August home-maintenance checklist (© Image Source/Getty Images)

© Image Source/Getty Images

Remove pest magnets
There are many reasons – fire protection, air circulation, drainage, attractiveness and safety — to keep the outside walls of your home clear and free of debris. One more compelling reason is that piles and stacks of tools, lumber, ladders, yard waste and toys create a haven for spiders, rats, mice and wood-boring insects. Take an hour to circle your home outside, removing anything touching the siding. Donate, discard or store what you’ve removed. (Bing: How much do pest-control services cost?)

Firewood is one common hiding place. Stacking it under the eaves of the house keeps it dry, but there’s a price: The wood creates a home for spiders and invites them into the house. Also, wood piles trap moisture against the siding and prevent circulation. If left long enough, the dampness could rot siding or trim. Instead, store firewood at least two feet from the house and 18 inches above the ground. Keep it dry by building a little shelter over the top of the pile.

In addition, discourage pests by clearing out vegetation under decks that might give them a safe place to hide. And pick fruit from trees as soon as it is ripe. Keep the ground clean under fruit and nut trees.

Seal garbage cans tightly. If you’ve had problems with rats, dogs or raccoons getting into the trash, make sure the cans have tight-fitting lids. Tighten the lids by linking a stretchy tie-down from handle to handle. Knot it to shorten it if necessary. Buy or build a small enclosure for your cans. (Here’s how home-improvement blogger Ron Hazelton did it.)

Wash and rinse items you intend to recycle. Keep them waiting for disposal indoors or in a sealed enclosure. If you store pet food in a garage or carport, keep it in containers with tight lids. (Read “Three tips for keeping your home rodent-free.”) Also, if your bird feeder is attracting rats, get rid of it. To see if you’ve got “four-legged birds,” shine a light on the feeder in the middle of the night or in the wee hours of the morning.

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August gardening checklist

Don’t let water sit around your yard or garden; it breeds mosquitoes. Change the birdbath and wading pool water at least weekly. Toss water out of pet dishes, flowerpot saucers, cans, buckets and anything else lying around that collects rain. Keep gutters clean.

Pamper the lawn
Homeowners can’t successfully emulate the tightly trimmed golf-course look because they don’t have a golf course’s budget and army of maintenance professionals. Instead, the best thing you can do to achieve a good-looking lawn is to mow frequently and high (three inches or more – or just set your mower blades as high as they’ll go). This discourages weeds and trains the grass to grow in thickly. High, frequent cutting encourages roots to grow deep and retain water, so you’ll need to water less frequently. Let the clippings fall onto the lawn to add nourishment.

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If you’ve been watering the lawn this summer, keep it up: Water infrequently but deeply, giving it an inch to an inch and a half of water each time (measure by putting an empty tuna can on the lawn). Water early in the day to avoid evaporation — not at night, which invites disease. You’ll know it’s time to water when your footprints don’t spring back when you walk across the grass, when the grass gets a blue tinge or when you can’t easily push a screwdriver or steel rod into the soil.

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Go-to plants of the pros

If your lawn has turned brown, don’t try to rescue it by watering now. That’s hard on the grass plants and a waste of water. It’ll come back when the rain starts in the fall.

The best time to fertilize depends on your climate and the grass type in your lawn. In general, avoid fertilizing during extremely hot weather or periods of drought. Do not use products with nitrogen when your lawn isn’t green – it can encourage weeds. Start thinking about fertilizing at the end of this month and consult professionals who sell lawn-care products or call your local home-extension service (Wikipedia links to state cooperative extension services here) to get advice on what to use and exactly when to use it. August is the perfect time to root dandelions out of the lawn using a long-handled forked tool or with judicious use of an herbicide.

Clean sink drains
If you’ve got a slow-draining sink, take action. First, try a homemade drain cleaner. Onthehouse.com recommends mixing a solution of equal parts of salt, baking soda and vinegar. Pour it into the drain and chase it down with two quarts of boiling water. You can use this solution monthly. Avoid chemical drain cleaners; they can damage the pipes and create toxic exposure for you and your family.

Professional Services

Or you can apply some elbow grease and fix slow drains by cleaning out the drain and trap  – the U-shaped pipe that’s directly under the sink. Position a bucket under the trap to catch falling water and gunk and keep a pile of rags at hand for cleaning up. This can be a messy job – you may also want to wear rubber gloves.

Loosen and remove the couplings that hold the trap to the straight pipes that run from the sink and to the sewer. You may need to use a plumber’s wrench. If the pipe is plugged, all kinds of messy stuff will fall into the bucket and must be removed from the trap. If possible, take the trap outside and shoot a stream of water from the hose through it. Rinse it out thoroughly. Use a snake or wire from a coat hanger to remove built-up debris from the pipes.