Keeping Up Appearances

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

January 18, 2012 5 min read

When it comes to spring/summer home maintenance, a little bit of time and elbow grease can translate into big savings and avoid costly repairs down the line.

Everything from changing light bulbs to programming thermostats can be easily done by homeowners, experts say. Replace a simple part on an appliance, such as a burned-out stove element. Install fresh batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Check ground fault circuit interrupters.

A professional may be needed to tackle some repairs, but in most cases, armed with a checklist and a pair of binoculars (to avoid climbing on the roof), you can save time and money by doing the initial inspection yourself.

With a clipboard in hand, you'll want to eye the exterior of your home, basement or crawlspace for:

--Sidewalk, driveway, chimney and foundation cracks, mold or mildew;

--Malfunctioning sump pumps;

--Clogged vent caps;

--Loose or cracked deck boards or patio blocks;

--Debris-filled gutters and downspouts;

--Loose shingles and siding;

--Gaps in window caulking, dirty windows and broken windowpanes.

Vacuuming or spray cleaners can remove a winter's worth of dirt and dust accumulating inside your home on registers, return ducts, lampshades, lighting fixtures, windowsills and windowpanes. Also, thoroughly cleanse range hoods and kitchen vents of grease and dirt.

Extend some small changes to in a decorative capacity as well. Think about draping furniture with lightweight slipcovers; taking down heavy winter drapes and replacing them with sheer fabric window treatments; or even applying a fresh coat of paint that captures the feel of a seaside vacation. Such changes can bring that spring-summer mood indoors, says designer Sally Morse, director of Creative Services for Hunter Douglas.

One of the easiest small changes involves switching incandescent light bulbs to energy-efficient compact fluorescents. It's something more and more homeowners are doing, according to a recent Harris Interactive Survey commissioned by Emerson, a global technology company. Ironically, one of the simplest small steps homeowners overlook is programming their home's existing thermostat to reflect seasonal changes, says Karl Zellmer, vice president of Emerson Climate Technologies' air conditioning division.

"While more than 25 million homeowners have programmable thermostats in their homes, less than 50 percent are actually programming them," says Zellmer. "If you already have a programmable thermostat installed, the only investment needed is about 15 minutes for the initial programming and setup. If you don't have a programmable thermostat, they are relatively inexpensive and quick to install. At a minimum, with your existing thermostat, change your set point a few degrees and enjoy the reduced energy consumption."

Air filters should be changed monthly, says Zellmer, "but that also depends on many factors, including what type of unit you have and whether people in your home have seasonal allergies, etc. Small things like re-caulking windows and adding insulation, curtains and awnings also can help."

Add refrigerator gaskets to your spring/summer repair list, suggests Steve Ash, Senior Repairman for PartSelect.com, the online appliance parts retailer for the do-it-yourself home repair market. He recommends coating the gasket -- that plastic strip that forms a seal between the fridge and doors -- with a thin film of Vaseline. "This will help them stay elastic and form a better seal."

Replacing worn dishwasher racks and non-working stove elements are easy tasks to check off your list. "The two most common replacement parts PartSelect.com sees purchased for dishwashers are upper or lower racks," Ash says. "Lower racks are easier to replace, as they normally just roll out. Replacing the top rack is simple, too, but requires just a few more minutes of your time to remove the rack stops."

And if your stovetop isn't heating properly, the most common solution is to replace the defective surface element, or burner, Ash notes. "Ranges built in the last 30 years or so normally have plug-in surface elements, so the repair is very straightforward. Once you disconnect the power, simply lift and pull the defective element from its receptacle and slide in the new one." Terminals at the end of old elements should be inspected, he says. "If they show signs of arcing, overheating or corrosion, then the receptacle should be replaced, as well."

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