Summers are why some Alaskans tolerate the winters. As the weather warms, the leaves seem to pop and unfurl as you watch. And although you might want to grab fishing and camping gear and head off for a summer adventure, remember to do a few annual maintenance items around the house as well.
First check your crawlspace. Now is the perfect time to see if shrews or insects have spent the winter. You want to exterminate them before they make their way farther into the house. Black, rice-sized droppings on the vapor barrier mean shrews are surely there, but you just haven't found the nest. Look for disturbances in the insulation fibers. Shrews will eat holes through the insulation to create burrows. Also look for carpet ants. They will discard small pieces of excess dirt, material and sawdust from the nest, so an area with the most debris is a likely red flag. For flying insects, if you notice a consistent presence around a small hole, you need to take a proactive approach.
During the summer, manually open crawlspace vents to enhance airflow and encourage any moisture to evaporate. Just remember to close them before winter or you may unintentionally freeze a pipe. Another alternative is to install a mechanical venting system tied to a humidistat, so fan dampers open and close as humidity levels change in the crawlspace.
Next, check five things in the attic. First, stick your head into the attic during a rain and look for evidence of water leaking around any of the roof penetrations. Second, check that all the vents are still connected at the fixture inside and to the roof outside. Over time gravity may loosen fittings, allowing everything vented from the house to flow into the attic cavity. A disconnected bathroom vent could potentially allow enough condensation to collect on the underside of the roof to encourage mold growth.
Third, check if the wind has redistributed the insulation. High winds have a tendency to push loose insulation to one side, leaving other areas completely exposed. Plus, over time, as insulation compacts with age its effectiveness decreases.
Fourth, check for evidence of hornets' nests and squirrel activity. If you find pests in either the crawlspace or attic, try to determine what is attracting them, how they got in, and eliminate the access points, if possible. Bait traps at all four corners of the area may help, so if they find their way back they won't live long enough create a nest.
Once you've found evidence, depending on the amount and type of activity, a professional exterminator may be needed. The exterminator may also need to schedule preventative maintenance if the problem is more than what a bait trap can handle.
Finally, when all the attic work is done, be sure insulation is also placed on the roof side of the access panel; after the panel is back in place seal its edges with a bead of caulk. While these may sound like small items, both help to prevent heat loss or moisture from seeping into the attic.
Go outside next. If during winter you had noticed excessive ice damming and icicles, have a roofer look at the area now when a fix is easier. Also have the roofer check the caulking around the flashing. Similar to the caulking around the bathtub, the roof caulking helps keep water away from the wood underlayment. The problem with water leaking from the roof into the home is water doesn't travel in a straight line, so the source is hard to track.
When it is raining, check the gutters for leaks, especially at the end caps or where downspouts connect. A persistent leak can slowly blister paint, which leaves wood unprotected and provides the right conditions for wood rot to start slowly eating along the length of the board. This type of damage can go unseen for years because although the outside looks fine, the interior wood strength is compromised.
Decks and hand railings are perfect examples of how unprotected wood can slowly deteriorate. To extend the life of the wood, keep exposed areas painted or sealed. If you can poke a small screwdriver deep into the wood, you are losing ground and need to start budgeting to replace. When you do need to replace, consider using a composite material that doesn't need painting and can handle the wet weather. At a minimum, use treated wood for supports.
If you live on a well-treed lot on the Hillside, consider having your home evaluated by the city's Firewise program. Visit the Municipality of Anchorage website at muni.org to determine how to improve your home's ability to survive a fire. You will find Firewise information under the Fire Department link, then go to the Wildfire Mitigation page.
Timing is everything. Taking a few minutes to do these types of seasonal checks will protect your investment and asset. Checking now also gives you the time to schedule work while the weather is warmer, instead of tackling a problem during the winter.