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Spring Home Maintenance Checklist

While we’ve been in winter seclusion, your house has been busy responding to the elements. Rain, sleet, and snow may have caused leaks in your roof and cracks in your foundation. Uninvited guests could be nesting in your attic, chimney, or gutters. Now is the time to do a Spring maintenance check-up to keep your home energy efficient and structurally safe during the warm months ahead.

Examine Roof Shingles

Replace shingles that are cracked, buckled, loose, or are missing. Flashing around plumbing vents, skylights and chimneys need to be checked and repaired by a qualified roofer. Watch for signs that critters have created an entry into your home.

Gutters

Check for loose or leaky gutters. Improper drainage can lead to water in the basement or crawl space. Make sure downspouts drain away from the foundation and are clear and free of debris. Consider installing gutter screens or protectors to help keep debris out of the gutters.

Chimneys

If you have a masonry chimney, check the joints between bricks or stones. Have any fallen out? Is there vegetation growing out of them? This signals water infiltration. Look for white deposits that indicate your masonry joints are no longer repelling water but absorbing it.

Exterior Walls

Whether you have stucco or brick, look for trouble spots, especially under eaves and near gutter downspouts. Water stains indicate that your gutters are not adequately containing roof runoff. 

Foundations

Inspect the exterior of your home from top to bottom for masonry cracks and caulk over any small cracks. Hire a professional to come to take a look if you notice large cracks in your concrete foundation walls. 

Windows

Check all windows to make sure they open easily and close tightly. Leakage around windows will raise air conditioning bills in the summer. Check that all caulking and weather stripping is intact. Wash windows, inside and out, to remove pollen, dust, and grime. If you experienced condensation inside the glass on double or triple-glazed windows during the winter, the weather seal has been compromised and you need to replace the glass or the window.

Air Conditioning

Make sure air conditioning units are in good working order. Change the filter, check hose connections for leaks, and make sure the drain pans are draining freely. Vacuum any dust that has settled on the unit and connections; over time it can impact the air conditioner’s effectiveness. If you have an outside unit, hire a qualified cooling contractor to clean the coils and change filters.

Replace filters

Replace all filters including range hood, air vent, dryer vent, air purifiers, etc. A clogged clothes dryer vent can be a fire hazard. To clean it, disconnect the vent from the back of the machine and use a dryer vent brush to remove lint. Outside your house, remove the dryer vent cover and use the brush to remove lint from the other end of the vent line. Make sure the vent cover flap moves freely.

Clean faucets and shower heads

Unscrew the faucet aerators, sink sprayers, and showerheads, and soak them in equal parts vinegar and water solution. Let them soak for an hour, then rinse with warm water.

Test alarms

Test smoke alarms and Carbon Monoxide detectors, and change out batteries as needed. It’s cheap, only takes a few minutes and could save your family’s lives.

Basements

Dampness in your basement indicates inadequate ventilation and the need for a dehumidifier. Check the base of poured-concrete walls for cracks.  Use a flashlight to examine exposed framing for tunneling on the wood. If it’s there, call a pest control company.  

Attics

Search for signs that insects, bird nests, and other critters. Also, search for mold. Proper insulation and ventilation will deter mold growth, so take action now to prevent the problem from developing in the warmer months ahead.

Look for obstructions over vents, damaged soffit panels, roof flashing leaks, and wet spots on insulation. Keeping a good airflow will save you when it comes to cooling costs. When you’re rooting around, wear long sleeves and gloves to protect yourself from insulation.

Leaks

Check under the kitchen and bathroom sink to make sure connections on pipes and hoses are properly sealed, and look for any wetness around the dishwasher that could signal a problem. Check washing machine hoses for cracks, bulges, or dampness. The same is true for hot water heaters, which may show signs of corrosion and leaks.

Outdoor water systems and grills

Make sure outdoor water systems—pipes, faucets, and in-ground sprinkler systems—are in working order. If you have a deck, look for warped, loose, or splintered boards. If you have a gas grill, check burner jets for clogs and obstructions, and be sure that gas hoses and connections are sound and secure. For charcoal grill owners, make certain your grill is clean of ash and free of grease residue.

Rehabbing Your Rowhouse

Bringing an older Philly rowhouse into the 21st century can be challenging. We want to make it easier and more affordable. With 70 years of experience, our agents at Solo Real Estate have managed multiple home renovation projects across the city so we’re sharing some insights on what to look out for in a rehab property, and what you can expect to have to update. 

Whether you’ll be doing a gut-renovation or updating a few things, most row houses tend to have the same problems. They are dark and narrow with small kitchens, postage-stamp-size middle bedrooms, and outdated bathrooms. The secret to home renovation is knowing where and how to open up a space to more light and functionality. For that, you need to work with an experienced architect and contractor who have expertise in rehabbing homes like yours.  

Kitchens & Bathrooms

Even the most livable property usually requires a major makeover of the kitchen and bathroom. If sustainability is your goal, just say no to granite and marble countertops. “Custom made cast concrete countertops and sinks are better for the environment,” said Jayme Guokas, owner of Craftwork Design, a Philadelphia-based design firm specializing in customized living spaces. “Using cast concrete saves material from being quarried from the earth. It has a more hand crafted, warm feeling, especially with inlays of fossils, agate rocks and minerals,” he said.

When Guokas rehabbed his East Kensington row home, an 1880 structure, he conceived of it as a showcase for his business. “The house reflects my firm’s design principles as well as our ethic of sustainable building, using reclaimed and locally sourced materials wherever possible.”  

For example, Guokas used Heart Pine flooring from a South Philly factory and a former livestock tank as a shower base. The cast concrete throughout the house, on countertops, windowsills, and sinks, featured inlaid glass, stone, and antique tile. Guokas balanced the reclaimed accents and poured concrete with contemporary appliances, light fixtures and ceiling fans. Guokas also used custom cast concrete to update the kitchen of Deborah Solo.

Deborah Solo’s kitchen. Photo: Isaac Turner Photography

In his work for Parish House, a 1912 property in East Kensington, Guokas applied principles of sustainability. He created hand-troweled concrete countertops in all six units, as well as concrete sinks in two of the four bathrooms. An antique longleaf pine vanity is made from the beams salvaged from the adjacent church.

Parish House Interior by Craftwork Design. Photo: Isaac Turner Photography
Concrete Sink made by Craftwork Design. Photo: Isaac Turner Photography

Influenced by woodworker/designer George Nakashima and the Arts & Crafts aesthetic of Henry Mercer, Guokas uses birch plywood for kitchen cabinets with creative stain options. A beautiful example is the hand-stained cabinetry he completed for a house on Seventh Street.

Let there be light!

An open floor plan is a popular way to bring more light and flow into your house. Or add a skylight to the living room, kitchen, or at the top of the stairwell. When possible, enlarge windows or select a front door with a decorative glass panel. When it comes to ceiling light fixtures, consider mixing recessed lights throughout the first floor with contemporary or vintage hanging fixtures.

The lighter your walls, the more light bounces off of them. Go with bright neutrals or white. But not just any white. Sherwin Williams offers 48 shades, ranging from cool to warm.  Benjamin Moore has over 300! We recommend bright white for ceilings and a warmer white for walls. If you’d like to add a pop of color, paint an accent wall to create a focus area while maintaining a sense of openness with the surrounding white walls.

Doing away with the cramped second floor bedroom and enlarging the bathroom is an option if you do not require the room as a nursery or office. Another way to open up your home is to create a trendy roof deck with an outdoor spiral staircase.

The Rehab Bible

Before you make any decisions, read the Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual, an online, free, homeowners Bible. It clearly spells out how to approach renovations and additions, permits and codes. More importantly, it tells you how to avoid costly mistakes.

  • Don’t try to be your own contractor
  • Don’t work with relatives or friends
  • Don’t work without a written contract
  • Don’t put down more than a 20% deposit
  • Don’t release more than 95% of the total cost before all work is completed to your satisfaction

“Managing over 400 units for different owners, Solo Real Estate is positioned to help row house owners identify reputable architects and contractors,” said Alex Franqui.  “We get multiple bids from contractors. If you have a small job, it’s difficult to find a plumber or roofer. But we do enough business with them that they will handle the job.” 

Interested in purchasing a rehab property? We can help! Learn more about our buying or property investment services here, and contact us for more information.

Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

It’s officially the first day of fall –  the perfect time for pumpkin spice lattes, haunted hayrides and fall home maintenance. While it might take a little more time for the weather to start cooling down, winter is just around the corner, and being prepared can save you time and money. We know managing the care and upkeep of a property is no easy task. Homes require ongoing supervision and maintenance to ensure that everything is working properly but there are some simple things you can do to prevent unexpected and costly repairs during the winter months. Our fall home maintenance checklist includes simple tips to ensure you’re prepared and your home runs smoothly during the winter months ahead.

Schedule Furnace or Boiler Maintenance

Schedule Furnace or Boiler Maintenance

Home heating systems involve many complex components. Just like you would change the oil or air filters in a car before a long trip across the country, homeowners should start the winter with a serviced heating system. We recommend contacting a certified heating contractor. An annual service visit usually runs around $100 in the Philadelphia area, while the peace of mind that comes with knowing that a trained professional has given one of your most expensive home mechanical systems a passing grade is priceless. However, for the intrepid DIY-er, we recommend at a minimum, changing the filters for a forced-air heating system, bleeding the radiators for a boiler system, and checking the batteries on your digital thermostat.

Apply Caulk and Weatherstripping to Prevent Drafts

Apply Caulk and Weatherstripping to Prevent Drafts

Keep the warm air inside and the cold air outside by checking to ensure that the weatherstripping around your doors is in good shape. Repair or replace damaged caulk or weatherstripping. Even small gaps can bring in a good amount of cold air. Installing door sweeps in your home this fall can also prevent chills from entering the home through the slim space beneath the door. If you have older windows in your home, you may want to consider picking up a window insulation kit and covering them with plastic insulation. The process takes about ten minutes, a pair of scissors, and a hairdryer and can keep you feeling cozy all winter long.

Drain the Hose and Shut off the Water Line

Drain the Hose and Shut off the Water Line 

For homeowners with gardens, it’s important to prevent freezing your pipes which supply the hose line. Shut off the access to the hose (in Philadelphia, most water lines are accessed in the basement). Then drain the remaining water and disconnect the hose and bring it inside for the winter.

Empty Flower Pots and Prune Trees

Empty Flower Pots and Prune Trees 

While you’re outside, take some time to empty the soil from your ceramic pots. Rapidly cooling and rising temperatures, which are common during Philadelphia winters, can cause cracking in all sorts of things (roads especially). Protect your pots so you can use them for spring flowers by clearing out the soil and trim your trees one last time before the winter months.

Clear Gutters and Drains

Clear Gutters and Drains 

For homeowners living in neighborhoods with even a moderate amount of tree cover, it’s important to make sure that gutters are cleared of leaves and debris. A buildup in your gutters can cause issues with the roof (flat roofs in particular) or cause water to spill over the gutter and freeze on the sidewalk, creating a tripping hazard. Also, for homeowners with drains in their front or back yard, it’s important to look and make sure they’re clear of debris. A blocked yard drain can turn your backyard into a skating rink and contribute to clogs in the drain line. You may also want to consider installing gutter guards. While it won’t completely eliminate the need to clean your gutters, they prevent larger items from falling in and can reduce the frequency in which you’ll need to clear them.

Inspect and Replace Winter Supplies

Inspect and Replace Winter Supplies 

Don’t forget to replace old snow shovels, ice scrapers and purchase ice melt before the snowy weather arrives. We recommend seeking out a pet-safe ice melt as some can cause irritation and other issues for our furry friends. If you use a snowblower during the winter, now is the perfect time to inspect it and make sure it’s running smoothly.