February home-maintenance checklist

Home Improvement

The transition between winter and spring is the time to get a jump on moisture damage and heat loss and make quick work of organizing storage areas.

Don’t let winter slip away without using the cold, wet weather to help you detect where your home is leaking water and heat, giving you a chance to seal it up tight and develop a wish list for energy-saving improvements. Your first order of business inside your home is to make sure no water is getting in.

Carefully check every spot where condensation or water could enter your living areas and storage spaces. Take along a pad of paper and a pencil and take detailed notes as you scrutinize ceilings, under the roof, under the eaves and along window and door frames and ventilation seals. Be particularly careful to check under toilets, sinks, tubs and showers. Use a flashlight to check the crawl space or basement walls and floors and the underside of the first-story floor. You’re looking for visible moisture and for stains caused by moisture. When you find something, the remedy will depend on the source of the leak. You may just need to recaulk around a tub or window, or you may need to call a plumber to replace a leaking fixture.

Here are some other tasks to tackle inside your home this month:

Change the shower curtain. While you’re checking for leaks in the bathroom, see if the shower curtain needs replacing. Damp shower curtains can grow unhealthy mold and mildew and contribute to mold problems in the tub and shower, so swap yours out periodically and make sure to open and air out the shower enclosure when you’re done bathing.

Batten down the hatches. Find and seal energy leaks. Grab a pad and pencil to note any spots that you can’t address right away. Arm yourself with a tube of caulk to fill small cracks and a spray can of insulating foam sealer for larger gaps. Tour your home feeling for cold air entering through cracks in chimneys and window and door frames, and cracks around appliance vents, electrical and plumbing fixtures and furnace ducts. Remedies might include adding weatherstripping to a door frame or applying fresh caulk to window frames.

Run the numbers. Get an idea of how much energy a home the size of yours typically uses by entering detailed information about your dwelling into the Home Energy Saver tool. The tool lets you calculate your home’s energy use. It also lets you estimate the energy savings from a variety of improvements, such as adding insulation, replacing windows and purchasing high-efficiency appliances. Experts from the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and other state and federal agencies collaboConduct a home energy audit. If you’ve sealed the obvious leaks and your home is still inefficient, you’ll get more detailed information from a professional energy audit. The auditor can recommend energy-saving improvements and point out those that will most improve efficiency. Learn more about energy audits and how to find a professional auditor at the Energy Department’s Energy Savers site. Auditors use a blower door test, a thermographic scan and, occasionally, a perfluorocarbon tracer gas air-infiltration measurement technique to learn how weather-tight your home is. Tips: Check a contractor’s references thoroughly and check for complaints at the Better Business Bureau and your state attorney general’s consumer protection office (find your attorney general through the National Association of Attorneys General). The Energy Department advises finding a contractor who uses a calibrated blower door and who does thermographic inspections. Expect to pay roughly $300 to $500. In some cities, utility companies or government agencies do the work or help with the fees. For example, in Austin, Minn., the city utility performs and subsidizes audits so homeowners pay only $50 or $150, depending on the type of audit. Austin screens and recommends contractors, too.rate in sponsoring the site.

Clean out storage areas. Get a head start on spring cleaning by attacking a cluttered storage space. Whether you go after the garage, attic, laundry room or garden shed, your home benefits when you get rid of rusting tools, leaking fluids and household chemicals. Start by taking everything out of the space and piling it up outside. Clean the empty space, then go through the items, trying to let go of everything you haven’t used in the last year. Make four piles: stuff to keep, trash, donations and recycling, and hazardous waste. Open paint cans to dry the paint completely before disposing. Recycle batteries so the lead they contain doesn’t contaminate ground water. Rules for disposal vary by locale. Call your waste-disposal company or the county landfill to learn where and how to dispose of hazardous waste.

By Marilyn Lewis of MSN Real Estate

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