Substantial snowmelt and heavy spring rains signal the onset of summer’s heat and humidity in the Midwest—extreme conditions that put stress on the exterior of a house and other features, such as driveways and fences. Routine outdoor maintenance helps ensure that your property withstands nature’s challenges while preserving the value of your investment.
Maintain proper drainage
“Controlling water around the perimeter of the house is always very important,” says David Tamny, Ohio resident and president of the American Society of Home Inspectors. “In the Midwest, we have a lot of expansive clay soil. Bad drainage around the house can cause foundation problems and basement wetness issues, as well as mold.”
That means you’ll need proper grading and gutters that are in good repair and cleared of debris, and adequate downspout extensions. None of these is an expensive fix, but the price of neglect is high: $3,000 or more to stabilize bowing in a block foundation; $10,000 or more to straighten it.
Clean the gutters
Jammed gutters can send water cascading down walls and saturating soil next to the foundation. The force of the accumulated water, known as hydrostatic pressure, can crack the foundation, eventually causing it to bulge inward. Rid your gutters of blockages using a gutter scoop. Use a garden hose to flush out loose granules—the sand-like coating that protects asphalt shingles—and a plumber’s snake to clear downspouts. Cost: $4 to $7 for a gutter scoop. Allow about 4 hours to clear the gutters and downspouts.
Repair the gutters
Leaks at joints, missing hangers, or inadequate pitch can lead to overflowing water that damages plantings and threatens your foundation. Most gutter repairs are relatively simple. Also check that the screws used in assembling the downspout were cut off, so they won’t catch debris.
If you have any doubts about the downspout’s ability to handle a deluge, install a larger drop outlet and downspout, moving from a 2x3-inch downspout to a 3x4-inch. Extend downspout discharge pipes at least 6 feet. Cost: $1 to $3 each for new hangers, $6 for gutter caulk, $25 for a 6-foot extender and splash block, $20 for a 3x4-inch drop outlet and 10-foot downspout. Allow half a day to make the repairs.
Correct the grade
The grade should slope away from the house at least 6 inches for every 10 feet. If possible, use soil with some clay content to divert the water.
Or, lay down plastic sheeting, making sure it slopes away from the house. Adhere the edge of the plastic to the foundation with silicone caulk. Cover the plastic with soil, sand, or mulch. Keep the final grade at least 6 inches away from any siding or trim.
Cost: $40 for 10x100-foot roll of 4 mil plastic, $3.50 for a 50-pound bag of sand, $2.50 for 2 cubic feet of pine bark mulch, $6.75 for a tube of silicone caulk. Allow a day to re-grade the perimeter of your house.
Carpenter ants emerge in the early spring. Look for them in areas of clutter near the house, especially woodpiles. If you have a crawlspace, look wherever there might be warmth—under the water heater, kitchen range, or space heaters. You may find the ants themselves, as well as telltale piles of shavings similar to those from a pencil sharpener.
It’s possible to get rid of a small infestation by applying insecticide powders and gels, but pros know how to get to the nests to eradicate the problem. Cost: $40 for insecticide powder or gel. Allow as much time as necessary to clear away woody debris that harbors the ants.
Clearing debris will hinder termite infestations as well. However, short of finding piles of old wings or sighting an emerging swarm, it’s hard to be sure you have an infestation. If you suspect a termite problem, call in a pro. You’ll pay $65 to $100 for a termite inspection.
Sprinkler & spigot maintenance
Turn on your system and check for damaged or misdirected sprinkler heads. Look for puddles, a sign that there’s an underground leak in the system. Check for dry areas too; you may have a blocked pipe that needs flushing, or a kinked supply line. Cost: $3 to $15 per replaced sprinkler head, $2 to $5 for a coupling to repair a leak. Allow a couple of hours to check the system.
If a hose bib or spigot is left undrained and unprotected through the winter, the pipe can freeze and crack, creating a leak inside the wall. Repair the pipe and install a frost-proof hose bib or inside shutoff for draining. Cost: About $15 for a frost-proof hose bib. Plan on 2 to 4 hours to make the replacement.
Inspect your siding
Trees and bushes may be crowding your house, creating a situation bound to foster mold and, eventually, rot. Trim back bushes and trees until there’s at least a 3-foot gap between the plantings and the house. Cost: $15 for a pruning saw and $10 for pruning shears. Allow 1 to 2 hours for pruning.
If your siding looks dingy, follow up by washing with a light solution of bleach or TSP (trisodium phosphate). Cost: $10 for cleaners. Allow 4 to 6 hours for the job.
Fences and gates
Check fence stiles and pickets for damage and replace as needed, using galvanized fasteners. Push and pull on each post for signs of rot at its base. If the post moves easily, make sure the soil around the base of the post is firmly packed.
If the soil seems firm and the post still moves, it’s probably rotted. Replace or repair it. For a quick fix, pound in a steel post alongside it and wrap the two with wire.
Gate hinges and latches typically don’t wear out, but their fasteners can loosen, causing the gate to sag or be difficult to latch. Relocate them up or down a bit. Cost: $7.50 to $15 for a 5-feet cedar post; $3.50 for a steel post, $2 for wire. Allow 30 minutes for a repair.
Sidewalks and driveways
Concrete and asphalt cracks no wider that ½-inch can be repaired with crack filler. Larger damage should be repaired with patch material. If a section of concrete walkway has tilted, there’s no easy DIY solution—hire a pro to hydraulically reposition the slab. Expect to pay $350 to $800 to level a portion of tilted or sunken walkway.
Cost: $4 for concrete or asphalt caulk. Allow a couple of hours to fill cracks. Plan on $18 for a gallon of concrete patch, $10 for asphalt patch. Allow 2 to 3 hours to repair a 2 sq. ft. area.
If you can see light colored aggregate showing through the sealer of an asphalt driveway, it’s time to recoat. Cost: $20 for enough sealer to coat 350 sq. ft. of driveway, $11 for a brush applicator. Allow about 4 hours to sweep and seal an average-size drive.
Clean the deck
Sweep away leaves and twigs and clean any debris from between the planks. For a wood deck, use a deck cleaner. (Cedar, redwood, and mahogany produce tannins that require special cleaning product.)
Give the deck a light sanding and apply a sealer to set it up for the summer. Cost: About $13 per 100 sq. ft. for wood deck cleaner. If you’ve skipped a season, add $10 per 100 sq. ft. for brightener. Sealer runs about $28 per 100 sq. ft. of coverage. Allow about 3 hours for the job.