiful home exterior will keep the structure sound and ensure a healthy resale value.
It’s puzzling, then, how it can be so easy to neglect the home exterior. One culprit could be a lack of attention, says Sabine Schoenberg, founder of Greenwich, Ct.-based home improvement site SabinesHome.com.
“You don’t catch whether your driveways or gutters are in bad shape because you go into ‘auto mode’ when you come home for the day,” Schoenberg says. “You come home so often, that you don’t pay attention to what’s around you.”
Fortunately, there is an easy way to solve this: Every month or every quarter, view your home as if you’re a first-time visitor.
“Every so often you should go around and perform your own visual home inspection,” Schoenberg says. “I know we are all busy, but if you look at your home like a visitor would, you’re more likely to find the cracks in the foundation, the cracks around the windows and the stains in the driveway.”
Here, home maintenance experts give tips on how to stay on top of exterior issues:
Lynda Lyday, a contractor, carpenter and home-improvement author of “The Homeowner’s Manual” (Que, 2005) in New York, N.Y., says that driveways are often one of the most neglected areas of a home. That’s because they are outside in the heat or cold 24/7.
“I’m a big believer in the pressure washer,” Lyday says. “That’s especially true for the concrete driveway.”
Lyday recommends that homeowners should pressure-wash their driveways every few months to wash away oil stains and other unsightly messes. It’s equally important for homeowners to apply new sealer to their blacktop driveways every two years to keep cracks from forming.
It’s important for homeowners to clean their gutters at least once every season. Stopped gutters can cause water to puddle along the edges of a home. It can be costly if that water leaks into a residence’s basement.
Lyday says not to forget the downspouts. Many owners clean their gutters but then forget to unscrew their downspouts and clean out any clogs in them. A clogged downspout can also result in large pools of water around the edge of a home.
Underground drain lines
Schoenberg says that 99 percent of homeowners forget to check their underground drain lines. This could be a costly mistake. In older underground systems, especially those made of clay material, tree roots can clog pipes enough so that they are only working at 20- to 30-percent effectiveness.
“That works during most rain events. But if you get a real heavy rain, your whole drainage system might back up into your basement,” Schoenberg says.
Homeowners should hire plumbing experts with drain cameras to look for blockages every few years, she says. Owners with older drainage systems should do this every year.
Wood decks suffer when they are exposed to either too much sunlight or too much shade. Schoenberg recommends that homeowners seal their wood decks every few years to preserve the material and make it last longer.
It’s easy for windows that face north to become overgrown with mold and mildew. That’s why Lyday recommends that homeowners every season use a push broom and garden hose to scrub around the base of their windows. This should remove any vegetation or mildew that builds up around them.
For Lyday, taking care of a home’s exterior mostly requires common sense. She believes, for instance, in the power of binoculars.
“Say you need to check on your gutters,” Lyday says. “Get a pair of binoculars and look up into those gutters. See what is inside them. You might be surprised at what you find. Exterior maintenance is often about this kind of common-sense approach. You need to keep up with it to prevent it from becoming a bigger job.”
The Greenest Yard
The grass isn’t necessarily greener when you spend more resources on your lawn and garden.
Sustainable landscaping can help conserve water and save money, plus you can avoid using expensive and damaging chemicals. Here are some tips for maintaining your gardens with “green” techniques:
Instead of chemical-ridden fertilizers, try natural alternatives, says Sabine Schoenberg, founder of home improvement site SabinesHome.com. Used coffee grounds are especially effective for acid-loving plants such as azaleas, tomato plants, roses and boxwood shrubs.
Don’t throw away the wood ash from your fireplace, Schoenberg adds. This product works as a natural fertilizer for alkaline-loving plants such lilac bushes, hydrangeas, irises and daisies. It will also help keep rabbits, slugs and other pests away.
Wood ash can help with composting, too. If your compost pile isn’t breaking down fast enough, or if it smells, try spreading some wood ash on it. It will reduce the odor and help break down leaf piles more quickly.
This may seem like it goes without saying, but be judicious about watering the lawn. Only run the sprinklers before the sun comes up or after it goes down to ensure the water won’t simply evaporate off the blades of grass.
Choose native plants to reduce the amount of care they’ll need. For instance, in an arid climate, foreign plants can require a lot of water. Depending on where you live, you might be breaking water-use regulations if you plant the wrong perennials, bushes and trees.