REALTOR RESOURCES: MONTHLY HOME MAINTENANCE TIPS

January – Clean Your Chimney & Range Hood

CHIMNEY
Dirty chimneys are a leading cause of house fires. Whether you have a gas fireplace or you burn wooden logs, it’s important to regularly clean out your chimney to ensure its efficacy and safety.

Though you could try to tackle this job yourself, it’s best to avoid all the tarps and tapes and brushed and just call in a professional. It’ll cause you much less stress and a chimney inspection usually only costs between $100-$250 depending on what kind you have and how accessible it is.

To prevent future fires, clean out the ash after each fire and add it to your compost pile to give your soil a boost.

RANGE HOOD
With all that holiday cooking, it’s a good idea to clean the grease from your range hood to keep it working efficiently and prevent fires.

  1. Using a microfiber cloth or paper towel and some grease-cutting spray, wipe down the outside front of the hood.
  2. The underside will be harder to clean because that’s where grease builds up the most, so you may have to switch to a heavy duty but anti-scratch brush for this part. Use the grease-cutting spray and brush to remove any buildup.
    1. If you find stains that can’t be removed with the brush, try making a paste by mixing some baking soda and warm water and apply that to the stain. Let that sit for a few minutes and then use the brush to scrub it away.
  3. Remove the filter from the range by moving the metal loop to the side and follow these steps:
    1. Fill your sink with warm water, baking soda, and dish soap
    2. Soak the filter for 15-20 mins
    3. Using the brush, scrub the filter until it’s clean
    4. Let the filter air dry and then reinstall it
  4. Lastly, if you noticed an abundance of grease during your cleaning process you should consider calling in a professional to clean out the range hood’s ductwork. Grease buildup in the duct can cause fires and prevent your system from working properly.

Though it can be tempting, try to avoid cleaning your hood filter in the dishwasher. Grease from the filter can come loose and clog your dishwasher, which will just create an additional — and probably more costly — problem to solve.

February – Preventing Fires

CLEAN OUT YOUR DRYER VENT
February is the time to check your dryer vents and ducts for buildup of lint and other debris. This will help prevent inefficiency, increased energy bills, and even fires. Plus, you might find all those missing socks!

  • Use a leaf blower to remove debris from dryer ducts
  • Cover the outside vent with a mesh screen to prevent birds from nesting

Following these steps twice a year can help you avoid a clog and, subsequently, a roughly $100 charge from the professionals.

TEST YOUR SMOKE DETECTORS
According to the National Fire Protection Association, dead batteries caused 25% of smoke detector failures from 2012-2016. Take a few minutes to ensure all detectors in your house are in working order.

  • Test each smoke detector by pressing and holding the button on the unit. It may take a moment to sound, but once it does you should hear a high-pitched alarm. If the sound is quiet or non-existent, replace the batteries.
  • Test each carbon monoxide detector by pressing and holding the button on the unit. It can take up to 20 seconds for the alarm to start, so be patient. As with smoke detectors, if the sound is low or non-existent, replace the unit’s batteries.
  • As an additional safety measure, inspect your fire extinguisher. Check for any outer damage such as corrosion or leaks, and lift it to ensure it’s still full. If your extinguisher has a pressure gauge, make sure the arrow is in the green section; if you don’t have a pressure gauge, press the pin and if it pops back up then your unit is pressurized.  If your fire extinguisher isn’t pressurized then it’s a good idea to purchase a replacement.

Smoke & carbon monoxide detectors should be checked once a month and replaced completely every ten years. You should check your fire extinguisher every month as well, but a full service inspection should be done by a fire protection company every five years.

March – Detecting & Preventing Leaks

ROOF & GUTTERS
Can you believe how much rain we’ve gotten over the past month? With all the roads flooding, it’s very likely you (or your clients) may have experienced some flooding of your own. March is the time to check your home for leaks!

  • Inspect windowsills for water leakage
  • Check interior ceilings and walls for water damage
  • When it’s dry enough, check your roof for any damage or missing shingles

It’s also important to make sure that all our recent storms haven’t caused clogs in your gutters. If water is backing up, it can cause damage to your roof, siding, and even foundation.

  • Remove any excess debris from all gutters to ensure they’re directing rainwater away from your house and draining properly

You should check your roof and gutters at least twice a year — more often if your property has a lot of tree coverage. Keeping up with this maintenance will help avoid a $200+ charge to have your gutters inspected/repaired by a professional.

PLUMBING LEAKS
It’s a good idea to check for plumbing leaks periodically, especially after all the freezing temperatures lately! Some leaks are very small and imperceptible, but can cause a lot of damage if they aren’t caught early.

  1. Turn off all your house’s water sources including sinks, toilets, washing machines, dishwashers, ice makers, sprinklers, etc. 
  2. Remove the cover on your water meter. 
  3. If your meter has a flow indicator — a small triangle that rotates whenever even a small amount of water passes through the pipe — watch it for a few minutes to see if it moves. If it does, you’ve got a leak. 
  4. If you don’t have a flow indicator, write down the numbers on your meter and check them again in an hour to see if they’ve changed. If they have, you’ve got a leak.

Once you confirm you have a leak, your next job is finding it. The most common leak sources are toilets, outdoor spigots, and irrigation systems, and since we’re just coming out of the winter season there is a good chance some of your exterior plumbing pipes have cracked. If your leak source isn’t immediately apparent, your best bet is to call in a plumber before the problem gets bigger.

April – Easy Spring Checklist

The weather is about to change, and with that comes some new considerations for the season. Here are 3 ways to make sure your home and the area around it is in top shape before summer hits.

  • Replace your return air filter
    It’s important to do this every 3 months to keep your system working at top efficiency and doing so in the spring will help filter out this season’s dreaded tag-a-long: pollen. Remember to turn your system off before replacing the filter, and write the replacement date on the new filter before you install it.
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  • Check your sprinkler system
    You’re about to start using your sprinklers pretty consistently, so check them out now! Look for leaks, damaged or crooked sprinkler heads, and any part of the system that isn’t working. The best way to do this is to turn each section on one by one so you know which part – if any – requires maintenance. If your system needs a pro’s help, it could cost around $150. If you just need tor eplace a head or two though, you can probably do that yourself with some parts from your favorite local hardware store.
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  • Fix any low spots in your yard
    All the rain we’ve had lately may have shifted things in your yard and created low spots with poor drainage. If you want to avoid hiring a landscaper, the quick fix is to fill small valleys yourself with new, clean, weedless dirt. Your grass will grow through a few inches of dirt, but if the hole you need to fill is deeper than that, it’s probably worth bringing in a pro.

May – Cleaning Your Garbage Disposal

This simple chore only takes a few minutes and makes a huge difference in those pesky kitchen odors!

  1. Pour half a cup of baking soda into your disposal
  2. Then pour in 1 cup of white vinegar — this will form a chemical reaction that cuts through grease and grime inside the disposal
  3. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes
  4. Pour a pot of boiling water down the disposal and let it sit for 5 minutes
  5. Turn on the faucet and run your disposal for one minute to rinse out any leftover residue

To keep up your maintenance, add some water and chunks of unpeeled lemon to your ice cube tray and freeze. Every once in a while you can throw a cube or two through the disposal to keep it clean and smelling fresh.

June – Preventing Mold

Summer’s heat creates the perfect conditions for mold to flourish. Stop it before it has a chance to settle in your home with these simple steps:

  • Lower your thermostat – the cooler the temperature, the lower your chance of developing a mold issue
  • Leave your AC fan on “auto” instead of “on” – when it never turns off, moisture can’t drain off and will be blown back into your home
  • Don’t limit airflow to certain rooms by closing vents – this leads to condensation buildups on grills and walls

Once mold infiltrates your home it can be very costly to have it remediated — think roughly $3,200 depending on severity! Make sure you’re following these recommendations to avoid a bigger problem down the line.

July – Caulking

Freshening up your home’s caulking is a quick and relatively easy chore that can net you a whole bunch of benefits:

  • It lowers your utility bill by reducing air leaks
    • It also improves air quality and can prolong your HVAC system’s life
  • It prevents unwanted pests such as ants from entering your home
  • It helps avoid moisture buildup and possible water leaks, which can contribute to mold and rot

Make sure to check the caulking on all windows, doors, attic entrances, recessed lights, and electrical panels/outlets to ensure they are all sealed properly.

If you want to go the full mile you can have a professional seal and insulate your air ducts to help even more. Though it can cost anywhere from $400-$1,000 for a pro’s help, you can offset the cost with savings up to 30% on your monthly utility bill.

August – Preventing Infestations

End-of-summer pests can create a real problem for homeowners, especially if you don’t start treatment right away. Here are three of the main ones to be concerned about:

  • Wasps
    • Wasp activity peaks in late summer, and if they find shelter on your property they can make outdoor time pretty painful. Check for nests regularly if you’re seeing more wasps than make sense, and if you find one call the pros in right away. Though removal can cost anywhere between $100-$400, it’s probably worth avoiding the stings yourself.
  • Mosquitos
    • Everyone knows these bugs can carry some pretty nasty stuff, never mind making you itch all over. Check your lawn and gutters for standing water and remove it quickly to prevent hot spots. You can also spray for mosquitos (and wasps!), which should lessen the amount you have to deal with.
  • Termites
    • July was swarm season, so this is the month where many people find out they’ve got termites. Have a professional check your bait traps to confirm whether or not you’ve got an infestation, and make sure your termite bond is active to prevent problems and protect you if you do get one. You should also make sure any wood mulch in garden beds isn’t going right up to your brick siding; mulch is a great food source for termites, and if it’s beside your home it can lead them right in.

September – Clean & Repair Siding

By the end of summer, your siding is probably looking a little dirty and could even be sporting some mildew buildup. Early fall is a great time to get it cleaned up and check for areas that may need some sprucing up.

  1. Thoroughly wash your siding with soapy water.
  2. The following day, once everything is dry, use some caulking to fill in the gaps between any areas where two pieces of siding meet. Smooth it with your finger and wipe it down with a damp sponge to get rid of excess. 
    IMPORTANT: Don’t ever caulk the underside of your siding! This area should be left open to allow for your siding to expand and retract during weather changes.
  3. Let everything set for a few days and then pressure wash the area.

BONUS TIP: If you don’t want the cost associated with hiring a pro for this job, use a good camera or drone to zoom in on your siding and look for problem areas. You can also do your own pressure washing to reduce cost. Renting a machine is around $35; purchasing one will set you back somewhere between $100-$200, but it’ll come in handy for years to come.

October – Preventing Burst Pipes

In Alabama we don’t really start thinking about winter until the end of the month, but it’s good to get ahead of the cold weather as soon as you notice your grass going dormant. Even though we don’t get much snow, the temperature can dip below freezing and cause problems in homes that haven’t been prepped for the weather change. Starting a few projects to help winterize your home now will go a long way in preventing burst pipes and costly damages.

  • Drain and store your garden hose
    If you have a downslope by your house, unravel your hose on the hill and allow it to drain. Next, roll the hose back up starting with the portion at the top of the hill to encourage any leftover water to drain out. The best place to store your hose during winter is inside, but if it’s properly drained then you can also safely store it in a garage or outdoor shed.
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  • Remove excess water from your irrigation system
    This step is a little more complicated and, if done improperly, can cause damage. Though you can find some online resources and videos that explain how to DIY this, it’s best to call in a professional for this one. Don’t forget to turn the irrigation system’s water off, though, or have someone from the city do it if you can’t. Some areas have a minimum monthly irrigation payment that’s separate from the house water bill, and turning this off will help you avoid that bill for a few months.
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  • Insulate exterior pipes and faucets
    Faucet & pipe insulation devices can be found easily at hardware stores and are an inexpensive way to protect your home. Find some at your local Lowe’s for less than $5 each and install them on any exterior pipes and hose faucets.

November – Service Your HVAC

Whether you’re still holding out or you’ve already caved and turned the heat on, it’s a good idea to service your HVAC system before the winter weather really set sin.

DIY Task List:

  • Dust all heating returns and vents
  • Swap out your air filter at the start of each new season
  • Clean and unclog your HVAC grilles by tossing them in the dishwasher (sans dishes, of course)

Calling in a pro will cost you around $75/hr, but they can go the extra mile and do a full tune-up, which usually involves lubricating moving parts and checking for carbon monoxide leaks.

December – Beef Up Your Insulation

Improper insulation can lead to a significant loss of heat and might higher energy bills. Avoid this by checking your insulation before it really gets cold and repairing/replacing problem areas.

  • Attic insulation should be level with your floor joists. If the insulation sits lower than the joists or looks like it’s packed down, you should probably add some more.
    • You can lay down fiberglass batts yourself for anywhere between $100-$500 for the average open attic
    • Calling in the pros can set you back up to $1,800 depending on the type of insulation you choose
  • Depending what you use your garage for and what you store in there, you may want to consider insulating your garage door as well. Standard insulation kits can be purchased at your local hardware store and installed fairly easily. Check out this guide for more info.
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