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How to avoid pricey home repairs

Man doing plumping
Granger Wootz/Getty Images
Man doing plumping
Granger Wootz/Getty Images

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Want to avoid pricey home repairs? Take a page from Ben Franklin’s book: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The key to not having to shell out major cash to fully replace or fix parts of your home is by simply doing regular maintenance. See a crack in the wall? Take care of it now so it doesn’t turn into an even larger crack.

“The more effort you put into caring for your home, the less money you’ll spend on costly repairs,” says Andrea Collins, head of brand marketing for Hippo Insurance.

Smart-home care and tech-driven devices mean homeowners can be savvier than ever in keeping up their homes. From do-it-yourself inspections to simple preventive measures, here’s a handy guide to keeping your home in top shape.

Plan for regular home inspections

Systems, structures and appliances wear out over time. “Even when certain items in your home seem to be functioning, it’s important to double-check and make sure there aren’t any issues,” Collins says. “Neglected or ignored systems and appliances can cause all sorts of trouble.”

In some cases, you can do a diagnostic check on your own, but other times it’s necessary to engage a qualified professional, such as a plumber, electrician or chimney sweep. Here are some key elements of your home to check regularly and how to know if you can do it yourself or if it is time to call in the expert.

Roof

Installing a new roof will cost you thousands, but minor repairs and regular maintenance will be easier on your budget. Homeowners can perform a visual check on their roof a couple of times a year. Look for missing or loose shingles and any areas that are discolored or appear to have shifted. It’s also smart to inspect your attic, checking for anything that might indicate a leak — damp patches on walls or ceilings are a big warning.

Every five years (or more often if you see signs of significant wear), hire a professional roofing contractor to do a more detailed inspection. It’s also worth having a professional take a look after extreme weather like heavy rain or snow — or in advance of potentially harmful conditions like hurricane season.

Pipes

Water issues are a major concern for homeowners because the cost and inconvenience of a leak or sewage backup can be significant. On a less extreme financial level, leaky faucets or pipes can be a big water waster, which costs you over time.

One tip: “Find hidden leaks in your kitchen and bathroom by wrapping paper towels around pipes and looking for wet spots,” Collins says.

You can do additional self-monitoring with water- or mold-monitoring sensors, such as those from Monnit or Streamlabs, which alert you the moment there’s a problem.

It’s smart to engage a licensed plumber to check for leaks and confirm that your sewer lines are clog-free. It is recommended to have this professional check performed once every two years.

Chimney

If a fireplace keeps your home cozy in the winter, your chimney will require regular inspection. You can give it the eye test, looking for missing bricks and any cracks that may be appearing in the pointing. If you see any irregularities, it may suggest damage.

Because chimneys can be difficult to navigate, it’s worth giving them attention from a professional. During the service call, the chimney specialist will clean the structure to remove any built-up creosote (flammable tar deposited on the chimney walls, which can cause house fires) and may add caulking to prevent future water leaks from rain and snow. You should have a professional perform an inspection once a year, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

Water heater

Taking a cold shower is no fun, and replacing an improperly maintained hot water heater is even worse. If your water heater stops getting as hot as it once did or if you notice the heated water isn’t clear, it’s time to get a checkup. Consult your water heater manual for details on what preventive maintenance steps should be taken and how often. Depending on whether you have a traditional tank unit or a tankless one, you may need to check the pressure valve or flush the tank, according to manufacturer instructions.

While you can perform many of those maintenance steps yourself, replacing parts or performing more complicated repairs may require a plumber.

Termites

Termite damage can be a real problem for your home. You can spot early signs of damage in most cases with a simple visual inspection. Check for any wood dust or signs of damage to the wood in your home, particularly windows and external walls where termites may have entered the home. You may need to get out a magnifying glass to give a truly thorough inspection.

Any wood-frame structure you own should have a termite protection plan. Most plans with a reputable pest-control company come with regular inspections, during which a pro will inspect in and around your home for telltale signs of termite damage and install deterrents that make your home unattractive to those unwanted invaders.

Do some preventive maintenance

While regular inspections are a great way to troubleshoot issues and avoid big, unexpected home-repair bills, “there are also preventative moves you can make to keep things running smoothly,” Collins says.

These small steps take minimal time, but they can save you a lot of money by helping your systems last longer and operate more efficiently.

Change HVAC filters

Clean air is a must for your home, so changing your HVAC filters should be a priority. Set a calendar alert for every one to three months (according to manufacturer instructions and environmental factors, such as whether you have pets that shed).

“Clogged and dirty filters restrict airflow, slow air circulation and reduce the effectiveness of your system,” Collins says.

Clear gutters

Overflowing gutters are more than an eyesore. Debris like leaves, pine straw and sticks prevent the gutters and downspouts from directing water away from your home’s walls and foundations. This could result in damage to your home’s foundation or cause water to infiltrate your basement.

Do a visual check from time to time on your own. The best way to know if your gutters are working properly is to grab an umbrella, go outside and check during a rainstorm. It also makes sense to schedule regular gutter cleanings, likely a few times per fall and occasionally the rest of the year, depending on the foliage around your home.

Exercise circuit breakers

Electricians advise homeowners to “exercise” their circuit breakers annually by flipping them off and back on to help prevent corrosion and extend the life of the device. If you see anything that gives you pause, such as frayed wires, a spark, or a circuit that flips off frequently, call an electrician.

Use tech to create a home maintenance calendar

If all of this sounds overwhelming, don’t get bogged down. Plot these periodic inspections and maintenance activities on a digital calendar and set up automatic alerts to stay on top of things.

You can set up regular checks through most professionals. Plumbers, HVAC contractors, chimney specialists, and others will often remind you that it’s time to schedule your periodic checkup if you request a call.

You can also set up reminders for yourself with smart home technology. If you have a smart speaker like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant, you can have the device remind you to perform annual checkups. Just tell the device what to remind you and when, and it’ll handle the rest.

These devices also integrate into smart home technology that can help to monitor the overall health of your home. Get internet-connected sensors that monitor for water leakage, mold, and other damage like broken glass. Sensors for smoke and carbon monoxide also help to protect from potentially damaging situations.

Finally, free apps like HomeSavvy let you input basic details about your home and send you reminders and tips throughout the year.

Written by
Jennifer Bradley Franklin
Contributing writer
Jennifer Bradley Franklin is a multi-platform journalist and author, often covering finance, real estate and more.
Edited by
Senior homeownership editor