5 preventative maintenance tips

The first step in creating a low maintenance home is to schedule regular preventative maintenance throughout the year.

This allows you to solve small problems before they need big, expensive fixes. Some problems you can handle yourself; others definitely call for a repair service.

In either case, regular preventative home maintenance is key to keeping your home running smoothly. 

  1  start your preventative maintenance efforts at the top.

A sound roof is essential to the well-being of your home and everything in it. Put roof patrol at the top of your preventative maintenance list. 

If your roof is flat enough to walk on safely and is not clad in a fragile material (such as tile or thin cedar shingles) you can perform simple maintenance tasks yourself with little more than a broom and a few basic tools.

Don't wait until the first squall to make sure that roof gutters are clear of debris and that all roofing materials and flashing (those metal seams along the edges) are intact. Procrastination may result in an inexpensive and inconvenient fix later on. 

Using a broom, a lightweight leaf blower, or a hose with a spray attachment, remove leaves and dirt from the rooftop. Next, use your (gloved) hands and a small brush to remove debris from gutters and downspouts. When all the visible debris is removed, pour water through the gutters and spouts to make sure they drain freely.

Check the flashing around any chimneys, vents, skylights, or parapet walls. Look for gaps, cracks, and missing shingles. If you discover problems, be sure to call and make a service appointment now - before problems become emergencies.

  2  move on to fireplaces and stoves.

Newer fireplaces and stoves are better than traditional open hearths at controlling airflow and thus providing heat efficiently. 

But whatever the age of your fireplace or stove, preventative maintenance - starting with a professional chimney inspection and cleaning each year - is a must to keep soot and creosote from building up and leading to a chimney fire. 

While you'll want to leave chimney cleaning to the pros, undertake minor maintenance yourself: If you burn wood, clean the stove or firebox between fires.

Scoop up cool ashes and place them in a metal container. Close the flue or air intake after each use to keep indoor heat from escaping up the chimney.

  3  maintain your heating system for both warmth and safety.

On a cold night, your heating system is the last thing you want to have break down.

Not only could such a mishap be uncomfortable and expensive, it could also be dangerous: A faulty gas or oil furnace may emit deadly carbon monoxide gas.

Furnaces that are less than 10 years old should be serviced every 3 to 5 years. You'll need a professional to check for leaks and to test the safety controls.

Depending on the type of heating system you have, there are things you can do yourself to keep it running smoothly and safely. For forced-air heating systems, clean or change the air filter once every heating season (more frequently if you have pets or your house tends to collect dust) and keep the surrounding area clean.

Move combustible materials well away from the furnace. Review the manual for your heating system: Some systems require more maintenance than others. 

Even well-maintained furnaces and appliances can emit toxic carbon monoxide (which is both odorless and colorless), making carbon monoxide detectors essential. Test detectors monthly, and replace the batteries once a year.

  4  check your home's interior and exterior for leaks and mildew.

Plan a preventative maintenance spot-check of your home's exterior and interior once each season:

  • If you see any cracks in masonry or stucco, between siding and window or door frames, or in corners, seal them with caulk to keep air and water out of your walls. You'll want to check seldom-used places such as the attic, basement, and farthest corners of your garage for any sign of leaks.
  • At least twice a year as part of your preventative maintenance schedule, use a bleach solution to scrub clean any mildewed areas of your home's exterior. If unattended to, mildew will eat away your exterior paint, resulting in an expensive "fix-up" later.
  • As needed, sweep up and remove any debris from outdoor walkways and steps. If you notice any algae or other growths, scrub them off with a hard-bristled brush and bleach.
  • Pedestrian surfaces covered with algae, moss, or other substances can be slippery and dangerous when wet. Regularly scrub the walkway surface clean of any moss or algae. (Get more information on how to prevent home accidents here.)

  5  why weather stripping matters.

In many homes during cold weather, warm indoor air escapes outside through numerous little holes and gaps surrounding pipes and vents; along seams between walls and floors; and between masonry and siding materials.

Wind gusts can also force cold air through these openings and into your house, raising your heating bill.

As your house ages and settles, or expands and contracts from changes in temperature or humidity, these gaps can open and admit moisture into your walls.

If you see light around your doors and windows from inside or feel a draft, it's time to seal with weatherstripping or caulk as a preventative maintenance measure.

Weather stripping - a narrow piece of metal, vinyl, rubber, felt, or foam that seals the space between the door and the frame - can be installed on the interior of windows and doors.

Experts recommend weather stripping the entire perimeter of exterior doors: Affix one continuous strip along the top and sides and attach a floor "sweep" to the inside bottom of the door. 

› Preventative Maintenance Checklist


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