Your home's most important function is protecting you from the weather outside. Schedule your house for an annual springtime checkup to keep everything in top shape. Look for cracks where water could get in. Fill any cracks you find in masonry. Check for cracks between siding joints and add new caulk (cawk) if necessary. Pay special attention to any cracks around doors, windows and electrical fixtures. Clean the gutters and downspouts and look for damaged shingles. This is also a good time to clean and lubricate door hinges and the tracks of sliding doors. You might also want to schedule an inspection by an exterminator to look for signs of termites or carpenter ants, and to remove any wasp nests. Once you're sure that the house is structurally sound, you might want to wash it. Renting a power washer is the simplest way. The high-pressure spray will also reveal any chipped paint that needs to be sanded down and touched up. Dark spots that remain after washing are probably mildew. It can be removed with plain chlorine bleach. Just swab it on and rinse it off. Look for paint designed to prevent mildew for touching up these areas. Bricks sometimes develop a white, powdery residue called efflorescence (* ef-lore-ESS-ence) that can't be scrubbed away. To remove this, scour it with a one-to-ten solution of muriatic (* mew-ree-AT-tic) acid. Do a small area at a time and rinse thoroughly. That's your once-a-year checklist. You might want to do a shorter version in the fall as well to keep your home in good condition.