This is part of our ongoing series on home maintenance basics to help you keep up your home and grow your investment with confidence.
Keeping your home up and running can be, well … a little overwhelming. 😅
There’s a lot to juggle. Besides your mortgage, utilities, and other bills, you also need to stay on top of routine maintenance.
Thankfully, compared to finance topics like amortization, equity, and escrow (wait, what is equity?), the basics of home maintenance aren’t as complicated as you may think.
Maybe you want to manage upkeep without the cost of hiring professionals all the time but aren’t the handiest person. Or perhaps this is your first home and you’re new at all this. If you’re getting to a point of wanting to search “home maintenance for dummies” in Google, you’ve come to the right place … or, erm, post.
We condensed the basics into a simple Home Maintenance 101 comprising seven simple tasks. With a little instruction and some elbow grease, you’ll be able to do the majority of these without hiring a pro:
1. Foundation, siding, and roof
While repairs to your foundation, siding, and roof will probably require hiring a pro, it’s your job to keep a close eye on your home’s exterior. It seems like a small thing, but visual inspections are a real part of home maintenance.
At least twice a year, walk around your house and look for cracked, loose, or missing siding or roofing. Then, check your foundation for horizontal cracks or cracks larger than 1/8 inch. If you have a brick or cinderblock foundation, inspect for missing mortar or stair pattern cracks. Make any necessary repairs you’re comfortable with and hire a pro for anything outside your skillset.
(Nervous about hiring a pro these days? Here’s how to safely hire a contractor during COVID-19.)
While you’re looking around, remove anything growing on your foundation, siding, or roof. Plants hold water which can cause rot, and roots can work beneath siding and even into bricks and mortar. For moss or mildew, use a cleaning solution made up of equal parts bleach and warm water and scrub with a brush.
Your windows do more than let you secretly spy on the neighbors. 👀 They also insulate and ventilate your home. In the spring and fall, do a quick assessment of your windows to make sure they’re in good shape and ready for the coming weather.
First, check for broken glass and make sure all of the windows open and close smoothly. Windows should stay open and closed on their own. Clear debris that’s caught in hinges, screens, runners, or on sills.
If you have knobs that you wind to open or close your windows, use a silicone-based lubricant (like WD-40) to oil them.
Some windows, typically sliding windows, have small holes, called weep holes, on their frames for water to drain through. If your windows have weep holes, make sure they’re clear of debris.
This is also the time to make seasonal adjustments as needed. Before colder weather arrives, use silicone caulk to fill gaps around your window frames to prevent drafts, and pull down your storm windows. For an extra barrier in the winter, install plastic film insulation. If it’s summer that’s approaching, swap your storm windows for screens.
Note: While you’re thinking about your windows, take a moment to clean out your basement window wells if you have them!
Gutters are an often-overlooked part of the home, but their main job is kind of a big deal: To prevent basement flooding and erosion of your foundation.
Maintaining your gutters is fairly simple. In the spring and fall, clean out debris that collected in them. Use a trowel, the claws of a hammer, or a paint stick to dig it out. Spray away remaining grime with a hose and make sure the water drains well.
If you find leaks or places where gutters are pulled away from your house, check for loose screws or hardware. Tighten as needed. If you need to plug gaps, use a silicone-based caulk.
Finally, make sure the downspouts direct water 3 to 5 feet away from your foundation.
Safety tip: Falls are the most common cause of home injury, and ladders are the main culprit. Be careful! Make sure your ladder is stable, lock the spreaders, and maintain three points of contact with the ladder at all times.
4. Appliance and HVAC filters
Do you know how many of your appliances have filters? A lot of them. Here are some examples:
- furnace vents
- range hood (above your stove)
- air conditioners
- bathroom exhaust fans
- refrigerator (if it has a water system or ice maker)
Take a tour of your house and locate all your filters. Often, they can be found behind a panel, so it may take a little detective work.
It’s a good idea to check your filters monthly. With reusable filters, use a sponge and warm water to wipe off dust and grime. For disposable filters, simply replace them with new ones.
Head’s up: Maintaining your filters not only help your appliances run correctly, but some of them also need to stay clean for safety reasons. Your furnace filter and dryer filter are probably the two most important. Clean your dryer filter after each load and your furnace filter monthly during heating season.
By the way, when you change your filters, you might want to take a moment to vacuum the coil on the back of your fridge. 😉
5. Hot water heater tank
Regardless of how crystal clear your water looks when it comes from your tap, sediment still collects at the bottom of your hot water heater tank. It can cause overheating and costly damage to your heating systems.
Sediment collects at the bottom of your tank and water flows out through the top, so running your faucets won’t flush out the sediment. You have to use the outlet valve near the bottom of your tank to drain it out.
Flush your tank once a year to keep it in good health. This task can take a couple of hours, so it may be a job for a weekend. Here’s a step-by-step process:
- Grab a hose and a bucket. Then, turn off the power to your water heater. (The unit may have a switch, but if it doesn’t, you may need to flip the breaker in your main electric panel.)
- When the power is off, close the shut-off valve on the pipe on top of the heater. Give the water inside the tank an hour or two to cool down. Want to make use of that heat? Run a load of laundry or dishes.
- Once the water is cool, connect the hose to the outlet valve at the bottom of your tank and place the other end of the hose in the bucket. Before you open the outlet valve, go to your kitchen or bathroom sink and turn the hot water on. Leave the faucet open to allow airflow through the pipes.
- Open the outlet valve and let the water drain, then open the water shut-off valve on top of the heater again and let more water flow into the tank. This will stir up any remaining sediment at the bottom. You can do this a few times until the water running from the tank is clear.
- When the water draining from the tank is clear, close the outlet valve at the bottom and remove the hose. Leave the shut-off valve on top of the heater open to fill the tank again.
- Turn on the hot water from all the faucets in your home to allow your pipes to fill back up with water. Leave them open until water flows steadily, then close them.
Wherever there’s water, there’s potential for water damage. Rot and mold are the most common issues caused by water, and it doesn’t take much water to cause a problem. Because of this, it’s crucial to make sure the joints and seams between your tubs, toilets, sinks, and other fixtures are well caulked. Caulk stops water from creeping into places it doesn’t belong.
Caulk lasts about five years when applied correctly, but natural home settling, impact damage, or an outbreak of mold can shorten its lifespan. Inspect your caulk once a year and if you notice peeling, gaps, staining, or other damage, fix the problem.
Use caulk remover and a putty knife to remove the old caulk. Once it’s out, scrub the seam with warm water and bleach to clean the area of mildew.
Pro tip: Place a strip of painter’s tape on either side of the seam, leaving 1/8th inch of space, to create clean, straight lines.
Apply caulk between the pieces of tape and smooth it out with your finger or an old spoon. Immediately remove the tape and allow the caulk to dry.
7. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
For obvious reasons, your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors need to stay in tip-top shape. Before we get into testing them, do you know if your home has enough alarms to keep you safe?
The National Fire Protection Association recommends having a detector in each bedroom, one outside each general sleeping area (for example, in the hallway outside your bedrooms), and one on each level including the basement. Carbon monoxide detectors should be outside each general sleeping area and on each level of your home.
Experts suggest testing your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms monthly. It’s easy to do. The detectors should have a test button on them. Simply press and hold it down until the detector starts beeping. If it doesn’t beep or the beep seems weak, you may need to replace the battery or the entire smoke or carbon monoxide detector.
For more thorough tips, check out our post on when you should change your smoke alarm batteries.
In closing: Find a process that works for you
As you’re getting used to taking care of your home, you’ll develop your own system. Maybe it involves setting reminders in your phone, or printing out a checklist and hanging it on the fridge.
Maybe you check your appliance filters and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on the first day of every month. Perhaps the first day of spring becomes your day to check your windows and caulking.
Whatever your process is, try to stick with it! It’s easy to let these tasks go undone.
Interested in more home maintenance tips? Check out these posts: