This article appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.
Reset Pathway Stones
Sunken stones overrun by grass are not an inviting sight. To reset them, cut away the overgrown grass with a string trimmer to expose the edges of each stone. Use a knife or trowel to cut those edges free from the turf, then work the bent end of a pry bar under the edges of each stone and lift it out. Fill just the recess with stone dust, hand-tamp it level, and lay the stone back in place; it should be sitting flat and on grade. If it wobbles, add or remove stone dust until it’s steady underfoot.
Stop Ants with New Patio Joints
Ants love to tunnel through the mason sand found in many patio-paver joints. Halt their digging by filling those joints with polymeric sand, a silica-polymer mix that hardens when it gets wet. To ant-proof an existing patio, blast old sand out of the joints with a pressure-washer; sweep it away. When the patio is totally dry and no rain is forecast, brush polymeric sand into the open joints with a broom. (Leave no particles on the paver faces.) To activate the polymer, lightly water the joints.
Protect the Bottom of Your Door
Has the base of your front door taken a beating from months of wet weather? Give it some protection, and dress it up at the same time, with a rustproof metal kickplate. Order a size that’s 2 inches shorter than the door’s width and no taller than the bottom rail’s height. These plates can be attached with adhesive strips or magnets, but screws—ideally small, stainless-steel truss-heads—hold up better long-term.
Call in a Chimney Wweep
“Your chimney flue or woodstove pipe should be scrubbed of its flammable creosote buildup at least once a year. Now is a good time to schedule a visit from a local chimney-sweep pro, before he or she gets booked up in the fall.” —Mark McCullough, mason
Shape Up Japanese Maples
In the spring, maple trees “bleed” copious amounts of sap when you cut them. (That’s why we tap sugar maples for syrup at that time of year.) But severe sap loss in mature Japanese maples reduces tree vigor; wait until summer before trimming errant branches. The goal is to create overlapping layers that don’t touch one another. But to prevent sun scalding, don’t remove more than a quarter of the foliage from any branch at one time, and prune only in temperatures below 80°F.
How to Get an Even Green in Your Yard
When you spread lawn fertilizer this summer, use this trick for full coverage that will result in a lawn that’s evenly saturated with color. Make a note of the application rate on the fertilizer bag recommended for your type of spreader, then dial down the setting by half. Now apply the fertilizer the usual way, by going back and forth from one end of the yard to the other. Once you’ve covered the entire yard, go over it again, but this time perpendicular to your previous direction. This crisscross application method still feeds your grass at the recommended rate, and ensures you’ll have a no-stripe lawn.
Control Basement Humidity Levels
A damp basement fosters funky smells, soggy cardboard, and rusty tools. To keep the humidity level where it should be—between 30 and 50 percent—plug in an Energy Star–certified dehumidifier. A 55-pint-per-hour model will do a good job in basements of up to 1,200 square feet, where humidity is 70 to 80 percent. (For larger basements, add more units, and remember to empty them regularly.) At the same time, run a large box fan or two to circulate the dry air and keep damp, stagnant air from accumulating in corners.