Entries in Repairs (7)

Thursday
Sep182014

Fall Maintenance Checklist

You’ll be ready for winter’s worst and head off expensive repairs when you complete this checklist of 10 essential fall maintenance tasks.

Fall checklist


1. Stow the mower.


If you’re not familiar with fuel stabilizer, you should be. If your mower sits for months with gas in its tank, the gas will slowly deteriorate, which can damage internal engine parts. Fuel stabilizer ($10 for a 10-ounce bottle) prevents gas from degrading.

Add stabilizer to your gasoline can to keep spare gas in good condition over the winter, and top off your mower tank with stabilized gas before you put it away for the winter. Run the mower for five minutes to make sure the stabilizer reaches the carburetor.

Another lawn mower care method is to run your mower dry before stowing it. 

1. When the mower is cool, remove the spark plug and pour a capful of engine oil into the spark plug hole. 

2. Pull the starter cord a couple of times to distribute the oil, which keeps pistons lubricated and ensures an easy start come spring.

3. Turn the mower on its side and clean out accumulated grass and gunk from the mower deck.

2. Don’t be a drip.

Remove garden hoses from outdoor faucets. Leaving hoses attached can cause water to back up in the faucets and in the plumbing pipes just inside your exterior walls. If freezing temps hit, that water could freeze, expand, and crack the faucet or pipes. Make this an early fall priority so a sudden cold snap doesn’t sneak up and cause damage.

Turn off any shutoff valves on water supply lines that lead to exterior faucets. That way, you’ll guard against minor leaks that may let water enter the faucet. 

While you’re at it, drain garden hoses and store them in a shed or garage.

3. Put your sprinkler system to sleep.

Time to drain your irrigation system. Even buried irrigation lines can freeze, leading to busted pipes and broken sprinkler heads.

1. Turn off the water to the system at the main valve. 

2. Shut off the automatic controller.

3. Open drain valves to remove water from the system.

4. Remove any above-ground sprinkler heads and shake the water out of them, then replace.

If you don’t have drain valves, then hire an irrigation pro to blow out the systems pipes with compressed air. A pro is worth the $75 to $150 charge to make sure the job is done right, and to ensure you don’t have busted pipes and sprinkler head repairs to make in the spring.

4. Seal the deal.

Grab a couple of tubes of color-matched exterior caulk ($5 for a 12-ounce tube) and make a journey around  your home’s exterior, sealing up cracks between trim and siding, around window and door frames, and where pipes and wires enter your house. Preventing moisture from getting inside your walls is one of the least expensive — and most important — of your fall maintenance jobs. You’ll also seal air leaks that waste energy.

Pick a nice day when temps are above 50 degrees so caulk flows easily.

5. De-gunk your gutters.

Clogged rain gutters can cause ice dams, which can lead to expensive repairs. After the leaves have fallen, clean your gutters to remove leaves, twigs, and gunk. Make sure gutters aren’t sagging and trapping water; tighten gutter hangers and downspout brackets. Replace any worn or damaged gutters and downspouts.

If you find colored grit from asphalt roof shingles in your gutters, beware. That sand-like grit helps protect shingles from the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun. Look closely for other signs of roof damage (#5, below); it may be time for a roofing replacement

Your downspouts should extend at least 5 feet away from your house to prevent foundation problems. If they don’t, add downspout extensions; $10 to $20 each.

6. Eyeball your roof.


If you have a steep roof or a multistory house, stay safe and use binoculars to inspect your roof from the ground.

Look for warning signs: Shingles that are buckled, cracked, or missing; rust spots on flashing. Any loose, damaged, or missing shingles should be replaced immediately. 

Black algae stains are just cosmetic, but masses of moss and lichen could signal roofing that’s decayed underneath. Call in a pro roofer for a $50 to $100 eval.

A plumbing vent stack usually is flashed with a rubber collar — called a boot — that may crack or loosen over time. They’ll wear out before your roof does, so make sure they’re in good shape. A pro roofer will charge $75 to $150 to replace a boot, depending on how steep your roof is.

7. Direct your drainage.

Take a close look at the soil around your foundation and make sure it slopes away from your house at least 6 vertical inches over 10 feet. That way, you’ll keep water from soaking the soils around your foundation, which could lead to cracks and leaks.

Be sure soil doesn’t touch your siding.

8. Get your furnace in tune.

Schedule an appointment with a heating and cooling pro to get your heating system checked and tuned up for the coming heating season. You’ll pay $50 to $100 for a checkup.

An annual maintenance contract ensures you’re at the top of the list for checks and shaves 20% off the cost of a single visit.

Change your furnace filters, too. This is a job you should do every two months anyway, but if you haven’t, now’s the time. If your HVAC includes a built-in humidifier, make sure the contractor replaces that filter. 

9. Prune plants.

Late fall is the best time to prune plants and trees — when the summer growth cycle is over. Your goal is to keep limbs and branches at least 3 feet from your house so moisture won’t drip onto roofing and siding, and to prevent damage to your house exterior during high winds.

For advice on pruning specific plants in your region, check with your state extension service.

10. Give your fireplace a once-over.


To make sure your fireplace is safe, grab a flashlight and look up inside your fireplace flue to make sure the damper opens and closes properly. Open the damper and look up into the flue to make sure it’s free of birds’ nests, branches and leaves, or other obstructions. You should see daylight at the top of the chimney.

Check the firebox for cracked or missing bricks and mortar. If you spot any damage, order a professional fireplace and chimney inspection. An inspection costs $79 to $500.

You fireplace flue should be cleaned of creosote buildup every other year. A professional chimney sweep will charge $150 to $250 for the service. 

John_Riha John Riha

has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Follow John on Google+.



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Tuesday
Aug262014

Is Your Home Older Than Its Years?

Would you throw away $20,000? You are if you’re letting your home age faster than it should. Here’s a simple maintenance strategy to keep your home young. 

You know how Dr. Oz says that if you keep your body fit and your mind nimble, you’re likely younger than your chronological years? The same principle applies to your house.

An out-of-shape house is older than its years and could lose 10% of its appraised value, says Mack Strickland, an appraiser and real estate agent in Chester, Va. That’s a $15,000-$20,000 adjustment for the average home.

But good maintenance can even add value. A study out of the University of Connecticut and Syracuse University finds that regular maintenance increases the value of a home by about 1% each year.

So if you’ve been deferring maintenance, or just need a good strategy to stay on top of it, here’s the simplest way to keep your home in good health.

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Focus on Your Home’s #1 Enemy

If you focus on nothing else, focus on moisture — your home’s No. 1 enemy.

Water can destroy the integrity of your foundation, roof, walls, and floors — your home’s entire structure. So a leaky gutter isn’t just annoying; it’s compromising your foundation.

Keeping moisture at bay will improve your home’s effective age — or as Dr. Oz would say, “real age” — and protect its value. It’ll also help you prioritize what you need to do. Here’s how:

Follow This Easy 4-Step Routine

1.  When it rains, actively pay attention. Are your gutters overflowing? Is water flowing away from your house like it should? Is water coming inside?

2.  After heavy rains and storms, do a quick inspection of your roof, siding, foundation, windows, doors, ceilings, and basement to spot any damage or leaks.

Related: How to Tell if You Have a Drainage Problem

3.  Use daylight savings days or the spring and fall equinox to remind you to check and test water-related appliances like your washer, refrigerator, water heater, HVAC (condensation in your HVAC can cause leaks) or swamp cooler, and sump pump. It’s also a great time to do regular maintenance on them. Inspect any outdoor spigots and watering systems for leaks, too.

4.  Repair any damage and address any issues and leaks ASAP.

Don’t procrastinate when you spot minor leaks or drips inside your house. Ongoing small leaks can slowly erode pipes and fixtures, and even cause mold and mildew issues you won’t notice until it’s too late.

Say you’ve got a bit of cracked caulk around the kitchen window. It may not seem like much, but behind that caulk, water could get into your sheathing, causing mold damage and rot. Before you know it, you’re looking at a $5,000 repair that could have been prevented by a $4 tube of caulk and a half hour of your time.

To help you with this routine, we have several guides with specifics and tips:

Once you settle into a routine, it becomes easier to handle other maintenance tasks, which will only do more to protect and enhance your home’s value. Plus, you’ll get to know your home better, which will help you spot other one-off problems, such as termites and other wood-destroying insects, that can cause costly damage.

If You Want to Take Home Maintenance to the Next Level …

If you’re a geek about home maintenance like we are, and you want to do more than water patrol, these ideas will help you keep your house in great shape.

Give yourself an incentive to do maintenance. Maintenance is your springboard to sexier projects like a kitchen remodel or basement makeover. So plan a room-per-year redo. This way you’re maintaining, fixing, and improving. For example:

In your basement:

  • Check for dark stains that could signal plumbing leaks. If you find any leaks, fix them.
  • Check your ductwork for leaks that are wasting energy.
  • Clean the lint out of the dryer vent. The machine will last longer, and you’ll help prevent fires.
  • Caulk and seal basement windows to stop air leaks.
  • Once your space is moisture sealed, you can start converting it into a family room or other livable space.
  • Brighten it up with paint.

In your kitchen:

  • Clean out all the cabinets, then wipe them down. It’s a great way to purge and get organized.
  • Take a good look under your kitchen sink. Remove all the wastebaskets and cleaning supplies to help you spot any leaks, and fix them.
  • Re-caulk the seam between your backsplash and wall to keep moisture out. To give your whole kitchen a low-cost facelift, how about a new backsplash?
  • Re-paint the walls using paint with a tough, semi-gloss sheen that stands up to repeated cleanings and resists moisture.

Keep a maintenance fund. Some sources say you should save 1% to 3% of your initial house price annually to pay for maintenance. On a $200,000 house, that’s $2,000-$6,000 a year. Yeesh, that’s a big nut.

Alternatively, make it a goal to save enough money to do a major replacement project, so the bill won’t catch you off guard. Probably the biggest single replacement project you’ll have is your roof or siding.

You can build up this fund over several years by paying yourself a monthly assessment — whatever you can manage. Keep it in a separate account to avoid the temptation to tap it for hockey tickets or other impulse buys.

If you need to replace the roof before you have a fund, an equity loan is an option. But consider very carefully.

Related: When to Use Home Equity and When Not To

If you’re practicing maintenance in the way we’ve outlined here, you won’t need $2,000 per year to manage your home’s natural aging process.  Some routine tasks, such as cleaning rain gutters and changing furnace filters, could cost you $300 or less per year.

Your house takes care of you — not just for shelter but as a financial asset.  Return the favor and keep it hale and hearty by caring for it with regular maintenance.



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