Don't Be THAT Homeowner
I’ve met dozens of homeowners who “just couldn’t keep up” with their homes’ maintenance and repairs. “One thing led to another, and I just couldn’t keep up,” the homeowner says. “Now I don’t have the time or the money to fix everything.”
Do things in your home seem to break all the time? Are you constantly having to spend money on costly repairs? Does it feel like your utilities keep going up and up? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you may find yourself headed towards a situation like the homeowner described above.
How do you avoid becoming THAT homeowner?
When you purchase your home, your most powerful time and money saving technique is preventative maintenance.
Preventative maintenance will not only prolong the lifespan of the components that make your house operate, but it will reduce and can completely eliminate costly repair surprises to save you time and stress, keeping more of your hard-earned money in your pocket!
Depending to whom you talk about preventative maintenance, recommendations vary. Some advise changing HVAC filters monthly, some say quarterly. Some advise vacuuming refrigerator coils semi-annually, some say annually.
To eliminate the confusion, we researched dozens of sources and compiled the best preventative maintenance techniques into a single list that will have your home operating smoothly and efficiently.
- Inspect, and possibly change HVAC filters. Many experts suggest changing filters monthly, but that’s not always necessary. For smaller families without pets or allergies, you’ll likely be okay changing the filters every 2-3 months. If the filter is dirty, change it out; otherwise inspect it again next month. I’ve also heard handymen say to use cheaper filters and replace them more often versus using the expensive filters and changing them less frequently.
- Clean kitchen sink disposal. There are many ways to do this, but the handiest and best all-around solution is vinegar ice cubes. Place vinegar in an ice tray, let it freeze, and then run the ice cubes through the disposal. The ice will freshen it, while also sharpening the blades. You’re welcome.
- Clean range hood filters. If you’ve never thought of doing this, you’re in for a real “treat” when you remove that filter from the hood to clean it for the first time. The Family Handyman suggests using a degreaser from an auto parts store mixed with hot water. Let the filter sit for a few minutes, rinse it off, and you’re good to go.
- Inspect your fire extinguisher(s). We’ll assume you have and know how to use an extinguisher. This inspection doesn’t require much: ensure it has easy access (not blocked by a garbage can or anything else), that the gauge shows adequate pressure, and that it has no visible signs of wear and tear.
- Test smoke/carbon dioxide detectors. This is another simple task. Your detectors should have a “test” button. If the alarm sounds, you’re good to go. If not, replace batteries immediately and test again. If it still doesn’t sound, it’s possible there’s simply corrosion on the battery terminal, and it won’t detect new batteries. Clean it and try again. If it still doesn’t work, you’ll likely need a new detector.
- Test garage door auto-reverse feature. In 1993, federal law required all garage doors to have this feature after multiple child deaths. Test every quarter by placing a 2×4 on the ground where the door would close. It should reverse after a second or so when the door hits the wood. Also to test the photo-electric sensors (if you have them), place something in front of them (not your body). If the door doesn’t immediately go back up, you have a problem.
- Run water and flush toilets in unused spaces. This mostly applies to guest bathrooms, or any other sinks/water sources you don’t use on a regular basis. The idea is to prevent grime or any other kind of buildup. Regularly running a little bit of water through the pipes will prevent this.
- Check water softener, add salt if needed. You shouldn’t need to add salt every month, but better to check anyway, as it only takes about 5 seconds.
- Test your water heater’s pressure relief valve. This will prevent mineral and corrosion buildup, which safeguards against leaks. It will also help your heater run more efficiently.
- Give your house a deep clean. Spend one Saturday every 6 months with your whole family, deeply cleaning your whole house. This means cleaning all appliances and windows, and dusting every nook and cranny. Maintaining the entirety of your home, so dirt/grime/dust doesn’t build up over years and years, will help keep your home in tip-top shape.
- Replace batteries in smoke/carbon dioxide detectors. With something as important as this, you can’t be too careful, and batteries won’t break your bank. Change ‘em out every 6 months.
- Vacuum your refrigerator coils. A refrigerator repairman taught me this tip, and our research confirmed its importance. The fridge can use up to 15 percent of your home’s total power, so you want it running as efficiently as possible. Over time, the coils get dirty and your fridge requires more juice. You can save up to $100 a year by doing this, and it’s not a difficult task.
- Check the exterior drainage. Will rain water flow away from the house? Puddles should not stand around your home for more than 24 hours. If water stays, or moves toward your foundation, you have a few options. First, check your gutters. It could be a bad spout or a loose connection there; they may also just need to be cleaned. Second, you can grade the area around your home with some dirt. Third, for pavement, professionals can come out and raise it so it drains away from your home.
- Clean out gutters. They’ve likely accumulated leaves from the fall and grime/sediment from the winter snows and/or rains.
- Inspect the exterior of your home. Is any paint chipping? Is any siding damaged from winter? Are there any holes in your brick? Closely inspect all around your house, and make any repairs as needed. Also be sure to check the foundation for any cracks. A good silicone/caulk can fix a lot of your problems.
- Get your air conditioning system ready for summer and consider having it serviced. This one really depends on your individual home, and even in which part of the country you live. Some places mostly just use window air units, while other places use a big swamp cooler up on the roof. These are fairly basic machines; a quick internet search can help you fix any issues. Also refer to the user guides for specific regular maintenance. Central air is obviously a more complex system. Having a professional service it should be around $100 or less, and it will save money and headaches down the road.
- Repair/replace damaged window screens. You don’t want bugs making their way in because you missed a hole in a window screen. And no, duct tape doesn’t count. It can be a quick fix, but don’t leave it for long. Plus, it just looks bad.
- Clear dead plants/shrubs from the house. This could double as a gardening tip, but if you didn’t trim trees or shrubs in the fall, do so now. Plants can weasel their way into cracks and holes on the exterior of your home, causing damage and shortened longevity. Nip that in the bud before it’s an issue. If you have decorative vines on the exterior, pay close attention.
- Check trees for interference with electric lines. Have trees professionally trimmed if necessary.
- Inspect roofing for damage and leaks. Repair as needed; you may need to hire a professional.
- Give your carpeting a professional cleaning.
- Check grout in bathrooms, kitchen, and other rooms. This will prolong the life of your tiled surfaces and just looks better.
- Inspect plumbing for leaks, and clean aerators on faucets. Check all your faucets and toilets for any small leaks. If a faucet has poor water pressure, the aerator is the likely culprit and it’s an extremely easy fix.
- Care for any insect problems. Summer is their playground. You probably won’t have to look too hard to notice an insect problem. Ants, spiders, and moths are some of the most common, and fairly easy of which to take care. Keep cobwebs clear, have ant poison handy, make sure all doors are tightly closed. If termites are common in your area, this handy video gives some tips on how you yourself can inspect and prevent.
- Clean and repair deck/patio as needed. It generally just needs a good washing. A deck may also need re-staining. Also check for any loose boards or posts and repair as needed.
- Check and clean dryer vent and other exhaust vents to exterior of home. While the dryer is running, check that the exhaust is coming out. It should smell of fresh laundry. If there isn’t much exhaust, check for blockages as best you can. You may need a professional. Also vacuum the lint from the hose at the back of the dryer.
- Clean garage. Cleaning the garage should be a summer ritual for everyone. Keeping it clean and tidy will extend its life. Often, garages are neglected. Once a year, give yours a thorough cleaning.
Flush hot water heater and remove sediment. This prolongs the life of the heater and helps with efficiency as well.
- Prepare heating system for winter. Check for any leaks in windows or doors; these can cost an arm and a leg. Make sure heating vents are open and not blocked by furniture. Get furnace serviced/inspected at least every other year, preferably annually. As with the AC, this shouldn’t be a huge expense. Don’t forget about fireplaces if you have them.
- Turn off and flush outdoor water faucets. Also flush hoses and store them. Winterize sprinkler systems as well, if you have one.
- Get chimney cleaned, if you have one. Some folks say to do this in the spring, some say fall. Either way, just make sure it’s done once per year.
- Test your electricity as best you can. Always, always be extra careful when working with electricity. You can do a couple things on your own. Check that all outlets work; if they don’t, you can re-wire them on your own. Also, test your GFCI outlets. There are wildly varying opinions on how often to test these. Some say monthly, others say annually.
- Tighten any handles, knobs, racks, etc. Go through the house and inspect anything that could have a loose screw.
- Check all locks and deadbolts on your doors and windows. If anything doesn’t work correctly, replace.
- Check caulking around showers and bathtubs. Repair as needed.
- Remove showerheads and clean sediment. This prolongs their lifespans and helps with water pressure as well.
Sources: The main source, and foundation of this list, was an article from the Art of Manliness, Keep Your House in Tip Top Shape. We added a few gaps from the DIY Network article, Checklist for a Trouble Free Home.