Your Guide to Outdoor Maintenance — Northeast

If you live in the Northeast, prevent problems and preserve the value of your property with proactive outdoor maintenance.

You can protect your driveway with a coal-tar-based sealant for about $100 if you do the job yourself, or about $300 if you hire someone. Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic

Maintaining a house in the northeastern quadrant of the country, from New England through the mid-Atlantic, means protecting it from a triple whammy: hot summers, frigid winters, and lots of precipitation throughout the year. You’ll need to stay on top of routine outdoor maintenance to protect your home and landscape, keep everything looking great, and ensure your property retains its value for decades to come.

Clean the gutters

When leaves and other debris accumulate in the gutters, precipitation can back up and spill over the sides of the gutters, damaging siding and contributing to basement flooding. Also, water can back up into the eaves and under shingles, where it leads to rot, infestations of wood-destroying insects, and interior paint damage.

Be wary of various gutter screens and covers marketed to keep leaves out—some aren’t as efective as advertised and may actually worsen problems, according to Victor Popp, a home inspector in Hingham, Mass. The most reliable method is to keep your gutters clean by reaching gloved hands into them and scooping out the muck—or hiring a gutter company to do the job for $100 to $200. Clean at least once each fall, plus once in the spring.

Service your air conditioning system

If you have central air conditioning, bring in an HVAC contractor each spring to tune it up ($100 to $150). The technician should change filters, lubricate moving parts, check refrigerant levels, clean the condenser, and optimize settings—prolonging the system’s life and maximizing its efficiency.

Ask him whether your equipment has filters that you should replace in between services, a quick and easy process you’ll likely need to do every two or three months when the system is operating.

Protect outdoor spigots from freezing

In spring, be prepared for sudden freezes by removing the garden hose from your outdoor spigot until warm weather is firmly established. In the fall, unless you have a frost-proof spigot, close any shut-off valves that feed outdoor spigots, and then open the spigots up and leave them open.

These steps prevent any water remaining in the pipes from freezing and cracking the faucet or pipe, causing an expensive plumbing repair—and possibly a flood, too.

Seal and paint outdoor structures

Treat unpainted exterior wood—whether an arbor, a gazebo, or a picket fence—with a wood preservative sealer or stain. Apply sealer or stain at least every other year. Choose a sealer that provides three types of protection: water repellency, mildew resistance, and ultraviolet light (UV)-blocking ability. Always clean and sand surfaces thoroughly before sealing or staining.

Recoat painted surfaces every three to five years with a top-quality exterior paint. The additional cost of premium paint will be offset by reduced maintenance and frequency of recoating.

Seal your asphalt driveway

Blacktop needs to be protected from damage from sun, rain, and the chemicals that leak from vehicles. You can apply a coal-tar-based sealant yourself. You’ll need to clean the surface with a detergent, allow the surface to dry, and apply sealer. Your cost will be about $100. Or, hire a paving company to do the job for you for around $300.

Complete this maintenance task at least every other year or two. The best time to apply driveway sealants is during a hot, dry spell.

Check the irrigation system

In the spring, turn on your irrigation system and check for damaged or misdirected heads. Look for puddles, a sign that there’s a 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 head, $2 to $5 for a coupling to repair a leak. Allow a couple of hours to check the system.

Prepare equipment for the change of seasons

The No. 1 reason lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and other outdoor power equipment won’t start in the spring is that people leave gas in them all winter long. Over the winter months, the fuel becomes stale and doesn’t burn properly.

You’ll need to drain out unused gas and replace it with fresh gas. Replace the air filter on your lawn mower for about $5.

To prevent similar problems with your snow blower, run it until the gas is completely drained from the tank before storing it for the summer. In the fall, reverse the process: run your lawn mower until the fuel is completely depleted, and add fresh gas to your snow blowing equipment.

Check around your foundation

Shrubs and other plantings that grow too close to the house may abrade the paint, conduct moisture to the siding, and give bugs an easy entrance point. Use a pair of bypass pruners to clear a 3-foot space between the plants and the house.

Remove any soil or mulch that’s within 3 inches of wood siding. Any closer, and you’re giving termites, carpenter ants and other wood destroying insects a bridge to an all-they-can-eat buffet.

To ensure that rainwater runs away from the foundation, check that the soil slopes away from the house at the rate of 6 inches for every 10 horizontal feet. Fill any divots, such as near gutter outlets, where water tends to puddle.