There are some things that my Dad is really good at. Yard work, for instance. Car maintenance. Camping. And taking care of things around the house. Not that he always can fix the leaky dishwasher or rattling furnace, but he can usually tell you what’s wrong. Me, I’m lucky if I can find the furnace. After my wife and I purchased our first home a few years ago, I had a sobering thought — the sudden recognition that, in relation to my wife and kids, I was Dad.
Thankfully, I’ve learned a few things since then, mostly from my dad, my father-in-law and a good family friend who might as well collect handyman’s wages from us. The best piece of advice they’ve given me? Take care of your home, because it sure can’t take care of itself.
Following are some home maintenance tasks to perform on a regular basis. Take note: This is the kind of stuff Dad used to do. If you’re under a roof of your own now, male or female, this is now your job.
· Check the pressure gauge on your fire extinguisher, which should be kept near your kitchen stove and any wood-burning fireplace.
· Test smoke detectors and replace batteries if necessary.
· Check your heating and/or cooling air filters. Clean or replace them if necessary. Some filters need to be changed monthly; others are good for three months or more, depending on the type and quality. Check your owner’s manual for recommendations.
· Clear gutters and downspouts of debris (leaves, dirt, action figures). Check for loose connections, rust, signs of leakage. Make sure they are properly secured and that there is no blockage in the discharge area.
· Examine shower and/or bathtub enclosures. Replace deteriorated grout and caulk if necessary. Caulk that has become cracked or brittle is useless as a water seal. Remove it and bead on a long-lasting material like silicone or latex. Look for signs of leakage beneath plumbing fixtures. Remove hair from drains (everyone together now: bleeeccchhh) and make sure it drains properly. If not, try a liquid cleaner, an auger (also known as a snake) or a plunger.
· Check all plumbing connections beneath sinks and toilets. Look for leaks at shut-off valves for sinks, toilets, washer and dryer, and the main water shut-off valve. If necessary, replace leaking faucets or showerheads.
· Make sure your toilet flushes correctly, doesn’t run continuously (which can occur due to a defective seal) and is properly secured to the floor. Believe me, no one likes a loose potty. Hmm … maybe I should rephrase that.
· Check ground-fault circuit interrupter devices (known as “GFCI” by the cool kids) in your bathrooms, kitchen, and garage by pressing the test button.
[SEASONAL MAINTENANCE (Spring and Fall)]
· Get up on the roof and look for damage (especially if you live, like I do, in an area where severe late spring and summer thunderstorms can drop golf ball-sized hail). Check for wounded shingles, tiles or other roof coverings, including chimney and flashing. Hint: “Roof flashing” may sound a little perv and possibly criminal, but don’t worry — it’s just the name for the sheet metal used to reinforce and weatherproof your roof’s joints and angles.
· Climb into the attic, if possible, and make sure your roof vents are unobstructed by insulation or anything else. If light from the outside shines through, you’re probably okay. Check for vermin activity (according to popular cartoons, mice often collect spools of thread, thimbles and empty sardine tins for furniture, so be on the lookout for artful, domestic arrangements of such). Level out the insulation to cover bare spots, if necessary, and make sure no loose wiring is exposed.
· Give your home exterior a once-over. Trim back tree branches and shrubs so they don’t scrape against the house. Take note of any cracked mortar or loose joints in bricks. Check siding for loose or missing pieces, or for cracking and separating on stucco walls. Watch for loose or decaying trim. Make sure all caulking that joins two different materials (such as where window trim meets siding) is in good condition. Do you see peeling, cracked or mildewed paint? Birds’ nests? Rival gang graffiti?
· Examine basement or crawl space walls for evidence of moisture seepage, and make sure all landscaping encourages water to flow away from your foundation.
· Inspect all sidewalks, porches, decks, driveways, walkways — you get the idea — for deterioration, cracking, movement, or anything else that can pose a safety hazard. For instance, rattlesnakes.
· Make sure your windows close, lock and seal properly. Also inspect them for loose putty, holes in screens, and evidence of moisture between pane and storm windows. Look for cracked or broken glass.
· Check the inside and outside of all foundation walls for termite activity. It’s a good idea to get an extermination service to do this for you. They know what to look for.
· Test your overhead garage door opener to make sure the auto-reverse mechanism works. To do so, let it close on a two-by-four, a brick or a bucket. The door should stop and reverse quickly upon touching the object. If it stops but doesn’t reverse, decrease the down-force a quarter-turn or so. Repeat the test until the door reverses. It’s also a good idea to clean and lubricate hinges, rollers, and tracks.
· Have your chimney(s) cleaned and inspected each winter before you begin using it regularly. Build-up of soot and creosote can keep it from drafting properly and can potentially cause a chimney fire.
· Look for water damage, exposed wires or any signs of wear in your electrical service panels. If you have a fuse that blows often or a circuit breaker that trips frequently, call an electrician to figure out the problem and repair it (I’m not usually too eager to work on electrical stuff without professional help). Make sure each circuit is clearly marked so you know what outlets or appliances are connected to it.
· Check the temperature-pressure relief valve on the water heater, which guards against hazardous pressure buildup. Lift up or depress the handle (water should drain from the overflow pipe). Check for signs of leaking or rusting. Some manufacturers recommend that a small amount of water be drained periodically from the tank to reduce sediment buildup. Let it flow into a bucket until the water looks clear.
· Clean and inspect all systems and service appliances as suggested by the manufacturer’s recommendations. Some warranties — especially on heating and cooling systems — may be voided if you fail to have an authorized serviceperson inspect them once a year (or as stated otherwise).
· Monitor any wall and ceiling surface cracks for evidence of significant movement. Some minor movement should be anticipated due to normal settling and shrinkage. Large gaps, however, are not normal.
Preventive maintenance is the key to keeping your house in good shape. It reduces the risk of unexpected repairs while quietly raising your home’s resale value. In fact, if you plan to sell some day, it’s a good idea to keep a log or journal of all repairs and improvements during your time in the house. By documenting your upkeep regime, you let future owners know the house has been taken care of, and you make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
Speaking of which, by keeping a regular eye out for them — cracks on the sidewalk, in the foundation, in the mortar, on the walls — you’ll be in good shape.
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