Hickory Farms

Home Maintenance

Home Maintenance Checklist

Activity Frequency
Furnace & Heat Pump Filter Change – Replace paper/fiberglass filters.  Vacuum or wash electronic filter elements. A dirty filter makes your fan work harder, using more electricity. January
Fire Extinguisher Check – Visually check that each fire extinguisher is fully charged.  You should have fire extinguishers in the garage, kitchen, and basement furnace area. March
Dryer Vent Cleaning – Clean lint from both the screen behind the door and exhaust hose which leads to the outside. Lint is a fire hazard.  Never use a plastic flexible vent hose – it could melt. March
Bathroom Check – Check faucets and showers for leaks.  Test toilets for leakage by placing a few drops of food coloring in the tank, then wait a few hours.  If you see coloring in the bowl, you should replace the tank flapper.  Check caulking around bathtubs and showers for areas where water may leak and cause damage. Check for leaks under the toilet and sink.  Locate the Ground Fault Interrupter “GFI” (usually in the electrical outlet).  Press the test button and then reset. March
Chimney & Fireplace Cleaning – Have a chimney sweep check and clean the chimney – if you used the chimney during the winter. April
Furnace Humidifier Shutdown – Drain and clean the humidifier water pan.  Turn off the water supply valve.  Work the float arm back and forth to dislodge crud and scrape off any mineral buildup. April
Air Conditioner & Heat Pump Spring Checkup – Schedule your spring checkup.  Use a hose to spray debris off the outside compressor unit. April
Test Smoke Alarms & Carbon Monoxide Detectors – We recommend that you replace smoke detector batteries and don’t wait for them to die.  Press test buttons on carbon monoxide detectors.  Open each unit and vacuum dust that could interfere with operation.  Carbon monoxide detector batteries are usually not replaceable by the user; replace the unit when indicated on the unit's instructions.  Check the date on each alarm.  Most older smoke and carbon monoxide alarms should be replaced after seven years.  Replace them with alarms that are guaranteed for ten years. April
Gutter Cleaning – Clean out your gutters!  Overflowing gutters lead to ground erosion and wet basements. May
Deck Cleaning – Clean and seal your wooden deck, if needed May
Termite Inspection – Houses the age of Hickory Farms will have been attacked by termites by now.  If your home has never been treated, get it inspected!  Many pest control companies will inspect for free; termite inspections are recommended every three years. May
Dehumidifier Setup – Set up your dehumidifier for the summer (if you use one)! May
Furnace & Heat Pump Filter Change – Replace paper/fiberglass filters.  Vacuum or wash electronic filter elements.  A dirty filter makes your fan work harder, using more electricity.


Range Hood Cleaning – Clean that greasy kitchen range hood screen


Refrigerator & Freezer Cleaning – Use a vacuum cleaner or special refrigerator brush to clean the refrigerator coils, which are usually under or behind the refrigerator.  This is especially important if you have pets.  Place a piece of paper between the door and rubber seal of the refrigerator/freezer.  If it can be moved while the door is closed, there is a leak and the seal should be replaced, or the latch may need adjustment.  Drain and clean the drip pan under the refrigerator.  Defrost non-frost free refrigerators & freezers; they use less electricity when the frost buildup is removed. 


Siding Cleaning – Pressure wash the vinyl/aluminum siding every 3-5 years.  However, frequent pressure washing can strip the paint off aluminum siding down to the bare metal, so don’t do this too often if you have aluminum siding.


Washing Machine Hose Check – Check hot and cold water hoses for cracks and replace, if needed.  Better yet, replace them with metal reinforced hoses


Dehumidifier Shutdown – Clean out the dehumidifier bucket and vacuum the coils. October
Test Water Overflow Alarms – Avoid floods by placing water overflow alarms next to your washing machine, hot water heater, etc. October
Test Smoke Alarms & Carbon Monoxide Detectors – We recommend that you replace smoke detector batteries and don’t wait for them to die.  Press test buttons on carbon monoxide detectors.  Open each unit and vacuum dust that could interfere with operation.  Carbon monoxide detector batteries are usually not replaceable by the user; replace the unit when indicated on the unit's instructions.  Check the date on each alarm.  Most older smoke and carbon monoxide alarms should be replaced after seven years.  Replace them with alarms that have ten-year batteries. October
Check Your Fire Extinguishers Check Your Fire Extinguishers – You should have one on each floor and in the garage.  Make sure the pressure dial indicates green; if not, replace it.  Check the manufacture date and replace it if it is more than 12 years old.  Before you trash the old one, turn it upside down and pull the trigger until all the gas is released. October
Water Heater Flushing – Drain the hot water heater to remove sediment that makes it run inefficiently.  If gas operated: Turn the gas valve to the “pilot” setting.  If electric: Turn off the circuit breaker.  Shut off the cold water supply valve.  Connect a hose from the water heater drain valve to the nearby floor drain or outdoors.  Open a nearby hot water faucet to help the water drain freely.  Open the water heater drain valve.  When the water starts running cold, close the heater drain valve and remove the hose.  Open the cold water supply valve.  When water flows freely from the open sink faucet, turn off the faucet.  Turn the gas control back to the “on” setting, or the electric circuit breaker back on. October
Furnace & Heat Pump Fall Checkup – Schedule a fall service checkup. October
Outside Water Faucet Shutdown – Turn off outside water faucets using the inside shutoff valves.  Then open the faucets to drain remaining water.  Drain water hoses before storage. November
Lawn Mower Shutdown – After cutting the lawn for the last time this season:  Add a bit of gas stabilizer to the fuel.  Let the mower run out of gas (this keeps the gas from gumming up over the winter).  Remove and clean the spark plug – don’t replace it just yet.  Change the oil.  Replace the air filter.  Remove and sharpen the blade.  Scrape off grass clippings under the deck.  Apply a light coating of oil to the underside of the deck.  Squirt a spoonful of oil in the cylinder and pull the starter rope a few times to coat the cylinder wall.  Replace the spark plug. December
Clean out Gutters – Overflowing gutters lead to ground erosion and wet basements.  If you are surrounded by trees, you may have to do this both Spring and Fall. December
Furnace Humidifier Setup – If you have a furnace humidifier, make sure it is plugged in and set properly.  Turn on the water supply valve.  If you did not do so in the spring, scrape off mineral buildup in the water pan and replace the filter – if needed.  Work the float arm back and forth to dislodge mineral deposits. December

Smoke Alarms

If your home has the original smoke detectors, they are long overdue for replacement. The US Fire Administration recommends replacing smoke detectors every 8-10 years, whether they appear broken or not.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

New technology has made it possible to produce a low-cost, reliable carbon monoxide (CO) alarm for the home.  But why do we need a CO alarm? Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. It causes about 300 accidental fatalities in homes each year; thousands more are treated in hospitals for CO poisoning. Carbon monoxide combines with hemoglobin in our blood and robs the blood of the oxygen our body needs. Early symptoms of exposure include headache, fatigue, nausea and confused thinking (so victims cannot think clearly enough to get assistance). Without treatment, the victim will lose consciousness, and if no help is given will lose their life.

  • Carbon monoxide is produced by combustion. Common causes are:
  • Defective gas or oil furnaces and water heaters.
  • Cracked chimney flues.
  • Indoor use of charcoal grills.
  • Use of a gas oven or range to warm a room.
  • Running a car in an enclosed area.
  • Closing the fireplace damper before the fire is completely out.

Carbon monoxide accidents are preventable. Actions you should take to protect your family are:

  • Every fall you should have a qualified technician inspect your gas furnace and appliances.
  • Never allow your car to run in an enclosed area, especially if it is attached to your house.
  • Make sure your fireplace is in good repair and do not close the damper before the fire is out.
  • Install CO alarms to give your family a warning if CO is building up in your house.

Another very important point to remember is that you still need a working smoke alarm on every level of your home. The CO alarm does not sense smoke or fire. Smoke alarms are needed to give your family early warning if there is a fire or smoke in your home.

If you are concerned about whether your furnace and/or appliances are working properly, contact your contractor to have an inspection. If you have questions about your gas furnaces or appliance, contact your gas company. If your CO alarm activates, leave the residence and call 911 from a neighbor's house.

For more information about home safety, call the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department's Public Information and Life Safety Education Section at 703-246-3801, TTY 711.

Sidewalk & Driveways

Never use rock salt (sodium chloride) on the driveway or sidewalk to melt ice or snow. Salt eats away concrete in the blink of an eye. Although using salt to melt snow and ice is convenient in the short run, you'll pay for it over time. If you must use an ice or snow melting chemical, make sure the package says it will not damage concrete.  Good products are calcium manganese or calcium chloride.

Do not pressure wash your concrete. Some folks pressure wash moss and tree droppings to brighten up their concrete. The high pressure water will gradually wear away the surface of the concrete, exposing the rock aggregate. Once the aggregate is exposed, the concrete will begin to break up. If you must clean, do it the old fashioned way – with a stiff brush and detergent.

Call “Miss Utility” Before You Dig

Miss Utility is a one-call notification center that alerts subscribing underground utility owners of your proposed excavation plans (from private home owners to major developers). This is a free service provided by various local and regional utility companies for the purpose of identifying the location of their underground transmission lines or pipe systems.

For Miss Utility purposes, excavation is anything that disturbs existing grading (any digging, drilling, tilling, fencing, etc.). Any excavation activity requires a call to MISS UTILITY – this is the law. By calling MISS UTILITY, you will be able to excavate safely without endangering yourself or others and at the same time avoid disrupting service to yourself, your neighbors and the community as a whole.

To submit a location request, call 1-800-552-7001 between the hours of 7 AM and 5 PM, Monday through Friday or visit www.missutilityofvirginia.com. After submitting your request, there is a waiting period of two business days until you can begin any excavation. By that time, all the affected utilities will have marked the ground surface with paint and/or flags indicating their utilities underground position.

The color codes are as follows:

  • White – Proposed excavation
  • Red – Electric
  • Blue – Water
  • Orange – Telephone or Cable TV
  • Yellow – Gas
  • Green – Sewer

Show Your American Flag Properly

It is inspiring to see the flags flying around the neighborhood, especially on holidays such as Veterans Day and Independence Day!  On the subject of flag etiquette, here are a couple of pointers (adapted from the Public Law governing display of the flag):

  • Fly a clean, untattered flag. If you have an old, worm banner, it should be burned with appropriate dignity, not discarded in the trash.
  • If flown at night, the flag should be illuminated by a light.
  • The flag should hang or fly freely, and not hit or get hung up on branches, parts of buildings, etc.  The flag should not touch the ground.
  • If hung horizontally, the canton (field of stars) should be to the upper left as viewed from the front.
  • If hung vertically, the canton should be in the upper left as viewed from the front.
  • If flown with other flags (state, local, military service, etc.) the U.S. flag is to its right (looking out from the point of display), the position of honor. It should also be higher than the other such flags.
  • No other flag should fly on the same flagpole as the U.S. flag (unless the pole is designed with an arm and hoists to support other flags in the lower position, such as you see at government buildings).
  • The flag itself should not be used as bunting.

How to Prevent Cold Weather Pipe Breaks

Every year, the fire department responds to hundreds of minor water pipe breaks. Although generally not a real danger, water freezing in cold and hot water pipes can cause serious problems.  While the freezing takes place, the pipe begins to swell and may burst. In most cases, the actual break doesn't appear until the water begins to thaw. The following tips may help prevent frozen pipes in your home:

  • Shut off water to unheated areas of your home and to outdoor faucets.  Don't forget to drain these pipes.  Open cabinet doors and service access ways so heat can get into these otherwise hidden areas where pipes are located.
  • Leaving a faucet on with a slow trickle may or may not keep the pipe from freezing – you can't count on this method. There are some specially designed, UL-approved heat tapes that can be used in unheated areas, but, you need to be cautious.  If these are used, be sure to follow the directions exactly; a slight variation could cause a fire.
  • Locate the shut off valves for both the hot and cold water, and the power shut off for the hot water heater.  If a pipe freezes, first shut off the water valve to that pipe (and the water heater if it's the hot water pipe).  Then slowly thaw it out.  Never use a torch; it thaws the water too quickly and weakens the pipe, almost always guaranteeing the pipe will break.  Room temperature heat and careful use of a hair dryer are good methods.
  • If the pipe breaks, quickly shut off the water valve.  Call a plumber to fix the break correctly.  At this time you may consider having the pipe or pipes rerouted through less vulnerable areas.
  • When should you call the fire department?  Call if the water gets in or near electrical outlets or panels, or if the water threatens a pilot light or power to a water heater or furnace.

If you have any further questions, please contact your local fire and rescue station, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department's Public Information and Life Safety Education Section at 703-246-3801 or visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/fire-ems/.

Protect Your Underground Water Pipe

Every few years, we seem to have a rash of water pipe breakages.  For some reason, some of our water pipes (the pipe that runs from the street to your home) are prone to failure.  When this pipe breaks, you pay to have it fixed, and it could cost thousands of dollars.  Protect yourself with a water line insurance policy before the pipe breaks.  Dominion Products (a cousin of the electricity folks) offers an inexpensive water line insurance program for which most Hickory Farms residents would pay no more than $60 per year; I'm sure there are other companies that offer similar insurance. Call Dominion at 1-866-645-9810 or visit https://www.homeserve.com/sc/mail/dominion. Insurance could be especially helpful if your water line is particularly long. Dominion also insures gas, sewer, and electric lines.

Are Your Roof Shingles Discolored?

I was amazed to discover that, after being squeaky clean since our house was built, a veritable garden has sprung forth on the roof this spring.  In addition to some new dark algae streaks (which are common in Hickory Farms), I now have lichens and moss.  All of these growths retain water and hasten the breakdown of shingles.  To prevent new growth, nail or glue 2½“ zinc strips (www.zincshield.com) just below the peak of the roof, the entire length of the roof.  Note that the solid zinc lasts much longer than the cheaper zinc coated steel.  The zinc reacts with rainwater to create a chemical which retards new growth.  Unfortunately, the zinc chemical is too weak to kill existing growth, so you should also treat the roof with a product such as Roof-Be-Clean (www.roofbeclean.com) or Moss Out! (Home Depot)  Don’t use a power washer or stiff brush on the roof, because they will damage the shingles.  And, the next time you reroof, consider specifying a shingle that contains a mild chemical that helps prevent new growth.  For more information, read [url=http://www.inspect-ny.com/roof/ShingleMoss.htm]http://www.inspect-ny.com/roof/ShingleMoss.htm[/url]

Vinyl Siding Cleaning Tips

Nearly half of our homes have had our vinyl siding replaced in the last four years.  If it's getting dirty, you may consider cleaning it.  Wash vinyl siding with a soft cloth or ordinary long-handled, soft bristle brush.  For textured surfaces, use only a soft bristle brush to keep the grooves in the texture stain-free.  For best results, start at the bottom of the house and work up and rinse the cleaning solution completely before it dries.  If your house has brick facing, cover the brick so that it is not affected by the runoff.  If you use a pressure washer, you should read the washer instructions carefully before use.  When cleaning, hold the power washer straight at eye level to keep the water on top of the siding where it can clean most effectively.  Do not aim the power washer upward as water may collect behind the siding.  You can visit the www.vinylsiding.org  website and there you can find Vinyl Siding Cleaning tips.    Click "About Vinyl Siding" and then "Caring for Vinyl Siding" for cleaning tips.

Are Your Window Shutters Faded?

Many homeowners had their shutters replaced in 2004 during the siding/windows/roofing group purchase that I organized for the community. Some folks have noticed that their shutters are prematurely faded.  Mid-America Siding Components will replace faded shutters under their lifetime warranty.  If you want to submit a claim, call 1-800-521-8486 and describe your shutter-fading problem.  Mid-America will send you a claim form through the mail.  You will need a copy of your receipt from the installation contractor (Sunshine Contracting, if you participated in the 2004 group purchase).  You can also submit the claim online at [url=http://www.thetapcogroup.com/warrantyclaim]http://www.thetapcogroup.com/warrantyclaim[/url]  The replacement shutters will then be shipped directly to you.  Raised panel shutters seem to be fading faster than the louvered shutters.  If you are submitting a claim for raised panel shutters, you might ask for louvered replacements.   Mid-American’s warranty is for the shutters only; you will have to reinstall them yourself or hire a contractor/handyman to do the work for around $25+/- per window.  You might consider Newsletter advertisers Solutions of N. Va. (703-906-6525), Sunshine Contracting (703-499-8654), as well as David Cortez (571-313-9550) whom I used.

Tips for Choosing a Contractor

Ask for a copy of the contractor’s current insurance certificates.

Check the contractor’s Virginia contractor’s license and disciplinary actions with the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation

Check the contractor’s license with the Fairfax County Division of Public Works and Environmental Services.

Consider joining Angies List, a contractor referral service that rates local contractors based upon customer experience.  There is a fee to join, but it might be a worthwhile investment.  Visit www.angieslist.com and choose Washington DC.  Other sources of customer feedback are www.servicemagic.com, www.urbanreferrals.com, and  www.rustreviews.com

Check the contractor’s complaint record with the Fairfax County Department of Cable Communications and Consumer Protection.

Contact the local Better Business Bureau.  The BBB tracks many businesses, not just BBB members.  Not being a member is not necessarily bad, but being a BBB member is better because the business has promised to abide by the BBB Code of Ethics and resolve disputes using BBB sanctioned arbitration procedures.

See if the Washington Consumers Checkbook magazine has an article about the project you are planning.  This quarterly magazine is a DC version of Consumer Reports Magazine.  It rates local businesses in a variety of areas, including quality of service and price.  Highly recommended!  If you can't subscribe (but please do, as it supports a great organization), you can read it at the local library.

Ask for customer references, particularly from those who have had projects similar to yours, and are neighbors.  If possible, inspect the work performed by the contractor.  Ask the reference if they are a friend of or affiliated with the contractor in any way.  Ask the reference if they remember the names of the employees who worked on their home; if they were satisfied, ask the contractor that that those individuals be specified in your contact.

Get written estimates from several contractors.  Be sure to specify the work you want done and the materials to be used so that the estimates are comparable.

Insist on a written contract, as required by the Fairfax County Home Improvement Code and Virginia state regulations, and make sure that it includes all agreements regarding the work to be done and materials to be used.

Be sure the contract specifies that you will be furnished with a signed mechanic’s lien waiver or release from suppliers of materials or subcontractors.  In the event that a contractor does not pay a subcontractor or supplier, state law provides that those working on the improvement project may obtain a lien against the property.  Without a lien waiver, if your contractor fails to pay a subcontractor or supplier, you could be liable for the debt.

Don’t Get Scammed By a “Contractor”

From time to time, we see an increase in paving scams and other "home improvement scams" throughout the region.  Transient groups of scam artists travel up and down the East coast, scamming folks along the way.  They will seek you out and offer to pave your driveways and provide other home improvements.  They perform below standard work and materials used are substandard.  They will give you contact numbers that roll over to voice mail.  They do not have legitimate businesses or addresses.  Once they take your money, they are gone. With the substandard work they perform, you have no recourse when it falls apart.  Sometimes they will quote a price in the beginning but increase that price once the work is completed.  They will use intimidation to get the higher price.  This is seen a lot in the senior community where individuals do not feel they have any other choice.  Always have the company provide a written quote of the work to be done along with price when you are looking to have repair work done at your home.

Anyone performing this type of work who seeks out customers must have a Fairfax County Solicitors License which they are required to have on their person when soliciting.  You should also question if they are licensed and bonded.  Do not make a decision right then and there.  If they are legitimate, they will allow you time to decide. Take that time to check their credentials with Fairfax County, the State of Virginia, and the Better Business Bureau to find out if they are a legitimate business, if there are any complaints filed against them, and to insure that they are indeed who they say they are.  If you find that they are indeed a transient group and appears they are running a scam, contact the police at 703-691-2131 immediately to report the incident.