In spring and summer in the South, the most critical home maintenance issues have to do with combating heat and humidity. Moisture is a constant in this part of the country, and keeping your home dry is critical for preventing structural damage caused by mold, fungus, and insect infestations. Also, if you live in a coastal area, you’ll need to make sure your house is ready to withstand hurricanes; Atlantic hurricane season runs June 1–November 30.
Key maintenance tasks to perform
• Check your drainage. “The biggest problems I see are in homes with crawl spaces,” says home inspector Bill Loden of Insight Building Inspections in Madison, Ala. “If rainwater is not guided away from the house, it gets into crawl spaces and mold starts growing on the structures and in the insulation. Also, if the soil stays wet around the foundation, the retained water creates an opportunity for termites. Termites love wet soil.”
Early spring rains, often heavy in the South, provide an opportunity to peek outside and see where water runs along your property. If you have areas of standing water, you need to plan for corrective action, such as re-grading, building landscaping features, or installing a French drain (a shallow trench often filled with gravel that’s designed to redirect water).
Spring rains also can help you locate blockages in your gutters. Look for overflow from the gutters and weak or non-existent flow from the downspouts that indicate a blockage. Check to see if the gutters have pulled away from the house, and for bent spots. You can make minor repairs to gutters for about $50 by adjusting brackets, gently hammering out dents, and replacing damaged sections.
• Look for rotting wood along the eaves. Check your roof overhang—also called the eaves—for dripping water and peeling paint that may indicate roof leaks and rot. If you see signs of trouble, consult a home inspector or roofing contractor.
• Look for roof damage. Inspecting your roof is especially important if your house falls under the drip line of a large tree or if you’ve had a recent hailstorm. If your roof is steep or otherwise difficult to navigate, stay on the ground and use a pair of binoculars. Look for loose, damaged, or missing shingles, and be sure to check plumbing vents. Although roofs typically last 20 years, the neoprene boots installed around vents last only 10. If yours are cracked or split, call a roofing contractor to replace—they cost about $50 per boot plus labor.
• Test your air conditioning early. Have your air conditioning checked in early spring to see how it’s working before you really need it. Loden recommends purchasing a service contract with an HVAC contractor for twice yearly maintenance, an agreement that will cost $150–250 annually. Your air conditioning is like a car tire, says Loden, in that a slow refrigerant leak can go undetected for a long time before it has a noticeable effect. Annual maintenance guarantees any minor leaks will be caught and fixed, a repair that pays for itself in terms of energy efficiency and increased life of the equipment. Plus, you’ll be prioritized ahead of the pack if your system fails on a hot day.
• Clean your siding. In the humid South, algae growth and mildew frequently appear on siding. Clean your vinyl, brick, stucco, or wood siding with mild soap and water, a brush, and a garden hose with a spray nozzle. A pressure or power washer should only be used by a professional. “You can damage the siding,” says Loden. “You can even damage the grout between bricks with a pressure washer. Plus you can blow water up under the siding and into the walls and insulation, which leads to mold growth.” If you choose to have your siding professionally cleaned, expect to pay $300–$500.
• Prepare for hurricanes. If you live on the coast, check the condition of your home’s hurricane-resistant features, such as shutters and bracing, and make sure you have plywood and fasteners on hand for covering windows. Caulk and weatherstrip windows and doors, if necessary. If you have double-entry doors (which consist of two doors side by side, one of which is usually fixed), reinforce them with heavy-duty slide bolts, strike plates, and deadbolts. The materials will cost you around $100 if you do the project yourself
It’s important to have the proper metal clips securing roof trusses and rafters to the exterior walls, a feature emphasized by major building code updates in Florida and Louisiana following severe hurricanes in the last two decades. Many older homes don’t have these hurricane clips, also known as “seismic ties.” If you’re unsure whether your home has clips that satisfy new building codes, consult a professional building contractor.
Spring is also a good time to replenish your emergency supply kit; don’t wait until news of an approaching storm. The kit should contain a week’s worth of water, non-perishable food, and toiletry items. Don’t forget to include medications and pet supplies if necessary.
Spending a few hours here and there on home maintenance tasks helps you spot developing problems quickly and prevent costly repairs. For best results, complete the tasks described above as well as those on the to-do list following this article. Visit the links below for more detailed information on completing tasks or repairs yourself.