Omg spring is coming!!
March 13, 2015 5:13 AM   Subscribe

After a rough winter, spring is ineluctably approaching. As the snow melts, I'm discovering that a number of the bushes are much worse for wear, the front brick path has heaved and needs to be re-set, paint is peeing, gutter downspouts and lots of wood trim are in need of replacement--the list goes on. And at some point, we'll need some grading work and other drainage projects. Plus (eventually) seeding the lawn and general cleanup. What's the best approach to thinking about and ordering these projects?

As intoxicating as the approach of spring is, it's overwhelming to contemplate the great number of projects to tackle, and frustrating to think that it will probably be at least a year before we get to address all the issues present by this winter. (Hopefully next winter is less brutal!)

How best to triage?

What are the most important spring projects in a normal year? What are the most important projects when emerging from a rough winter? What are the low-effort, high reward projects that will keep our spirits up?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Not much of it is low-effort, but looking at your list I'd say that getting the downspouts and gutters fixed is a high priority because they route water away from the house. Seeding the lawn, if you're going to do it at all, has to happen fairly early in the season because grass seedlings don't do well in hot weather. The walkway might settle down as the ground thaws, so don't rush to do anything with that. And, there's no way that wood trim was destroyed by a single winter; if it needs replacement now then it needed replacement 6 months ago.
posted by jon1270 at 5:18 AM on March 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, you might be surprised at how well the bushes recover, unless they were broken by heavy snow loads in which case some heavy pruning or even removal might be appropriate.
posted by jon1270 at 5:20 AM on March 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I would start out by figuring out which things you're going to need professional help on, and start out by putting in some calls to get estimates going for those projects. It's amazing how fast contractors get booked up in the spring, so if you think you even might want to get some of these projects done by contractors, I'd get on their radar now. Plus, having those estimates in hand might help you prioritize what you can reasonably get done in the near future.

Then, since that stuff takes a while, I'd maybe start in on some of the low-effort low-time stuff you can do yourself - pruning, yard cleanup, seeding the lawn, whatever, so you can feel like you're making some visible and satisfactory progress.
posted by Stacey at 5:33 AM on March 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Anything that can lead to worse damage is priority one. Failing gutters can lead to water accumulating near the foundation, which can lead to seepage and leaks, which will be very expensive.
posted by COD at 5:33 AM on March 13, 2015

Agreed on the importance of addressing the gutters and downspouts, but, as an example, I'm at a loss over whether to tackle that before the grading, or what to do about the soffits and fascias that could use some tlc. Some of the projects are independent, but many seem interconnected and I'm wondering there is a decision tree like "always deal with roofs first, then gutters and related trim; then basements and then grading, then driveways" (just making that up).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:35 AM on March 13, 2015

A few comments:

the front brick path has heaved and needs to be re-set
Depending on the level of freeze/thaw beneath, the path might settle back down to its correct position. if there's water in the ground, the ice with a larger volume forces the ground up; as it thaws and the water disperses, the ground might lower back to its original position, bringing the pavers down with it.

That being said, if you do need to reset the brick, you'll need to remove the problem bricks, reset the sand, tamp, replace the brick and add the filler. Can be a weekend job, but it will require a lot of patience!

, paint is peeing
Geez man, WTH are you feeding it?
But painting is a bigger job than the Teevee makes it to be. You'll need to scrape off the peeling paint, clean the surface, sand it (especially if it's wood; don't know about siding) paint one coat and possibly a second - and all this in the right temperature and sun conditions - not too hot or cold; no direct sun; no rain for a few days.

gutter downspouts and lots of wood trim are in need of replacement
Will you be doing this or will you contract out? I don't have much advice here - we had ours done professionally; they worked fast and efficiently.

And at some point, we'll need some grading work and other drainage projects.
What kind of work - sloping from the house and French drain?
Digging is also harder than they make it seem so be prepared to dedicate some time here!
As a temporary fix to sloping, you can buy a downspout extension. Keep that water away from the house!

Plus (eventually) seeding the lawn and general cleanup.
You're actually supposed to seed in the spring and in the fall - with the fall being more important (if you're in the north) - lots of watering involved, so if you can do this when rain is in the forecast, you're set - if not, you're in for a lot of watering!

What's the best approach to thinking about and ordering these projects?
Ultimately you need to prioritize based on urgency, time-of-year and project duration. For example,

- Painting - mid spring or mid fall, not summer: temperatures are not that high, sun (hopefully) not as high and direct
- Lawn seeding - early spring and early fall: ideal time for grass growth; in the fall, don't forget to fertilize!
- Brick paver replacement - any time, but this is a relatively quick job
- Sloping and drainage - bigger job, couple of days/weekends/weeks, but you can do this any time as well
- Gutters, downspouts - bigger job, couple of days/weekends/weeks (or a few days if professionals do this), but you can do this any time as well, although you might want to do the sloping first, so that if it does rain while your gutters are down, the sloping will help move the water away from the house.
posted by bitteroldman at 5:35 AM on March 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Gutters and downspouts and I would argue regrading because you want to tackle the long term problems. You may not get snow now, but you will get rain and my basement flooded because of remodeling and the regrading not being done in time. This also will relieve you for the coming winter and wondering if the melt will cause problems. Parallel to the regrading or before is the wood trim and other house stuff. The seeding and outdoor landscaping should be last after the regrading and path repair.

Also, it is minor and it makes a difference but get your windows washed. Winter really dirties up windows and getting clean windows and I unimpeded light is something nice.
posted by jadepearl at 5:39 AM on March 13, 2015

For the bushes, wait until it's time to prune to assess damage. It's going to be at least the first week of April. Broken branches need to be trimmed off, but you'd be surprised at how much new growth will show once the weather gets better. Also, use this spring to get to know your garden and your shrubs. Once you know what you're supposed to be doing with them, extraordinary maintenance won't feel quite so overwhelming.

You can reseed the lawn in the spring but it is much better for the grass to do it in the fall. Again, though, wait for it to come out of dormancy, it might surprise you with how well it fills in.

Wait on the bricks, they really might settle once the ground stops heaving. You can't paint until much warmer weather, so just put that towards the bottom of the list.

Get someone to look at the trim and the downspouts as soon as possible, those are priority one.
posted by lydhre at 5:39 AM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ignore the bushes and the lawn. If this is your first hard winter in this house, you have zero data about how they will recover. (Hint: probably a lot better than you think they will.)

The bricks, too, may sort themselves out, and re-mediating them at this point can cause more harm than good.

Re-trim, deal with your gutters, then paint. Dealing with the gutter downspouts is cheap and easy and I wouldn't do anything that isn't cheap and easy until you are dealing with the grading issues.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:04 AM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, you know, if you're overwhelmed you don't have to do all of this yourself. Gutter cleaning is cheap. Hedge trimming is cheap!
posted by DarlingBri at 6:18 AM on March 13, 2015

Prioritize projects that are about protecting from future damage. If the gutters leak in a way that is unsightly drips but still has fine drainage on the roof and on the ground, that's not a priority, but if you need to fix the gutters to prevent water from pooling up against the house, fix it. If the paint is peeling on decorative trim, that's unsightly; if you let the peeled paint area get/stay wet over the next season, the wood underneath could get damaged, such that the repair job isn't just repainting, but replacing whole sections of rotting/damaged wood. Look at the bushes, and if there are branches that have cracked such that it's hanging on a split wood, cut that off now so the hanging weight doesn't continue to pull the split, and trim back any breaks so that there aren't any pockets that can collect water. You're not pruning for symmetry and grace, just for things that could progress from local damage to taking out the whole bush; the whole yard can be damage-proofed in under an hour.
posted by aimedwander at 6:35 AM on March 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Based on your posting history you haven't been a homeowner for long. My first advice is to take a deep breath and don't worry about tackling everything at once. A home is something you'll have for many years, possibly life, and you have time. Not everything needs to be done NOW. Certainly, if you have water coming through the roof you need to deal with it, but you have time to do everything else. It doesn't all need to be done this year.

It's also worth living with things for a couple years until you learn the natural cycle. Maybe your bricks will fall back into place, maybe your grass will recover on its own. Learn a bit.

As others have said, give your lawn and bushes time to recover. Let spring arrive and see how they do. We had a Japanese Maple split on us a few years ago due to heavy snow and my wife was able to literally bolt it back together. The bolt is still in it and will be there forever but the tree is still going strong, or at least I hope it is as it's still buried in snow.

I would advise not doing anything that involves walking on your lawn until after mud season has ended. You'll do more damage. Let the grass start growing a bit.

One of the most valuable skills for a homeowner is knowing when to hire someone to do a job. I pay someone to clean my gutters because a) it's cheap enough (roughly $100) b) it's easy to schedule because they just show up and you pay afterwards and c) My roof is high and I'm not good on ladders.

If you have the means you might want to hire a landscaper or landscape architect to spend some time making a master plan for your yard and drainage. This can be a multi-year plan and he or she will let you know where the priorities are.

I would hire someone to repair the gutters and/or downspouts. They will do in a couple hours what will take you a week and 16 trips to Home Depot.

Replacing trim isn't too hard if you have the tools (power saws, crowbar, hammer, nails) but depending on the type of trim it could be easy to do a bad job. Touching up the paint is easy enough to do yourself.

I'm wondering there is a decision tree like "always deal with roofs first, then gutters and related trim; then basements and then grading, then driveways"

I think I would follow the flow of the water. Start from the top. Fix the roof, fix the gutters, fix the downspouts, deal with the grading.
posted by bondcliff at 7:51 AM on March 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Depending on your you location and your house's construction, consider the materials and the weather when you schedule work. An example: if you have wood siding, then let it dry out & warm up completely before you paint. (The paint will work better in nice weather than in the cold anyway.) Alternatively, you have to be extra careful working on vinyl siding in the cold because it gets brittle.

Here in New England we are still getting frosts, so the ground won't thaw -- and thus the brick sidewalk subside -- for a while yet. But if you are farther south, you might be done with the cold. And the north side of your house will harbor snow longer than the south side, so let winter be all the way gone before you start working on stuff there. Those two factors might also mean that talking to a landscaper is wasted time for a while yet. But go ahead and waste some time talking to contractors in the best possible way.

If you are a total n00b (and we all were once!), try this: have a couple of guys come over to quote on some of your work, and then pick their brain the whole time. I ask tons of questions when we have any kind of contractor come by, and they don't seem to mind. (I think that an informed consumer will understand why they are recommending the things they put in their quote. Or something.) Even if you don't use them, you can listen to the first guy's advice, then read up on it as soon as he leaves and be better prepared for the next guy.

Good luck!
posted by wenestvedt at 12:53 PM on March 13, 2015

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