Residential - Tips & tricks - Spring work: There's a right time for everything

There you are, rake in hand, ready to banish those last traces of winter from your property. Be careful, though! Don’t let spring fever make you forget this golden rule: when it comes to work around the exterior of your home, there is a right time – and, especially, a correct temperature – for everything.

Retaining walls and paving
Risks related to spring thaw

Wait for the end of the spring thaw, generally around mid-May, before doing any earth-moving work, building a retaining wall or installing uni-stone (interlocking) paving stones. On soggy ground, compaction work and the constant coming and going of heavy vehicles can easily do more harm than good. If the work is done too early in the season, the foundation stability of retaining walls and paving may even be compromised, and tree roots may be damaged.

Asphalt paving
To ensure durability, wait until May
While the preparatory work, i.e., excavation and backfilling, can sometimes be undertaken as early as mid-April, it’s better to wait until at least mid-May to start an asphalt paving job. Cold nights and the wind-chill factor (which can come into play even in sunny conditions) may affect paving quality: the asphalt finish will remain porous and, consequently, vulnerable to water infiltration. A properly executed paving job, done in ideal weather conditions, can last more than 20 years.

Leave time for nature to awaken

The old adage “slow and steady wins the race” is particularly apt when it comes to gardening.

    • Planting – Be patient! Plant and shrub growth will not benefit from early planting. It’s much wiser to wait until the soil has had time to warm up. The best time to plant: between the third week of May and the middle of September.

    • Tree care – Tree stump removal is an extremely delicate operation, definitely to be avoided during the sap flow period and spring growth stage, a critical time for trees. Refer to specialized reference works to find out the best time to proceed, and the proper cutting techniques for different species.

    • Lawn care – Don’t rush nature! Wait until the ground is well dried out before dethatching and spreading compost. In areas where the grass has died, re-seed as soon as possible to prevent weed growth. For good results, do this work in May and allow six to eight weeks of relatively warm (15° to 25°C) and humid conditions after seeding.

    • When to mow the first time – You are the best judge. Keep in mind, however, that while it’s important not to let the grass grow too high (so as not to let the bottom of the stalks turn yellow), it’s just as important to cut off no more than two-thirds of the stalk and never mow to a length of less than 2.5 inches (6 centimetres).

Avoid extreme conditions

    • Minimum temperature – The temperature to keep in mind is 10°C, wind-chill factor included. This applies to the outside air temperature as well as the temperature of the product and the surface to be covered – otherwise the paint will not harden and its finish will not last. Here’s the tricky part: you have to wait until that minimum temperature is reached and maintained, without it raining, for at least 24 hours (ideally, 48 hours), before and after application.

    • Ideal conditions – The perfect day to get your paintbrushes out is a sunny, moderately humid and warm (15°C to 25°C) day. The principle here is simple: regardless of whether you use latex- or alkyd-based products, if the paint or stain dries too slowly or too quickly, the effectiveness of the protective film will be severely compromised, even if the surfaces have been properly prepared.

Roof work
After a harsh winter
The winter of 2008 was particularly hard on rooftops in Quebec. All the more reason to conduct a detailed inspection of your roof’s structure and covering.

Sloped roofs – If water has seeped into the house, or you see cracks in the plaster of your ceilings or walls that weren’t there before, climb up to the attic space and check the following:

    • Do the roof trusses or rafters show signs of fracture or deformation?

    • Have any of the members of the roof trusses given way?

    • Has the roof deck (plywood or planks) sagged or buckled under the weight of snow or ice?

    • Has snow build-up hampered ventilation of your attic to the point that condensation or frost has formed (telltale sign: darkening of the wood)? Has mould developed? Has the ceiling insulation deteriorated?

If you notice one or more of these problems, call someone with the right skills to deal with the situation.

Roofing material – Examine the asphalt shingles or metal covering, check the flashings and make sure nothing has been torn off or damaged by wind or ice.

Gutters – Snow and ice may have weakened or torn off the gutter brackets. Replace them if necessary.

Flat roofs – It doesn’t matter whether the winter has been harsh or mild: a flat roof must always be inspected at the end of the season. In addition to the points mentioned for sloped roofs, also check:

    • The condition of the membrane: shifting gravel, blistering, puddles of water that could be symptomatic of a sagging roof, gouging caused by shovelling, etc.

    • The solidity of roof accessories: gooseneck vent, antennas, chimneys, electrical cables, etc.

Your spring checklist

Not sure where to start? Here are some tips to guide you in your springtime inspection and repairs.

• Outside walls – Check the seals on all doors and windows; check masonry joints (mortar) and outdoor cladding (e.g., wood, aluminum, PVC); check to see that all fasteners are sound; reinstall screens and lubricate all doors and windows.

• Foundation – Watch for the appearance or worsening of cracks in the cement, or spalling of the parging; restore the natural ventilation (weeping tiles) to the crawlspace; pour water into floor drains to prevent odours.

• Chimney – Have the chimney inspected and swept if necessary.

• Garage, driveway, parking spaces and sidewalks – Repair holes and cracks in paved surfaces and strengthen edges; replace cracked or shattered stones and fill in joints that have emptied; clean out catch basins.

• Porches, balconies, decks and fences – Test the solidity of the materials in floors, steps and handrails; make sure anchorages and supports are secure; replace any components that require it; adjust and lubricate fence gates (hinges and bolts).

• Outdoor equipment – Make sure all electrical outlets and lights are working properly and are safe; turn the water outlets back on and reinstall hoses and accessories; tune up the lawnmower and other electric or gas-powered gardening tools; clean exterior air outlets and exhaust grilles.

• Children’s play areas – Inspect swings, slides and sandboxes to make sure they are safe.

• Air conditioner, air exchanger, dehumidifier and heat recovery ventilator (HRV) – Clean or replace the filters; reinstall units if need be.

• Pool – Conduct the usual post-winter inspection and cleaning before re-opening your pool.

• Private sewage system – Have the well water analyzed and pump out the septic tank.