It's time to home in on upkeep of house


MOST homeowners have duties around the house to tackle this fall besides raking leaves and bringing in the lawn furniture.

Real estate agents and home contractors said seasonal maintenance is an important chore, even if a homeowner has no plans to sell the house soon.

This fall brings even more responsibilities, experts said, because the summer was so wet. Roofs and gutters need special attention because they likely got a big workout this year, even before Hurricane Isabel. In addition, leaves should be raked, lawns fertilized and shrubs trimmed. Experts also recommend cleaning air ducts and fireplaces, and studying the home's foundation to make sure pests can't find a way in once the weather turns.

Many of the duties can be addressed quickly, experts predict, by homeowners. For example, the Department of Energy says a roof inspection can be done from the ground with a pair of binoculars. The agency recommends breaking the roof into four sections visually and studying the eaves for missing, split or curled shingles. Homeowners also should look for holes from termites or carpenter bees.

Dark spots mean there is water buildup and a probable leak. Check around chimneys, vents and skylights. From inside, check the attic wood for any rotting.

"I have been in business for 35 years, and this has been the busiest season yet," said Donald White, president of Donald White Roofing in Glen Burnie, who estimates a new roof for a 2,000-square-foot home costs $3,200. "Fall is the best time to replace shingles because it is cool. In the heat of summer, you cannot separate the layers between shingles due to the heat."

Real estate agents said roofs often get a careful study from potential buyers. "They stand back and look," said Sue Sandosky, a real estate agent for Long & Foster Real Estate in Carroll County. " ... They look for loose shingles."

Gutter talk

Falling leaves usually find a home in the roof's gutters, which experts said should be cleaned each fall and spring. Homeowners should remove leaves and other clumps of debris and run water from a hose to make sure downspouts are clear. "People don't care for their gutters," said Jay Tooley, a Timonium appraiser. "And then it costs them a repair later."

Some residents prefer to install gutter protective systems instead of worrying about the cleaning. Homes with plenty of trees on the property usually benefit from some sort of gutter protection, experts said.

"People don't realize that gutter problems are seasonal," said Dell Thebaud, president of Gutter Helmet Systems in Maryland and Virginia, which installs systems for about $1,500. "You have seedlings in the spring, leaves in the fall, ice in the winter, and rains in the summer."

Protection from cold

Tony Richardson, president of the Lawn Doctor in Baltimore, said homeowners should prune their shrubs carefully so that the trees have some protection from the cold weather. Also, raking leaves will protect the lawn from dying during the winter.

"I recommend that people rake their leaves and fertilize their lawn with a high-nitrogen fertilizer," Richardson said.

Rodney Waney, president of Air Systems Inc. in Glen Burnie, said air ducts should be professionally cleaned every three to five years - costs average between $235 and $300. He suggests that homeowners vacuum register grates each month.

The Energy Department also suggests checking the furnace to ensure the pilot light is mainly blue. A yellow color means it could be producing carbon monoxide. "Furnaces should be serviced every fall," said Thomas Morgan, a certified home inspector in Baltimore. "And all cracks and openings sealed."

Windows should be cleaned and inspected for cracked caulking. They also should be tested to see if the locks work and if they are painted shut. Cracked caulking should be replaced and weather stripping should be added. Other areas where caulking should be checked includes dryer vents, mailbox chutes, outdoor water faucets and air conditioners.

Basement windows and the foundation also should be caulked to close cracks and repair loose mortar where insects and other critters will try to get in when the weather turns cooler.

Experts also recommend inspecting the leaves of plants brought from outside - insects often lay eggs underneath the foliage. Firewood should be cleaned of loose bark and debris before bringing it inside. Also, chimneys offer easy access for birds, squirrels and wasps. A screen over the chimney can prevent that from happening.

Most fireplaces should be checked annually, industry guidelines say. Many companies charge between $100 and $125 for a sweeping. Capping and cleaning can cost up to $400.

Experts said routine maintenance can prevent costly repairs down the road. "Maintenance is important all year long," Morgan said. "People should keep up with home maintenance now to protect their investment later."

Top 10 home projects for fall

Inspect roof

Clean gutters

Fertilize lawn

Seal cracks and other openings to keep out insects and other critters

Drain hoses and other outdoor pipes

Inspect foundation

Change furnace filters

Clean air ducts

Sweep chimney

Clean windows

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