About two-thirds of U.S. homes are owned by their occupants, the St. Louis Fed finds. That makes home maintenance a priority for a great many Americans.
We asked Seattle real estate agent Jeffrey Saeger, who’s performed commercial building inspections, and Kevin Busch, vice president of operations for Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Mr. Handyman, to describe common mistakes that homeowners make in maintaining their homes.
Here’s a look at them, along with the damage these errors can cause and tips for doing the job right.
1. Letting dryer lint accumulate
Some 2,900 dryer fires are reported annually, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. They cause death, injury and millions of dollars in damage each year.
The leading cause of dryer fires is users’ failure to clean the dryer.
Prevention isn’t difficult:
- Clean the dryer lint filter with each use.
- Clean the dryer vent ductwork at least annually. If you’re comfortable cleaning your own dryer vent, we have instructions in “Higher Electric Bill? It Might Be Time to Clean This.”
The type of piping between the wall vent and the appliance can contribute to the problem, too. Corrugated, flexible wall pipes are common, but smooth wall pipes are preferable to avoid an accumulation of lint in the pipe, Saeger says. That’s especially true where a long run of pipe extends between a dryer and outside vent or where 90-degree bends in flexible pipe cut down airflow and trap lint.
2. Ignoring water leaks
Water is “one of the most common and costliest disasters your home can experience,” the Insurance Information Institute says.
“The longer leaks go without repair, the more damage they do, so it’s best to deal with them as soon as the problem is realized,” says Busch, whose company connects homeowners with local home improvement specialists.
“Prolonged dampness causes damaging wood rot and can lead to expensive repairs,” Saeger explains. Spot leaks by noticing discoloration or dampness on a floor, ceiling or wall, he says. Electronic leak sensors may help you monitor trouble-prone areas; ask your home insurance company if a sensor can earn you a discount.
3. Letting gutters clog up
How often should you clean your gutters? As often as they need it, says Saeger. He’s not joking.
Although cleaning gutters after leaves have dropped is typically an autumn chore, your gutters may need attention more frequently if trees fill them with leaves and debris. You can’t know for sure if your gutters need cleaning unless you — or a friend or neighbor — get on a ladder to take a look.
Gutter guards may help. There are several types, and some are better than others, Saeger says. More important, in his view, are screens installed in the spot where the gutter and downspout meet. These keep the downspout free of debris, but they, too, must be inspected and cleaned regularly. In addition, he says, homeowners can use a U-shaped attachment for hose ends to remove debris from gutters without using a ladder.
4. Forgetting to replace the furnace filter
Furnace filters should be replaced about every 90 days, especially in the winter, Busch advises.
Don’t neglect this simple job. “Allergens and other debris will build up over time, causing your furnace to be less efficient,” he says.
5. Failing to remove mold
Unattended water damage or prolonged dampness are two reasons mold appears. It also may show up when the air inside a home is too moist or is not circulating, Saeger says. Look for a dark stain on a wall or floor. Also, mold gives off a damp, musty smell. If you find mold, have it removed immediately.
“Not only do mold spores break down home materials, they can cause health problems as well,” Busch says.
You may be able to clean a patch of mold smaller than 10 square feet by yourself, Busch says. He advises wearing an N-95 mask, goggles and non-porous gloves and using a commercial mold cleaning product, a mixture of water and detergent or a 10% chlorine bleach solution. For larger areas of mold, consult mold remediation experts.
6. Misusing a pressure washer
Power washers are great tools for outdoor jobs — cleaning a deck, railings, a sidewalk or siding, for example. But they are indeed powerful. Sometimes too powerful. The fast-blasting jet of water must be handled with care. Keep them away from windows, asphalt roof shingles, and painted surfaces, among other things.
“The surface being cleaned determines how they can be used,” Saeger says. Pointing a too-strong spray at a deck can dig into wood, splintering or gouging it. Saeger’s advice:
- Manage the pressure by choosing the angle of the head’s spray and selecting the angle at which you hold the sprayer.
- A wider, less-concentrated spray is safest.
- Keep the sprayer several to many inches away from the surface you are cleaning and angle the spray head — don’t point directly at the surface you are cleaning.
- Follow the safety guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
7. Neglecting pre-winter maintenance
Busch urges homeowners to complete these basic tasks in the fall so that their homes will be ready for the cold winter season. These tasks include:
- Ensure that the attic is properly insulated.
- Check windows for air leaks and caulk as needed.
- Drain garden hoses.
- Inspect interior pipes and decide if you should insulate them to prevent freezing.
- Check batteries in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
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