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With the start of summer (Bing: When’s the official start of summer?) and warmer weather, you can focus most of your maintenance chores outdoors. First, however, attend to a couple of jobs that will help you stay comfortable and safe inside the house.
Switch ceiling fan blades
Switch ceiling fans to push cool air down, where you’ll most enjoy it. Observe the fan while it’s running: In summer, you want the leading edge of the blades (the part that goes around first) higher than the trailing edge (the part that rotates last). Locate the fan’s switch on its outside body. When set correctly for summer, you can stand beneath it and feel the breeze. This should allow you to adjust your thermostat higher (or set the air conditioning lower), saving fuel while enjoying the cooling effect of the moving air.
Clean dryer vents
Although you probably know to remove lint from your clothes dryer’s lint filter after each use (to prevent fires), you may not have heard that maintenance also includes cleaning the hose that pipes warm, moist air from the dryer to the outdoors. Use a long-handled brush, found in hardware stores (or search online for “dryer vent brush“). Also, clean the recess beneath the filter with a lint-trap brush. Make sure to purchase a brush that fits your dryer’s particular lint-trap type. Read the dryer’s manual for directions. Check vent hoses to ensure they fit tightly to each other, to the dryer and to the outside of the house. Pull out the dryer and vacuum accumulated lint under and around it.
Tip: Having trouble finding the manual? Search the manufacturer’s website or go to Laundry.ManualsOnline.com, register and search for the manual to download it free.
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Tune up yard and garden equipment
If your lawn mower has gas left over from last fall, empty the tank before adding fresh fuel. (Gas becomes stale after a month.) If possible, just run the mower until the tank is dry (best done in fall before storing the mower for the winter). If that’s not possible, use a siphon pump ($3 to $4 at a hardware or automotive supply store, composed of flexible tubing and a squeeze bulb) to transfer the old gas into a gas can. Take the old gas to your county’s hazardous waste disposal facility. Call ahead to learn hours and rules for disposing of fuel.
To keep your lawn mower running for years, you’ll also want to keep it clean. Avoid cutting wet grass; it’s hard on the mower engine. Frequently wipe, brush or scrape the mower’s underside clean (with motor off) so clippings don’t jam the blades. Change the oil each spring; change spark plugs and lubricate with every change of season (consult the owner’s manual for product specifications and directions); replace air filters every couple of years.
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Sharpen mower blades
Proper cutting is key to a healthy lawn, and lawns cut with sharp blades need less watering (read 10 secrets to a perfect lawn). Also, hard work is made easier with sharp tools. Manufacturers recommend replacing mower blades yearly if the mower is used frequently. Check your blades’ effectiveness by examining the cut edge of the grass: If grass blades are ragged, the lawnmower blade is dull. You can extend the life of a mower blade by sharpening. Call a hardware store, garden supply store or lawn-mower dealer to learn where to get tools and blades sharpened (about $10 to $20) or purchase a sharpening tool (Dremel, for example, makes a head for rotary tools) or buy a whetstone or hand sharpener at a garden supply or hardware store. Before removing the blade from the mower to sharpen it, disconnect the spark plug wire (otherwise you could jump-start the engine by moving the blade). Also, wear safety goggles.
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Take advantage of dry weather to clear out leaves, needles and debris, leaving gutters free to carry rainwater away and protect your home from mold and rot. Depending on your home’s surroundings, you should do this several times a year. Hire someone (around $50 to $100) or get a stable ladder (and someone to hold it) and do it yourself. Use a garden trowel or your (gloved) hands to muck out the debris. Scrub gutters with a non-metallic brush. Slosh water from a hose through the gutters and the drainpipes to finish the job and test that they’re clear and that water is flowing away from your basement, foundation or crawl space.
Tip: Newer ladders are rated for safety according to their use and the weight they can bear. An industrial-grade Type 1A folding ladder is safest for jobs under 17 feet, according to tests by Consumer Reports. Remain on or below the highest safe rung labeled on your ladder. Use an extension ladder for taller jobs. (See Rutgers University’s page on ladder ratings and safe use.) Keep aluminum ladders away from power lines.