Nipped in the Bud
Preventive Maintenance Projects for a Problem-Free Home Living
You may have heard the expression “a stitch in time saves nine.” Taken literally, it means fixing a minor issue with your clothes will help you avoid bigger clothing expenses down the road. Well, what’s true for fashion is also true for your home. When it comes to housing expenses, routine home maintenance actually ends up costing households less over the long run than unforeseen emergency repairs.
Look around your home, and you’ll see the clear financial wisdom of preventive maintenance. A few hours spent cleaning vents could save hundreds in climate control costs; a few dollars’ worth of caulk could help you avoid thousands in water damage. One study by the University of Connecticut and Syracuse University indicates that maintenance slows down home depreciation — the rate at which your property loses value — by 1% a year. That’s not even counting the health issues and injuries you can prevent.
With that in mind, here is a rundown of the different issues homeowners should keep an eye out for, along with some tips on when they should be checked.
Heating and Cooling Systems
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The months leading up to winter and summer are generally the most critical times to check on your climate-control appliances. In other words, spring is the ideal time to do maintenance on your air conditioners and other cooling appliances, while fall is the best time for your heating systems. But given the unseasonable lows and highs in the US lately — plus the particular severity of the recently concluded 2017-2018 flu season — you’ll probably want to do some additional checking through the year.
If you have a water heater at home, you’ll want to test the pressure relief valve on it at least every six months; also remove any sediment in the tank. Any mineral and corrosion buildup could impair its function, which could cause problems ranging from heating efficiency issues to leaks. According to the Department of Energy, homeowners with solar water heaters should also check for issues like leaks, cracks, damaged insulation, and scaling. Make sure heating and cooling vents are open and not blocked by furniture or appliances. Furnaces and chimneys, if you have them, should also be swept clean.
As for HVACs and air conditioners, filter cleaning or replacement should be a routine task; if you have pets or family members with allergies, make it a point to do this monthly. Evaporator and condenser coils should also be cleaned yearly, as any dirt and debris could restrict airflow around the coils and lead to reduced cooling efficiency. For older units, it could also be worthwhile to have a professional check the fan motor and see if it needs to be lubricated or otherwise maintained.
Water Supply and Drainage
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Plumbing and drainage systems should be another major subject in many house maintenance checklists. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety says that plumbing supply system failures cost an average of $5,092 per incident after deductibles; drain system failures cost around $4,400 on average after the deductible was paid. Generally, maintenance checks and activities for water systems, drains, and gutters should be done annually, though different issues should be checked at different seasons.
During spring, it’s a good idea to clean out gutters that have likely gathered leaves, grime, and sediment from the preceding fall and winter seasons. The weeks after the winter thaw should also be a good chance to check for standing water outside the house; investigate any puddles or pools that collect toward your foundation, which could cause serious damage down the road. If you’re lucky, you just have to clean a blockage or fix some minor damage on your exterior gutters. But if it’s not that, you may have to get professionals to raise an area of pavement to make the water drain away from your home.
If you live in an area that experiences snow during winter, you must take steps to avoid any damage that comes from frozen pipes and tubing. During the fall, make sure you turn off and flush any outdoor water faucets, and check any cracks in your driveway or pavement where water could have collected. Drain any water that may have collected in your garden hoses; if you have a sprinkler system, winterize it. In case you live in a low area with winter rains, fall is also a good time to check if your sump pump is working to full capacity.
In summer, inspect your faucets and toilets for any small leaks and be ready to fix them with some good sealant. You’ll also want to run water and flush toilets in unused areas, particularly in guest bathrooms every month to prevent buildup that could obstruct flow.
Security and Safety Systems
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Home security is a critical issue. In 2016, the most recent year for which there are statistics, 278,600 home invasions happened at night with 486,006 occurring during the day; $2,361 worth of property was stolen on average. Unfortunately, too many American families adopt a “set it and forget it” approach to their alarms and monitoring devices. Protection for your family and property from danger is a 24/7 requirement, so maintenance here must be done much more regularly. At the very least, you should be checking these systems every quarter, although monthly checks are most ideal.
Check your smoke and CO detectors, as well as motion and impact sensors, every month; unless they’re hardwired to your house’s electrical system, it pays to know right away when the battery is running low or dead. If you have a Honeywell home security system, it most likely has a control panel with a “test” mode, which is self-diagnostic to ensure that it’s still correctly receiving signals from all the protected zones in your house; make a habit of using this feature every quarter. Take note: if you’re subscribed to an alarm monitoring service, you may have to notify them of any test you’re conducting so that they know your home hasn’t actually been compromised.
Inspect your security devices for physical issues. Check the control panel for any loose contacts and see if the sensors are still properly affixed to the walls, door frames, or other surfaces where they’re supposed to be. Outdoor security cameras, in particular, deserve attention, as prolonged exposure to heat, cold, and moisture could cause damage that affect their functioning. Smoke detectors should also be cleaned when possible to make sure they can respond properly when a fire breaks out.
Non-electronic safety measures should also be checked regularly. Every month, look at your locks and deadbolts to make sure they’re still solid and secure. If you have fire extinguishers at home, ensure that it’s placed somewhere accessible, the reading on the pressure gauge is adequately high, and there are no visible signs of wear.
Those are just some of the regular activities homeowners have to deal with. By now, it should be clear to you that maintaining a home takes time and money. According to California-based home maintenance provider Glasshouse, short- and long-term maintenance costs can run anywhere between 1% and 4% of a home’s purchase price every year. Keeping on top of every issue in your residence might be difficult, but proper home improvement and maintenance habits will definitely pay dividends over time.
Patricia, is an Interior and Residential Designer, Art Crafter, DIYer and a full time mother.