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Home Maintenance 101: 7 Ways to Prevent $50,000 in Damages

The Key Home Maintenance Items to Prevent Major Expenses

TL;DR

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Introduction

As many new homeowners soon learn, being free from a landlord means doing your own upkeep. If you don’t understand the basics of home maintenance, it can be difficult to keep your house in tip-top shape. While there are many aspects of home maintenance, what we are focusing on here are the items you need to check to maximize equipment life and avoid major damage. The seven ways to help you keep over $50,000 in your bank account include: 

home maintenance guide
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HVAC/Furnace Maintenance

HVAC furnace maintenance
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The HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system in your home is an important part of keeping your loved ones comfortable all year long. But if you want to keep your system running effectively (which will ultimately save you money in the long run) you need to have a professional perform routine maintenance on your system.

What is HVAC maintenance? 

HVAC and furnace maintenance is an opportunity for an HVAC professional to inspect your system and check for any faulty parts. They will also clean away any debris, check electrical connections, lubricate moving parts, and change filters if necessary.

How much does HVAC maintenance cost? 

HVAC tune-ups typically range from $100 – $200, with the upper end being driven higher likely age of equipment and also the service provider charging higher rates.  

How often should you do HVAC maintenance? 

It’s important to have your HVAC system and furnace serviced at least every other year. Definitely do it once a year if the system is older than ten years. 

Why is HVAC maintenance important? 

The life of an HVAC system is generally between 10 and 15 years depending on how well it has been maintained and system installation costs between $5,000 and $10,000. Each year you are able to extend the life of your equipment is like keeping $750 ($7,500 / 10) and delays a major spend. Also, remember our advice from our HVAC guide, you can try to negotiate for free maintenance but helping them with word of mouth.

Changing HVAC Filter

Changing HVAC Filter
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Where and how do you change the HVAC filter?

The process of changing your air filter is actually fairly simple but is most easily understood with a visual so check this out.

Why do you need to change the HVAC filter?

Changing the filter regularly is the easiest thing you can do to help your HVAC system last for as long as possible. It will prevent the build-up of dirt, dust, and debris, which prevents early corrosion and adds those extra years and thousands in value to your system. It also keeps the air in your house cleaner, which is considerably healthier for you as well.  

Dryer Vent Maintenance

dryer vent maintenance
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It’s particularly important to clean your dryer vent at least once a year, or even more often if you use your dryer often. If you are noticing that it is taking longer than normal to dry your clothes then it is especially important to get it cleaned. 

What is dryer vent maintenance?

Have you ever wondered where all those socks disappear to in the laundry? There’s a good chance they got stuck in your dryer vent. This pipe that extends from your dryer to the outside of your house can accumulate lint, clothing, and other debris, so dryer vent maintenance is the process of removing any obstructions.   

Who does dryer vent maintenance?

Dryer vent cleaning can be a DIY project, or you can hire someone to do it. Per HomeAdvisor, the national average for dryer maintenance is $132.

Is dryer vent maintenance necessary?

Dryer vent cleaning is 100% necessary. Each year the United States averages 16,000 fires caused by build up in dryer vents, leading to 13 deaths and 444 injuries. These fires also average $15,000 of property damage per home. 

How often should you clean your dryer vent?

It depends on how frequently you use your dryer, but for maximum safety every six months is recommended. It is also important to note that you should remove the lint from your lint filter every time you use the dryer as that is a very simple way to help prevent build up. Also, you can install a dryer vent alarm to notify you when blockages are starting to happen. 

How do you clean your dryer vent? 

  1. Check exterior vent. It is possible that your exterior vent may have a pest screen. These can get clogged with lint quickly so you will want to check this monthly. You will also want to make sure that it is not obstructed by a bird’s or bee’s nest.  
  2. Check air velocity. If a limited amount of air is coming through then it is likely you have a clog and are in need of cleaning.
  3. Check your pipe. Make sure you dryer wasn’t pushed to tight to the wall compressing the pipe as that can cause buildup. Additionally, make sure the pipe is 4-inch metal and not plastic as that is a sign of wrong installation.  
  4. Purchase a dryer vent cleaning kit. You can certainly hire someone to help you with this, but if you want to do it yourself, then you will need one of these kits. The kits are designed to be used with a drill and provide you with enough flexible rods for around 12 feet of ductwork. 
  5. Choose to clean from inside or outside. This is largely preference, but if your vent outside is two or three stories up then you should do this process from the inside. 
  6. Unplug your dryer. Remove it from the power source temporarily and create space from wall, especially if you are going to be cleaning from the inside. 
  7. Attach the vacuum adapter. Most kits will come with a vacuum adapter so you can trap the lint easily.
  8. Attach flexible rods to your drill. Set the drill to only spin CLOCKWISE. 
  9. Move drill in slow in and out motion.
  10. Continue to add flexible rods as you progress. Tape the connections of the flexible rods with electrical tape so you lose them in the vent! You are most likely to get a detachment of the rods by putting the drill in reverse – DO NOT put the drill in reverse. 
  11. Reconnect your dryer and check airflow. Once you are finished it is important to check the air is now moving well through the system. If it is, you are all set!  
  12. Attach a safety alarm to dryer vent. These alarms are a great warning for problems for a low cost.  

Crawl Space Maintenance

cleaning your crawl space
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What is a crawl space? 

A crawl space is an enclosed area of a house between the ground and the main level. It is designed to be able to “crawl” through to be able to make repairs to the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems in the house. They are typically used when a basement would be cost-prohibitive. They tend to be less prevalent in colder climates where a basement is used to set the foundation below the frost line.

What is crawl space maintenance? 

If you have not encapsulated your crawl space, you will have DIY maintenance throughout the year. Per InterNachi, one of the two major home inspection organizations in the country, the common issues found in crawl spaces are:  

  • Mold and fungus
  • Pests 
  • Hantavirus (a nasty virus from rodents) 
  • Asbestos insulation 
  • Standing water or sewage
  • Structural collapse
  • Improper wiring
  • Source of energy waste/inefficiency

What is the right moisture level for a crawl space? 

Make sure you crawl space keeps a humidity level between 30 and 60% (55% is the optimal level). 

How often do you need to clean your crawl space? 

The industry standard recommendation is to inspect and clean your crawl space every six months and that is because of substantial problems you may encounter if miss signs of problems. 

Why do you need to maintain your crawl space? 

There are a number of problems that can pop up with poor crawl space maintenance and unfortunately they can also be quite expensive

  • Foundation/Sturctural problems: $1,500 – $12,000
  • Water removal: $1,200 – $4,500
  • Pest/Rodent control: $200 – $4,000
  • Mold remediation: $500 – $6,000

Importantly, some of these problems can happen together. Water can easily lead mold, and both of those can lead to structural problems. SO, if you have a major crawl space problem you could be looking at over $20,000 worth of damage. 

How do you keep your crawl space clean? 

For the DIY crowd

If this is a project you want to take on yourself then you’re going to need to get a little dirty every six months. Get into the crawl space and check for cracks or leaks in the foundation to make sure no air, moisture or pests can enter the space. Then you will also want to check the area for pests, which can be dangerous, so be careful! Finally, it makes sense to buy a crawl space dehumidifier to make sure that any excess moisture in the area is getting removed, so you don’t have a mold problem. 

For some math on the dehumidifier, consider that the average crawl space dehumidifier is costs around $1,000. Mold problems alone are anywhere from $500 to $6,000, ignoring the potential structural issues. From that standpoint, if you are going DIY, a dehumidifier makes a lot of sense.  

For the “that sounds horrible” crowd

Crawl space encapsulation is the process you’re going to want to look into. This process covers your crawl space in a polyethylene barrier (similar to swimming pool lining) to prevent moisture from seeping into the space. This costs anywhere from $1,500 to $15,000, with $5,500 being the national average. Doing this will permanently protect your crawl space and properly insulate it to bring down your energy costs as well. 

Does it make sense financially? 

Let’s say any given year without an encapsulated house you have a 2% chance of a major problem with your crawl space that costs $20,000. 2% * $20,000 = $400 worth of risk every year. Let’s also assume, because of a more energy efficient house that you will save $150 per year on your energy bills from having an encapsulated crawl space (it could be more than this). 

Therefore, if you encapsulate your crawl space you are “saving” $550 each year. On the average encapsulation cost of $5,500 then you are looking at a 10% return on your money. The S&P 500 has averaged 10% since its inception, so if you like stock market returns and don’t want to deal with your crawl space this investment makes a lot of sense. 

Gutter Cleaning

gutter maintenance
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How often do you need to clean your gutters? 

It’s important to clean your gutters twice a year – once in the spring and once in the fall – to ensure they aren’t too full of debris to do their job.

How much does it cost to clean your gutters?  

If you hire a professional to clean your gutters, you’ll likely pay somewhere between $115 and $225, or $230 to $450 since you will be getting it done twice a year. The other option is to do it yourself. This will require a good ladder, gloves 

Why do you need to clean your gutters? 

As a homeowner, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about your rain gutters. They’re high up, designed to be hidden from view – but if you neglect them too long, you can deal with massive water damage in your foundation! It’s important to clean your gutters twice a year – once in the spring and once in the fall – to ensure they aren’t too full of debris to do their job. Foundation issues can cost upwards of $10,000, so keeping the gutters clean is a good step towards avoiding that expense.

Winterizing Sprinklers

winterizing sprinklers
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How do you winterize your sprinklers? 

Winterizing your sprinklers is a pretty easy process. Simply shut off your irrigation water supply and open all manual drain valves, giving them time to fully empty out. However, make sure you have time to let the water drain fully otherwise you still run the risk of pipes cracking and bursting.

When do you winterize your sprinklers? 

You will want to winterize your sprinklers a couple of weeks before you anticipate the first potential freeze. Most homeowners shut down their systems sometime between October 1 and Thanksgiving.

How much does it cost to winterize your sprinklers? 

It doesn’t cost anything to winterize your sprinklers and it’s a relatively easy DIY project. 

Why do I need to winterize my sprinklers?  

Not winterizing your irrigation system can result in cracked sprinklers and pipes. Then you are going to be forced to dig up your lawn to replace the system. That is both costly, potentially costing thousands of dollars, and unattractive. 

Pumping the Septic Tank

septic tank cleaning
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How often do you need to pump your septic tank? 

The general rule of thumb is to get your septic tank serviced every three years.  However, if you notice slow drainage in your tubs and sinks, gurgling sounds in your plumbing system or bad odors from the area around the septic tank, you should book an appointment imminently.  

How long does it take to pump your septic tank? 

The job should be done in 20 to 35 minutes assuming there are no complications for the pumper. However, if your tank has not been pumped in a while and solids have accumulated then the pumper may have to perform a number of “backwashes.” Backwashes make the process take longer as the pumper is trying to use pressurized water to break up the solids in the tank.  

How much does it cost to pump your septic tank? 

Pumping can cost from $175-$600 (depending on the size of your tank), but the national average is about $392.

Why do you need to pump your septic tank? 

Poor maintenance of your septic tank may lead to needing to repair the leach field and replacing your tank. Repairing the leach field costs anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000 and replacing the tank costs $3,000 – $9,500. Septic tanks generally last 40 years, which means you will probably need to pump it around 13 times over the life of the tank. At $392 per pump, the maintenance costs are $5,100 over 40 years. This is well-spent money to avoid more than $20,000 in potential damages.  

Of course, if there is an accident, one of the best ways to protect yourself from a septic problem is to have a home warranty plan. A warranty contract, as long as you sign up for septic (it can be an add on with some warranty companies), will cover most of the cost of repairs.

Other Home Maintenance Items

The seven items we covered above are not the only forms of maintenance need in your home. Other things you should be doing include:

  1. Deep cleaning your oven
  2. Inspecting fire extinguishers
  3. Testing smoke detectors
  4. Check the caulking in bathrooms and kitchen
  5. Clean the range hood filter
  6. Prune/trim tree branches too close to the house
  7. Power-wash / paint the exterior
  8. Flush out the water heater
  9. Test the garage door’s autoreverse function
  10. Inspect window and door weatherstripping

These are all worthwhile maintenance items as well and can save money via better energy usage, preventing potential damages, and maintaining appearances for any potential sale or refinancing.

We focused on the seven above though for the substantial financial impact to you as a homeowner if their maintenance is neglected.

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