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A home is the biggest purchase that most people will ever make. Doing regular maintenance is the best way to ensure you protect that asset and avoid costly repairs down the line.
“You have to think of your home like a car, and you just have to give it the maintenance in order for it to treat you right,” says Matt Blashaw of Blashaw Residential Inc., a licensed contractor and former host of several popular home improvement programs on HGTV and DIY networks. “When people don’t take the time to do that maintenance, it’s at the worst times — during a heavy winter or in the rainy season — when the house comes back to bite you.”
Conversely, proper do-it-yourself home maintenance can save your sanity and your wallet. “It’s no secret that routine maintenance is the key to saving money around the house. But knowing what to do and when to do it can be tricky — especially for first-time homeowners,” Paul Hope, home and yard reporter at Consumer Reports, says.
#1: Invest in some basic tools
Having the right tool makes any job easier. To tackle your home maintenance with ease, assemble a basic home toolkit. We recommend investing in:
- A toolbox
- A workbench
- A circular saw
- A jigsaw
- An orbital sander
- A cordless drill
- A stud finder
- A nail gun
Once you get your tools assembled, keep your workspace organized. Misplaced tools can lead to buying duplicates when you can’t find a critical tool during a home repair. But more than that, a messy, cluttered work space may cause you to abandon a money-saving DIY project altogether, says Blashaw. Plus, he notes, “A clean work space is going to make you want to work.”
Blashaw suggests putting up a cheap pegboard in your garage and hanging tools on it, then drawing their outline in black permanent marker so you know what goes where.
#2: Rent tools you plan to use once
For a tool you’re planning to use once or twice for a specific project, it doesn’t make sense to pay full price for a brand-new item.
For hundreds or even thousands less, you can rent professional-grade tools that can make projects go more quickly. Here are some tools Blashaw recommends renting rather than buying:
- Power paint sprayer
- Hammer drill
- Scaffolding and platforms
- Post-hole driller
Another advantage to renting: Rental professionals have a lot of knowledge to offer about how to properly use a tool and get your DIY project done safely.
Alternatively, Blashaw suggests going to yard sales and using online classifieds to track down high-quality used tools.
#3: Save leftover materials
After you finish a home improvement project, there are always leftover screws, bolts and other small bits of hardware. You can use store-bought organizers or even glass or plastic food containers to organize and store them. It will keep you from making a trip to the hardware store for a minor fix in the future, and you’ll save money.
“We all go out and look for that one little screw, and [then] you have to buy a bag of them,” says Blashaw.
Larger cuts of wood — especially plywood at least three-quarters of an inch thick or boards more than three feet long, particularly if they’re of a more expensive hardwood — should also be saved for future use, says Blashaw.
Small, thin pieces of wood called shims should be retained to help level out and brace or prop up things in future projects, he adds.
#4: Use ‘oops’ paint or recycled paint
If you’re flexible with your paint colors, there are two great ways to save on painting. “Oops” paint that was mixed incorrectly or a customer didn’t end up buying is available in the paint department of most hardware stores and can go for a fraction of the price of regular paint.
Similarly, recycled paint is often available for free or at low prices from local municipalities and waste management departments.
Another way to save money is to select a paint that requires fewer coats. That means you can buy less paint and still finish the job. Also, “it’s okay to skip the primer when you’re painting,” Hope says. “Most of the paints we test are self-priming, and we’ve found that they work well.”
#5: Remember that preventive maintenance is a money saver
Many times, routine maintenance can extend the life of your home’s major components and prevent expensive and time-consuming repairs in the future. Plus, it can help you save on other homeownership costs, like your utility bills.
“Nothing drives up your energy costs like a drafty house. Finding and plugging leaks could lower your annual heating and cooling bills by $400,” Hope notes.
Similarly, something as simple as sweeping debris off your roof once a year can help prevent moisture from building up. Moisture can break down your roofing material and cause an expensive leak, says Blashaw.
Blashaw recommends these other cheap and easy preventive measures:
- Covering pipes with inexpensive insulation to prevent freezing in winter.
- Clearing vegetation from around your air conditioner to prolong the life of the unit.
- Checking vents in the attic for cracks and rips and patching them with foil tape. This improves the efficiency of your HVAC system and takes the load off of your air handler.
- Draining your water heater once a year to prevent sediment buildup on the heating coil.
- Checking for loose roof shingles and securing them with roof cement.
#6: Buy materials yourself
For major repairs and home upgrades, you may be able to get a better deal if you shop for materials like tile, air conditioners or lumber yourself. You might get a better deal buying things separately at a discount store or warehouse rather than paying the markup many installers tack on to materials they provide, according to “The Owner-Builder Book” by Mark and Elaine Smith.
Just make sure you work the deal out with the tradesman or contractor beforehand. You should also inquire about any technical requirements they might have for materials before you buy.
Another good way to save money is doing the less-complicated-but-labor-intensive first steps on your own, then have a professional finish it. For instance, if you’re replacing or upgrading a deck, you can probably tear down the old one and prepare the ground, then call in a contractor to actually do the construction.
#7: Make smart choices about what you install
While you’re probably focused on saving money as you do your home maintenance, think through the long-term impacts, too. If you need to make major changes (e.g., you’re due for new gutters or a new HVAC system), this may not be the place to pinch pennies. Investing a little more in something with good reviews and a good warranty can minimize your maintenance costs over the life of the product.
Similarly, consider eco-friendly choices when the opportunity presents itself. You might need to invest a little more now, but options that use less energy, water or gas can save you money over time. For example, Hope says, “Stop flushing money down the toilet and replace your old commodes with new models that qualify for the EPA’s WaterSense label. It could save more than $140 a year on your water bill, and many models that we’ve tested perform just as well or better than higher-gallon models.”
Similarly, he recommends battery-powered lawn tools to tackle your exterior home maintenance to-dos. “They’re cheaper to operate, better for the environment and their performance is on-par with gas-powered equipment,” he explains.
Bottom line on saving money on home maintenance
Ultimately, home maintenance will always be something you need to periodically take on. But knowing what to do and how to save money while you’re at it can simplify the work while protecting your home and your wallet.