Spring Cleaning: Essential Tips for Homeowners

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Spring CleaningBy Pat Mertz Esswein, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
As you go about your annual spring-cleaning ritual, take a few additional steps to save money on energy bills this summer, improve your home's appearance and ward off big-ticket repairs later.

Here are 18 things for you (or the handyman) to tackle now to help prepare your home for the warmer months and keep it in top shape.

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Spring Cleaning: Essential Tips for Homeowners

For about $75 to $200, a technician will tune up your cooling system to manufacturer-rated efficiency -- and you won't sweat the first hot weekend with an out-of-commission air conditioner.

Look for a heating and air conditioning contractor that belongs to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, employs technicians certified by the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) program and follows the protocol for the ACCA's national standard for residential maintenance. Call your electric utility to see whether it offers incentives.

Note: Dirty filters make your air conditioner work harder, increasing energy costs and possibly damaging your equipment. Check them monthly and replace as needed, or at least every three months.

Air conditioners draw moisture from interior air, called condensate, which must run off outside. If sediment and algae clog the drains, water may back up, making your home more humid or creating water damage. Technicians will check the drains during a tune-up; if they clean them out, it could cost up to $100.

If you live in a humid climate, you may want to check and clean the drains yourself periodically. For an oddly riveting demonstration, watch this YouTube clip as the video's star suctions gobs of algae from a drain with a wet vac.

Energy Star says that for an initial investment of $50 to $150 for a programmable thermostat, you can save about $180 annually on cooling and heating bills -- if you can live with higher indoor temperatures in summer (and cooler temperatures in winter). Set the "hold" or "vacation" feature for a constant, efficient temperature when you're away for the weekend or on vacation.

In summer, you can make those settings more tolerable if you install ceiling fans. Just remember that a ceiling fan cools people, not a room, so turn it off when you leave the room.

Before you heft units to the window sills, check out this YouTube video for practical tips that will help you maximize energy efficiency -- and keep out burglars and bugs, too.

Also, take a moment to clean them. Remove a unit's front grill, then its air filter, and clean dust and dirt from the filter. Check the filter periodically throughout the cooling season.

If you live in a hot, dry climate and cool your home with an evaporative, or "swamp," cooler, you must drain and clean the cooler seasonally to remove built-up sediment and minerals.

Energysavers.gov says that the more a cooler runs, the more maintenance it will need, requiring that you look at the pads, filters, reservoir and pump at least monthly. For more information on evaporative coolers, visit www.h2ouse.org.

Photo by Nooccar, Flickr.com

If the gap around a door or window is wider than a nickel, you need to reapply exterior caulk, says Bill Richardson, past president of the American Society of Home Inspectors. Check window-glazing putty, too, which seals glass into the window frame.

Add weatherstripping around doors, making sure that you can't see any daylight from inside your home. You'll save money on air conditioning and you won't have to repeat this task in the fall.

Nature's detritus -- decomposed leaves, twigs, and spring petals and seeds (think maple-tree "helicopters") -- may be worse in spring than in fall. Gutter cleaning generally costs $90 to $225 for a 2,000-square-foot home (with about 180 linear feet of gutter).

Add extensions to downspouts to carry water at least 3 to 4 feet away from your home's foundation. You can use 4-inch corrugated plastic pipe (about $7 for 10 feet).

An easy way to inspect the roof to find damaged, loose or missing shingles without risking life and limb is to use a pair of binoculars. If need be, hire a handyman to repair a few shingles ($95 to $125 for asphalt shingles, according to www.costhelper.com). If the damaged section is more extensive, you'll need a roofer (who will charge $100 to $350 to replace a 10-by-10-square-foot area). Check and repair breaks in the flashing seals around vent stacks and chimneys, too.

If your home has a flat roof with a parapet (a short wall around the perimeter), look for wear and tear in the roof surface. Check the flashing that seals the joint between the parapet and roof. Heavy snow can split the flashing, resulting in leaks. If you need repairs, look for a roofer at the Web site of the National Roofing Contractors Association.

Clean out any roof drains or scuppers (openings in the parapet that allow water to drain) to avoid ponding, which could damage your roof and cause leaks below. A "roof repair" or "sewer and pipe cleaning" company can help.

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