Home maintenance is not the favorite set of activities of most homeowners. But it’s something that has to be done to get the most pleasure from living in your home, and it will preserve the value of your investment. That is not to say that your home’s value will not be subject to the vagaries of the housing market, but a home in good repair is more desirable and will fetch a better price than one in disrepair if you sell it.
So, here is a reminder list of what you will need to do to keep your home in good repair. It’s not a scare list, but a list of normal wear-and-tear items that you should be aware of, whether you home is newly built or 200 years old. While some of these issues have to be dealt with every year, most come up just once in a while and rarely impinge on a homeowner’s consciousness.
Most homeowners deal with many of these items themselves and hire a handyman or a professional to handle the bigger or more specialized items. In any event it will cost less to deal with a problem when it is small than when it has grown into a bigger problem because of neglect.
How do you know when you have a problem that needs attention? They usually have a way of making themselves known. But for latent problems, you can hire the services of a home inspector.
Exterior home maintenance
- Foundation cracks are rare but very serious. If you have a crack on the inside or outside on a foundation wall, seek professional help promptly. The problem will only get worse.
- You need a roof over your head, and that roof needs to keep rainwater out. Shingle roofs wear out after a couple of decades, so if that’s your construction type, have your roof checked by a professional roofer before it reaches 25 years old.
- Check gutters and downspouts before and after winter and keep them cleared of leaves and debris that can interfere with drainage.
- If you live in part of the country that is blessed with lots of snow, make sure that your roof is cleared after a snowfall to prevent melting, freezing and damming, which can result in water running down the inside of walls. Electric heating strips are available that will keep ice from forming at the roof edge.
- Exterior siding keeps the elements out. If you have vinyl or aluminum siding, you will have little maintenance other than keeping it clean. Bricks and stones set in mortar require no maintenance other than possible repointing after several years. Likewise the exterior of chimneys. Chimney flues need to be scraped by a chimney sweep every year or two — depending on how much they have been used — to prevent a chimney fire.
- Wood siding and cedar shakes need to be repainted or stained every few years (typically every 5 if painted; 3 if stained). Check for rot and termite damage. You can wash mildew from painted wood siding with a 25% vinegar-water dilution (test a small area first). Rinse promptly with water.
- Stucco siding will last for decades but can develop cracks that should be sealed with a paintable sealant or stucco patch. If your home is in an area that gets severe rainstorms, stucco will need to be repainted with an elastomeric paint from time to time.
- Paint wood trim, garage doors and window frames. Paint your mailbox and exterior light fixtures. Check caulking. Clean storm windows to let maximum light into your home. Check and repair locks and doorbells.
- Front and back steps, walkways, and patios made of concrete: repair cracks with concrete patch.
- Fill cracks in driveways as they appear and sealcoat the driveway every two years.
- Check drainage around the house to avoid a wet basement. If water gets in, seek help from a professional drainage engineeer. If you have water in your basement that cannot be prevented by improving outside drainage, use waterproofing on walls and floor and install French drains and a sump pump if necessary. A high-quality automatic pump surrounded by sound-shielded plasterboard will be both reliable and virtually silent.
Interior home maintenance
- Interior floors, walls, ceilings: Repair or remove peeling wallpaper. Small wall cracks happen when a house settles and are normal. Fill them with spackle before painting. Freshen walls with paint, and don’t be afraid to use color! If you don’t like what it looks like, you can just paint over it. Tighten loose doorknobs, cabinet pulls and door hinges. Check smoke and CO alarms.
- Attic: Check for ripped or missing insulation.
- Plumbing: Keep faucets, sinks, toilets, tubs, showers in good repair. Fix a leaking faucet, which may require only a new washer. Clean grout of stains and mold. Recaulk the bathtub to prevent water damage. Make sure drains flow freely. Use drain cleaner or natural enzymes if necessary. If you have a well, check the pump; have the well inspected if you suspect a problem with it.
- It’s a good idea to have your heating/cooling system checked every two years, but don’t wait for the hottest or coldest day of the year to call for maintenance. If you have exposed pipes in an outdoor or unheated area, use heating coils made specifically for that purpose to keep them from freezing. Inspect and change AC and furnace filters.
- Electrical systems rarely require maintenance, but if you blow a fuse or circuit breaker in an older home, your electrical panel may have inadequate capacity for your home office equipment or kitchen appliances. Call an electrical contractor to give you an estimate.
- Light bulbs: Check out types of replacements for burned out incandescent light bulbs. Because of the risk of bulb breakage and resulting mercury contamination, CFL bulbs may not be suitable for use in in carpeted rooms where children play.
- Subterranean termites: In the basement, check for mold and termites. Termites live in nests in the soil and eat damp, rotten wood (or even treated lumber and live trees). It is not a good idea to stack firewood against your house. An infestation of termites may be indicated by their mud tunnels they use to provide darkness as they move across a floor or wall. If they are inside a wall, you will not notice them until they swarm in the spring. Swarming termites have two equal-size pairs of wings which will fall off (flying ants have larger front wings than back wings, and they don’t fall off). They swarm on the first warm spring day, coming from cracks in walls and window frames. If you see a pile of wings in your house after they’ve swarmed, don’t panic and call 911. Call an exterminator within a few days and have the interior checked and the exterior soil area treated. You can treat the soil near your foundation yourself using a trenching tool and Termidor SC, an effective liquid termiticide, if you carefully follow the instructions. You can use a series of bait traps to monitor termite activity in the soil around your house. Traps are effective at reducing the termite population.
- Bugs and rodents: Termites are not the only insect that can cause damage to your home. Carpenter ants and carpenter bees gnaw wood too, and bees and yellow jackets can be a nuisance or danger if they nest in your walls. Bedbugs are a growing problem. Call an exterminator if necessary, and do it promptly. Mice are not only a nuisance but also a health hazard. Use traps or poison. Exterminators or handymen can help you deal with other animals that may seek shelter in your abode, such as bats, squirrels and raccoons.
- Lawn and garden care: Keep your lawn mowed and shrubs pruned. Natural fertilizer made from corn gluten (a by-product of corn processing) is less expensive than the chemicals that nurseries sell, and need to be applied just twice a year instead of four times. It will control weeds in any type of lawn. Use 10-20 pounds per 1000 square feet.
- Check you landscaping in spring for damaged shrubbery and dead trees. Prune damaged branches and have dead trees taken down. Trim trees and shrubs to prevent them from touching wood siding, which can cause rot.
If you run a business in your home, the costs of repairs and maintenance are usually tax deductible to some extent. Check with your tax advisor.
Boost your home’s value
Now that your home is in good repair, it’s time to think about boosting its value and your enjoyment through home improvements that will make it more functional or comfortable, to personalize it in your own style with home furnishings, and to upgrade it with the latest home appliances.
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