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Updated March 2019.
If you want to avoid costly home repairs or having to sell your home at a steep discount, then regular home maintenance is a must. Most of the homes we buy and remodel, could have been sold for much more to a retail buyer if the owners had been able to keep up with the maintenance. Still, even if with well maintained homes there are a few items that we see missed by homeowners on a regular basis. In this article we discuss the top 9 things we see homeowners miss in their regular maintenance.
1. Old Faithful shouldn’t describe your faucets
Leaking exterior faucets can spray water against your house or other structures. This leads to dry rot (wood deterioration) and can leak into your home’s walls. There are two places a typical faucet may leak – at the hose connection and at the stem of the handle. You probably already know that you can replace the washers in hoses to stop leaks at the connection. But sometimes, faucets will continue to leak from the stem of the handle. When this happens, you see the water ooze out of the handle. This leak can usually be corrected in just a matter of minutes by using a wrench to tighten what is called the “packing nut” (see image).
If this doesn’t stop the leak, your next step will be to either repair the internal faucet parts or replace the faucet. The parts for either option are less than $20 and available at any hardware store. You swap out the internal parts of your faucet in about 20 minutes or so.Note:you must be able to turn off the water supply before you try to replace these parts. If you need to replace the faucet itself, it will take longer and you may want to call an experienced handyman if you aren’t sure how to do this.
More kitchens and bathroom vanities are destroyed by leaks under sinks than any other reason. A bathroom vanity can cost over $500 and a kitchen can cost your several thousand to replace. This is a high priority repair.
Unfortunately, many of these cabinets are made from cheap particle board which is very susceptible to water damage. All too often we store store way too much stuff under the sink. That makes it hard to see when we have a a leak until the damage is done. It may seem strange, but the areas under sinks are NOT for storage, but for access to watch for leaks. I know we all store our trash bags and other cleaning supplies under the sink. Unfortunately, the more stuff we store, the more risk we have of bumping and loosening the water pipes.
On a similar note, if you are going to replace your sink water supply lines, you should consider changing the handles (called angle stops) under the sink too. It’s not uncommon for an angle stop to never leak UNTIL you turn the handle off and back on again. You can have all of your parts from the hardware store ready to install you new faucet, turn off the water at the handle and when you’re all done, discover you have a leak the faucet you didn’t have before. And we all know that every plumbing job takes more than one trip to the hardware store, don’t we? Save yourself a trip and grab angle stops if your are planning on turning them off temporarily.
Tricks to protecting under your sinks
I like to lay out blue paper towels across the bottom of the cabinet under my sinks to show any leaks that may appear. Old time plumbers used to use newspaper or cardboard to do the same thing. Then if you have a leak, the blue paper towel will readily show the discoloration. That is assuming it is not covered by all your cleaning supplies.
The second trick I like to use is to line the bottom of my sink cabinets with shower wall sheeting. This material is water proof and can be cut to fit the bottom of your cabinet. It’s relatively cheap (under $15 for a 4’x8′ sheet) and will protect your cabinet from the little spills and other moisture sources under your sink. You can find it at your bigger hardware stores.
2. Prevent fish scales on your house
When the paint on the side of your house starts to look like fish scales, it’s time to paint. Probably past time. Maintaining the exterior painting on your home is much cheaper to do as a regular maintenance item rather than all at once. For less than $100 a year you can typically touch up most exterior paint. If you wait too long, the repair costs can quickly grow to $1,000’s. In the Northern California area, our weather beats hard on the southern and western sides of our homes. These are the areas we need to watch the most for signs of weathering. Look for signs of peeling paint, cracks in wood or caulking. If you see these, you need to start painting.
T111 siding and other exposed wood areas facing the south and west are especially prone to needing to be touched up with paint every few years. If left unpainted, the harsh weather will lead to dry rot and you will end up replacing siding and making other expensive home repairs. It is not uncommon to see homes that need $2,000 in dry rot repairs that could have been prevented with a gallon of paint and brush every three to four years. Make a habit of annually checking the outside of your home for areas that are missing paint or where the paint is peeling. Pay special attention to those areas that receive the most sun and wind.
3. Bank the curve to the outside, not the inside
The soil and landscaping around your house should not be sloped like a race track. Instead, slope the soil away from your home. The first three to five feet of space around your home should slope away from your house. If soil slopes toward your house, then water can potentially run up against the house rather than draining away from your house. This water can then leak inside causing dry rot or inviting termites (some termites love moist areas). It doesn’t have to be a steep slope, just enough to cause the water to run away from rather than toward your home. Also keep the dirt and debris down at least 4″ from any wood or stucco siding on your house. It’s a simple thing, but easily overlooked and can help you avoid costly home repairs.
4. Keep your house’s ventilator ventilated
Yes, your house needs a ventilator but it probably already has one. If your house is on a raised foundation then you probably have vents around the outside of you home. They will also probably exist under your attic eves (just under the bottom edge of your roof). They can either be screens or louver style vents. These vents are there to allow airflow through the uninhabited areas of your house to eliminate unwanted moisture. As mentioned above, good ventilation will also help deter some species of termites so make sure to leave these vents uncovered. If you don’t want your house to the one with the circus tent, good ventilation is a must.
Watch out for things you may have stored around the outside or under your house that may be blocking these vents. If you have louvered vents, consider replacing with screens for more airflow. While we are talking about vents, make sure to repair or replace vents with holes. Bats, rodents and other unwanted creatures may make your home their home if you leave them access through holes into your home.
5. Give your house a clean dust mask
Yes, if your house has a HVAC system, it has an air filter, and maybe more than one. I know this seems like common sense, but air filters should be replaced every three months.
More often if you have animals or other dust sources. I’ve seen air filters so clogged that they appear to be being sucked into the attic due to the lack of available air for the HVAC system. This causes your heater or air conditioner to have to work harder and run longer than normal to accomplish the same result. This leads to higher than normal energy bills and uncomfortable temperatures.
Worse, yet is when your tenants remove the air filter and don’t replace it. This allows the dust and dirt to clog the heating/cooling unit and could cost you much more than a simple air filter. This is one of those things I look at when doing annual rental inspections as well to make sure tenants are keeping things clean and operational. Air filters are relatively cheap. You can buy a years supply for under $20 online.
6. Avoid having to pay the Pied Piper
You know the children’s’ story about Pied Piper who was hired by the townspeople to remove the rodents. You can avoid many rodent problems by keeping your trees and bushes trimmed back. The closer trees and bushes are to your home the more chances of mice, squirrels and other rodents possibly reaching your home. These critters love attics and will take advantage of anything they can climb. Trees and bushes should be trimmed back six feet from your roof, power lines and attic vents. The neighborhood squirrel can jump quite a distance if you give him the opportunity. Take time each fall to prune bushes and trees back from your house.
In addition to rodents, branches from trees can fill your gutters with leaves, rub holes in your roofing and create a fire hazard.
7. Clean the fish tanks – your gutters aren’t for fish
Speaking of gutters. Next to lack of maintaining exterior paint, clogged gutters are the most common cause of dry rot repairs. When gutters don’t drain properly, the water backs up and flows over the side of the gutter, usually on the back side where the wood is. As a result, the rafter tails as they are referred to, deteriorate. I like to climb up on my roof a couple of times with a leaf blower and blow the gutters out. I use a water hose after I blow them out to remove any other caked in dirt of gravel. This works best in the dry season, but I have also done it in the rain.
If left dirty gutters will also hold water and start to rust out the gutters. Gutters can cost you $1,500 and up depending upon the size of your home. That’s an expensive home repair.
Watch for leaks in your gutters. Anywhere there’s a seam or joint in your gutter is a possible leak location. Do your gutters meet at a corner? This joint is a common location for leaks that will also cause dry rot in your rafter tails. Your local hardware store will sell caulk/sealant that can easily be applied with a caulk gun to stop these leaks.
8. Beware of little fireman with hoses
Keep sprinklers aimed away from structures; these little water hoses often go unnoticed. Sprinklers can get bumped and twisted and ultimately end up spraying on your house. Sprinklers can also spray onto bushes that are not maintained and splash back against the house. Make a habit of checking your sprinklers annually for where they are aimed and how far they are spraying. Most lawn sprinklers can be adjusted for rotation and distance with a small regular (flat head) screwdriver). Turn the heads so they are not spraying against your house or other structures. And just a note, don’t assume your house is waterproof if the exterior is stucco. Stucco is just porous cement and will allow water into your walls if sprinklers or gutters are allowed to splash against them.
9. Your bathroom needs deodorant too
If your bathroom has a fan, then it probably needs cleaned. Bathroom fans collect all kinds of lint, hair and other dust that cause them to work inefficiently. Periodic cleaning with vacuum and a stiff brush is often all they need to work many times better at removing moisture from your bathroom, not to mention smells.
Each model is slightly different but the process is the similar. To begin with turn off the electricity. Next, remove the cover from the fan, This is normally held on by clips or springs that can be gently squeezed or pulled to remove If the fan has a light, remove the light bulb . Often, the light bulb socket has an electrical connection similar to an extension cord. If this is the case, you can unplug the light to expose the actual fan motor and it’s blade for cleaning. I like to use an air compressor to clean these, but I’ve also used a vacuum and whisk broom.
10. Have you checked the dipstick in your hot water heater?
My hot water heater has a dipstick? Well, kind of. It has a sacrificial anode rod that needs replaced periodically. Water is corrosive and your hot water heater is subject to corrosion. To prevent corrosion, hot water heaters have a built in sacrificial anode rode. The purpose of this rod is to sacrifice itself to corrosion instead of your tank corroding. These anode rods last about 5-7 years. Once they’re eaten away, the water begins to corrode your tank instead. If you faithfully replace your anode rod every few years, your hot water tank can last many years longer.
Anode rods cost around $20 at your local plumbing store and can be replaced in about a half an hour. Don’t be surprised if your local big box store doesn’t carry them. I recently asked for one at our local Home Depot and the guy in the plumbing department said “He’d never heard of them.” When I told him that I used to buy them there, he said, “Not in the five years I’ve worked here.” I guess they’d rather sell you a $800 hot water heater.
Changing your anode rod requires a 1 1/16″ deep socket to remove. It’s installed from the top, and if it’s never been replaced, is covered by a large plug on the top of your hot water heater. This plug may be either plastic or a metal knockout plug. You will probably have to dig through about an inch of foam insulation to get to the rod as well.
Before removing, be sure to turn off the water supply to your hot water heater. You don’t have to drain it or remove your hot water tank. In addition, turn off the gas or electricity to your heater. It’s also a good idea to turn on a hot water tap in the house and release any pressurized water that may be built up in the hot water tank or line.
The most difficult thing in replacing your anode rod may be how tight of space your hot water heater is in. Anode rods are typically about four feet long and rigid. This means you must have four feet of clearance above your hot water heater to put the new one in. Unless your hot water heater is in the garage, you’re not likely to have this much room. If this is the case, you may want to shop for a flexible anode rod. These rods are designed for installation where you have little vertical clearance above your hot water heater. The catch is these rods are two to three times the price of the rigid anode rods.