Six Expensive Home Repairs You Can Avoid With A Little Maintenance

The cost of owning a home goes well beyond the price you paid for the house itself. When something breaks, you have to fix it, and those repairs can be costly. You can't foresee or avoid every home repair, but some regular maintenance can save you hundreds — maybe thousands — on some of these big ones. Illustration by: Angelica Alzona

Inspect Your Roof Every Six Months to Avoid a Costly Roof Replacement

If you have a loose shingle or a leak in your roof, it will typically cost you several hundred bucks to fix the problem. That's not exactly spare change, but if the problem goes unaddressed, the damage will cost a lot more in the long run.

When you neglect a leak, water can seep into the insulation and other parts of your attic, which can lead to mould growth and structural damage to your attic's decking, beams and joints. At this point, you may have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to fix the problem. Duh, that's what homeowner's insurance is for, you might think. Bad news, though. Typically, homeowner's insurance only covers damage that is sudden and not preventable. Most policies won't cover any expenses you could have prevented with proper maintenance.

Check your roof at least twice a year. A few things you want to look for:

  • Loose or missing shingles and tears in the shingles.
  • Cracks in flashing (the metal or plastic seal around your chimney and roof).
  • Moisture, mould or leaks in your attic's wood panels.
  • Bubbled paint on the walls or ceiling stains (which can be signs of water damage).

For a visual guide, you can check out the video above. The point is, a thorough roof inspection every few months can help you nip any problems in the bud before they become crazy expensive.

Avoid Costly Foundation Repairs by Checking for Proper Drainage

It's natural for your home to settle a bit, but when the soil on which it stands starts to expand and contract too much, it may cause foundation problems in the structure of your home itself. Foundation repair can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over $100,000, according to hipages. With a little maintenance, you can catch foundation problems early or avoid them altogether.

According to HouseLogic, the most common cause of foundation problems is water. Changes in soil moisture typically cause foundation to crack and split, so you want to keep water away from your home whenever possible. When homes are constructed, the ground near the foundation usually slopes slightly away from the house. This keeps rainwater from pooling around the foundation to weaken the structure. That's not to say it's foolproof, though.

To ensure that water isn't pooling near your foundation, you first want to make sure to clean your gutters regularly. Clogged gutters will send water down the side of your house. Second, according to Houselogic, your downspouts should direct water 1.5 to 3m away from your house. If they don't, you may need to install a new one or, for a more extensive project, This Old House shows how to grade around foundation in the above video. They basically dig a pipe and connect it to the home's downspout far away from the home's foundation.

If your home has weeping tile — an underground pipe to drain water away from your home — you'll need to maintain that, too. If this pipe gets clogged over time, water can back up and cause your foundation to shift. You may only notice it when you start to see cracks in your basement walls. Aquamaster Plumbing offers a few signs your weeping tile may be plugged:

  • Horizontal, vertical or diagonal cracks in your basement or crawlspace walls.
  • Damp areas or pools of water under basement windows or floor.
  • A strong, musty odour — a sign of mould or mildew.
  • Stained or peeling plasterboard; mould or mildew on walls and flooring.

You should actively search for these signs and maintenance can help, too. Clean out leaves and debris from your gutters, make sure your downspouts are directed away from your home and, if you have any slow-draining sinks or toilets, get a plumber to check your system for clogs. You can also run a hose near the exterior foundation wall to ensure your weeping tile is doing its job. If it is, your home's sump pit should be filling up with that water. Your home's sump pump and pit accumulate water, then drain it away. This needs regular maintenance, too. Roto-Rooter suggests testing it by pouring a bucket of water into the pit. The pump should then turn on, drain the water and turn off. You can also remove the actual pit and clean out any sludge and debris. If it's not working properly, it's time to call a professional to get it replaced.

Too much water can definitely cause foundation problems, but at the same time, you also don't want your soil to get too dry:

Long dry spells let the soil around your house dry out and shrink. A big rain may make the soil expand, putting pressure on your foundation walls. In a drought, run a soaker hose at least 15cm from the foundation and 8cm under the soil to keep the soil from contracting and expanding.

You should also learn the warning signs of foundation problems: Cracks, water damage, warped ceilings, sagging floors and doors and windows that don't shut properly. Check your home, especially your basement or crawlspace, for any of these signs. Like most home repair jobs, the sooner you address the problem, the less you'll spend in the long run.

Inspect Your HVAC System Every Six Months to Avoid Expensive Failures

Your HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system can cost anywhere between a couple of hundred bucks and over a thousand, depending on the problem. Replacing a fuse or circuit breaker, for example, may only cost you a couple of hundred bucks. Replacing a circuit board is a bit more expensive at several hundred, and other replacements, like the compressor, can cost you over $1000. To replace the entire system altogether, you'll spend several thousand dollars.

The easiest thing you can do to maintain your HVAC system is replace your air filter regularly, ideally every 90 days. Beyond that, you can inspect the unit itself every six months. There are a few maintenance items you may be able to do yourself, but the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends hiring a contractor to check the air conditioning system in spring and the heating system in autumn. The inspector will lubricate your system's moving parts, tighten any electrical connections, clean the system's coils and replace any necessary coolant, check for leaks and check all of your gas connections. To check the system yourself, here are a few tips SFGate recommends:

  • Start with the thermostat and check all functions for correct operation. Make sure that both the heating and cooling systems turn off at the preset temperatures.
  • Turn off the circuit breakers that power both the furnace and air conditioner. The circuit breakers are in the electrical service panel. Leave both units off until after the HVAC inspection.
  • Check for loose electrical connections.
  • Listen for any squeaks or noises when manually inspecting moving parts.
  • Find the condensate drain and check for clogs. Condensation that builds up during HVAC use must drain properly to prevent rust from forming on internal parts. Clogged condensate drains also contribute to bacteria and mould growth in the home.
  • Smell for gas leaks near all gas fittings, if your home uses gas. Inspect heat exchangers or burners for cracks, abnormal discoloration or deterioration.
  • Review the system for dirt and debris. A buildup of debris and dirt affects the system's efficiency. Use a small portable vacuum to remove any dust buildup.
  • Look at the air-conditioning coils for an accumulation of dirt or dust. Vacuum the coils to improve cooling efficiency.

Inspect Old Pipes Every Year to Prevent a Sewage Backup

Sewer pipes can get clogged or strangled by tree roots, and once the main water line breaks, it can cause a flood, or a sewer backup. You'll have a big, expensive mess on your hands. Sewer backups can cost upwards of $10,000 to clean up, depending on the extent of the damage.

Especially if you have an older home, it may be worth inspecting your sewer lines every year. Find a plumber in your area that will inspect your lines. They will run a camera down the pipes and tell you if there are any clogs or obstructions. This typically costs a few hundred dollars. According to Roto Rooter:

A video camera line inspection pipe will identify all types of problems, such as root intrusion and pipe that is misaligned, broken, punctured, off-grade or corroded. The camera also identifies grease buildup, leaks and obstructions. The inspection can be repeated after any service is performed to verify that the line has been properly cleaned or repaired.

It's not just older homes, though. If you have certain types of trees in your yard, you may want to conduct an annual inspection, too. Bougainvillea, bamboo and fig trees, for example, can cause a lot of damage near sewer pipes. We found this out the hard way when our sewer line clogged and the plumber told us the bamboo roots in our yard were growing into the line. Bamboo, he said, can cause a lot of line damage. Here are even more plants to watch out for. Check out the video above to see what it looks like when roots get into a sewer line.

Check for Termites to Avoid Structural Damage

The longer termites are allowed to chew up your home, the more expensive they are to deal with. If termites are limited to a small area, it may only cost a couple of hundred dollars to get rid of them with a spot treatment. Once they spread, though, you'll pay anywhere from $2000 to $5000 to get rid of them from an average-sized home. Beyond that, termites can cause severe structural damage to your home which gets even pricier to fix.

Know the signs of termite damage to begin with. The above video shows you how to check yourself, and according to Orkin, some common signs are:

  • Buckling wood.
  • Swollen floors and ceilings.
  • Termite poop, which looks like coffee grounds.
  • Visible mazes within walls.
  • A scent similar to mildew or mould.

To keep termites in check, hire an inspector once a year. It will cost you between $250 and $350 for an inspection, but that's cheaper than the thousands of dollars you'll pay to get rid of them later — not to mention the massive cost of fixing or replacing the structural damage.

Inspect Your Water Heater Annually to Prevent Flooding

Water heaters are easy to forget about, but when they fail, they can cause a lot of damage. If pipes burst or start to leak, they can cause mould growth, or worse, flood your floors or ceilings. If the leak has caused enough damage to walls, floors and ceilings, they may need to be replaced. Repairs can cost several thousand dollars.

It's useful to know the signs of a problematic water heater:

  • Water doesn't get as hot any more.
  • There's rust in the water from your taps.
  • Your water heater makes popping sounds when it's heating.
  • Puddles and rust are forming near your water heater.

It may be that your water heater just needs repairing, though. If it's less than 10 years old, you may just call a plumber to diagnose and fix the problem. HouseLogic explains:

Because water heaters contain few moving parts, only a few things can go wrong. Pilot light on gas water heater flickers out. Circuit breaker for an electric heater trips. Burner or heating element fails. Theromostat breaks. Valve sticks. Repairing or replacing any of those parts is relatively inexpensive: A plumber can do the job for $150 [$AU197] to $300 [$AU394].

Water heaters don't last forever, though. The International Association of Home Inspectors says the average lifespan of a water heater is 10 years. If your water heater is over 10 years old and it starts to fail, it's likely time for a replacement. In an IBHS study, water heaters older than 20 years old accounted for 95 per cent of water heater claims. You should inspect your water heater annually to make sure it's running properly. This Old House has a useful step-by-step guide to do this. The video above shows you how it's done.

Homeownership can be expensive, even when you just consider the regular maintenance involved with it. It's a lot more expensive, however, when you ignore that maintenance altogether. With a little prevention, you can ensure you don't have to deal with the headache of these common, pricey repairs.


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