Spring is maintenance time for home buyers and sellers

The fluctuating temperatures of the last month should have been more than a sign to start shopping for swimwear, especially if you plan on selling an old home to buy a new one. Spring is the ideal time to service your air conditioner, check for pests and complete your summer maintenance planning as you get ready to shop for a new home.

One important maintenance item, however, depends on more than a homeowner’s motivation. It’s important to test your air conditioner before a heat wave hits, but residential units should not be used when the exterior temperature is less than 70 degrees. If you are buying or selling a home and you have central air, or even if your window or wall units are already in place, the real estate agent, buyer and home inspector should not test this equipment until the exterior temperature is greater than 70 degrees.

Compressors, the heart of any air conditioning system, maintain their internal piston lubrication with oil. Until the outside temperature reaches 70 degrees, or a crank case heater is installed, the oil in these compressors will be too viscous to effectively lubricate the moving pistons. “Stiff” oil will damage the piston in the compressor, which sometimes necessitates its replacement.

Whole-house compressors may cost several thousand dollars to replace. This is one reason that most home inspectors document the exterior temperature during their inspection of your property. They do not want to be blamed for breaking your compressor. There are many other reasons that contribute to compressor failure, including dirt, overheating of the wiring, age and lack of maintenance. All of these problems should be evaluated and reduced with a regular air conditioning maintenance service call. Why risk spending $1,000 to $3,000 on a compressor when a routine service call may only cost $100? It is time to call your air conditioning contractor for summer setup.

While you’re checking on the air conditioner, walk the exterior of your building or single-family residence and look for landscape grading that sends water towards the foundation. Look for peeling, cracked or loose paint anywhere along the building’s exterior walls. Look for animal nests and homes that are easily identified by holes in the ground, sometimes two or three inches in diameter, and bits of straw or cloth at elevated points in the building.

Make a list of anything that appears to need repair or maintenance.

The next stop should be the roof. This is the time of the year (weather permitting) to walk the roof and remove any collected winter debris. Also, note any damaged or fallen satellite dishes or abandoned television antennas. Look for loose or cracked mortar joints and bricks that appear to be moving away from the rest of the masonry wall. Most roofing product manufacturers will recommend a twice-yearly roofing inspection by a qualified roofing inspection company. This allows minor repairs to be itemized and addressed before they become major issues.

In between the roof and the foundation, peruse your siding and plan on replacing dented, broken or damaged pieces.

Unfortunately, you’re not the only one waking up and making “to do” lists this spring.

In the Chicago area, termites sense the warmth of the sun and then decide to swarm, creating new nests, usually by mid-June. If you are at a building where this phenomenon occurs, you’ll never forget it. It’s almost as if the building is exhaling as thousands of winged insects are spasmodically pumped from the colony and move toward the sun.

When they are far enough away from the building or when your windows stop them from getting outside, they will drop to the ground and find a suitable partner. They then mate, abandon their wings and begin to tunnel into the earth to create a new colony. If you are not home during the day when this happens, about the only tell-tale signs of this activity are the remnants of tiny wings left by windowsills and in cobwebs.

Frass is another danger sign to watch for. The powdery residue is found in holes bored into wood by insects. In the Chicago market, frass might appear as sawdust in very unlikely places, such as spider webs at the top of window frames in the basement. Should you see frass in unlikely places you should call your exterminator to get a complete inspection for wood-destroying organisms. Termite treatment for a single-family home often costs around $2,000.

Carpenter ant treatment is more tricky and area-specific for each home than termite extermination. Carpenter ants live in wet, rotting wood, so they are usually found above the ground level. The exterminator needs to treat each nest individually and one home may have several.

Let’s not forget that with these lists and pesky insects we also get extended hours of daylight, an accessible lakefront, outdoor cafes, and good times outdoors. Spring is a wonderful time of year in Chicago, but nothing comes without its price.

Thomas Corbett is president of Tomacor, Inc. a professional property consulting company specializing in commercial and residential property inspections and expert witness work.

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