Doing Your Home Work

While not as flashy or fun as a big home-improvement project, you still need to learn how to inspect, protect, maintain, repair, clean and preserve your biggest investment.

For DIYers, working on a home-improvement project is exciting. Whether simple or extensive, changes and upgrades always enliven your atmosphere, enhance your lifestyle and boost your pride.

Home maintenance, on the other hand, is downright dull. Taking care of a house involves chores that most of us would rather avoid — despite the risk of failing surfaces and substandard structures. Big mistake.

Although materials such as concrete and brick are more sustainable than, say, wood siding or asphalt shingles, the life expectancy of any component (and ultimately, the house) largely depends on the quality of maintenance. And that depends on your own sustainability: How attentive are you to the many details of caring for your shelter? Fortunately, with some planning and a few tips, you can turn an endless home-maintenance To-Do list into an All- Done list — at least for a while.

An ounce of prevention
Just as regular dental exams and hygiene regimens ward off major tooth repair and pain, performing routine house inspections, cleaning and care will protect against serious systems failures — and ultimately save time and money. The first step in decay prevention is to recognize your opponents. For ongoing vigilance, follow these tips:

1. Don't wait for trouble.
Rather than reacting to an emergency need, look for early signs of problems by periodically inspecting areas of potential weakness: roofing (from above and from the attic), foundation, basement walls and floors, furnace and air conditioner, siding, etc. To ensure timeliness, mark future to-do dates on your calendar. Better yet, create reoccurring task reminders on the computer.

2. Count the years.
Knowing the age and the approximate life span of your roof, siding, furnace, driveway, appliances, etc., gives you insight into when you need to watch closely for signs of deterioration. For general guidelines, see “Life Expectancies of Housing Components,” below.

3. Keep it clean. Eliminate clutter in the attic, basement and garage and around the exterior of your house so you can easily observe the structure and surfaces and so your house can breathe. Remove dirt and mold from surfaces.

4. Routinely protect.
Follow manufacturers’ recommended maintenance schedules and keep track of when you change furnace filters, clean and inspect gutters, apply finishes, etc.

5. Dig deep.
If you discover mold, peeling paint, signs of rodents or other symptoms, look for the source of the problem. Immediately fix the cause as well as the symptoms.

Know thine enemies
Besides the natural wear and decay that occur with time, your house’s other foes include dirt and mold, UV rays, plants and pests and — most destructive of all — water.

CONTROL CRITTERS: Avoid potentially serious damage to your house by following the recommended termite-control applications for your region. Check regularly for first signs of insect and rodent entry points (such as damaged vents or siding) and promptly replace or repair as needed. If you notice woodpeckers tapping on your house, it could be a sign that insects have invaded, perhaps due to decaying materials.

SCREEN THE SUN: To temper the attacks of UV rays, be sure to keep current with a paint/stain schedule on exterior surfaces, such as decks and siding. Awnings and pergolas help to block sun — especially from the south and west sides of the house. Trees are a beneficial sunscreen as long as branches do not touch the roof and siding. But remember that too much shade can lead to mold development.

DEAL WITH DIRT: Regular cleaning isn’t just a cosmetic measure. Dirt and dust are abrasive to surfaces, they block airflow and impair your ability to detect deterioration, and they encourage insects and rodents to invade. In gutters, dirt and debris prevent proper drainage, allowing entrance of another enemy: water.

MITIGATE MOLD: Because of mold’s invasive and destructive nature, the best strategy is an offensive one. Mold prevention is far easier than remediation, which often requires expert intervention — and a lot of money. Inspect moisture-prone areas often. Ensure that foundation grading, gutters, sump pumps, ventilation fans and other moisture-blocking measures are operating as required.

WARD OFF WATER: Although it’s an essential element for human survival, water is an intensely destructive force to a home. Humidity and leaks lead to decaying materials, insect infestations and mold growth. Ice dams on a roof can mechanically destroy the roofing materials and then melt and cause decay and mold. Be sure to repair cracks in concrete and brick, and protect wood surfaces with well-maintained finishes such as paint or stain.

A choice: DIY or B-U-Y?
In the case of more complex inspections, maintenance and repairs, it’s best to leave the work to professionals. Here are a few examples of times when you should consider recruiting an expert:

  • For technical tasks, such as furnace maintenance and cleaning
  • For dangerous duties, such as roofing and chimney repairs
  • When time and materials make it ineffective to do the job yourself (for example, scraping layers of peeling paint from wood siding)

Reserve your energy and efforts for the rest of your to-do list. Hiring professional help will keep you from becoming weary or overwhelmed with routine home maintenance and might prevent a trip to the emergency room or a lesson from the school of hard knocks.

Bonus Video: