Your house is your castle. Still, there are probably days when you feel more like the gardener or the stable boy than the king or queen. After all, maintaining a house takes a lot of work. But, current upkeep issues, like mopping the floor or mowing the lawn, shouldn’t be your only concern. You also need to prevent future issues from occurring, because if you don’t – well, there’s nothing worse than a castle surrounded by an unplanned and unwanted moat.
Plenty of potential home-related problems are self-evident. If, for example, you have a dead tree in your yard, leaning in the direction of your home, you know that you should have it removed. Otherwise, a thunderstorm may remove it for you and send it crashing your way. But there are plenty of nooks and crannies in and around your house that you probably would never think about unless something went wrong.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. You can head off these problems at the pass. What are some of the often-overlooked home improvement headaches in a typical house? Keep an eye out for:
The hood over your stove tends to blend in with the background scenery of your kitchen so much so that you may hardly be aware that you have one. And because of that, you may not be aware that there’s a filter in yours that requires maintenance.
“Kitchen vent hoods contain filters that are designed to trap grease, and over time the grease can build up and create a fire hazard in your kitchen,” says Sabine Schoenberg, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based real estate agent and home designer who runs the blog SabinesNewHouse.com.
To reduce your risk of a kitchen fire, “it’s important to check these filters periodically to ensure they are kept clean,” she advises, adding that it isn’t hard to do as many filters are dishwasher safe.
Here’s another potential fire threat to stave off: cracks in the material that surrounds your fireplace.
“Mortar can crack and deteriorate over time, especially near fireplaces where there is extreme heat present,” Schoenberg explains. “A few years ago there was a fire here in Greenwich, Connecticut that was caused by a hot ember falling through a crack in the fireplace surround and starting a fire.”
It isn’t difficult to seal these cracks, Schoenberg adds. But make sure the professional you hire uses a high-heat-resistant grout.
You probably don’t need to be told to replace the batteries in your smoke detectors. But do you ever replace your smoke detectors themselves?
Eric Holt is a home designer and a teaching assistant professor of home design at the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate & Construction Management at the University of Denver. He advises that every once in a while you should replace not only the battery, but the entire detector as well.
“The detectors age, sensors get clogged. They still may operate, but they may not be up to building codes or standards anymore. Many smoke alarms have carbon monoxide equipment built into them. It’s just a good idea, every once in a while, to upgrade the equipment.”
Water Line’s Main Shut-Off Valve
This doesn’t seem like anything you would need to worry about if your water is running just fine, but in a way, that’s the problem. If you don’t have water issues, you probably wouldn’t think about your main shut-off valve. But once a year, you’d be wise to call in a plumber to turn your water off, says Dean Bennett, a residential designer and contractor in Castle Rock, Colorado.
If you decide to handle this task yourself, proceed with caution. When you turn your water back on, do so slowly, as a sudden increase in water pressure can cause fittings and hoses to blow. And if you notice that the valve is old, leaking or calcified, hire a plumber to replace it right away.
Why is this important? One day, you may need to turn off the water line’s main shut-off valve. And if you can’t, you could have a crisis on your hands.
“We worked with a homeowner who was working on a leak [in] his kitchen sink,” Bennett recalls. “He couldn’t shut off the water, and so he decided to turn off the water main. But it hadn’t been turned off in 10 or 15 years, and all of the calcification on the valve wouldn’t allow him to turn off.”
And the sink pipe kept leaking. The homeowner, Bennett says, wound up with a lot of water damage, including flooding in his basement.
As noted, you probably know you need to remove a diseased tree. But what about the healthy and hearty trees that are near your home. If they’re close enough, their branches may act as highways to your roof for mice, chipmunks, squirrels and possibly even raccoons and other little and not-so-little critters. Those animals can do some serious damage, chewing shingles, shutters, insulation and eventually making their way into your home’s attic or crawlspace.
Even if your trees don’t touch your home, you may not be out of the woods. The Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management recommends that homeowners keep limbs six to eight feet from the house so that squirrels can’t jump onto your roof.
You’re probably well aware that it’s important to have your gutters cleaned, but are you having them cleaned often enough? Most home improvement experts say that you should have your gutters cleaned out twice a year, more depending on the type and number of trees in your yard.
If you don’t have leaves and other debris removed from your gutters, they can clog after a heavy rain or in the winter, when the ice on your roof melts. This could cause water to seep into the roof, down the walls of your house, and into your foundation. And damage to your home’s foundation could cost thousands of dollars to fix.
Although you can clean your gutters yourself, it’s very dangerous, and you risk damaging your gutters and roof shingles. Therefore, it’s strongly recommended that you a hire a professional to handle this job.
And while they’re up there, they can inspect the rest of the roof for any damage from hail or animals, says Bryan Nugent, who has a handyman service, My Reliable Handyman, in Budd Lake, New Jersey.
A fresh coat of paint can rejuvenate the look of your house, and it can protect it too.
“If you wait too long to do exterior painting, especially the sills and trim, but also the siding, the siding and trim will start to rot and eventually have to be replaced,” Bennett says. “Depending on where you live and what the weather and humidity [are] like, the time frame for painting could be as soon as five years or as long as 10 years.”
However if a part of a wall or a window sill is already rotting, don’t think you can just paint over it and hope for the best. Well, you can, but it probably won’t work out well for you. “If the wood is wet from rot, and you paint over it, all you’re doing is sealing up the wetness. It may last a year before the paint deteriorates, and moisture gets back in, and the wood continues to rot,” Bennett warns.
Obviously, if you can’t afford to paint your house, you can try to put off painting for several months. But don’t put it off for very long or it could cost you a lot more down the line.
It can be disconcerting and discouraging to list all the areas of your home where things could go wrong. But at least it isn’t hard to determine if you do have a potential problem, Nugent says.
“All you have to do is walk around and poke things with a pencil or something like that. A lot of people look at their house, but they don’t inspect it. It doesn’t take an expert to tell if your windowsills are about to fall off, or if you have a loose railing on the stairs. But you do have to be in a regular routine of inspecting your home,” Nugent says.
Even inspecting your home just once or twice a year can help a lot. Because, yes, you aren’t only the king or queen of your dwelling. You’re also the royal gardener, the royal janitor and the royal lookout.
Keep Reading: Step Up Your Ladder Safety