NC State Extension Publications

Introduction

Your home can’t take care of itself.

Your monthly budget should include money for routine maintenance and repair for the house and yard. Plan to set money aside for the large, irregular expenses that occur normally as a house ages. Large expenses include interior and exterior painting, repairs or replacement of heating and air conditioning units and appliances, floor coverings, and roof surfaces.

Housing experts recommend setting aside 1 to 2 percent of the market value of your house each year to pay for maintenance and repair costs. While you many not need to use all of these funds in a given year, the accumulation of funds will help you pay for large future expenses such as installing a new heating and air conditioning unit, or replacing a roof.

Home maintenance helps provide a healthy, safe environment while protecting your largest investment — your home. It is much easier to prevent possible health and safety issues or structural damage than it is to pay large medical or repair bills.

Who Is Responsible for Home Maintenance?

As a homeowner, you are responsible for maintaining your home. If you live in a condominium or townhouse, you should check your homeowner agreement to determine what responsibilities you have and what responsibilities lie with the homeowners association.

What Is Involved in Home Maintenance?

Cleaning roofs and gutters, cleaning or painting outside wall surfaces, cleaning floors and walls, vacuuming carpet, keeping sinks and shower drains running freely, etc.

What Is Involved in Home Repair?

Replacing broken glass in windows or doors, replacing warped or worn shingles, repairing a cracked sidewalk or driveway, replacing worn out faucets, repairing broken stair rails, etc.

How Often Should You Do Maintenance and Repairs?

Maintenance and repairs should be done as soon as the need appears. This sooner-the-better practice helps prevent further damage and keeps repair costs down. At least once every 6 months, inspect your house and yard thoroughly to identify items needing work.

Who Should Do the Work?

The homeowner who does his or her own maintenance and repairs saves money. Use the following sources to learn how to do your own maintenance and repairs:

  1. Manufacturer’s use and care booklets and care guides for repair and guidance on how to clean.
  2. Do-it-yourself (DIY) publications often available free in builder supply or hardware stores.

  3. Home maintenance/repair books and videos in public libraries, stores, or online.

  4. An experienced neighbor or friend.

If you are not able to do the work, hire a qualified, experienced contractor or repair person. Ask friends for personal recommendations. Check the telephone book, neighborhood newspapers, special advertisements and the Better Business Bureau to find a reputable repair person. Ask for written estimates and do not pay in advance for maintenance or repair services.

Include a maintenance and repair category in your monthly budget. If you do not need the money in a particular month, put it in a savings account for the periodic, expensive, and/or unexpected repairs that will happen as a house ages.

Inspect your home regularly. Develop a system where you inspect one area per month to ensure regular inspection of each area. Start at the foundation of the house and work upward and inward. Use the following list of areas to conduct your home inspection.

Foundations, Basements, and Yards

  • Water that strikes the house or drips down from the roof should drain away from the foundation walls. The gutter and downspout system should keep water from pooling around the foundation where it can create a moisture problem. Be sure gutters and downspouts are kept open and in good repair.
  • Trim shrubs and bushes away from the foundation walls. Clearance space should be at least one foot.

  • Check masonry foundation walls for cracks or weakened and crumbling mortar.

  • Examine main support beams, support columns, and floor joists for evidence of bowing or warping.

  • Check wood structural members, such as joists, beams, and columns, with a screwdriver or pocket knife to be sure wood is solid and free from decay.

  • Check the inside and outside of all foundation walls and piers for termite tubes and damage. You may choose to have a pest control company do this each year.

  • Check that the crawlspace vapor barrier is in good condition and placed correctly. A vapor barrier is usually polyethylene material (at least 6-mil) that covers 100 percent of the crawlspace.

  • Examine the inside of the basement or foundations walls for dampness or water stains indicating seepage or a leak.

  • In most of North Carolina, water lines and outside faucets need some freeze protection or winter drainage. To prevent damage, water hoses should be drained and stored for the winter.

  • Clean leaves and debris from around the outside heating/air conditioning condenser and trim back shrubs that may block air movement around the house.

  • Yard care power equipment should be drained of fuel in the late fall or early winter and serviced according to manufacturer’s instruction.

  • Clean and repair garden equipment after the last use of the season. Remove dirt and rust, then store in a dry area. Winter is a good time to file rough spots on hoes and shovels and to apply linseed oil to handles of garden tools. Thoroughly rinse pesticide and herbicide sprayers to prevent clogging, and rinse fertilizer spreaders to prevent corrosion.

  • Doorways, below grade window wells, and storm drains should be cleaned of debris or leaves.

  • Driveways and walks should be checked for cracks, breaks, or erosion. If asphalt surfaces need repairing, be certain you have the equipment and skill to do a lasting repair job, otherwise hire a reputable contractor. Unrepaired cracks in concrete and asphalt can lead to further damage.

  • A septic tank needs periodic attention. Learn how to check for sludge and scum accumulation in the tank, and have solids pumped out of the tank as needed.

  • Fences, gates, and retaining walls should be checked for ease of operation, condition of structure, and materials. Make repairs as needed.

Exterior Walls, Windows and Doors

  • Check bricks for cracked mortar or loose joints.

  • Check siding for loose or missing pieces, lifting or warping, or any sign of mildew.

  • Check painted surfaces for pain failure (peeling, chipping, blistering, chalking), water damage, or mildew.

  • Examine all trim for tightness of fit, damage or decay.

  • Check condition of caulking where two different materials meet, such as where wood siding joins the foundation wall, at the inside corners, and where window and door trim meets the siding.

  • Check the windows for cracked or broken glass, loose putty around the glass panes, holes in screens, and evidence of moisture between pane and storm windows.

  • Check the condition of door frames and windows. Look for evidence of moisture and decay.

  • Check that windows and doors close properly. Examine all hardware on windows and doors, and lubricate moving parts.

  • Check weatherstripping on windows and doors for damage and tightness of fit.

  • Make sure that all window and door lock work properly. Each exterior door should have a one-inch deadbolt lock for safety.

Roof

  • Trim back tree branches that scrape against or overhang the roof. Keep branches away from chimney to avoid fire hazard and allow proper draft for safe and efficient chimney operation.
  • Check for curled, damaged, loose, or missing shingles.
  • Check the lower edge of roof sheathing for water damage.
  • Examine all roof flashing and the flashing around chimneys, vent stacks, roof edges, dormers, and skylights.
  • Make sure that the chimney cover (cap) is in good condition, and that it is tall enough to prevent creosote build-up.
  • Check vents and louvers for free air movement.
  • Clean screens and remove bird nests, spiders, insects, and dust.
  • If there are wind turbines on the roof, check ball bearings. Clear gable vents of bird’s nests and other obstructions.
  • Check for damaged gutters, downspouts, hangers, and strainers. If needed, clean out gutter and downspouts. Make sure they are free from leaks and rust.
  • Check the condition of the paint on the gutters.

  • Examine television antenna guy wires and support straps.

Interior Surfaces

  • Check all ceilings and walls for cracks, lose or failing plaster, signs of leaks or stains, dirt, and finish damage.
  • Check for cracks where ceilings join walls and where moldings attach to ceilings and walls.
  • Check for odor or visible evidence of mold or mildew.
  • Examine all joints in ceramic tiles and laminated plastics for adequate caulking. Check for discoloration around cracked tiles.
  • Check caulking around sinks, bathtubs, and showers. Some caulking becomes brittle with age, and therefore loses its effectiveness as a water seal. Replace this caulking with long- lasting resilient caulking material, such as silicone or latex.
  • Check all floors for wear and damage. Are the floors level, bowed, or do they squeak when you walk on them? Particularly check where one type of flooring material meets another, such as where carpet or wood joins tile.
  • Check stairs for loose treads, handrails, or carpeting and repair as needed.

Electrical Systems and Fixtures

  • Check the condition of lamp cords, extension cords, and plugs. Also examine the appliance cords and plugs of vacuums, iron, mixers, washers, and dryers.
  • Check for exposed wires and signs of wear in the “service box.” If you have a fuse that blows often or a circuit breaker that trips frequently, call an electrician to determine the cause and make the repair. Mark each circuit so you will know what outlets or appliances are included on each.
  • If you experience a slight tingling shock when handling or inspecting any appliance or lamp, disconnect the appliance and repair it.
  • Check places where wiring is exposed, such as in the attic. Look for exposed wires and wires with cracked insulation. Replace those in poor condition.
  • Check that all appliance cords are in good condition.
  • If you have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in outlets near sinks, the laundry, the shop, and the garage, be sure to check the GFCI monthly and after an electrical storm.

Heating and Cooling Systems

  • Have heating and cooling systems checked by a qualified service person at least once a year (before heating/cooling season) or according to the manufacturer’s warranty and service recommendations. Failure to do manufacturer-recommended servicing may void warranties.
  • Clean or replace filters. Check your owner’s manual for recommended procedures. Some filters should be replaced as often as once a month.
  • Clean dirt and dust from around furnaces, return vents, and supply ducts.
  • Regularly clean out the fireplace ash pit.
  • Have the chimney checked each fall before you use it. A build up of creosote and soot can be very dangerous. If you use your fireplace or wood stove regularly, a yearly cleaning is recommended. Seek help from professional fire fighters or chimney inspectors if you have any doubt about the safety of your chimney.
  • Check the attic to be sure that insulation or other material is not blocking free air flow through soffit vents, gable vents, or other attic vents. If light from the outside shines through each vent into darkened attic, then the vents are clear.

Plumbing Systems

  • Check faucet and hose connections under sinks and toilets. Look for leaks at shut-off valves, toilets, laundry equipment, and main water shut-off valve.

  • Check that the water pressure is adequate and that drains run freely.

  • In the basement or crawlspace, pull back the floor insulation to check for leaks and wood damage around water supply pipes, drains and water closet.

  • Check sinks, tubs, and showers for proper drainage. Remove hair from drains. When necessary, use a snake or plumber’s friend to unstop drains — or call a plumber.

  • Check the pressure relief valve on the water heater. Open it to see that it is working. Check the water heater for signs of leaking or rusting. Some manufactures recommend that a small amount of water be drained periodically from the tank.

Safety Systems

  • Test smoke alarm systems at least monthly. Replace old batteries.
  • Test carbon monoxide detectors at least monthly and replace old batteries.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy for use in kitchen and near any wood-burning stove or fireplace. Check the extinguisher gauge for proper pressure.
  • Keep a flashlight(s) handy and in operating condition.
  • Keep outside security lighting in good repair. Lighting exterior grounds helps discourage prowlers.
Clean debris from gutters regularly.

Clean debris from gutters regularly.

Check to see that wood is free from decay.

Check to see that wood is free from decay.

Check for cracks in driveways and sidewalks.

Check for cracks in driveways and sidewalks.

Inspect fences and gates.

Inspect fences and gates.

Inspect the condition of doors and windows.

Inspect the condition of doors and windows.

Check for damaged gutters and downspouts.

Check for damaged gutters and downspouts.

Label circuits on your electrical panel.

Label circuits on your electrical panel.

Test ground fault circuit interrupters monthly.

Test ground fault circuit interrupters monthly.

Change filters regularly.

Change filters regularly.

Check around pipes in crawlspace or basement for potential leaks

Check around pipes in crawlspace or basement for potential leaks.

Keep safety alarms and fire extinguishers in good working order.

Keep safety alarms and fire extinguishers in good working order.

Summary

Regular inspection and maintenance of your home will help keep the house in good condition and maintain its value. Doing maintenance and repair as the need arises also keeps small problems from becoming bigger, more costly problems. Having and following a plan for home maintenance and repair will make the job easier. And, finally, a well-maintained house will be more comfortable. Use the checklists on the following page to help you identify areas where work may be needed in your home.

Sources
Redmann, L.L. & Griffin, B.J., Clemson Cooperative Extension Service.
Wall, E.J. Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Authors

Department Head & State Program Leader
Agricultural and Human Sciences

Publication date: Jan. 1, 2014
FCS-440

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