5 Home Maintenance Tasks You Are Not Doing But Should
Most homeowners do not like wasting money and want their homes to function well and efficiently.
We want to do our part to reduce our environmental impact, live comfortably in our homes throughout the year and know that our home’s components will do their job effectively whenever we need them to.
At the same time, most of us have schedules packed with work, family and social obligations, and it is easy for regular home maintenance tasks to fall off of our radar.
This is particularly true of tasks that only need to be completed once a year or even less frequently.
Most of us remember to change our furnace filters and to adjust our automatic irrigation systems with the changing seasons, but far fewer of us remember things like vacuuming our air ducts every couple of years.
Read on to learn more about five home maintenance tasks that most homeowners ignore but that can extend the life of your home’s components, make your home run more efficiently, save you money and even make your home safer when completed regularly.
These are not weekly — or even monthly — tasks, so once you complete them, you do not have to think about them again for six months or more.
Of course, that is one of the reasons so many of us forget to do them in the first place.
But once you know just how important they are in keeping your home running properly, you will be much more likely to set a reminder on your digital calendar or find some other way to keep them on your long-term to-do list.
Here are five household tasks you really should add to your list along with tips for completing these tasks as painlessly as possible.
1. Inspect Your Home for Termites
Checking your home for termites is difficult to do on your own and is best left to the pros.
This is mostly because they can infest your home in areas that are difficult to inspect, which means you could very easily miss them.
However, just because it is difficult to do, does not mean it doesn’t need to be done.
Termite inspections are usually less than $150, so it is not cost prohibitive for most homeowners to simply schedule an expert to inspect their home once every year or so.
However, if that is outside of your budget or termite damage is not at the top of your list of concerns, here are some tips for a self inspection:
- Look for sawdust. Little piles of sawdust in cupboards or near your baseboards are a good indication that you probably have some termite activity.
- Look for holes, cracking paint and small paint bubbles on the wood inside and outside your home. If the wood is bare, you may see small holes along the surface. If the wood is painted, you may see small paint bubbles.
- Inspect your attic, crawlspaces and deck. If your deck is close to your house, termites can easily travel from one to the other. This is why checking your deck is just as important as looking for termites in the crawlspaces under your home and that attic.
- Poke at the wood with a butter knife or pocketknife. Carefully poke around the wood a bit to see how easily it gives. This perhaps is not something you want to do on your crown molding, but this is a good one for your fascia. If it easily falls apart, termites might be to blame.
- Keep an eye out for swarms of flying ants. Okay, you are really keeping your eye out for swarms of termites, but most people do not know what they look like, so flying ants is a good image to store in the back of your mind during inspections. If you see termites swarming near your home, there is already a colony in the area or there soon will be.
- Look for wings. Once those swarms find a new home, they drop their wings, so look for tiny, almost clear wings near your baseboards, on your counter tops or on your windowsills.
- Knock on wood. When you knock on wood and it sounds hollow, it might be because termites have been eating it away inside. You may also notice termite droppings falling on the ground when you knock on the wood.
Again, if you are at all concerned about a termite infestation, you really should spring for an affordable, professional inspection.
It is easier and less expensive to rid your home of these wood-eating pests if you catch them in the early stages of establishing a colony.
It usually takes quite a while for termites to do any serious damage to a home, which is why you can be relatively lax about inspections and just do them every one or two years.
But if you see any signs of damage or a colony, you should contact a termite company for a consultation and a professional opinion about your best next step.
2. Clean your air ducts and vents.
This is particularly important in older homes and homes with floor registers, but all homes need their air vents and ducts cleaned regularly to ensure proper air flow, limit indoor allergens and conserve energy.
The first and easiest step is to check the vents for obstructions, which will help your heater and air conditioning function more efficiently and help keep your home a more comfortable temperature throughout the year.
Make sure there are no curtains, rugs or furniture blocking air flow and causing wasted energy.
The next step is to check your ducting for damage or leaks, which is going to require crawling your way through the crawlspace under your home and climbing up into the attic, depending on where your air ducts are located.
While you are crawling around looking for damage or partially blocked ducts in need of repair, run your heater and check for leaks.
You can also have a professional come out for a little preventive maintenance to check your furnace, air conditioning unit and ducting, which is usually a better idea than doing it yourself.
You can also have him or her change your air filter while they are there, which will allow you to cross one more item off of your yearly home maintenance to-do list.
You may also want to leave the more difficult — and sometimes more disgusting — task of vacuuming your air ducts to the professionals as well.
To keep your climate control system functioning properly and efficiently, and to limit the allergens in the air in your home, your ducts need to be vacuumed every two years or more frequently.
When you clean your air ducts, you may only find some dust and hair, or you may find larger debris, toys and all manners of nastiness that can clog ducts and inhibit air flow.
If you choose to save a few hundred dollars by vacuuming your air ducts yourself, here are the basic steps to complete this task:
- Turn off the power to your climate control system.
- Remove and clean your air intake cover(s).
- Use a shop vacuum or other high-powered vacuum with a long hose to thoroughly vacuum your ducts as far as you can reach.
- Use a damp rag to remove any remaining dust and debris inside the wall.
- Reattach your air intake cover(s).
- Remove and clean the vent covers on your floor, wall or ceiling registers.
If you do decide to make this a do-it-yourself project, you can save quite a bit of money, but you still might want to consider having a professional duct cleaning company perform this task every few years to make sure they are as clean as possible.
3. Install a carbon monoxide detector, and check it regularly.
The Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act went into effect way back in 2011, but plenty of California homeowners still are not aware of this law or the importance of installing a carbon monoxide detector in their homes.
In California, you have to have a carbon monoxide detector installed in your home if you own a single-family home with a fossil fuel source or attached garage.
That means pretty much every homeowner in the state needs one, but that does not mean that every homeowner in the state has taken the time to install one.
Considering the very serious and potentially fatal consequences of not having a carbon monoxide detector, the number of homeowners who have not made the quick trip to their local hardware store and spent about five minutes opening the package and plugging a CO alarm into a socket is a bit surprising.
It really is that easy.
You can purchase a battery-powered, hardwired or plug-in CO detector, or you can purchase a plug-in or hardwired CO detector with a battery backup, which is even better.
For folks who do not want a bunch of extra alarms all over their house, you can even purchase combination smoke alarms-CO alarms that will serve both purposes and help keep your family safe.
If you already have carbon monoxide detectors in your home, you should be testing them about once a month to make sure they are functioning properly.
Newer alarms should have a manufacture date or expiration date on the back.
Be aware of this date so that you can replace your alarm in a timely manner.
Carbon monoxide detectors usually need to be replaced about every five years of so, so if your alarm does not have a date on the back, you might want to go ahead and install a new alarm that will, since it is probably time to replace it.
4. Clean your dryer vent.
According to a 2012 report published by FEMA, there are an estimated 2,900 clothes dryer fires per year in the United States, which cause an estimated 100 injuries and five deaths, as well as about $35,000,000 in property damage and loss.
The study further found that the first items most often ignited in these fires were dust, lint and fiber and that the leading cause of these fires was failure to clean.
So let’s avoid all of that and go over just how easy it is to clean your dryer vent and help your dryer perform its duties in a safer, more efficient manner.
- Unplug your dryer, turn off the gas and move your dryer away from the wall enough to allow you to access the dryer vent.
- Remove the vent clamp and remove the vent from your dryer.
- Use a dryer vent brush to clean the exhaust hole in your dryer and the vent.
- Reconnect the vent, reattach the vent clamp and move your dryer back to its normal position.
- Go outside and remove the exterior vent cover.
- Use the dryer vent brush to remove debris.
- Replace the cover.
- Plug in your dryer, turn on the gas, and test your dryer to ensure proper air flow.
5. Clean your refrigerator’s condenser coils and condenser fan.
Dirty coils make it more difficult for your refrigerator to release heat, which means its compressor has to work harder, which means wasted energy and a shorter lifespan.
Keeping your fridge’s condenser coils clean helps it run more efficiently and can extend the life of this expensive appliance, which can save you money on your energy bill, repair costs and replacement costs.
If your refrigerator’s coils are located under the fridge with access from the front or back, then there will also be a condenser fan on the back of your fridge.
If the coils are located on the back of your refrigerator, than there will not be a fan to clean.
Here’s a rundown of how to clean your coils and fan:
- Turn off the power to your refrigerator, which may include unplugging it or turning off the appropriate circuit breaker.
- If your refrigerator is hooked up to water for a water dispenser or ice maker, you will need to turn off the water.
- If your refrigerator has coils on the back, you will need to move it away from the wall to access the coils (or the fan if the coils are on the front).
- Remove the grill covering the coils and/or fan.
- Use a coil cleaning brush or the crevice tool on your vacuum to remove dust and debris from the coils, fan and surrounding area.
- Replace the covers, move your refrigerator back into its usual position, and turn on the electricity and water.
Condenser coils and fans should be cleaned every six months, or more often if you share your home with lots of pets or live in an area where there is a lot of dust.