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12 Maintenance Issues to Fix Now Before They Turn into Major Headaches

We don’t think twice about having our cars regularly serviced. Why don’t we do the same with our homes? After all, we spend enormous amounts of money on renovations. But more often than not, rather than maintaining the work, we wait until something is broken before getting it fixed.

Lucky for us, San Francisco architect Malcolm Davies of Malcolm Davis Architecture is a stickler for home maintenance. Here, he shares a dozen ways to look after your living quarters—and save money in the long run.

N.B.: Featured photograph by Trent Bell, from The Ultimate Indoor-Outdoor House on 36 Acres in Coastal Maine.

Check the paint on the exterior of your home for cracks and chips. Photograph by Bruce Damonte via Mark Reilly Architecture, from 11 Ways to Add Curb Appeal for Under $100.
Above: Check the paint on the exterior of your home for cracks and chips. Photograph by Bruce Damonte via Mark Reilly Architecture, from 11 Ways to Add Curb Appeal for Under $100.

Remodelista: What’s the most important takeaway when it comes to home maintenance?

Malcolm Davies: Like just about everything, houses require tuneups. Too often people think of replacing instead of maintaining. But whether you live in a newly renovated place or otherwise, doing a thorough walk-through once in a while helps preserve your house and keeps it in working order.

RM: Where do we start?

MD: Begin with the  exterior paint job–look at it and make sure it is kept clean. Gravity and water are the enemy, so if you see a crack or chip get it painted immediately.

Johannes Norlander Arkitektur Morran House Roof
Above: Davis recommends having your gutters cleaned in August, before the rainy season. Another good time to get them cleared is late fall, when gutters are often filled with fallen leaves. Photograph by Rasmus Norlander, courtesy of Johannes Norlander Arkitektur, from Architect Visit: Johannes Norlander in Sweden.

RM: So what sort of things should we be paying attention to?

MD: Keep your gutters clean. Someone should go on the roof and clear the perimeter drains and gutters and also check the flashing on the roof [the material that covers joints, chimneys, skylights, etc]. By doing this, you’re making sure that water won’t get trapped and cause damage. Don’t put this off until the rainy season. Do it in August.

RM: Exterior electrical issues to be aware of?

MD: If you have wires going into the house, such as for cable or telephone, to keep them dry, it’s better for them to come up through a hole not down. (If you bring them down from above, make sure the wires have a little dip like a plumbing drain to keep water out.)

Perrycroft facade with green paint and stucco in Autumn in Malvern by Jim Powell
Above: Lush foliage and shrubs certainly add curb appeal, but they can also cause rot problems if they’re touching your house. Photograph by Jim Powell for Gardenista, from Beneath the Brambles: C.F.A. Voysey in an English Garden.

RM: Any tips for protecting the perimeter of your house?

MD: On the exterior of your house, keep everything six to eight inches away from the walls. A lot of people plant right up to the edge of the house, but you need to keep soil and flowers away to avoid rot. Instead, replace soil with gravel or a similar drainage solution.

RM: Hidden menaces we should be aware of?

MD: Don’t water your house. It’s important to check the reach of your sprinklers and make sure that they are not spraying the house. Often sprinklers are on at night, so you might not realize that the house is being watered. You also want to avoid anything that can lead to standing water.

RM: Other tips for exterior maintenance?

MD: To avoid vermin, look around the perimeter of your house and stuff any small space bigger than a dime with steel wool.

RM: Window maintenance?

Old windows are charming but may require extra care. Photograph by Marili Forastieri, produced and styled by Zio & Sons, from A 1700s Stone Farmhouse in the Hudson Valley, Discovered via Google.
Above: Old windows are charming but may require extra care. Photograph by Marili Forastieri, produced and styled by Zio & Sons, from A 1700s Stone Farmhouse in the Hudson Valley, Discovered via Google.

MD: Check for any cracks in windows and for peeling paint. If water gets into a frame, it can rot the jamb. In double-paned windows, when the paint starts peeling on the outside, water can get in between the glass and the frame and make it fog.

RM: Safety measures we should be attending to?

MD: This is an obvious one: check smoke detectors. They are there for a reason.

Taavo Somer Living Room Upstate from Freeman's Book
Above: It’s important to have your fireplace and chimney checked annually. Photograph by David Prince, courtesy of Harper Collins, from Freemans: Food and Drink | Interiors | Grooming | Style. See Steal This Look: A Rustic Farmhouse Living Room in Upstate New YorkSee .

RM: Chimney sweeps?

MD: If you have a chimney and burn soft woods, this can create a lot of creosote that can build up over time and be a fire hazard. Get the chimney inspected.

RM: Often overlooked maintenance issues?

MD: In old houses, locks and door knobs should be checked. If they start feeling loose or won’t turn properly often all that you need to do is tighten a set screw on the side.

hudson valley kitchen dunja von stoddard wide
Above: Don’t overlook the filters in the vent hood. Make sure to regularly clean them. Photograph by Justine Hand, from Kitchen of the Week: Hudson Valley Farmhouse Kitchen Reborn.

RM: Advice for the kitchen?

MD: Clean the filters on the vent hood in the kitchen–grease buildup can lead to a fire. This can be as easy as placing the filters in the dishwasher.

RM: Final thoughts?

MD: In newer houses, there are many more complicated systems to tend to, such as radiant floors and lighting control systems. If you don’t know how to use these properly–maybe the lighting isn’t set up  the way you want it but you don’t know how to change it–call in a professional. Also, doing maintenance yourself is fine, but if it’s something you find yourself putting off, hire someone to do it. There are plenty of professionals out there who do this for a living and could use the work. The bottom line: keeping your house in good condition saves you money in the long term.

N.B.: This post is an update; it was originally published on Remodelista on Oct. 18, 2013.

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