It’s that time again, time for homeowners to perform a little routine maintenance and check for any new problems that might have arisen over the past year. Although spring is the traditional time for major home repair and improvement projects, fall and winter maintenance helps spot problems before they affect comfort and utility costs during the long and chilly winter.
If your customers aren’t quite sure where to begin, here’s a short DIY home inspection checklist that covers some of the most important points to get them started.
#1: Foundation Cracks and Gaps
If the foundation isn’t strong, nothing else can be. But major foundation defects, such as broken masonry and serious cracks, aren’t all that common in a well-maintained house and they’re not the only things to worry about.
Look at the whole foundation for minor cracks and gaps. Bob Vila recommends looking for gaps around plumbing pipes and wires, as well.
In wintertime, gaps let blistering cold wind whip through the crawl space. Seal them up using a masonry sealant of good old-fashioned caulk. For larger gaps, expanding urethane foam in a spray can works wonders. While you’re at it, close crawl space vents or cover them.
#2: Air Leaks Around Windows and Doors
For every drafty window, there’s likely a simple fix: caulk. Check the exterior of every window, pull out old, broken or loose caulk and replace it with fresh sealant. The same method applies to exterior doors.
Once that’s finished, move indoors and caulk the seams around windows and doors, too, which helps keep warm air inside where it belongs.
#3: Attic Floor Insulation
While your home might need more insulation in other parts of the house, those are jobs for mild weather. With winter on its way, the attic is easier to access and new attic insulation can have a dramatic effect on comfort and heating bills.
Just because there’s insulation in place doesn’t mean that it’s effective or even worth saving. If the paper side of insulation on the floor faces you, it’s installed incorrectly and should be flipped over. The paper isn’t a covering; it’s a vapor barrier, which Today’s Homeowner says should always face toward the living spaces. On an attic floor, that means the paper faces down.
If the insulation is crushed flat, it’s no longer effective and should be replaced. But if the insulation looks great, you can probably still use more of it. The minimum amount of insulation on an attic floor should reach the top of the floor joists. You can blow in loose insulation to cover it or install a second layer of blanket insulation over the existing. If you use more blankets, lay them in the opposite direction of the existing layer to get more coverage.
#4: HVAC and Fireplaces
If you haven’t had a heating system checkup yet, now is the time to schedule one. An HVAC technician will change the filter, inspect the wiring, run the system through its paces and recommend repairs that might be necessary.
As for fireplaces, the safest approach is to never light the first fire of the season until you have an inspection. You can clean the chimney flue using a chimney sweeping brush. It’s shaped like a ball but made of stiff wire that scrapes off creosote. That job usually takes two people—one on the roof to pull the brush up and one at the hearth inside to pull the brush back down. It’s a messy job and one that a professional chimney inspector and technician can do for you.
Speaking of heat, take stock of any space heaters used in your home. If they’re more than a few years old, it may be time to replace them with something new, safer and compliant with the most recent electrical regulations.
Fall and winter maintenance is all about keeping warm air in, cold air out and protecting the structure from the elements. Aside from the big jobs, new homeowners will probably want to clean the gutters, inspect the roof for loose shingles using binoculars and cover or remove any window-mount air conditioners. The list is only as short as the time the homeowner has to devote to maintenance.
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