March home-maintenance checklist
Become a moisture detective to keep your investment in good repair and get rid of fusty household smells.
© Kim Steele/Digital Vision/Photolibrary
It’s time to see what winter’s wind, rain and snow have done to your home and make fixes quickly to head off water-related damage. First, head outside.
Spiff up the front entry. One way to stay on top of your home’s maintenance and protect your investment is to look at it as though you’re a stranger considering it for purchase. Perform repairs as the need arises and try each year to add a little to the home’s attractiveness on the outside. One good way to boost curb appeal, as real-estate agents call it, is to make the entrance more appealing. Once the weather is dry, check steps, decks and porches for wood rot and peeling paint. Repaint porch steps and railings yearly with durable deck paint. Wash winter grime and dust off the front door and door frame. Repaint or stain the front door to protect wood doors and give the whole home a little face lift. Consider using a fun accent color such as barn red, black, hunter green, navy blue or gold, depending on the other colors on your home’s exterior. You may want to add built-in planters to a deck or front porch and change the plants with the season.
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Check for roof dams. Now that the worst of the weather is behind us, pull a ladder up to the roof to check the valleys and remove accumulations of sticks, leaves, tree needles and other storm debris. Similar to the dangers posed by melting snow on a roof, dammed-up debris can let moisture penetrate the roofing and reach into structural timbers and walls, causing rot and mold. Also, check the flashings, or metal seals, around roof joints, chimneys, skylights and other structures that penetrate a roof for holes or rust. Make repairs or call a professional.
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Check for water under the house. While spring rains are still falling, or shortly after, get beneath the house to see if there’s any accumulated water. It should be dry there, even when it’s raining outside. If not, first eliminate the possibility of leaks from inside the house by checking the underside of the floor for dripping water or water stains. Track down any plumbing leaks and repair them or call a plumber. If an inside leak is not to blame, look next for seepage from outside the house. Check where the foundation meets the ground for spots where the earth slopes toward the house. Even dirt mounded around shrubs should be corrected by replanting. Fix any sloping earth so that it directs water away from the house. If you live at the bottom of a hill, that may mean calling a drainage expert to diagnose problems or help devise solutions. Keep up preventive maintenance by trimming trees and shrubs to keep them from touching the house and channeling water down the walls; remove ladders, wheelbarrows and other equipment stacked against the outside of your home. Install extensions on gutter downspouts to keep water far from the structure.
Book a home inspector. The only time most folks meet a home inspector is during the sale of their home. But by then, you’re learning about troubles too late. To stay on top of your home’s maintenance and head off expensive repairs, hire a home inspector to scrutinize your home from top to bottom. Cost: $200 to $400. (Read “4 tips for finding the best home inspector.”) Tag along on the inspection so you can see any problems for yourself and learn about your home by asking questions. The inspection will give you either peace of mind that everything’s in good shape or a list of chores to be done. Ask the inspector to help you prioritize the repairs.
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Now move indoors to complete your moisture-detective tour and perform some other TLC.
Banish household smells
- Clean the garbage disposal. It’s good to get in the habit of doing this monthly. Pour a cup of vinegar into an ice cube tray, fill up the rest of the tray with water and stick it in the freezer. When the solution has frozen, pop out the vinegar ice cubes and place them in the disposal. Turn it on and let the ice cubes scrub the disposal as they are ground up. The vinegar will remove accumulated grease and eliminate odors coming from the disposal. Clean all drains, including the disposal, two or three times a year by pouring in equal parts salt, baking soda and vinegar, followed about 30 seconds later by two quarts of boiling water. Give the mixture a chance to work overnight to clear clogged drains. (Learn more: “Drains 101: Skip the plumber and tackle these tasks yourself.”)
- Clean or replace garbage cans and pails. Check garbage containers inside and out for cracks and breakage. Replace cracked or broken outdoor cans and use bungee cords to keep lids closed tightly. Take the kitchen garbage pail outside, sprinkle in a half-cup of baking soda and fill the can with hot water. Let sit for an hour, then dump out the water and use spray cleanser to wipe down the can inside and out. Dry it thoroughly before putting it back in the kitchen and inserting an empty garbage bag. Clean the refrigerator by removing everything and washing down the inside with hot water and baking soda.
- Eliminate bathroom and kitchen smells. Trapped moisture encourages smelly mildew, mold and rot, which can create odors in the kitchen, laundry and bathrooms. Thoroughly inspect each of these rooms for cracks and breakage in grout and caulking that let water seep behind tile and flooring. (See the August home-maintenance checklist to learn how to replace cracked or chipped tile grout and read “How to caulk your bathtub neatly.”) Check appliances for plumbing leaks by looking for moisture under or around sinks, tubs, washer, dryer, shower and toilets. Check for toilet leaks: Add a few drops of food coloring into the tank (not the bowl) of a toilet. Don’t flush. Come back in an hour to see if any of the color has reached the toilet bowl. If it has, you probably need to replace the flapper in the tank. If water is collecting around the base of the toilet, the seal – the wax gasket between the toilet and floor – may have failed and need to be replaced. (To diagnose more toilet troubles, read “Troubleshoot your toilet without a plumber.”)
Install two simple water-saving devices:
- Toilet-tank displacers. If you’ve been meaning to try some of those water-saving tricks you’ve read about, here’s an easy one to start with: Older toilet tanks hold a lot more water than they need for flushing. Cut water usage by displacing some of this tank water. The Alliance for Water Efficiency cautions that this is a good idea only for toilets with a rated flush volume of 3.5 gallons or more. (Look for information about your toilet’s rated flush volume on a label behind the seat hinge or stamped into the porcelain of the back of the tank. If you can’t find it, ask your water utility to help while conducting a no-charge home audit of your water usage. Or contact the toilet’s manufacturer for help identifying your model’s specifications.) Here’s how to displace water in the tank: Fill a clean, half-gallon plastic milk bottle with water and add some small stones to help weight it down, then lower the bottle into the tank, being careful to avoid the working parts. Or, purchase and install a Toilet FlushLess water displacement bladder bag. But whatever you do, don’t – as some advise – put bricks in the toilet tank. They’ll crumble and the sediment can wreck a toilet.
- Aerators. Kitchen and bathroom faucets consume a great deal of water. Trim your home’s water usage by installing aerators in the faucet heads. Some shower heads accept aerators, too. Aerators mix air into the water to maintain good water pressure while reducing the amount of water flowing through the faucet. They cost $2 to $3 at a hardware store. Some water utilities give them free to customers. To install, screw the aerators onto the faucet tip. If you already have aerators on your faucets, remember to remove them annually to clean off any mineral deposits that can clog the screw-on screen and interfere with your water flow. Just toss and replace badly clogged aerators.
Inspect and repair drywall. Once a year, walk around the interior of your home with a spatula and container of lightweight putty (ask at the hardware store for help choosing products). Inspect the walls for dings, nail holes and gouges. Use the spatula to smooth putty into holes and scrape the repaired spot even with the wall. Return the next day and touch the putty to see if it has dried. Once dry, gently rub it with fine-grained sandpaper so the patch will be smooth and even with the wall. Gently retouch the spot with primer, then with paint. If a repainted area shows up when dry, you may have to repaint the entire wall. (For bigger problems, read “How to fix a hole in the wall.”)
I had tons of water coming down from the neighbors and my spouts flowing to the basement window well. As I looked out the basement window it was full of water and squirting through all around. I thought it would burst. I ran outside and watched the water for a few minutes, then dig a smal six inch wide - 12 foot long path through the lowest part yard,where the water starts, then filling the bottom with pea gravel, then sand, and put the sod back on top. Now the water flows into the yard and away naturally.
I should have called the utility companies to mark, and not dig in a lighting/rain storm, but when your basement looks like the Posiden, it all happens rather instinctively.
Sort of like when I was a kid I would listen to the rain and fall asleep. Now all I do when it rains is count the timing between the sump pump pumps.
Oh, and I used US Basement Waterproofing for a foundation crack leak. Worked great for only a few hundred smacko's.
After being a builder for 30 years, these are the things that keep coming up most often, aside from the usual deferred maintenance that has do to with the house structure itself.
Water is the enemy.
- It is best to check for roof dams all the way through the winter, especially when a warm day is followed by freezing temps. Icicles are a sign of where they might be forming.
- It is good to check for water under the house, but I would add one step; checking the sump pump. It doesn't take much more than cleaning out the sump of any debris and dumping a bucket of water in to see if the pump turns on.
- It is a good idea to develop a calendar or use a website like www.homemaintenancetracker.com to keep on top of tasks
OHTeacher - No matter what the inspector charges, you are much better off hiring a home inspector then to get married. My 2nd husband didnt know which end of the hammer to use and for what the divorce cost I could have bought a home.
I don't know where 'Rope' lives but home inspectors in Massachusetts are licensed by the Commonwealth and have to attend continuing education courses to keep their licenses current. Most are also building contractors. Of course their livelihood (Note spelling!) depends on their reliability!
For buyers a proper home inspection by a licensed, certified inspector is the best money they ever invest in a home purchase! The written report generated should tell them the exact condition of the home on that day. It is not a wish list to take back to the Seller(s) for upgrades.
Countrygirl78.....I also live in a very rural area.....albeit in W. MA which offers plenty of cultural activities year round.....and we have no industry or jobs either. But second home buyers will start coming back to these areas. It will take a year or two - as President Obama told us when he took office. The economy was already in the toilet...and being flushed deeper before he took over. It cannot be fixed overnight.
If you need to go around the inside of your house inspecting and filling holes and cracks in the drywall, you are too hard on your house and you probably also need thicker glasses if you didn't notice the holes and cracks before.
And if you need to paint your front door every year, you probably are using the wrong kind of paint in the first place.
Yeah, this rope guy is an idiot. Many Home inspectors are former contractors or engineers. I have been a home inspector and have been in the engineering fields and construction contracting and management for 46 years. Paying licensed contractors to find reasons to do work in your home is writting a blank check to them. There is a conflict of interest. An inspector can not do the work and if he offers get a new one, he should have no vested interest in performing repairs he finds. There is a reason why there are inspectors and contractors. Inspector of many types but mostly inspectors make sure things get done properly and that is why most contractors don't like them.
I don't bother much with my looks. I am eyeballing 50, so there will be some age there. I don't look my age, nor do I act it. If someone should tell me how I might look better, that is their opinion and they are entitled to it. I don't need to listen to it.
The house I bought, on the other hand, needs help. I was thinking of having an inspection and this article made my mind up. That way, I can show the owner he bought a money pit for an investment in an area where people with jobs are outnumbered by the retired folk. There is no industry here and the only jobs are cashier based, or in the agricultural or medical field.
The other way is to call each trade on your house for a price quote on HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, and Building Contractor. Most of the time the will give you an estimate and also you are dealing with a State Licensed Contractor who does not second guess your issues. Even if the charge $75 trip charge it is well worth the time and money.
Use only verified State license contractors to do your work on your house. You as a homeowner can be liable for an unlicensed contractor working on your house. Handymen do not have a license to do more than $800 worth of work on a house in Georgia, but are not suppose to touch in of the above trades without a State license.
If you are in ? over a handyman call your State Licensing board. I have seen to many people get burned by handymen or unlicensed contractors. A licensed contractor lively hood is on the line if they do something wrong and also have to show the state they have insurance, background check, testing etc..