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Aug 04, 2023

Hot and humid, July is a good month to tackle indoor chores that give you an excuse to enjoy air conditioning or the breeze of a simple fan. But there are also some outdoor chores that are worth doing now because of the work they will save you later. Just plan on tackling those on days when the weather isn’t brutal.

There are all sorts of emergencies to worry about and prepare for. But disasters such as hurricanes in the East or South and wildfires in the West especially warrant advance planning because they knock out whole regions. The risk of hurricanes and wildfires gradually builds over the summer, which makes July a great month to stock up on food, bottled water, household supplies and other things you might need. If you already have a kit, this is a good time to open it up and replace anything that’s outdated. It might be tempting to toss food that you’ve stored for a year or more, but if it’s still safe to eat, try making a meal of it. Check bottled water, too: Even if the jugs have never been opened, seals aren’t perfect and a significant amount of water can evaporate over time. The American Red Cross has a list of what an emergency kit should contain at redcross.org.

The biggest moving part in your house needs a regular checkup. Do the simple things first so you don’t overlook them: Replace batteries in the remote. Inspect hinges and tighten any loose bolts. If the hinges squeak, lubricate them so they operate smoothly. But don’t touch or lubricate bolts on the torsion springs. Clean the tracks, but avoid lubricating these, too.

Then do a few tests to make sure everything is operating properly:

If anything’s amiss, call in a service technician from a garage door company. Adjusting a garage door isn’t a DIY project; there’s a serious risk of injury if you don’t do it right.

If you have outdoor play equipment, it needs a tuneup, too. Tighten loose bolts, close any open S hooks, remove or sand any splintering wood and replace any wood that is soft and decaying. If you have wood chips under a climbing structure or swings, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends a depth of at least eight inches — use a ruler to check. Chips compact over time, so you may need to add more. If you have a backyard sandbox, keep it covered with mesh to deter cats but let in sunlight, which is a natural germ-killer.

You might not think of pruning as a summer chore, but this is the best time for the type that staves off damage to a house. Trees and shrubs go through a growth spurt in the spring, so by now some branches may be close enough to scrape paint or roofing. Clip them back at least a foot or two from the walls. Over the roof, you probably need a bigger gap to allow branches to sag when it rains.

If squirrels hang out in your yard, cut back even more to reduce the chance that the animals will chew their way into your house and nest in the attic. Squirrel damage can be very costly to repair. To deter squirrels, keep branches six or even eight feet from both the roof and walls. If you have a bird feeder, make sure it includes a cage or baffle that keeps squirrels out and stock it with seeds that squirrels don’t like. The Humane Society recommends safflower seed for attracting cardinals, chickadees and titmice; nyjer thistle for goldfinches; and white proso millet for mourning doves and house finches.

While you’re thinking about preventing damage, circle your house again. But this time, look down and make sure there is a clear perimeter around the base of the building and up six inches from the siding.

Having wood or soil piled against siding invites an infestation of carpenter ants or termites. So move any firewood that’s stacked against the house. Rake back any wood chips, bark nuggets or other organic mulches piled alongside the house. If soil is too close, dig it away, but check when you’re done to make sure the surface still slants away from the house, so rain will drain away. If the slope goes toward the house, dig away soil farther out, until the slope is correct. (If there is no way to do this, you might need a drain pipe or other solution to keep water from pooling by the foundation.)

Once you’ve created a clear buffer around your house, consider spreading pea gravel over the surface, or plant a low-growing ground cover. If you leave the soil bare, rain will splash muddy water onto the siding, adding to your maintenance chores. Don’t pile gravel too deep, though, or it can keep the soil moist enough to attract termites. A layer two to three inches deep is sufficient.

Another job to tackle in air-conditioned bliss: Establish a home office or make the one you already have function better. Most people learn to live with whatever home arrangements they have, until something like a child moving away or back home triggers the need for a change. If you have a home office that you were barely able to make work during the pandemic, a back-to-the-office policy that allows work from home some of the time might be a good incentive to find a better solution.

If you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated room, you might just need to sort through stacks of notes, bills, catalogues and whatever else is piled up. Cull what you no longer need, and set up files or bins to hold the rest in an organized way. Freshen up the decor to emphasize the room’s new status. If you don’t need the room as an office full time, consider arranging it to serve another purpose the rest of the time, such as a guest room (add a sofa that folds out to a bed) or a sewing room (add a worktable and storage for fabric and notions).

If you don’t have an office, use the same approach, but in the opposite way. Create a mini office in a room with a different purpose. For example, fit a desk into a corner of a dining room that you don’t use very often. Or clean out one or more shelves of a bookcase (see tip below) and add baskets to hold papers related to specific projects or household bills.

Times change, and it’s likely you don’t really need or even want all those files or books you have stored away. On a day when it’s too hot to be outside and you don’t have a lot of excess energy, tackle a single bookcase or file drawer. Make separate piles of what to keep and what to get rid of. Papers culled from a file drawer probably need to go into a recycling bin, but you might be able to sell or donate books. If there is a company selling used books in your community, inquire first about what they take. Many local libraries are grateful for donations of books and even CDs, puzzles (without missing pieces) and board games, which they sell to support other library programs.

Indoors or out, an old, worn hose can crack and leak. When this happens outdoors with a garden hose, the fix is easy: Replace the hose. Sometimes, though, the hose is fine but drips are forming where it attaches to a faucet. The culprit then is likely to be the washer inside the female end of the hose or possibly a washer inside the faucet. Hose washers are easy and inexpensive to replace; Home Depot sells a pack of 10 for $3.47. If you can’t slip the old washer out of the hose fitting, try prying it out with a screwdriver or needle-nose pliers.

Indoors, a house can have numerous hoses: on the clothes and dish washers, dehumidifiers, ice-maker, toilets and refrigerator. If any of these hoses become brittle and break, the water can cause significant damage to floors, rugs and furniture. Take time on a summer day to check each of these for signs of wear and brittleness. Replace any that seem compromised, especially if they are more than five years old. While you’re at it, look for subtle signs of slow leaks, including musty smells, peeling paint, mold spots on walls or floors, and warped floors or sagging ceiling tiles (when an appliance with a hose is located on the floor above).

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to [email protected]. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.