7 Must-Have, Money-Saving Home Maintenance Routines
If you're a new homeowner, home maintenance may be a totally foreign concept to you. No longer will a landlord be checking on your furnace filters or coming into replace appliances when they go out.
So, what's essential, and what's not? And perhaps more importantly, which maintenance items will save you money now and in the long-run, and which will add value to your house?
Home Maintenance for First-Time Homeowners
When it comes to monthly home maintenance items, the most important ones involve checking functionality of items that are typically taken for granted and ensuring that no hidden damage has occurred to your home.
Overall, these aren't big projects (unlike, say, an upgrade you might make with a PACE loan) because what the homeowner will be doing is minimal, but they are an important part of your routine. You always want to make sure that things that should be moving keep moving and the things that shouldn’t be moving aren’t.
Keeping the Air Flowing Efficiently
Air conditioners and heat pumps can use a lot of electricity if they’re not properly maintained. Most people don’t properly maintain them because they have no idea how to. However, it’s not that difficult, once you know what’s what. These are the main three items that need to be addressed.
A furnace filter is dirty when it starts to change color, not when it’s so clogged full of dust and hair that you can barely get it out of the holder. That being said, most filters should be changed at least once a month, if not more often. It can become a large expense, which is why so many homeowners neglect this important task. You can pick up a washable electrostatic filter on Amazon for about $50, just make sure choose one with an appropriate MERV rating for your air handler.
What’s happening when your filter gets dirty is that the tiny holes in the filter get plugged. This reduces the amount of air that’s coming into the air handler, reducing the amount of air that can be cooled at once and raising the cost of cooling your home. The same is true of heating it. A clogged up furnace filter will cost you plenty and prematurely age your HVAC system. Electrostatic filters just need to be washed and they’ll often last longer than the furnace.
There’s a line running out of your furnace or air handler that carries excess water from the pan under the A-coil (where the cooling of air happens) and away from your home. It might pop out in the yard or be placed near or in a drain, depending on your configuration. This actually requires regular cleaning because bacteria and algae can collect in it and clog it up. A clogged condensation line is a mess, so you'll really want to avoid this by keeping it clean.
Clean the condensation line by pouring a cup of vinegar cut with a cup of water directly into the line (there will be an access on or near the outside of your furnace). If the water doesn’t start moving, leave it to sit overnight and try again. Bleach is another recommended compound for this job, but vinegar is less dangerous on your body in confined spaces.
That big unit outside your house is your air conditioner compressor. It works to keep the coolant that's circulating in the A-coil as cold as possible. To do this, it uses all those tiny fins to extract heat from the coolant as it moves between the two units. When the fans are clogged up or bent, it’s harder for the unit to do its job, and like with a filter, it’ll just start to clog and cost you a lot of money.
Once a month during air conditioning season, you should hose all four sides of the compressor down thoroughly with a regular garden hose to get all those little bits of dust and debris out from between the fins. Keep at it until the water runs clear (and it’s OK if it starts to run while you’re at it). Also move anything that’s within about two feet and get any climbing weeds or grass off the unit. The better the air flow to the compressor, the less electricity it’ll need.
Regular Inspections for Health and Safety
There are mini-inspections you can perform on your house monthly to keep it in good shape, and save you money in the long-run.
Smoke Detectors/CO2 Detectors
Even if they’re hardwired, your smoke detectors and CO2 detectors need to be tested. A direct-powered smoke detector can fail just as easily as a battery-powered one. If it beeps, you’re good to move to the next one (sorry about your ears).
The fancy outlets in your house with the test button are called ground-fault circuit interrupters. They’re like little breakers for individual circuits, which is a great thing when something goes wrong. You can test using the button, but not all GFCIs will reliably show damage this way. Instead, grab a GFCI tester from your favorite home improvement store and follow the instructions to check them once a month.
You should be looking at your roof more, but there's no need to get a ladder out yet. Using a pair of binoculars, you can see most of the roof, certainly enough to see problems that can later be confirmed by a roofer. While you’re looking for inconsistencies in your shingles, go ahead and check for loose flashing around chimneys, as well as sagging soffits or rotting fascia. If you have shutters on a second story, you can easily inspect them with the same technique.
No one likes a leaky pipe and they can seriously damage your home if left unchecked. Water not only means rot, it invites pests and mold of every variety. Monthly, check under all the sinks for leaks while simultaneously running the water.
Also check for seepage coming from the faucets themselves. As they age, the rubber washers inside many types of faucets start to dry out and shrink, leaving a space for water to escape. Do the same checks for water lines that run to water heaters, refrigerators, and other water-using devices.
There are a ton of things a homeowner needs to keep an eye on in their home, but most of the time these are items they use every single day. For example, it's easy to tell if the garage door is getting squirrley because you hear a strange grinding sound when you try to open it -- now, it's up to you whether you can afford to fix it now or wait. Regardless of your attitude toward home maintenance, it's a good rule of thumb to fix problems promptly to avoid more expensive repairs later.