That tiny crack in your wall or damp spot on your ceiling can be the sign of much bigger, more expensive problems.
If you’re a renter, calling your landlord or apartment manager is a solution that probably won’t come out of your pocket, but if those seemingly smaller issues happen at a house or condo you own, get ready to shell out some cash to fix the root cause.
The good news? Most of the costliest home repairs can be avoided by diligent maintenance along the way.
“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. From do-it-yourself inspections to simple preventive measures, here’s a handy guide to keeping your home in top shape.
Plan for regular 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.
Installing a new roof will cost you thousands, but minor repairs and regular maintenance will likely put a smaller dent in 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.
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. It’s smart to engage a licensed plumber every year or so to check for leaks and confirm that your sewer lines are clog-free.
Another smart tip: “Find hidden leaks in your kitchen and bathroom by wrapping paper towels around pipes and looking for wet spots,” Collins says.
Plus, with the advent of smart-home technology, it’s possible to use water- or mold-monitoring sensors, such as those from Monnit or Streamlabs, which alert you the moment there’s a problem.
If a fireplace keeps your home cozy in the winter, your chimney will require regular — ideally annual — 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.
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.
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.
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 air flow, slow air circulation and reduce the effectiveness of your system,” Collins says.
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 rain storm. 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.
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 a frayed wires or a spark, call an electrician.
Create a calendar or use an app
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.
Most professionals, like plumbers, HVAC contractors and chimney specialists, will remind you that it’s time to schedule your periodic checkup if you request a call. Finally, free apps like HomeSavvy let you input basic details about your home and send you reminders and tips throughout the year.