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Keeping a home in good condition requires constant attention. Like a vehicle or even our health, we must address small problems before they become big problems. When we fail to deal with them immediately, we run the risk of allowing the problem to escalate into one that can cost even more money–and possibly endanger our lives.
When it comes to a house, there is no question that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are seven ounces of prevention that every homeowner should make use of.
Indoor plumbing is one of the great innovations of human invention, but it is not without its hazards. For all its value to life and health, water is an incredibly persistent and potentially destructive force that can quietly cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Watch for leaks all the time. You may hear dripping sounds or even just strange sounds from the pipes. There could be wet areas on walls, ceilings, or floors. At the first sign of any water leak, investigate it.
See if you can locate it, and then assess your ability to repair it. “Push-fit” plumbing parts can be used to replace a variety of leaky items, and they don’t require a torch or any skill with soldering. A simple tubing cutter, a piece of sandpaper, and a knowledge of where to turn off (and bleed off) the water is all they require. If it’s beyond that level, call a plumber.
Another area where water can cause trouble is drainage. Clogged gutters are more than a nuisance. They can overflow, allowing water to accumulate around foundations, deck supports, and other fragile areas. Watch for overflowing gutters during rainfall, and be observant as you mow or work outside. Keep gutters, downspouts, and their discharges clean, and make sure runoff goes away from the house.
Note any unusually muddy areas, especially new ones. Site drainage can also cause problems. Heavy, wet areas can slowly push water into cracks in foundations and basement walls, leading to excessive moisture inside that can cause mildew, mold, and rotted structural components. If you see this issue, install corrugated drain lines to pull water away from the house.
Any electrical component that gets hot, smells bad, makes noises, or operates intermittently should be disconnected from power and examined right away. Even if you are not a professional, it’s recommended to have a good multimeter around your house to be able to perform basic electrical checks. When things go wrong, the wiring can damage appliances and other fixtures, and it can also cause a fire. Wires can become brittle, switches can overheat, and countless other problems can develop.
Most homeowners can easily replace these simple elements by simply turning off a breaker and swapping them out. However, any issues in the breaker box or in the wires themselves may require an electrician.
Furnaces, blower units, and heat pumps are very expensive. In addition to proper maintenance, which includes filter replacement and annual inspections, these units should be checked any time that they aren’t providing adequate temperature change, do not turn on or off correctly, or make any unusual noises or smells.
Place a hand in front of vents and check for the temperature and velocity of air. If it seems abnormal and is accompanied by the other symptoms we’ve mentioned, something could be wrong. This equipment is very complex and involves high voltage, so it’s probably best to call a technician for any problem.
What looks like such a tiny pest can be immensely damaging to a house. Termites quietly eat away at the wood in your home, making no noise and remaining out of sight. Once you see them, they have already done extensive damage. You may see what looks like winged ants swarming inside the home in the spring. Examine one: if you see it has two body segments instead of the three that ants have, it’s a termite.
There are no home remedies for termites. The products required to kill them are too hazardous to handle and too difficult to apply for untrained homeowners. At the first sign of termites, you should immediately contact an exterminator.
What seems like a quiet, loyal appliance providing hot water for our homes can be a very real threat to our homes and even to our safety. Water heaters operate under immense pressure, so any issue with a leak can quickly become dangerous should it worsen. A ruptured tank can do catastrophic damage to a home and can injure occupants as well.
Water heaters are also a threat with slower leaks. These can contribute to corrosion on the tank itself and potentially damage electrical components. At the first sign of a leak in a water heater, contact a plumber to discuss your options. Repairs are rarely possible, so prepare yourself to buy a new one.
Every winter, we see a few stories of families who tragically die from carbon monoxide poisoning. Stories like these are frightening, and they should always inspire us to be vigilant for carbon monoxide issues. Odorless, colorless, and highly poisonous, carbon monoxide can slowly sicken and even kill the home’s occupants, particularly in their sleep when symptoms are not noticeable.
Anything that utilizes combustion in the home can generate carbon monoxide. That includes water heaters, ranges, furnaces, fireplaces, and generators. Equip your home with carbon monoxide detectors. Keep fresh batteries in them, and heed their warnings when they activate. Leave the house. Don’t open any windows, as this can make it more difficult for authorities to locate the source. Get outside and call 911, and do not re-enter until it is safe.
Because most of us think home repair projects are expensive, we often ignore signs of potential problems. That approach can lead to much higher repair costs and can even threaten the safety of your family. Understand these and other causes of problems in the home so that you can identify and address them before you have to buy a pound of cure.