Author: Andrew Watson
As a homeowner, you have a lot on your plate. In the back of your mind, you know there is always a chance that something major could go wrong in your house, resulting in thousands of dollars in repairs. You know you can lower the odds of large system failures by addressing the small maintenance tasks, but where would you start?
Clean the roof - A clean roof is the first step in maintaining it. Debris and moss hold moisture on the roof, promoting the opportunity for water to seep into the house. Those "harmless" black stains running down composition shingles are actually algae feeding off of the limestone in the shingles. Keeping your roof free of debris and organic growth will help to preserve the life of the shingles and allow you to assess the condition regularly. Note: Be sure to never pressure wash your roof as you can cause significant damage to the roof covering. Always use a push-type broom to remove moss and other debris.
Inspect the roof for damage - You should be looking for shingles that are missing, have a heavy loss of granules, have exposed fibers, or ones that are cracked or curling. Special attention should be paid to any roof penetrations (e.g., skylight, chimney, roof vent). These are the areas that will be most likely to leak into the attic below (maybe even into your living room)! Check for calking or sealant that is cracked or missing around vents as well.
Trim tree branches - Tree branches lying on top of your roof won't only damage your roof covering and hold moisture; they also act as an interstate for rodents and other small animals. For instance, rats have been known to jump over 4 feet horizontally and squirrels up to 9 feet! Having your trees trimmed regularly not only lowers the likelihood of a big branch coming down onto your house during a storm, but it can assist in keeping your home rodent-free.
Clean and inspect gutters - A clogged gutter is an ineffective gutter. Winter storms may have filled your gutter with pine needles or small branches, slowing down or preventing the flow of water. Heavy granule loss from your roof shingles tends to slow down the flow of water as well. Check the gutters for holes or disconnected downspouts. Verify that the downspouts are discharging into an underground drain system or that they are at least 6 feet away from your house’s foundation. Note: If you find significant granule loss in your gutters, it is time to have your roof inspected by a roofing professional as this is a sign that the shingles are beginning to fail.
Seal any holes - Any open holes on the outside of your house are an open invitation for moisture or pests to enter. Did your cable guy install a new outlet for your mounted flat screen this winter? Verify that all wall penetrations are sealed up, to lower the likelihood of unwanted entry. Attic and crawlspace ventilation screens should be complete to deny entry of birds or rodents. The window calking should be checked as well to prevent air infiltration.
Pressure washing - Regularly cleaning the moss and mildew from the driveway, walkways, porches, and decks is not only visually pleasing, it can also help to prevent a slip and fall hazard. You should be cautious when pressure washing wood or painted items as the high-water pressure can damage them. As mentioned before, NEVER pressure wash your roof!
Paint or stain - Exterior wood is protected from the elements by paint or stain. It doesn't last forever though! This spring is a good time to assess the condition of all of your exterior wood products and paint or stain the areas where the wood is exposed. If nothing else, you can start mentally preparing for your summer project.
Evaluate the condition of your home's exterior - Has any of your wood siding been damaged? Do you have some missing mortar on your brick chimney? Did you notice a new crack in your foundation? Now is a great time to check out how well the exterior of your home is holding up to the elements and time.
Check drainage - If you have water puddles sitting around your house for more than 24 hours, consider how well your property is draining. If water is accumulating near the foundation, you may need to bring in some dirt and regrade around the perimeter of your home. Water accumulation near the foundation may lead to foundation and basement dampness issues. With proper grading, the soil should slope away from your house, at an incline of at least 6 inches for the first 10 or so feet.
Air Conditioning - If you live in Western Washington like me, there is a good chance you don't have AC. However, if you do, cleaning leaves and debris from the top of the condenser unit outside is a great idea. It is also recommended that the AC unit is serviced annually by a professional to make sure you get the most life and efficiency possible.
Fertilize lawn - Now is the perfect time to fertilize your lawn. Remove the moss, kill the weeds, and feed the grass before the hot weather kicks in.
Windows and window screens - On a cloudy day, take some time to clean the exterior of your windows. The sun will bake on your cleaning product and make your life more difficult. Make sure your window screens are in good shape when you put them back on. Duct tape is a great tool for temporary repairs when it is hidden, but it's not a good use for repairing your window screens.
Check smoke and CO detectors - Test and replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors a couple of times each year. Even if they are hardwired, a new battery is critical. Smoke detectors are highly suggested by the entrance of each room used for sleeping and on each level. Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors should be installed on each level of the home and outside of the rooms used for sleeping. Even if your house doesn't have natural gas, CO detectors are a great safety feature.
Fire extinguishers - Verify that all of the occupants of the building know where the fire extinguishers are located. Check that the pressure gauge on the extinguisher is at "full" and that there are no signs of wear and tear.
Garage door - Automatic garage doors should have an auto-reverse feature. This will lift the garage door should it detect pressure from underneath, or if the photoelectric eye lens is crossed. This important safety feature aids in preventing an unwanted closure on an object or person. It can be tested by pressing the remote to close the door, then applying an upward pressure under the garage door as it is closing or waving a foot in front of the photoelectric eye. Both of these features should be working correctly. When your door is disconnected from the automatic opener (manual mode), you should be able to open the door to about three feet from the ground and the door should hold in that position. If it doesn't remain open on its own without being fully up or down, the door needs to be counterbalanced by a professional.
Furnace filters - Your furnace pulls conditioned air from the inside of the home through a filter before heating it up and redistributing it throughout the house. It is important that the filter is cleaned or replaced regularly to maintain air quality and to get the most life from your furnace. It is typically recommended that the furnace filter is checked monthly or quarterly, depending on the furnace manufacturer.
Refrigerator coils - A typical fridge can use up to 15 percent of the home’s total power. Using something like a vacuum cleaner to clean the coils on the rear (or bottom) of the fridge can improve the efficiency, increase its life, and help to guard against an electrical fire.
Dryer vents - While you have the vacuum cleaner out, clean out the clothes dryer’s exhaust duct (vent pipe). Of the fires that involve a clothes dryer, an estimated 35% is a result of a failure to clean out clogged lint. If your dryer has a plastic exhaust vent, replace it with a smooth metal one. Also, be sure that the vent cover on the outside of the house can be properly opened and closed, and that it isn't blocked by a screen that will catch and hold the lint.
Oven and range - Now is a great time to clean out the seemingly impossible to remove spills inside of your oven. Most modern ovens have a self-cleaning mode that is simple to use and will make the inside of your oven look new again. Check your owner's manual for self-cleaning instructions. Don't forget to clean the grease from your range hood filter, too!
Garbage disposal - Over time, a garbage disposal can smell pretty terrible. Besides checking to be sure the disposable under the sink is secured properly and not leaking, putting some slices of lemon down the drain while the blades are running can freshen up the sink. Running it while dumping ice into the disposal will help to remove food particles as well as sharpen the blades, too.
This article is for informational purposes only. This list of homeowner maintenance tasks does not cover every item of a home, as each home has different features. Some items may need to be handled by a professional. Safety should be the first aspect considered when performing home maintenance tasks.