Yesterday, my boss' boss asked me if the house we're trying to buy has a steep roof or a flat roof. While he went on explaining that steep roofs lead to more work in the gutter-cleaning department, I started to wonder what else I don't know about home maintenance. So here's to educating myself...
"Homeowners can't simply call the landlord when the appliances need to be replaced or the hot water tank stops working. All these home maintenance tasks - and even the larger home renovations - are the responsibility of the homeowner. Whether you're planning a large remodeling project, or just to cover the necessary repairs, it is suggested that homeowners budget at least 1% of their home's purchase value per year towards maintenance. Therefore, if your home is worth $220,000, you should plan to set aside at least $2,200 towards maintenance costs. Some sources even suggest you should budget for up to 4% per year, which would be $8,800 on a $220,000 home."
- Maintain your gutters.
Remove all debris from your gutters so water can properly drain. This minimizes standing water and slows the freeze/thaw expansion process that occurs in cold weather. Clogged gutters can cause landscaping, lawn and shrubbery, walls, foundation, basement, crawl spaces and existing gutter system damage. Consider installing “gutter guards,” which will prevent debris from entering the gutter and direct the flow of water away from the house and into the ground.
- Maintain Your Lawn, trim your trees and remove dead branches.
If your home has a yard, you will definitely need to budget for landscaping and lawn care costs. Paying a landscaping company to care for your lawn could run you about $30 per week. That adds up to between $120 and $150 per month for a basic lawn. If you choose to do the work yourself, your costs will undoubtedly be lower; however, you'll still need to consider expenses like fertilizer, tools and maintenance equipment, tree maintenance and seasonal plants for the garden. Although you might want to think it is free if you do it yourself, you do need to think about the time cost of mowing the lawn, or shoveling snow, if you are in the higher latitudes. Inclement weather can cause weak trees or branches to break and damage your home, car, utility lines or someone walking on your property. Keep an eye out for large dead branches in trees; detached branches hanging in trees; cavities or rotten wood along trunks or major branches; mushrooms at the base of trees; cracks or splits in trunks; leaves that prematurely develop unusual color or size; and trees that were previously topped or heavily pruned. If you see any signs of hazards, call a professional tree service.
- Maintain your steps and handrails.
Repair broken stairs and banisters to prevent falls and injury.
- Inspect your roof.
Be proactive and prevent emergency and expensive repairs. Things to look for include damaged or loose shingles; gaps in the flashing where the roofing and siding meet vents and flues; and damaged mortar around the chimney (especially at the joints, caps and washes). If you see any signs of damage, call a professional to repair the damage.
- Inspect your home’s exterior walls.
Look for possible weather-related damage, like cracks and loose or crumbling mortar. Wood trim and siding can suffer from deteriorating paint or become loose. Windowsills may be cracked, split or decayed.
- Check your home’s insulation.
Your attic should be five to 10 degrees warmer than the outside air, otherwise too much heat escapes and causes frozen water to melt and refreeze which can result in a collapsed roof. Don’t neglect your basement and crawl spaces, and well insulate pipes in those spaces to protect against freezing.
- Maintain your pipes.
Wrap your pipes with heating tape every winter and insulate unfinished rooms such as garages, if they contain exposed pipes. Check pipes for cracks and leaks and have any damage repaired immediately to prevent costlier repairs later. Keep your house warm — at least 65 degrees.
- Check your heating systems.
Be sure to maintain your furnace, fireplace, boiler, water heater, space heater and wood-burning stove and have your heating system serviced every year. Check smoke and fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and change your heating and air conditioning filters regularly.
- Know your plumbing.
Learn the location of your pipes and how to shut the water off. If your pipes freeze, the quicker you shut off the water, the better chance you have of preventing pipe bursts. Check weather stripping and caulking around windows and doors and replace or repair as needed. Caulking helps keep your house weather-tight, lowers your heating and cooling bills, and can also help keep insects and rodents out of your house. Also look for chipped or peeling paint around window frames and trim. Repair broken glass and loose or missing putty. When needed, use a modern glazing compound instead of putty for a waterproof seal.
- Clean and vacuum dust from vents, baseboard heaters and cold-air returns.
Dust build-up in ducts is a major cause of indoor pollutants and can increase incidences of cold-weather illnesses. Check all your faucets for leaks and repair any you find. Replace washers if necessary. Many types of heating and air conditioning systems contain filters to remove dirt and dust from the air. A home owner should change these filters when necessary.
And here are two additional tips that I thought were useful.
- When you bought your home, you probably received a warranty from the builder on workmanship and materials. This warranty applies to problems related to the construction of the home, but it does not apply to problems that arise because of failure to perform routine maintenance. For example, if your roof begins to leak after six months because of faulty workmanship, your warranty would cover that. If you develop a problem because water backed up in clogged gutters that you should have cleaned, the builder is not responsible for repairs. Also, some items, such as appliances, may be covered by manufacturers' warranties and are not the responsibility of the builder.
- You should fully familiarize yourself with the terms of your warranty soon after you move into your home. With all the excitement surrounding a move into a new home, most people have little desire to curl up in front of the fireplace and read a legal document. Nonetheless, you should not wait to read your warranty until a problem arises. Set aside an hour to learn what your rights and responsibilities are from the outset.