Home Maintenance

How to Maintain Your Home

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Exterior Design Institute
Expert information about exterior siding, including the synthetic stucco
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Aluminum Wiring & Federal Pacific Electrical Panels & Other Home Inspection Related Topics
All about the hazards of aluminum wiring, Federal Pacific circuit breakers
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Home Maintenance Information

A home is complex system of interrelated components and systems.  As a home ages the
components of the home wear, and eventually will fail to perform adequately.  A systematic and
regular program of home maintenance is a good idea for any home, and can extend the life of the
home indefinitely.  If home maintenance is deferred for extended periods, then the home owner
is forced to make repairs on an emergency basis, which is usually more costly and certainly
inconvenient.

A systematic regular home inspection and maintenance program will also make you aware of
conditions and components that may need attention soon.  Yearly roof inspections, for example,
will give enough advance notice to allow you to obtain several roofing quotes to get the best
combination of price and service. If on the other hand, no regular maintenance and inspection is
done, and the roof suddenly leaks, you will need an “emergency repair”, which will probably be
inconvenient and expensive.
In addition to monitoring systems which wear out, simple structural monitoring can also be done
by you. It is not uncommon for people who have been living in a house for some time to  notice
that a crack has appeared in a wall or that a door does not close properly. With regular
monitoring, the cracks which occur in the wall surfaces or the door can be monitored and
recorded over time. A calibrated crack monitoring device can be installed if you wish, however
periodic recorded measurements will usually suffice. A comparison of the measurements over an
extended period of time can provide valuable information to an engineer if structural problems are
suspected.

EXTERIOR  COMPONENTS OF THE HOME
Chimneys should be inspected for loose or deteriorated bricks or mortar. If covered with stucco
or parging, look for cracks or loose sections. Chimney caps should be inspected for loose or
broken sections as should the protruding clay chimney liners. Chimney flashings should be
inspected for damage. Efflorescence (a white salt build-up on the chimney) indicates moisture
within the chimney and further investigation is required. Metal chimneys should be checked for
rust, missing rain caps and loose braces.

Roofing should be inspected for damaged, loose or missing shingles. Flashings at dormers,
plumbing stacks, valleys, et cetera, should be carefully inspected. Supports for television
antennas or satellite dishes should be checked. Tree branches should be kept cut back to avoid
damaging the roof surface.
Flat roofs should be inspected for blisters, bubbles, and flashing details. Tar and gravel roofs
should be inspected for areas of gravel erosion. Tree branches should not contact the roof
surface.
Gutters and downspouts should be checked for blockage, leakage (from rust holes or leaking
joints) and areas requiring re-securing. Downspout seams should be checked for splitting (the
seam is usually against the wall). A split downspout is often plugged with debris. Water
accumulates in the downspout, freezes and splits it open.
Soffits and Fascia should be inspected for loose and rotted areas. Paint condition should be noted.
Safety Note: The above items are best inspected by a professional  contractor who can safely
mount the roof. We do not recommend that the home owner perform this work due to the
inherent hazards involved in climbing ladders and mounting roofs.
Walls should be inspected for deteriorated brick and mortar, cracking and evidence of settlement
or movement.  Wood or wood product walls should be checked for rot, loose or damaged
boards, caulking, and wood/ soil contact. If paint deterioration is the result of blistering or
bubbling, the cause should be determined. It may be due to outward moisture migration from the
interior of the house, indicating more serious problems. Metal and vinyl sidings and shingle
sidings should be inspected for mechanical damage and loose or missing components. Vegetation
should be kept cut back from the siding and wood trim (windows, doors, eaves, etc) and from
gutters.
Soil/surface Grading immediately adjacent to the house should be checked to ensure a slope of
one inch per foot for the first six feet away from the house (where practical). Buried drains and
catch basins should be cleaned and tested.
Doors and Windows:   Caulking and weather-stripping should be checked. Broken or cracked
panes of glass should be replaced. Storms should be installed in the fall and screens in the spring.
The finishes should be checked for paint deterioration and rot (particularly sills). Window wells
should be cleaned.
Decks & Porches should be checked for rot and insect infestation. Wood should be painted or
stained as required. Steps and railings should be checked and maintained secure.
Garages should be inspected. Wooden components should be investigated for evidence of rot or
insect infestation. Automatic garage door openers should be tested monthly for proper safe
operation, and repaired to assure that a potential hazard does not exist.
Paths & Driveways should be checked for cracks and deterioration. Settling which will result in
surface water run off towards the house should be corrected.  Uneven sections which pose a
safety hazard to pedestrians should be replaced or patched.

STRUCTURAL COMPONENTS
Foundation Walls should be checked from within the basement or crawl space for evidence of
deterioration, dampness and movement. Limited dampness from slow moisture migration can be
is common with most older foundation walls. This will often result in minor surface deterioration
that can be repaired, however it is always better to eliminate the cause of moisture penetration
from the exterior first.  Foundation walls may show cracks. Tight cracks that are either
approximately vertical or stair-step pattern are common, and are usually the result of minor
settlement of the foundation footings. Unless the cracks are more than 1/8” wide or appear to be
a recent change, they are not usually structurally significant. Horizontal cracks, or any cracks
wider than 1/8 inch in a masonry foundation wall need professional evaluation to determine if
structural repairs are needed.
Concrete floor slabs should be inspected for evidence of cracking or settlement. Although tight
shrinkage cracks are common and usually acceptable in poured concrete floor slabs, any
depressions or change in elevation of the floor slab is cause for concern and should be
professionally evaluated.
Access hatches should be provided to all crawl space areas so that they may be inspected.
Wood Beams and other wood structural components visible in the basement should be checked
for evidence of structural failure such as cracking, rot and wood destroying insect infestation.
Deterioration of the beams and floor joists eventually becomes evident as sagging or weak floors,
and cracking of finish walls.  It is a good idea to maintain a service contract with a pest control
company to prevent or eliminate wood destroying insect infestations, should they occur.
Wall and Ceiling Surface Cracks:   Wall and ceiling surface cracks should be monitored for
evidence of significant movement. Minor movement due to normal settling and shrinkage should
be anticipated. Continued significant movement or cracks is a red flag for a possible structural
failure.  Door frames should be checked to determine if they remain adequately plumb and
square. Door frames showing significant movement over a six month period are normally
indications of more serious problems.

ELECTRICAL
Main Panel:   The exterior of the main electrical panel should be checked annually for rust or
water marks indicating moisture penetration. All breakers should be turned off and on to ensure
none have seized. A panel which is warm to the touch or smells of burned insulation should be
brought to the attention of an electrician. All circuits should be labeled. Ground fault circuit
interrupters should be tested monthly. The area around the panel for roughly three feet in all
directions should be kept clear of storage. Components & wiring within the electrical panel
present hazards to non-professionals and should be inspected only by qualified persons..
Indoor Wiring:   Poor or loose connections noted when viewing the exposed wiring in the
basement should be corrected by a qualified electrician. Frayed or damaged wire, including
extension cords, appliance cords and plugs, should be replaced. Loose outlets and switches
should be tightened. Ground fault circuit interrupter electrical outlets should be tested monthly.
Outdoor Wire:   The mast head and the wires leading to the street (if overhead) should be visually
inspected to make sure that they are not loose or frayed. Overhead wiring leading to out buildings
such as garages should also be inspected. Exterior outlets should have proper covers. Ideally,
ordinary exterior outlets should be replaced with ground fault circuit interrupter type outlets.

HEATING
All Forced Air Systems:   Conventional filters on forced-air systems should be checked monthly
and cleaned or replaced as needed. Electronic filters should be checked monthly and cleaned as
needed. The manufacturer’s instructions should be followed carefully. Care should be taken to
ensure the interior components are installed in the correct orientation after cleaning. Noisy air
handlers should be brought to the attention of a technician. Water levels in humidifiers should be
checked and adjusted monthly. Interior components should be replaced on an as needed basis.
The pad on drum type humidifiers should be replaced annually. The water supply to humidifiers
should be shut off for the summer months and activated for the heating months.
Hot Water Systems:   Radiators and convectors should be inspected annually for leakage
(particularly at the valves). Radiators in hydronic systems should be bled of air annually, and as
necessary during the heating season. Circulating pumps should be lubricated twice during the
heating season. Expansion tanks should be drained annually.
Steam Heating Systems: The water level in the sight glass should be checked frequently, and
water kept at the marked level (usually mid-way up the sight glass).  The need for very frequent
water addition is a sign that there may be a leak in the system. The low water cut-off device
should be drained of a few pints of water on a weekly schedule during the heating season to
prevent clogging.  Some steam boilers have electronic water level sensors that do not need to be
drained. Radiator air valves should be checked for operation or leakage, and replacement on a
five year schedule is a good idea.  These valves should be sized to equalize heating.
Electric Heat:   Electric furnaces and boilers should be inspected by a qualified technician every
year to ensure that all the components are operating properly and no connections are loose or
burned. The fuses or circuit breakers in some electric systems can be checked by the
homeowner. Electric baseboard heaters should be inspected to ensure an adequate clearance
from combustibles. Baseboard heaters which have been mechanically damaged should be
repaired or replaced.
Oil Furnaces and Boilers:   Oil systems should be checked by a qualified technician on an annual
basis. Oily soot deposits at registers of forced-air systems may indicate a cracked heat
exchanger. A technician should be contacted. The exhaust pipe from the furnace or boiler should
be checked for loose connections or corroded sections. The barometric damper on the exhaust
pipe should rotate freely. The chimney clean out should be cleared of any debris. The oil tank
should be inspected for leaks. Soot on the front of the furnace or boiler may indicate a draft or
combustion problem. A technician should be contacted.
Gas Furnaces and Boilers:   If gas odors can be detected, call the gas company immediately. Do
not turn on any electrical equipment or use anything with an open flame. Gas furnaces and
boilers should be cleaned and serviced annually. The exhaust pipe should be checked for loose or
corroded sections. The chimney clean out should be cleared of any debris. The heat shield
(located where the burner enters the heat exchanger) should be checked to ensure that it is not
loose or corroded. Burn marks around the heat shield may indicate a draft or combustion
problem. A technician should be contacted.
Wood Stoves:   Wood stove chimneys and flues should be checked for creosote build-up and
cleaned at least annually (more frequently depending upon use). Clearance to combustibles
around wood stoves should be maintained at all times. If there is any doubt about the safety of a
wood stove, contact the city building inspector immediately.

COOLING/HEAT PUMPS
A qualified technician should be engaged to inspect the system and recharge it if necessary
annually. Most systems require the power to be on for up to twenty four hours before using the
system. A condensate drain line emerging from the ductwork above the furnace should be
visually checked for leakage during the cooling season. The outdoor section should be level. If
the outdoor component settles or heaves, adjustments should be made by a specialist. The
refrigerant lines should be checked for damaged, missing or loose insulation. Debris and
vegetation should be kept away from the outdoor component of the system. Most manufacturers
prefer to have the outdoor component left uncovered during the winter to prevent rust. The
outdoor coil should be kept clean. A noisy fan may mean a bearing problem or misalignment.
Window air conditioners should be removed for the winter.

ATTICS
Attics should be inspected annually for water stains on the underside of the roof sheathing. One
should also look for rot, mildew, and fungus indicating high humidity levels in the attic. Check to
make sure the insulation is not wet. Some types of loose insulation are prone to being blown
around during periods of high wind. Check for bare spots and ensure that insulation is not
covering recessed lights. Attic vents should be checked to ensure that they are not obstructed.
Vents at the eaves are often plugged with insulation. Watch for evidence of pests (squirrels,
raccoons, etc.). Rafters (supporting the roof) and collar ties (horizontal members running across
the attic between opposing rafters) should be inspected for cracks or other defects.
Safety Note: Attic spaces without floors are dangerous places to enter.  If you are not careful
you may slip off a floor joist and fall through the ceiling of the room below. Install boards or
plywood panels on the attic floor in areas where access is needed to service equipment.

PLUMBING
Supply Plumbing:   Supply plumbing should be checked annually for leaks. Precautions should be
taken to ensure that plumbing in areas such as crawl spaces will not freeze during winter
months. Outdoor faucets should be shut off from the interior and drained for the winter. Operate
the main shut-off valve and critical isolating valves to ensure proper operation in the event of an
emergency. Leaking or dripping faucets should be repaired. Well equipment should be inspected
semi-annually. A water quality test should be performed periodically on the advice of local
authorities.
Waste Plumbing:   Visible waste plumbing should be checked for leaks. Basement floor drains
and exterior drains should be checked and cleaned as necessary. Slow drains within the house
should be cleared. Basement floor drain traps should be filled with water to ensure that they are
not broken. If cracked, or if the water has evaporated, sewer odors will enter the house.
Septic tanks should be checked and cleaned if necessary every year.
Fixtures:   Toilets should be checked to ensure that they are properly secured to the floor. Listen
for toilets which run continuously. Grouting and caulking at all bathroom fixtures should be
checked and renewed as necessary. Sump pumps should be tested.
Water Heaters:   Gas fired water heaters should be checked to ensure that flues and vents have
not come loose or become blocked. All water heaters need a functional safety release valve with
a discharge pipe installed to direct hot water to a safe location if the valve releases. Look for
evidence of leakage at connections and water heater tank seams, as these indicate that the water
heater is failing and needs to be replaced.

INTERIOR
Walls and ceilings should be inspected for cracks in interior finishes. The amount of movement
should be noted so that it can be monitored in the future. Bulges in wall and ceiling surfaces
should be carefully monitored. Separated plaster, particularly on ceilings, can fall and cause
injury.
Walls, particularly in comers and areas of dead air (behind drapes for example), should be
checked for evidence of condensation and mildew indicating high humidity levels within the
house. Water stains on interior finishes should be noted. If the source cannot be detected, they
should be monitored.
Door frames should be inspected. Door frames which become out of square during a relatively
short period (six months) may indicate structural problems.
Condensation on windows indicates high humidity levels during winter months. This can
sometimes lead to rot and unhealthy conditions within the home.
Fireplaces and chimneys should be cleaned and inspected at least annually, depending upon usage.

WOOD DESTROYING INSECTS  
Carpenter Ants:   Carpenter ants are the largest variety of common ants found in North America.
Carpenter ants do not eat wood; however, they do nest in it. They earned their name by building
galleries in wood and by carefully finishing the surfaces of these galleries. When chewing their
way through wood they leave small particles resembling saw dust which they push out of the
colony. It is the presence of this saw dust which indicates a colony. Carpenter ants tend to be
most active in the spring and early summer. They are usually dormant during a portion of the
winter. Outdoors, they feed on other insects and plant material while indoors they feed on
household food.
To prevent a carpenter ant infestation, decayed wood should be removed from around the
building. Firewood should not be stored indoors for long periods of time. Wood used where
dampness may occur should be treated with a preservative. Food stuffs, such as sugar, should
be stored in closed containers and, should a spill occur, it should be cleaned up quickly.
Chemical control of carpenter ants should be undertaken by a qualified pest control company.
Carpenter ants often nest inside walls, ceilings, outdoor siding, eaves, floors, window casings,
etc. They prefer wet wood, and can often be found in rotting wood.
Termites:   Subterranean termites usually do not live in houses but rather in the soil below.
Termites live on wood. While they prefer damp or decaying wood, they will also eat sound dry
lumber. The damage to the wood is seldom noticeable as they eat through the interior. If there is
no direct wood/soil contact, termites must build shelter tubes or tunnels to get from the soil to
the wood. It is the presence of these tubes which indicate an infestation. The tubes are typically
1/4 to 1/2 inch in width and are made of soil glued together by the termites.
The amount of damage which can be caused by termites can be extensive. If shelter tubes are
noticed, a pest control company should be contacted immediately.