Mar 7, 2013

Your Home Maintenance Checklist

Maintenance Checklist

Congratulations! You've made the leap from renter to homeowner. Now the fun begins: The place is yours to decorate as you wish and you've left behind late-night squabbles over the upstairs tenant's loud music.
But along with the fun, the new title comes with some important upkeep responsibilities. When you move into your new place, run down the list of tasks below as soon as you're able, then rotate through them on the suggested schedule. Your most important jobs are those that keep moisture out of the house, prevent fires and keep your high-priced furnace running safely and efficiently.
1. Caulk windows and trim.
In the fall, before it rains (caulk won't stick to moist surfaces), look for cracks in the trim around the windows and siding of your house. Also inspect the corners where trim comes together. Fill cracks with caulk. Polyurethane caulk is best. Polyurethane is more expensive but it is easier to use; you can paint over it; and it lasts three or four times longer than latex caulk. Before caulking cracks that are wider than an eighth of an inch or deeper than a half-inch, stuff in flexible foam backer rod (available at hardware stores). Push the foam in with a putty knife, then caulk.

2. Inspect your crawl space for water.
Do this every fall, about 30 days after the fall rain begins so that if water collects, you'll see it, Juneau says. Find the crawl-space opening by walking around the outside of your house. Look for a trapdoor or a boarded opening in the foundation. Wearing old clothes and carrying a flashlight, wriggle in there or hire someone to do it if you're claustrophobic and shine the light around to spot any accumulated water. If you find water, call a home inspector to figure out where it's coming from and why.

3. Check wooden decks for moisture.
Wooden decks should be continually protected from water with a deck treatment or wood stain. (Synthetic decking products needs no treatment and should not be stained.) In dry, warm weather, borrow a moisture meter from a paint store to test if water has penetrated your decking, signaling that treatment is needed. Paint-store personnel can show you how to use the simple meter. Depending on your weather and your deck's exposure, it may need to be refinished every two years or even yearly. Paint professionals can help you choose among the treatment options.

4. Inspect and touch up exterior paint.
"We all think of painting as a means to spruce up the appearance of one's home, but it's really a mechanism to prevent damage to exterior siding, overhangs, soffits, eaves and gutters.

Paint prevents gutters from rusting and wood from deteriorating. In dry summer weather, inspect your home's exterior from top to bottom, including the trim. Look for paint that has blistered, bubbled, peeled or cracked. Scrape, sand and fill holes with high-quality exterior-grade patching compound. Brush primer on bare spots, then follow with paint. Feather new paint into old using a fairly dry brush and lightly flicking the edges of the new paint into the old. (Painted patches may look less obvious if you first wash the siding; use a garden hose and a long-handled truck brush with long nylon bristles.) Carey also suggests aging your patch paint. Here's how: Bring a sample of the existing finish in the form of a few chips or piece of trim to a paint store and get paint tinted slightly to match its current shade (paints can lighten over time). An exterior paint job should last about seven years, Carey says. The lifespan "has everything to do with your climate and the quality of paint." Use premium-quality paints ($25-$30 a gallon) by major brands. Good paint has more titanium dioxide, which extends the life (and increases the price). Carey offers this test for paint quality: Ask paint-center personnel to shake, then open a can of the product you're considering. "Stick your thumb and index finger into the paint and gently rub them together

5. Service and clean the furnace.
Forced-air furnaces quietly cycle on and off and are easy to take for granted unless something goes wrong, the Carey brothers say. But these are complex pieces of equipment and they consume expensive fuel, so peak efficiency is crucial. And a breakdown can let deadly carbon monoxide escape. Call the company that installed your furnace to service it or to recommend a servicer. Or find a licensed heating, ventilation and air-conditioning specialist in the phone book or by searching online. Servicing involves cleaning the furnace parts and heat exchanger, lubricating bearings and testing for leaking gases.

6. Get the chimney swept and inspected.
Do this once a year or after you've burned a cord of wood, whichever happens first. Why? Because creosote a flammable, resinous wood byproduct builds up inside the chimney flue when you burn wood. (Wood stoves and fireplaces need sweeping; gas-burning appliances do not. They do need a yearly inspection from a licensed gas technician to remove accumulated dust or debris and check for proper operation, leaks and worn or defective parts. A clogged chimney can cause an explosive fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Hire a trained chimney sweep who uses brushes, vacuums, cameras and other tools to remove soot and creosote and inspect for damage. While he's up there, ask him also to inspect the flashings that seal the joints between the chimney and roof for rust or holes and to inspect the seal on the chimney's surface. Chimneys made of brick, stone or other masonry must, in cold areas, be sealed every three years or so. Sealing keeps moisture from soaking the mortar. Moist mortar freezes, thaws and crumbles, weakening the chimney and creating a fire hazard.

7. Check bathtub caulk.
Inspect the line of caulk that seals the tub to the floor and the tub surround. Repair cracks with polyurethane bathroom caulk. Also, inspect the points where tub faucets emerge from the wall or tub surround.

8. Check the toilet seal.
Look for water or discoloration of flooring at the seam where the toilet meets the floor, particularly behind the toilet. If you find moisture, call a plumber to find and repair the source.

Two or three times a year
9. Muck out the gutters.
Hire someone (around $50-$100) or get a stable ladder (and someone to hold it) and do it yourself. But clean the gutters as soon as leaves and gunk plug them up, Juneau urges. That may be several times a year, depending on the wind and trees around your house. Leaves and pine needles clog drainpipes that carry rain water from the roof to the ground. When the water can't drain out, it gathers around the foundation and in the crawl space, rotting house supports and encouraging mold and mildew, Juneau cautions. Use a garden trowel or your (gloved) hands to muck out the debris. Slosh water from a hose through gutters and the drainpipes to finish the job and test that they're clear.

10. Clean your roof's valleys.
Water, your home's worst enemy, also dams up behind debris that has accumulated in the roof's valleys. Left alone, it will seep under the roofing material and leak under the eaves and into cavities between walls, rotting wood and making a home for mold. Once you're up on the roof, also check the flashings - the metal water barrier used to line and waterproof joints, vent pipes, skylights and chimneys. Look for rust or holes that need repair.

11. Switch ceiling fans from summer to winter.
To get the most from the money you spend on heating fuel, switch ceiling fans to run clockwise in winter and counterclockwise in summer. If that's confusing, just watch the fan as it runs: In summer, the leading edge of the blades (the part that goes around first) should be higher than the trailing edge (the part that rotates last). That's so the fan will push cool air down. You should be able to stand under the fan and feel a breeze. In winter, it's the opposite: Switch blades so the leading edge is lower and the trailing edge is higher, pushing air up into the center of the room, which forces heat off the ceiling (remember, hot air rises) and down along the walls into the room. You'll find the fan blade switch on the outside body of the fan When you use a ceiling fan you can adjust your thermostat lower in winter, higher in summer - to save fuel. You can run a ceiling fan half the day for about $1.50 a month, compared to $25 for an air conditioner.

12. Heal cracks in asphalt paving.
Extend the life of an asphalt driveway or path by inspecting it a few times a year and patching fissures with a caulking gun and asphalt patching caulk ($5 to $15 a tube). Squirt the stuff into cracks. Use a plastic putty knife to smooth it. If you ignore asphalt cracks, water will soak under the pavement, making it mushy and creating potholes when you drive on it.

13. Baby your garbage disposal.
Forget caustic and poisonous drain cleaners, Carey says. His remedy is cheaper, gentler on your pipes and safer for the environment: Two or three times a year, pour a cup of vinegar into an ice cube tray. Fill the tray up with water and freeze it. Pop all the vinegar ice cubes into the disposal and turn it on. The cubes scrub the disposal and the vinegar removes the build-up of grease and gunk. Keep fibrous stuff (like potato peels and corn husks) and eggshells out of disposals. The lug nuts that chew up waste are easily choked. To coax long life out of your disposal, here's the best way to operate it, according to Carey: Run cold water into the disposal, then turn it on and finally put waste into the cavity, a little at a time. Don't jam the disposal with stuff. Cold water keeps the motor from overheating. It also congeals grease. Hot water melts grease and it coats the pipes and disposal walls. Also, treat every drain to this freshening treatment two or three times a year: Pour in equal parts salt, baking soda and vinegar, followed about 30 seconds later by two quarts of boiling water. It'll foam a little, Carey warns, but that's OK  it's harmless.

14. Check furnace filters.
Check your furnace's instruction manual to locate and remove its fiberglass filter. Hold it up to the light: If it's dark and dirty-looking, replace it. Filters trap dust, pollen, spores and airborne debris, keeping your home's air clean and extending the life of your furnace. "If you're not changing the filter, you will pump those spores back through the house," Juneau says. "People with allergies really notice if you've got clogged or dirty filters." Plain fiberglass filters cost a couple of dollars each. Pleated, fine-mesh filters that trap allergens and other irritants and keep the furnace cleaner cost a few dollars more. Or, for $700 to $1,500 (installed) you can replace the furnace filter with an electronic air cleaner. Professionally installed next to the furnace, these may scrub the air best of all.

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