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The Essential Home Maintenance Checklist

01/06/2020 Alena Savchenko

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Would you rather repair a small crack, or rebuild an entire wall? How about cleaning a filter versus replacing your entire air conditioning unit? Both examples illustrate the importance of home maintenance: regularly completing small tasks can help protect big parts of your home. In this piece, we’re delivering the essentials in home maintenance. You’ll learn why you need to do it, home maintenance by season (both indoors and out), and perhaps most importantly, how to budget for home repairs. Whether you just bought your first house, or recently made a move to a home with features (or weather conditions) with which you are unfamiliar, this guide will inform you on keeping your home safe, sound, and comfortable.

Why Maintenance is Critical

Home maintenance is about more than just how your home looks — it’s also about how it works. Making continual checks and small repairs when needed will stop small problems from turning into big ones, helping you save money and prevent unnecessary wear and tear. For many of us, our home is our biggest investment, and regular maintenance can protect that investment and help it to increase in value.

Even if you understand and agree with maintenance in principle, it can be hard to know exactly how or when to put a plan into practice. Read on to see a detailed (yet easy to follow) home maintenance guide broken down by month, quarter, year, and season.

Monthly Home Maintenance

Performing consistent monthly home maintenance can help preserve the structure and systems in your home. Although these tasks need to be done frequently, most of them are quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive.

  • Check and clean kitchen vent hood filter: These filters trap grease and dust, keeping your kitchen clean. They are less effective when clogged, but thankfully many of the metal, reusable filters can easily be run through the dishwasher.
  • Look for leaks in and around sinks and toilets: Stopping a small drip right away can prevent damage to your cabinets, floors, and even the rooms below.
  • Check and potentially replace HVAC system filters: How often you need to do this will depend on your climate, type of system, and other factors, but a good rule of thumb is to change the filters once every 90 days.
  • Inspect fire extinguishers: Having an accessible, functional fire extinguisher can keep a small mishap from turning into a huge amount of damage. Make sure that you have extinguishers ready where you need them.
  • Clean kitchen sink disposal: Can’t find the source of that yucky smell in your kitchen? It may be your garbage disposal. Clean it by adding ½ cup of baking soda, then ½ cup of vinegar. After the foaming subsides, flush it while running with hot water.
  • Pay attention to your utility bills: A sudden unexplained jump in your water, electric, or gas usage could be a clue that a hidden problem is occurring.

Quarterly Home Maintenance

Now that you have your monthly tasks complete, it’s time to consider the maintenance tasks that you will need to do every few months.

  • Flush toilets and run water in rarely-used spaces: Unused bathroom drains can get smelly. This is because the water held in the p-trap that normally blocks sewage smells can evaporate. Taps and valves can also seize up if unused for long periods of time.
  • Check your water softener: Check for leaks, and add salt or other water softening agents, if needed.
  • Inspect and touch up caulking and grout: Replace moldy, separated, or otherwise damaged grout. Ensuring that all seams, both indoors and out, stay sealed will prevent water damage, save on utility bills, and help to keep pests out.
  • Test smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors: Most of these life-saving devices can easily be tested with the push of a button.
  • Do a deep cleaning of your entire home: Though it’s fairly big project, taking this on every three months or so will ensure that your cleaning tasks never get to the impossible stage.

Biannual Home Maintenance

Even though they only need to be done a couple of times per year, these tasks will help to preserve some of the most valuable parts of your home.

  • Replace batteries in smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors: Planned replacement will ensure your detectors are working in case of emergency, and will also prevent low batteries beeping in the middle of the night or while you are out of town.
  • Vacuum refrigerator coils: These coils release the heat produced by the condenser that keeps your fridge cold. When they are dirty, they don’t work as well, causing your fridge to work harder, use more power, and even potentially fail. They are typically on the back of your fridge, or at the bottom of the front behind a grate. Clean them with a soft brush and a vacuum with a hose attachment.
  • Test your water heater pressure relief valve: This valve releases any excessive buildup of heat or pressure within your water heater, preventing a messy and damaging explosion. To test the Temperature Pressure Relief (TPR) valve, lift it up and down several times, which should lift the attached brass stem allowing hot water to flow from the drainpipe. Should little to no water come out, you’ll need to contact a plumber to replace the valve. If water does continue coming out of the valve, go ahead and raise and lower the valve to clear up debris.
  • Have your air conditioner drain line flushed: This quick process, which you can even do yourself, prevents messy, damaging leaks. Be sure to check your drip pan for leaks as well.

Home Maintenance For Every Season

In addition to the regular testing and upkeep schedule discussed above, it’s important to remember that each season comes with its own set of opportunities (and potential challenges) in terms of maintenance.

Fall Maintenance

Indoors: Switch your ceiling fan direction to clockwise to push warm air down into the room. Clean your dryer vent to prevent fires and have your HVAC system and chimney cleaned and serviced, if needed.

Outdoors: Clean up any leaves that fall in your yard, making sure that no drains are blocked and that your gutters are clear. Protect your outside plumbing from freezing weather by turning off any exterior faucets and winterizing your pool and sprinkler system.

Winter Maintenance

Indoors: Pay extra attention to your furnace filters and keep the temperature inside your home to at least 55 degrees, even if you will be gone. To prevent sink pipes from freezing on very cold days, you can open the cabinet doors below the sink or additionally run a trickle of hot water.

Outdoors: If you live in an area with a lot of snow and freezing weather, make sure that you have the supplies you need for snow removal, including a roof rake to prevent ice dams.

Spring Maintenance

Indoors: Switch your ceiling fan direction to counterclockwise to pull cool air up into the room. Look for any leaks during thaws, and plan for the necessary repairs. Make any landscaping updates that you have been planning.

Outdoors: Spring is a great time to power wash the exterior of your home and perform any paint or stain touch ups that are revealed. Clean up any winter debris in your yard. Add fertilizer and a fresh layer of mulch to your garden beds.

Summer Maintenance

Indoors: While checking your air conditioner or HVAC filter regularly is important, it will work more efficiently to cool your home if you change it if needed, before hot temperatures hit. Repair any screens or windows that are letting in pests.

Outdoors: Mow your lawn regularly, and water your yard when needed. Keep your pool balanced and clean, and tackle any exterior repairs or projects that will be easier in warm weather.

How Much Should You Budget For Home Maintenance?

Now that you have a better grasp of many of the maintenance tasks that go into owning a home, you might be wondering just how much all of this will cost. Making sure that you include maintenance in your budget is important — it’s a part of the “true cost” of owning a home, as it is something that no responsible homeowner can afford to ignore. While the amount is different for every individual (and every individual home), there are a couple of ways that you can estimate the amount that you will need to budget for home repairs.

The 1% Rule: The 1% rule dictates that you should set aside at least one percent of your home’s value every year for home maintenance. For example, with a $450,000 house, this comes out to $4,500 per year for maintenance.

The Square Foot Rule: Another home maintenance budgeting trick says to set aside $1 for every square foot of your house, then use that money for yearly upgrades and repairs. For example, if you own a 1,500 square feet home, you’ll want to save $1,500 each year for maintenance. You may not use all $1,500 each year, but over the long term of homeownership, your costs will average out to $1,500 per year. In addition, keep in mind that this rule doesn’t take into account the costs for labor and materials, so if you plan to hire someone to do repairs, that estimate may fluctuate.

Additional Factors to Consider When Budgeting

Although the 1% rule and the square foot rule are good guidelines, there are additional budgeting factors that may impact the amount you will need to save for home maintenance.

House Age: Most older homes require more maintenance, and the age of your appliances and other major systems needs to be considered as well.

Location: Whether you are in the humid south, the hot, dusty desert, or the freezing, snowy north, your location will impact what upkeep you will need to perform on your home.

Overall Condition: Did you buy a vintage fixer-upper, or a totally updated turn-key? The overall condition of your home will impact your budget, as one big issue, like a leaky roof, can lead to multiple smaller maintenance needs.

House Type: The suburban single family home with a large yard will require a bigger outdoor maintenance budget than a condo with a small patio (and an HOA that performs all exterior maintenance).

You Know the Maintenance, Now Land Your Ideal Home

Most homeowners find satisfaction and even joy in taking care of their home. It’s a way of preserving and growing their investment, while also creating a comfortable and enjoyable place to live. If you are ready to commit to taking care of a home that will in turn take care of you and your loved ones for many years to come, reach out to a PennyMac Loan Officer or get pre-approved online today.