Get Your House Ready for Summer

6Clean the walkway
Pressure-wash the walkway, then replace damaged pavers or bricks, or just flip them over. If any pavers are sticking up too high, raise them, remove a little dirt, and drop them back in place. On concrete walkways fill in cracks with a masonry crack filler that matches the color of your concrete.

Spruce up the front door
Probe the weather stripping around the door with a screwdriver and caulk any post-winter gaps before tightening hinges that may have come loose due to shifts in temperature.

Prep the windows
Caulk any gaps in the framing and check that the mechanics are working by opening and closing each window a few times. Fill up two buckets: one with 1 cup of vinegar, 1 cup of ammonia, and 1 gallon of hot water; the other with warm water. Wash windows with the vinegar-ammonia solution first, then with water only. Dry with a squeegee.
Quick tip: Wash windows on a cloudy day. The sun may dry the solution too soon, leaving streaks.

Reinforce the fence posts
Replace warped or rotten pickets or posts, then give posts a good yank to make sure they’re sturdy in the ground.

Redo the driveway
Sweep away debris, patch cracks, then use a squeegee to apply a sealer. For blacktop or asphalt, try Black Jack Blacktop Ultra-Maxx 1000 Driveway Filler and Sealer ($34 for 4?3/4 gallons). For concrete, try Quikrete Concrete Crack Seal ($10 for a quart, both for stores).

Tidy up the flower beds
Clear out weeds and use a spade to redefine bed edges. Till the top inch or two of soil if it’s tightly packed, being careful not to disturb any bulbs below. Apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch.

Fill in the grass
Remove leaves and twigs and de-thatch dead grass with a metal rake. Ask for help choosing the right seed at a garden center, then apply it to bald patches or anywhere you want a thicker lawn.
Quick tip: Weed-killing fertilizer will work fastest if applied right before it rains.

Fix the sprinkler
Check for any winter damage, including broken heads and cracked pipes, by running your sprinkler one zone at a time. Any bubbling or geyser-like area needs a new head.

ou’ll be lucky to get back 50 cents on the dollar

Making A Personal Imprint
“As a rule,” says Ballantyne, “the more personal the improvement, the more likely you won’t recover the investment.” Those expensive, hand-painted tiles from Portugal may look lovely in the bath–to you. It’s unlikely someone else will pay a premium for your decorating taste, however. And with even more substantial investments, like the facilities for an equestrian property, potential buyers already have their own ideas about stall size or type of terrain, and they probably won’t change their minds when they see what you’ve done. The grim truth: You’ll be lucky to get back 50 cents on the dollar if your renovations are a vehicle for self-expression.

Ignoring Local Circumstances
There are a few obvious ones here–a pool is a must-have in Florida, but not in Vermont. Yet other circumstances that would seem just as obvious are often disregarded. “We get a lot of people who buy a house on Cape Cod who want to build a deck right out on the ocean,” says Craig Ashworth Craig Ashworth , a builder with E.B. Norris in Hyannis, Mass. “But when the wind picks up, there’s no way you could sit outside. Even lawn furniture would blow away.” The same principle applies to an outdoor barbecue in the rainy Pacific Northwest. Changes to the house won’t change prevailing weather conditions.

Going Out Of Character
Every town’s got one: the local monstrosity. Some are new construction, like the sprawling faux-Tudor McMansion on a street lined with elegant old homes. Other properties take on grotesque proportions when their owners start adding amenities and just can’t stop. The swimming pool begets the tennis court, which begets the golf course, which begets the guest house and so on. The point being, who else will want to live in that house besides the current owners? Also, if you haven’t yet bought a house and are still getting a sense for the character of the neighborhood, find out if it’s likely to change soon. Are those rolling green fields slated to become a subdivision? Talk to your potential neighbors before you move in.

Home-Improvement Tips

1If you’ve ever seen the movie The Money Pit, you know the worst-case scenario for a home renovation. Fixing one problem uncovers another, and then another, until that innocent first thought you had–what if we just had a little more space/another window/an extra bathroom here?–has turned the entire house into a construction site.

By the time the sawdust clears, you’re not only exasperated, but also thousands of dollars out of pocket. You’re in good company, however. Many, if not most, people who start a home renovation feel they’ve gotten in over their head at some point–especially if they haven’t been honest with themselves and their contractors about the cost and scope of the project from the start. And, as any builder or real estate agent will tell you, it’s a rare individual who can be that clear-eyed.

“It’s very easy to fall into the addiction,” says George Ballantyne George Ballantyne , head of the Sotheby’s International Realty office in Boston. “You fall in love with the project, don’t want to consider any kind of compromise. Only at the end do you realize what you’ve done.”

What you’ve done, to be precise, is overspend your budget and inflate your expectations about the value added to your home. According to a 2000 survey taken by the National Association of Home Builders, 41% of respondents named a desire to increase the value of their home as a major reason to undertake a remodeling project, yet not all improvements will pay you back when it comes to selling the property. And not all changes are really improvements, so before you build that deck or put in that black marble bathroom, read on for our list of ten mistakes to avoid in home renovations.

How To Build A Multi-Million Dollar Company Where Everyone Contributes

5Ganesh Natarajan is the Founder and Chairman of 5FWorld, a new platform for funding and developing start-ups, social enterprises and the skills eco-system in India. In the past two decades, he has built two of India’s high-growth software services companies – Aptech and Zensar – almost from scratch to global success. In addition to his corporate role, he drives many social initiatives as a leader of Nasscom Foundation, Social Venture Partners and Pune City Connect – and is widely known as a ‘People’s CEO.’

Ashoka entrepreneur Ashwin Naik sat down with him in his Pune office to discuss building great teams in times of rapid change and the role and qualities of new leaders.

Ashwin Naik: Ganesh, can we start at the beginning… where did you grow up and what skills did you pick up as a young person that most inspired your path?

Ganesh Natarajan: I grew up in one of the remotest parts of the country where my father had settled and ran a small chemical factory. Our family lived in the only brick house in the village and my sister and I cycled five kilometers to school every morning. The school was started by Christian missionaries – it was strong in English but weak in most of the technical areas. I remember asking my vice principal, a gentleman called Mr Fitzgerald, ‘Fitzy, do I stand a chance of getting into one of the big technology schools in India?” – the IITs that were famous in India at the time. He was very honest and said: ‘Look, Ganesh, what you can do based on the education you are receiving here is really practice English and communication.’ So that set me on a path of self-discovery and I got into writing essays, debating societies, and so on. I did end up training as an engineer, but the virtue of being an effective communicator, being able to get people to dream big and achieve big things – this has been essential.

Naik: Interesting… and in fact, you inspire your teams to dream big with you, to own the company’s vision and drive it forward together. How do you do this?

Natarajan: Well, one tool we use with great success is the vision community. It’s an open process to generate new ideas, spark innovation and action, and give everyone a chance to contribute. In the case of Zensar, every August we send out a challenge to everyone across the company. This year, it’s ‘how do we build a One Zensar’ which is important because we’ve grown to 8,000 people across 14 countries and acquired three or four companies along the way. People propose ideas and a voluntary peer group moves the best ones forward and pulls together the vision committee to start testing and implementing. It’s a great equalizer because everyone has a chance to contribute to something new and strategic – a change in process, a new product, a shift in culture. And once you help a person become an innovator, a changemaker, she or he will infect very positively the whole culture which builds the soul and heart in the organization.

Contractor horror stories loom large in the minds of homeowners

4Doing It Because You Can
Whether out of a vague feeling of dissatisfaction or simply because the resources are at hand, some people will undertake renovation projects that have no purpose other than to satisfy one’s ego. The project may be wrong for the property in some way–as when a bedroom is transformed into an enormous bathroom–or even go against the building code. When the point is the project itself, other considerations only come up in hindsight.

Using False Economy
“The biggest mistake clients make is to choose the lowest price they get from a contractor, figuring they can take the gamble and still pay someone else to fix it if it goes awry,” says Hanbury. In other words, if the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Someone made a math mistake, or the contractor is overextending himself in some way to give you a cut-rate price. Not surprisingly, discount prices usually translate into shoddy work. “The emotional cost of a bad job is far higher than the financial cost,” says Hanbury. “It’s not about the money.”

Hiring A Contractor You Don’t Trust
Contractor horror stories loom large in the minds of homeowners, but statistically they are the exception rather than the rule. Someone who’s been in business for more than five years understands the nature of the trade, which is that it is foremost a service industry built on trust and good relationships. For a job to be satisfactory, both client and contractor should feel listened to and respected. “Interview someone as though they were going to be an employee, house guest, or dating your daughter,” recommends Hanbury. “Find someone you’re comfortable with, and then only get one or two bids.”

How to Repair an Asphalt Shingle Roof

10To test an asphalt shingle roof’s condition, bend over a corner of one or two shingles on the sunniest side of the roof; if they break rather than flex, or if they appear gray and bloated, the material is nearing the end of its serviceable life.
Wear is another factor—a collection of mineral granules in gutters or at the base of downspouts indicates that the protective mineral surface of asphalt shingles is wearing away.
Leaks often occur at the flashing in valleys or where pipes penetrate the surface. Seal these with asphalt roofing cement.

Leaks often occur at the flashing in valleys or where pipes penetrate the surface. Seal pipes with silicone, and seal the connections between the roofing material and the flashing with asphalt roofing cement.
Also check for bald spots, cracks, or curled shingles. Small tears, cracks, and holes can be repaired, but missing or severely damaged shingles must be replaced.
When your roof has multiple leaks or many damaged shingles, it usually means it’s time to replace the roofing entirely. When you put on a new roof, make sure to store a few extra shingles so you’ll have matching replacements for repairs.
To guide you step-by-step through making asphalt shingle roof repairs yourself, please visit the following articles next:

Repairing or replacing the most common type of roofing-asphalt or asphalt-fiberglass shingles (sometimes called “composition roofing”) is relatively easy, but be sure you can work safely and comfortably on it before you decide to make your own repairs.
Make your repairs on a clear, warm day, when both roofing and asphalt (or plastic roofing cement) will be more pliable. Take your time and stay safe when on the roof.
If repairing your asphalt roof yourself sounds beyond your skills, please check out our affiliate partner, HomeAdvisor, to receive free bids from local asphalt shingle roof repair pros.

Water-Testing for Roof Leaks

9If you can’t find the cause of a leak from the attic or by visual inspection on the roof surface, wait for dry weather and ask a friend to help you do a water test. To do this, one person goes onto the roof with a garden hose; the other person goes inside the attic with a bucket and a strong light.
The person in the attic watches carefully while the one on the roof floods the roof with the hose, starting at the bottom (the eaves) and slowly working uproof until water from the leak appears in the attic. Once the leak is found, push a nail up through the hole to mark its location for rooftop repair. Mark the surface of the roof with chalk, if necessary.
The exact methods for repairing the roof leak will depend upon the roofing material and the roof’s construction. Based on your roof, please refer to the following articles that offer step-by-step directions:
• Asphalt Shingle Roof Repairs
• Built-up (Flat) Roof Repairs
• Metal Roofing Repairs
• Tile & Masonry Roof Repairs
• How to Repair Wood Shingle Roofing

Partially unroll or unfold enough heavy (6-mil) polyethylene sheeting to cover the leaking section of roof, from eaves to peak; add about 4 feet extra, and cut it with a utility knife. Wrap one end around a 2 by 4 that is as long as the plastic’s width; staple the plastic along the 2 by 4. Sandwich the assembly with a second 2 by 4, and nail the boards together with three or four 3-inch or 3 1/4-inch common nails.
You need to be comfortable (and safe) working at heights if you’re going to repair your own roof.
You need to be comfortable (and safe) working at heights if you’re going to repair your own roof.
Place the sandwiched end of the plastic along the eaves. Stretch the sheeting from eaves to ridge, running it over the top of the ridge and down the other side a few feet.
Sandwich the top end of the sheeting with another pair of 2 by 4s so the wind will not carry it away. Do not nail any part of this assembly to the roof.

First impressions count for a lot

3Making Invisible Changes
First impressions count for a lot, with houses as well as people. If you’ve installed radiant floor heating and a central vacuum system but haven’t bothered to paint the home’s exterior or have the siding replaced, potential buyers will think they’re getting a fixer-upper. It’s common sense: Good-looking houses sell themselves.

Making Changes As You Go
A large project taken in its entirety can seem overwhelming. The temptation is to make each decision as it comes up instead of articulating a clear vision of what you want at the beginning. According to professionals in the home-renovation business, however, the piecemeal approach is a sure recipe for wasting time and money. “A renovation will always go faster and better if everyone knows they can depend on the plans,” says Ashworth. “If an owner comes in and changes something every day, the contractor gets gun-shy and is afraid to do anything.”

Not Making A (Real) Budget
Did someone say budget? It’s a word that touches a nerve on both sides of the renovation process. Owners fear contractors will charge more if they know how much money they really have to spend, while contractors worry that owners expect a level of quality that doesn’t match the price they want to pay. But pretending there’s no money involved won’t make the project any less expensive; it just gives you less than you wanted. “A lot of people have a budget that’s a little bit of a lie,” says Alan Hanbury Alan Hanbury , present chairman of the Remodelors Council and owner of House of Hanbury Builders in Newington, Conn. “But if they were honest, contractors would be able to use higher-quality materials and give them more value for their money.”

Going It Alone
If you’re not an architect or a designer yourself, hire one. A good set of plans will cost money, but there’s a reason: It works. “People will hire a designer who’s a friend of their cousin,” says Ashworth. “They’ll draw up a set of plans that look pretty, but they’re totally meaningless.” There may be zoning or environmental restrictions on some projects, like garage conversions or putting greens, that require permits or licenses. Professionals know the right channels to go through for permits and licenses. Don’t wait until the building inspector shows up to find out what you should have done.

How to Find & Fix a Roof Leak

8Expert advice on how to find, troubleshoot and fix a roof leak, including what to do in a roof leak emergency.
The source of most roof leaks is hard to find because it originates away from where the leak shows up. In order to find the source of a leak, follow a roofer’s advice and “think like water.”
Water typically comes in through worn, broken, or missing shingles; where nails have worked loose; or through corroded or poorly sealed roof flashing around vents, skylights, or chimneys or along the intersections of roof planes. Once water passes the roofing, it flows along the sheathing, roof rafters, or topside of ceilings until it finds a place to drip down—inevitably onto your favorite piece of furniture.
Look for a roof leak during the day. Go into the attic with a bright flashlight; step only on secure framing members and never on the insulation or topside of the ceiling below—neither of these will support you! Start above the place where the drip has occurred and work your way uproof, looking for wetness along the framing members.
If the weather has been dry for a while, look for water marks, stains, or discolorations on the wood made by moisture. Then switch off the light and try to find a hole where daylight shows through the roof. (With a wood-shingle roof, you’ll see many such places, but while the overlapped shingles let light show through they shed water.) If it’s still raining, put a bucket under the leak in an area with proper support. Let the bucket collect the drips and fix the leak when the weather clears.

If you find any chewed wires, call a pro to repair them

7De-gunk the birdbath
Empty the bath and fill it with warm water and ¼ cup of chlorine bleach. (Bleach is safe if you rinse thoroughly, but you can also swap it for 1 cup of white vinegar.) Cover the bath with a tarp or plastic bag, and let the solution soak for 30 minutes before scrubbing and rinsing.

Hose down the air-conditioning condenser
Shut down the power on the electric panel, then clear away any leaves or branches lodged in the unit. Wash down all the coils with a garden hose. If you find any chewed wires, call a pro to repair them.

Clear out the gutters
Clean leaves and debris from your gutters. The next time it rains, stand outside and look for breaks or leaks in your gutters and downspouts.

Repair the siding
If your house has wood siding or shingles, inspect for post-winter rot, repair the damaged areas, then touch up any faded stain or chipped paint. A nylon scrub brush and all-purpose cleaner should eliminate dirt and mold on engineered wood, vinyl, or aluminum siding.

Inspect the roof
Grab a pair of binoculars and look at your roof from across the street. Locate curling, cracked, or missing shingles. Also look out for damaged metal flashing around the chimney, pipes, and skylights. Get in touch with a roofer for fixes.

Clean the deck
Use a deck brush or power washer plus a deck-cleaning solution (like Cabot Ready to Use wood cleaner pump spray, $12 a gallon, to remove mold, dirt, and mildew. If the finish is worn, let the wood dry for a few days, then reseal it.

Wash the cushions
Most outdoor fabrics are safe to throw in a warm wash. Air-dry, then put the cover back on the insert while it’s still slightly damp to keep it smooth. If the fabric isn’t removable, clean it using a soft scrub brush, dish detergent, and warm water.

Scrub down the gas grill
Heat the grill for 10 minutes at a high temperature so it’s easier to scrape off gunk inside the cook box. Disconnect the gas line and let the grill cool before removing and washing the grates, burners, and drip tray in warm, soapy water. Wipe down the grill’s exterior before putting everything back together.
Quick tip: To check the grill’s propane level, feel the outside of the tank. The area with fuel will be cooler than the empty portion.