Simple Steps You Can Take to Preserve Your Investment

Did you know that, as a homeowner, you can do many simple maintenance tasks to protect your home and extend the life of its components? Often, a new home buyer will move in to their dream home and not realize that periodic maintenance is not only necessary, but may make their investment appreciate in value. The tips below are examples of some of the simple things you can do to make your home-owning experience a long and happy one.


Before you move in to your new home, please be sure to check all major components to verify that your builder has done everything to your specifications. If anything is amiss, contact your builder to request repairs within a specific time frame. Also be sure to ask your builder the location of things such as the circuit breaker panel, water shut-offs, gas shut-offs, sewer cleanouts, phone box and any buried systems or lines, such as propane, electric, cable and phone. In addition, ask your builder for all appliance manufacturers' warranties and the recommended maintenance schedules for such things as HVAC filters and regarding soil moisture maintenance around the foundation.


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A is for Attic


Attics come in all shapes and sizes. In modern homes, the roof construction often has roof trusses which preclude any storage space in the attic. Occasionally, attics may be built with an area large enough to use for storage space. If this is the case with your attic, be careful to not store extremely large or heavy items which may not be supported by the attic floor, or which may interfere with the insulation. Also keep in mind that if you store things in your attic, the temperatures will be extreme. Never put items in the attic which could be flammable or damaged by heat/cold.


INSULATION: Today's homes are built to be energy-efficient. Insulation types include blown cellulose and traditional fiberglass. Blown cellulose may shift or move and leave areas uninsulated. If you notice this, readjust the insulation to cover properly. Also be sure that the insulation does not block attic ventilation. If you need to move fiberglass insulation, wear gloves to protect your hands.


LOUVERS: Attics may have louvered vents which allow hot air and moisture to escape. Always keep these vents unobstructed to prevent moisture damage to your attic.


RAFTERS: Visually examine your rafters and attic sheeting periodically. Dark spots or water stains could be your first sign of a roofing problem. Follow the wetness or stain to its highest point to locate the exact source of the leak. Also look for outside light or staining around chimneys and vents.


Very cluttered attic

B is for Bath Fixtures


Bathtubs, sinks and showers can be composed of china, porcelain enamel or fiberglass-reinforced plastic. All of these surfaces can be damaged by harsh chemicals, gritty materials or things which can scratch or stain the surface. In addition, each of these surfaces has its own care checklist.


CHINA & PORCELAIN ENAMEL: While these surfaces appear to be glossy and impervious to damage, they can be scratched or chipped. Abrasive cleaners will also damage the finish. Use either a cleanser which is non-abrasive, or use a mildly abrasive cleaner with a lot of water.


STAINLESS STEEL: These surface resists staining very well. Clean with a non-abrasive cleanser, or a specific cleaner made for stainless steel.


PLASTIC: A plastic surface will stain and scratch very easily. Use only a non-abrasive cleanser with such surfaces. If the finish begins to look dull, you can apply a wax or surface protector finish to restore the shine and to make daily cleaning easier.


GLASS: Some shower doors are glass. For regular cleaning, use liquid dishwashing detergent. DO NOT use bar soap, as it will leave a residue. In addition, after every use, wipe the glass with a sponge to avoid water spots.


Shiny silver bath fixtures
Open and closed circuit breaker box

C is for Circuit Breakers


Part of your home's electrical system is the breaker box. Included in this box, usually located in the basement or a utility closet, are a master circuit breaker and smaller circuit breakers.


MASTER CIRCUIT BREAKER: This switch will cut off all electricity to your home.


CIRCUIT BREAKERS: These prevent your wiring from overloading by automatically cutting the power if a problem is detected. When a breaker is tripped, first check to see that the problem which cause it is resolved (such as too many appliances plugged into one circuit). Flip the circuit breaker to a full-off position and then flip back to full on. Your power should be restored.


POWER OUTAGES: From time to time, storms or accidents may disrupt service to your house. If all electrical service to your home is cut, first check to see if your neighbors have power. If they do not, then call your power company to report the outage. If your neighbors do have power, then the problem is at your house. Check your master circuit breaker and individual breakers. If the problem is not there, you will need to call an electrician for assistance.


Pressure-treated wood deck

D is for Decks


Although not every home has one, decks have become a popular addition to a house. Modern decks require minimal care, but they still need occasional attention. Decking materials include pressure-treated wood, redwood, cedar, composite materials, plastic materials and aluminum materials. Each has steps you can take to prolong its life.


PRESSURE-TREATED WOOD: This type of wood will last between 15-18 years if maintained. Every other year, clean and seal it with water-repellant. If splinters develop, you will need to sand it before resealing. With this wood, a board may occasionally warp or pop up. Simply screw it back in place or replace that board if necessary.


REDWOOD: The highest grade (called heartwood) of this decking has a life of 20- 30 years. Lower grades are pressure-treated and have varying lifespans. Maintenance is similar to pressure-treated wood, but less frequent.


CEDAR: Cedar decking will last for about 20 years. It will resist warping, insects and rot, as the grain is tighter than other woods. Like redwood it requires minimal maintenance.


COMPOSITE MATERIALS: Composite is a combination of plastic and wood. Although it is low-maintenance, it does need some care. Color will fade and it can stain if something is spilled on it. In addition, mold and mildew may develop. Use a warm, soapy water and a bristle brush to remove the mold or mildew.


PLASTIC DECKING: This material is like composite, but contains no wood. Plastic needs little maintenance. In extreme temperatures, plastic may become brittle (in cold) or may expand and contract (in temperature fluctuations), but this is generally not problematic.


ALUMINUM DECKING: Aluminum lasts a lifetime and is VERY low maintenance and easy to clean with warm, soapy water.


Electrical transmission tower

E is for Electricity


While you've already learned about what circuit breakers are and how they function, there is more to know about the electrical service provided to your home.


OVERLOADS: As you may remember, when a circuit overloads, the breaker is tripped. But what if this occurs again and again? Chances are good that you are plugging too many small appliances or one large appliance into a circuit which cannot handle that load. At that point, you should contact an electrician to see if you need a different type or additional wiring.


GFCIs: Another facet of your electricity are ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). These are installed in any place you may be using water and electrical appliances simultaneously, such as in the bathroom or kitchen. If an electrical appliance were to fall into water, these interrupters would immediately cut the flow of electricity to protect you from harm. Once per month, you should test the GFCIs with the "test" button on the outlets. Sometimes, a GFCI will trip unintentionally. If a GFCI outlet suddenly stops working, try pushing the "reset" button to correct the problem.


Warm and inviting fire in fireplace

F is for Fireplace


Don't you just love curling up by a crackling fire in dreary, cold weather? While fireplaces add ambiance and comfort to your home, they do require periodic maintenance to keep them burning brightly. Here are steps you can take to keep your fireplace in flame-ready condition.


WOOD BURNING FIREPLACES: The first time you use your fireplace, be sure you have it properly outfitted before doing anything else. Every wood-burning fireplace must have a hearth, andirons or a grate and a properly-sized screen to prevent embers from popping onto your flooring. First, test your fireplace to ensure all is set to begin using. Open the damper, place a newspaper on the andirons/grate, and light it. Take note to see that the smoke is drawn up the chimney. If so, you may begin using your fireplace.


When using your fireplace, you must always open the damper first. But when not using the fireplace, close the damper to avoid losing warmth or coolness in your room.


A hazard of wood-burning fireplaces is a substance called creosote. Creosote is created when tar and moisture combine in your chimney and build an increasingly thicker residue. It is dangerous because it becomes a fire hazard. You can take several steps to deal with creosote. First, never burn fresh wood or a soft wood such as pine logs - both create tar. Second, avoid large, smoldering fires. Third, get the fireplace and chimney professionally inspected and cleaned on a yearly basis.


During the burning season, you may do simple cleaning to keep your fireplace looking like new. Avoid chemicals and abrasive cleansers. For glass and the exterior surfaces, just wipe with a soft, damp cloth.


GAS FIREPLACES: Gas fireplaces have less maintenance than wood-burning ones. Gas fireplaces may have a chimney, or they may simply vent outside through the wall. At the onset of the season, check that the vent or chimney is clear of bird nests or debris.


As with any other gas appliance, gas fireplaces should be used wisely. Never smoke while cleaning or lighting the pilot light. Also, if you think there is a gas leak, evacuate your home and call your gas company from outside the home, as a mobile phone can ignite gas.


To clean the fireplace, use a damp cloth on the metal parts and a glass cleaner on the glass. Annually, vacuum and brush the burner/control area (with the pilot and the gas turned off). Carefully dust the fragile logs with a soft brush. If a log breaks, do not use the fireplace until you have replaced it.


Roofline of dormer windows with rain gutters

G is for Gutters


An integral part of your roofing system is the gutters and downspouts. Paying attention to the maintenance of these components will protect your home's exterior as well as your foundation. When a gutter is clogged with debris, such as leaves, bird nests or tree limbs, rainwater overflows rather than drains. This drainage can crack your foundation! Keep the gutters clear!


Several products are on the market to help avoid debris clogging your gutters:


MESH: A mesh gutter guard attaches to your roof's shingles and covers the gutter to prevent debris from entering. This guard has holes to allow rain to flow into the gutter. Small holes are better than large ones in this type of gutter cover.


BOTTLE BRUSH: A bottle brush gutter guard is covered with bristles which resemble a round, nylon hair brush. The bristles fill the gutter to prevent debris, but water filters through them and drains to the downspout.


REVERSE CURVE: This gutter guard bows upward to deflect debris, but has a small slit to direct water into the gutter.


FOAM: A foam gutter guard fits into the gutter and blocks the debris from entering.


NYLON: Nylon gutter guards also insert into the gutters, but do not attach to the shingles.


In addition to preventing clogged gutters, you may need to do a few other tasks to keep your rainwater draining happily. While vinyl gutters never need painted, aluminum ones will need an occasional coat of paint. All other metals must be painted with rust resistant paint every 4 to 6 years.


After every winter, do a visual survey of your gutters to assure that snow and ice have not caused any damage or detachment from your home. Also check your downspouts for clogs and install drainage hoses to direct water away from your foundation.


Forced hot air vent
Hot water radiators
Air filter

H is for Heating System


While you might think of your heating system as the type of furnace you have, quite a few other components are just as vital to being sure you are comfortable in those frigid months of winter. Here are maintenance tips to keep all the parts of your heating system in impeccable condition.


FORCED HOT AIR SYSTEMS: One type of heating system combines a furnace with a blower to push hot air through vents throughout your home. The forced hot air furnace may be powered by gas or oil. Components of the system include a thermostat, air filter, ductwork, vents, air returns and the furnace/blower. An optional component is a humidifier.


The thermostat can often be programmed for best efficiency. You can save heating costs by programming the temperature to a lower setting at night. While the thermostat is fairly maintenance-free, you will need to change the battery on an annual basis.


Another cost-saving measure is to change the furnace filter every three months. This filter, which removes dust and debris from the air, is usually located near the blower unit, immediately before the returning air is pulled back into the blower. Before shopping for a replacement filter, be sure to write down the size of your old one. Some filters are washable rather than replaceable. Read your instruction manual for specific cleaning directions.


Your hot air system has two different types of vents. The first are vents which channel hot air from the system into your room. They usually have adjustable louvers to help direct the air. The second are vents, usually on the wall, which return air from the room to the furnace unit. The air returns have a slider to open or close the vent. In the winter, you should close the returns near the ceiling and open the returns near the floor.


If you have a humidifier, you should clean it regularly and occasionally replace the evaporative pad.


The final component of a hot air system is of course, the furnace. To keep your unit functioning well, have it serviced and cleaned annually by a qualified technician.


HOT WATER HEATING SYSTEMS: The hot water system has a furnace, either oil or gas-burning, which heats water and then pumps it through piping or tubing. This piping may be in the ceiling, walls, floors, baseboard units, or cast iron radiators. Heat is transferred first through radiating and then through convection as the hot air rises.


If you have baseboard units or radiators, you should periodically clean them of dust and debris. At some point, you may notice that the units do not radiate as well or as evenly as they once did. This could be from air buildup in the pipes. Most radiant units have bleed valves which can be opened with a "key." First, be sure the heating system is running. Start at the radiator which is farthest away from the furnace. Hold a cup under the valve and turn the key counter-clockwise. Air will hiss out and then be followed by hot water. When the water starts, bleeding is finished. Turn the key clockwise to close the valve. Continue this process throughout your house.


ELECTRIC HEATING SYSTEMS: Electric heat is another type of radiant heat. Instead of water providing the warmth, electric heating elements do the job. This type of system is usually installed in baseboard units, and is nearly maintenance-free. Periodically, dust or vacuum the baseboard units to keep them working efficiently.


HEAT PUMP SYSTEMS: A heat pump is a combo system which provides both heating and cooling. When the weather is cold, a heat pump will draw heat from the air or ground, and transfer it to your home. In warm weather, the pump reverses the process and draws coolness from the air or ground and into your home. While this system is efficient and economical, it is not as effective in colder climates. If you live in an area which gets cold winters (below 30), you would need to have a supplemental heater added to your heat pump.


Like a hot air system, the heat pump has a filter which needs to be changed. You will also need to clean air vents and intake returns to remove dust and pet hair.


Outdoors, after you turn the power off to the unit, you should periodically wash the outside portion of the unit with a garden hose to remove grass clippings, dirt etc. Never use a pressure washer on the unit, and be careful to not damage the coils and fins inside the housing.





Insulation, mask and gloves

I is for Insulation


Ah! You've just moved into your new house, and everything is perfect, just as you'd dreamed. Time to kick back and enjoy life in a new home - right? Well, yes and no. While your house is made to exacting specifications and the highest current standards, there may be ways you can improve, especially in the area of insulation. Whether it's cold and you're trying to improve your heating costs, or it's hot and you're trying to maximize your A.C., insulation is the key to efficiency and low heating/cooling bills. Read more to see how you can do even better in these areas.


Builders typically use insulation in the walls and attic. But other places, such as recessed lights on your top floor, the attic access door and the areas around windows and doors, will need maintenance to keep them well-sealed from the outside temperature.


RECESSED LIGHTS: If you have recessed lights in your upstairs rooms, they likely vent into the attic space. Check the light bulb housing to see if it is labeled "ICAT," which is an acronym for "Insulation contact and air tight." If so, no need to do anything. But if you don't see that label, it's probable that that light needs insulated. Simply buy an airtight baffle, remove the light bulb, insert the baffle into the housing and replace the bulb. Simple, yet effective fix!


ATTIC ACCESS DOOR: Even if your attic access door has insulation on top, it may need a little work to give a complete seal. You have two choices - first, you could use caulking to fill the opening between the door and the frame, or second you could apply weatherstripping around the edge of the opening. Just filling that little gap will eliminate any draft or breeze from the attic.


WINDOWS AND DOORS: Over time, you may start to notice a draft around once air-tight windows and doors. This is a signal that you may need to replace the caulking or weatherstripping. Begin by removing the old caulking or weather stripping. Most hardware stores sell a caulk remover which will help soften the old caulking. Next, use a utility knife to pry and lift the old caulk out. Then wash the area with warm, soapy water and let dry. For the next step, you will need a caulking gun. Cut off the tip of the caulking tube about 1/8" and insert the tube into the caulking gun. Moving the gun away from the caulking bead as you pull the trigger, slowly apply the caulk evenly to make a complete seal. Do not push the caulking gun forwards to apply, as it will smear the caulk. Finally, dip your finger in water and then gently run your finger along the line of caulk to push it into place. Remove caulk from your finger as necessary while doing this.


J is for Joists


Your house is built and you move in. All is well, and you love everything about it. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, you notice that every time you step on that one spot of the floor, you hear a little "screeeeeeek." What's going on? These sort of squeaks happen after the house settles and the wood used in the flooring dries out and shrinks. When you step on the floor boards, whether solid wood or plywood subfloor, the nails or the boards rub and make the sounds. While this may annoy you, it is quick and super-easy to fix a squeaky floor.


ABOVE OR BELOW: Repairs to the floor may be done from above or below, depending on how the floor is situated. If there is a basement under the floor, it's best to repair from below. If, however, the floor has another room below it and the underside isn't accessible, you can also repair from above.


BELOW: This is a two-person job. One person goes into the basement to listen. The other person walks on the floor above. The listener can then find the exact spot that is emitting the offensive screech. After you've located the spot, you have two choices. There is an inexpensive commercial product, called the Squeak Ender, which secures the joist to the subfloor. Follow the directions in the package. Another alternative is to take a thin wooden shim, spread wood glue on it, and tap it into the space between the joist and the subfloor. If the shim alone doesn't solve the problem, you may also add a drywall screw through the joist and the shim into the subfloor above.


ABOVE: If you squeak is caused by seams in a hardwood floor, an easy solution is to put POWDERED graphite over the crack and cover with paper towels. Then, step on the towels to move the graphite into the seam. Clean up residue with a vacuum. It may take several applications to solve the issue. A more complex solution for hardwood flooring is to use nails to secure the squeaking boards. First, drill a pilot hole through JUST the flooring (not subfloor). The pilot hole must be at least 1/2" from the edge of the board and should enter at an angle. Next, insert the nail and hammer through the flooring and into the subfloor. Use a nailset to get the head slightly below the flooring surface, and use colored wax filler to cover the head/hole.


CARPETING: Some "above" squeaks are on a carpeted floor. To repair these you must figure out where the floor joists are. Take a hammer and tap the carpet, moving across the floor. When the sound changes to a duller tap, that change indicates a joist. Typically, joists will be 16" apart. Drill a hole through the carpet and into the joist below. Next, insert a scored screw into the hole you drilled. Some scored screws will automatically snap off when the screw reaches the proper depth. Others need to have the head snapped off after inserting the screw. Either type will firmly attach the subfloor to the joist and solve your squeak.



Hardwood floor making a squeaking noise
Contemporary kitchen with white countertops

K is for Kitchen Countertops


Kitchen countertops can be made of a variety of materials. Some, such as quartz, are virtually maintenance-free, while others, such as granite, require a bit of care to keep them in stellar condition. Here are maintenance tips for some of the most popular kitchen countertop surfaces.


LAMINATE: By far the most-used countertop material, laminate has been around for years. Made from a thin plastic finish bonded to a particleboard base, it is very affordable, comes in many colors and patterns and is fairly maintenance-free. To clean, wipe with a damp, soapy cloth or sponge. Avoid bleach, which will discolor the veneer. Do not place hot pans on the laminate - it can only resist temperatures up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. And finally, always use a cutting board, as knives will damage the finish.


ENGINEERED QUARTZ: Made from crushed quartz bonded with a polymer resin, engineered stone countertops require almost no maintenance. They are naturally stain-resistant, scratch-resistant and non-porous. Simply wipe with warm, soapy water. While you can use a knife on the surface, you probably won't want to - it will dull your knives very quickly!


STAINLESS STEEL: While your brand new stainless steel countertop is gloriously shiny and mirror-like, don't get used to it! This surface WILL scratch over time. Scratches will not alter its durability or stain resistance. For everyday cleaning, use water and a microfiber cloth. You may add a mild detergent for tough cleanup. If fingerprints are a problem, use glass cleaner with a microfiber cloth. Finally, you can purchase a stainless steel cleaner to renew the polished-looking finish.


SOAPSTONE: Soapstone is a durable and stain/heat/bacteria-resistant countertop surface. Normal cleaning involves wiping with warm, soapy water. Over time, you will notice that the soapstone will grow darker with age. While this is normal, it can be sanded regularly to restore the lighter color, as well as to eliminate scratches or chips.


GRANITE: Considered the gold standard of countertops, granite has great durability. For everyday cleanup, wipe with mild soap and water and dry with a soft cloth. If something spills, wipe it up immediately, as granite is porous and will stain. Avoid any cleaning products which are acidic, such as lemon-based or vinegar-based. In addition, you will need to seal your granite countertop regularly. Initially, your builder will likely have used a penetrating sealer on the surface. This sealer absorbs into the stone and protects for about one or two years. Ask your builder for specifics on the type of sealer he used. An oil repellent impregnator sealer is the best to resist all sorts of oil-based spills. In addition to the penetrating sealer, you may also use a topical sealer to renew the shine and gloss.


CERAMIC TILE: Ceramic tile countertops are both highly cost-effective and durable. Glazed tile is better than unglazed in kitchen surfaces. Clean routinely with warm, soapy water. The grout will need special attention. When your tile was installed, your builder should have sealed the grout to make it impervious to stains. Nonetheless, you will need to periodically clean it with a tile and grout cleaner. If some stains do not come out, you may choose to use a grout stain on the grout. This will cover stains and homogenize the grout color.


WOOD: A butcher block countertop can be durable if the wood and the sealer on it are high quality. The best finish is a waterproof varnish. With a wooden countertop, always use a cutting board when using knives. Also, be sure to use hotpads or trivets to protect from heat. If you spill something, be sure to wipe it up right away, as wood is permeable. Twice per year, you will need to oil the surface with a food-safe oil, such as tung oil, mineral oil or beeswax based oil. Spread the oil generously over the surface and let sit for 30 minutes. Wipe clean and polish with a soft cloth. Finally, if you have scratches or nicks, you may use a very fine grit sandpaper to sand them out, but you will then need to reseal and oil the surface.


CORIAN: While Corian is very durable, it does need some maintenance. First, the don'ts: Don't put hot pans directly on the countertop - always use a hot pad or trivet. Don't allow water to dry on the surface - it will leave a spot that looks dull. Always wipe the surface dry after you wash it clean. If your sink is Corian, do not pour boiling water into the sink. Do not cut directly on the surface. Finally, do not use harsh cleansers. To clean your Corian, use either warm, soapy water, an ammonia-based cleaner or a cleaner made specifically for Corian. If you get a stain or a scratch, you may sand the surface with sandpaper. Begin by sanding gently in the direction of the scratch with a rough grit sandpaper. Then switch to a 90 degree angle to your original sanding. Add water to reduce dust. Next, choose lighter and lighter grit papers and sand using the same technique, until the surface looks consistent.



Green yard with trees and new home

L is for Lawn and Landscaping


Your lawn and landscaping add a finished look to your home, and they also protect your foundation if properly graded. Let's take a look at both facets to review what your maintenance options are.


LAWN: Unless you had sod installed, your new lawn requires a bit of TLC at its inception. Water it with a fine spray in the morning and at noon, but do not oversaturate. If the weather is hot, you will need to water more frequently. To establish the root system well, you should plan to water your lawn twice per week in hot weather for the first two years. In this initial stage, you should avoid walking on the new grass for at least three weeks to give it a chance to get established.


When mowing your new lawn, keep the blade fairly high and overlap your mowing paths by several inches. Cutting your lawn too short, called scalping, damages the root system, allows weeds to take over and may even kill your grass. Keep the mower blade sharp and alternate direction each time you mow. Finally, never mow wet grass.


When fall arrives, you might notice bare spots where the seed did not take well. To fix this, first rake the lawn to remove grass clippings and leaf debris. Next, fertilize the entire lawn. Finally, spread grass seed in the bare areas. The cool fall temperatures are perfect for germinating grass before it enters its dormant state.


LANDSCAPING: Your landscaping is a long-range process. With a new home, it's probable that your trees and shrubs are just small seedlings. Keep in mind that as they grow, they will occupy more space. It's better to start with plantings spaced well apart until you can see their mature size. Over time, you can fill in the empty space with size-appropriate flowers and shrubs.


Remember that your builder graded your property to facilitate water runoff and to protect your foundation. Take care not to disturb the slope and drainage channels as you expand your landscaping. In addition, be cautious about planting large trees or shrubs too close to the foundation, as root growth could damage it.



Wooden trimwork around windows and doors

M is for Molding and Trim


Every home has some sort of molding and trim work. These range from baseboard to quarter round, crown molding, cove molding, rails, wainscoting and casings. While each serves a different function, all have some things in common, such as miters, joins and finish.


Over time, you might notice that your trim has become separated from the floor, the wall or other pieces of trim. This is a natural result of your house's settling and the wood drying out and shrinking slightly. If left unrepaired, this separation can allow debris and dirt to collect under the molding. Here's how to fix it!


MITERS AND JOINS: A miter is where two pieces of wood join at an angle in a corner. Some corners may have a 90-degree join to a square corner piece instead of a miter. A join also occurs where wood is pieced together or seamed in your trim.  As your house settles, you might notice that a small gap appears at any of these joins. While it's a normal process, it can be unsightly.


If the separation is small, you can use wood filler to close the gap. First, clean the surface. Then press filler into the gap, shape to conform, let dry, sand to match the surface and finally stain or paint to match. It's best to paint the entire section of trim to avoid an obvious repaired section.


In addition to corner joins, you may notice some areas where baseboard or quarter round separates from the floor and creates a gap. A good fix is to loosen the nails, reposition the trim to meet the floor and reattach in place. You may need to touch up the paint around the nail heads. If your trim is stained, use a colored wax wood filler to cover the heads. Another alternative when baseboard has a gap at the floor is to squeeze latex caulk into the gap. Be sure to clean any unintentional smears before it dries. Also remember to protect your flooring or carpet with an index card slipped under the molding when you paint or stain.


FINISH: if your wood trim is painted, care is a breeze! Just dust regularly, and once or twice a year, wash with a gentle wood-safe cleanser. Never use a Magic Eraser on wood trim, as it will scratch and damage the finish.


If your wood trim is stained, care is similar, although the type of finish will determine how you deep clean it. Dusting is fine for stained trim of any finish.


For trim finished with linseed or tung oil, use lemon oil polish, which will renew the finish. For trim finished with wax, you must first strip off the old wax with either lemon oil polish or a mixture of white vinegar and water. Then you must reapply a new coat of wax, and buff to a shine. Trim finished with polyurethane has the easiest care - just wipe with a damp cloth.


Over time, dings and gouges may occur in your trim. Fill the gouges with wood filler, sand and then refinish to match your trim. If the gouge is on stained wood, you may be able to use a wax crayon wood filler to cover and fill the ding.

gold coins and $100 bills

N is for Nothing


Yes, the "N" maintenance tip really is Nothing ... As in nothing lasts forever. With any system or part of your house, at some point you will need to replace, rather than repair it. For example, we've discussed how to maintain your kitchen countertop. But eventually, even the best-cared-for countertop will need to be replaced, whether because of wear or because of style changes. In the same way, while you can extend the life of your heating system by regular maintenance, at some point, it will need to be replaced. Realizing that sometimes there is nothing you can do to repair it and preparing accordingly will greatly benefit you as a homeowner.


HOW TO PREPARE: Planning in advance of a major component of your home wearing out will save you headaches and stress. It is wise to create an account, separate from your normal finances, which is designated as the "Saving for a Catastrophe" fund. If you discipline yourself to regularly put money into this account, you will find that when something breaks (and it will), although you might be blindsided, you are still able to pay for a replacement without obliterating your budget or creating massive debt.


WHEN IT BREAKS: If you've prepared financially for the inevitable, when that appliance or system breaks, you have the leisure to shop around and look for the best deal on what you need. A great resource for comparing prices and ratings is the internet. Google-search the item you need to replace and see not only what it costs, but also read reviews by people who have bought it. Then you can make a wise choice in your replacement.


HOW TO REPLACE: Unless you're an expert handyman, it's best to have a licensed or certified repair-person do the replacement work. Be sure to check with your repair-person to see if they offer a warranty on their work. Also remember to register your new system or appliance with the manufacturer so you will be notified of recalls.


Hopefully you won't need to replace systems or appliances for a long, long time. But realizing that eventually you will need to replace some things and preparing in advance will help you to be a happy homeowner, even if you can't do meticulous maintenance to fix it!



water running into drain

P is for Plumbing


Plumbing is a relatively care-free system in your new home. As long as everything was properly installed, your maintenance will be minimal. Nonetheless, here are main areas to be aware of in case problems arise.


INTAKE VALVES: These are the shut-off valves which are installed on each sink or toilet in your home. There is also a main water shut-off valve near the spot where the main water line enters your home. Be knowledgeable about where the valves for each water source is located and be sure they turn easily. This will make your life easier if you do have a water emergency or if you need to turn a valve off to do a repair.


LEAKING PIPES: While your copper or PVC pipes themselves will probably never leak during your lifetime, joints/connections may loosen over time. If this occurs with a copper pipe, the joint will need soldering. PVC pipe usually requires a joint compound to seal the leak. Both repairs are best done by a licensed plumber.


FROZEN PIPES: Frozen pipes, which turn into burst pipes, can be a homeowner's nightmare. Even if the home is vacant, during cold weather, never turn the heat below 50 degrees. If pipes run through an area which is not heated, such as a crawl space, be sure to wrap those pipes with a pipe sleeve or heat tape.


Additionally, outside faucets need a bit of TLC in freezing temperatures. If your exterior faucet is not a frost-proof sill-cock, you should turn off the water-supply valve before cold weather hits and then open the handle of the outside faucet. In this way, no water will remain in the line to freeze and cause problems. If you have a frost-proof sill-cock, all you need to do is turn off the outside handle. This shuts off the water supply inside your home, so no water is exposed to the freezing temperatures.


If your pipes freeze, you might be able to thaw them without damage if you do it slowly.  First, restore heat to the area of the house where freezing has occurred. Open any faucet which is connected to that water line. Begin thawing at the point which is closest to the faucet. Set a heat lamp a minimum of 6 inches from the frozen pipe, or direct a hair dryer parallel to the frozen pipes. As the pipes thaw, move the heat source further and further down the frozen area, until the entire area is thawed.


FAUCETS: Over time, you may notice a faucet or shower head develop a drip. This is an easy repair. Simply unscrew the faucet/shower head and replace the washer or o-ring. In addition, mineral deposits may accumulate inside the faucet aerator. If this happens, you will see lower water pressure or uneven flow. Unscrew the aerator and clean out the calcium that has built up.


DRAINS: Inevitably, you will at some point get a clogged drain. Clogs may arise from accumulated hair, grease or other debris. Other than using a plunger or commercial liquid or gel drain opener, you can also take several other steps.


First, pull out the drain stopper and clean the base of it that goes into the pipe. This stopper assembly can accumulate a lot of gunk. You might also have to remove the U bend under the sink and clean it out. Be sure to put a bucket under the U bend as you remove it, as water normally stands in this pipe.


Finally, you might need to get a snake involved. Also known as a drain auger, this gadget is a long, coiled wire with a handle on one end. Put the snake into the drain and crank the handle to push the snake into the clog. Use the snake to break up the clog. If it doesn't seem to be breaking up, pull the snake out or the drain, and the blocking debris will usually pull out attached to it. Then run water on full for several minutes to assure the pipe has been cleared.


To prevent drain blockages in the first place, run hot water into the drain for a minute, turn off the water and add 3 Tablespoons of washing soda (NOT baking soda) into the drain. Follow with hot water to direct the washing soda into the drain. Wait 15 minutes and then flush the drain with additional hot water.

asphalt shingles, tile shingles, wood shingles, slate shingles

R is for Roof


A roof is a system of your home which is designed to last a long time, if you take proper care of it. Areas which require periodic attention include flashing, drainage waste vent stacks, shingles and gutters. To be sure everything is working as it should, you should have a professional roofer examine these areas every three years. Let’s examine each area to see what to watch for.


FLASHING: Flashing is metal, plastic or rubber pieces which protect your roof wherever there is a join - between roof and chimney, between dormers and roof or in valleys where two different roof slopes meet. These pieces ensure that no water infiltrates those areas. Usually, metal and plastic flashing will last as long as your roof does and will not need replacing until replacing your roof.


DRAINAGE WASTE VENT STACKS: These vents are the white pipes which protrude from your roof. They are designed to allow air to help your waste water flow without impediment. The vents are very durable, but the special flashing around them, called a "boot," is not. Boots are typically made of rubber and extend from a seal around the base of the vent and under several rows of shingles. Sun and weather take a toll on these boots, and they typically will fail after about 5 years. If a boot fails, you will get water under your shingles, and may have roof damage or damage to your ceilings inside your home. If you have a roofer examine the boots every three years, he will be able to replace any faulty one before it causes a problem.


SHINGLES: Shingles, typically made from asphalt, slate, wood, metal or plastic, overlap and are designed to allow water to freely flow off your roof and into the rain gutters. Asphalt shingles, the most commonly used in America, will last between 15 and 20 years. As they weather and age, they will become brittle and begin to crack. That process signals you that it is time to replace the roof. Again, if you have a roofer examine the roof periodically, he will discover when the shingles are too brittle to function well and will need to be replaced.


GUTTERS: The rain gutters are the rain water evacuation system for your roof. Always keep them free-flowing - free of debris, ice and snow. See our blog on G is for Gutter for more information.



S is for Sewer and Septic


Your new home is equipped with either a public sewer and water hookup or with a well and a septic system. Your builder will be able to tell you which type your home has. While the public sewer and water is relatively maintenance-free, a septic system does require periodic maintenance. A septic system works on a natural process of bacterial digestion. Inside your tank, the bacteria in the waste breaks down much of the solid waste into liquid and gas. Any undigested solid goes to the bottom of the tank and is called sludge. The light substances, such as oil, float to the top. This is called scum. In the middle is the liquid, called effluent. Effluent drains from the tank into the drainage field.


How a septic system works

LOCATE: You should ask your builder the location of the underground septic tank, the drainage field, and the evacuation outlet. The tank itself will be buried several feet underground. The drainage field, or sometimes called leeching field, is contingent on the size of your tank, the type of soil you have, the slope of your property and the technology system your tank uses. Finally, the evacuation outlet is the opening from which the waste is pumped when the tank fills up. This opening in a modern home is normally buried a few feet underground as well. (In older homes, this outlet was a pipe protruding from the yard.) It is wise to mark the location of the underground outlet to facilitate pumping with ease when needed.


CLEAN: The septic tank will need to be emptied every 2 to 5 years. The timing will depend on how many people are in your house, how large the tank is and how often you use a garbage disposal. When waste enters the tank, heavier matter sinks to the bottom and lighter material on top. Effluent filters out of the tank and into your drainage field, but the sludge will eventually need to be pumped. If you notice that waste drainage is sluggish in your home, it’s probably time to call the septic company to pump the tank. The best time of year to clean the tank is the spring, as the bacterial action which produces noxious odors is more active in warmer months.


INSPECT: At the same time your septic company empties the tank, ask them to inspect the tank and drainage field. A number of factors could cause problems in good drainage, such as tree roots, blockages or damaged pipes.


CAUTIONS: Do not pour cleaning chemicals down the drain. Frequent use of these liquids will inhibit the bacteria which is necessary to keep your septic tank in working order. If you avoid using a garbage disposal and minimize the quantity of water you use, your system will last longer. Finally, a number of chemical and biological additives are on the market. Chemical additives are a huge no! These additives can damage your tank and pollute the environment as effluent water leaches into your drainage field. While biological additives are not as dangerous to your tank or the environment, they are unnecessary. The bacteria which naturally occur in your waste will suffice to break down the waste and do the job.


T is for Toilet


While the average toilet really does not require much maintenance, from time to time, it will need some parts replaced or repaired. In addition, there are several things you should avoid in order to keep it in efficient service.


CAUTIONS: Be careful about what you flush! Whether you are connected to public sewer or you have a septic system, here are things to avoid. Because they do not disintegrate as toilet paper does, grease, hair, paint, paper towels and baby wipes can all contribute to a clogged toilet and sewer line. Dispose of such items in the trash can rather than in the toilet.


CLEANING: Commercial cleaning products are generally safe, if designated as a toilet cleanser. Never mix different cleaning products, and never use both a cleaning product and bleach simultaneously. These things could give off toxic vapors. In-the-bowl cleaners are safer than drop-in-the-tank tablets. When you put a tablet into the tank, if you do not flush your toilet daily, the tablet can damage the internal parts and cause a leak.


TOILET PARTS: From time to time, you may find that you have a leak, or that the water is not shutting off properly after the tank refills. Both of these issues can be repaired by replacing or adjusting a part of the toilet. As with any repair which involves a connection to a water line, remember to first turn off the water at the intake valve before doing anything else. Next, flush the toilet to empty the tank of water. Finally, pour a bucket of water in the bowl. This will force a maximum amount of water out of the bowl so you will have less mess to clean.


The toilet itself is very durable, as it is made from a glazed china. It is, however, prone to cracking if hit or if fastened too tightly. The inner parts are the places which wear out and might need replacement. See the diagrams below to learn names of parts.





float, ball cock, float arm, overflow tube, flange, water supply, flush handle, tank bolts, water intake valve, tank wingnuts, seat bolts

To determine exactly what is amiss with your toilet, begin by looking under the tank lid. If flushes are incomplete, check that the water level reaches the proper level — an inch or less from the top of the overflow tube. If the toilet constantly refills, or if water trickles into the bowl, the tank water level may be too high. Excess water slowly runs over into the overflow tube and into the bowl. You can regulate the water level by adjusting the float so it shuts the water off before it pours into the overflow tube.


If the toilet is clogged, use a plunger or a plumber’s snake to clear the problem.


If you have hard water, you may notice that over time, the flow of water from the tank into the bowl decreases, despite the tank's being full. In this case, the water holes may be clogged with mineral deposits. Simply take a bent wire hanger and a mirror so you can see, and poke the hanger into the holes under the bowl rim to clear them. Take care not to scratch the porcelain as you do this.


If water seeps out the bottom of the bowl when the toilet is flushed, the wax ring needs to be replaced. If you do not feel comfortable with removing and re-sealing the toilet with a new wax seal, call a plumber for help.


Finally, over time, the seat may become loose or cracked. Simply loosen the seat bolts to remove the old one and fasten the new seat in its place. Take care not to fasten too tightly, as the porcelain could crack.

Broken water main, Natural gas stove, Electric meter

U is for Utilities


Although we have talked about your utilities in terms of maintenance you, as a homeowner can do, sometimes there are utility issues for which you must call the utility company to repair. These issues include broken water or sewer pipes outside your home, gas leaks and external electric line problems.


WATER OR SEWER PIPES: A signal that the water main in your area has broken could be excessively wet ground when it has not rained, water bubbling up from the ground or even subsidence (sinkholes). If you notice such signs, contact your water company to report the problem. When a water main breaks, homeowners in that area will need to boil any water before ingesting it. Boil water advisories are normally broadcast on radio and television. Do not stop boiling the water until you receive notice that it is ok to do so. Some utility companies will send text or email alerts to customers when such a problem arises.


Older sewer pipes can also break. A warning sign you could have would be your waste water not draining normally. If a broken sewer pipe is on your property, you may be responsible for paying for the repair. Usually, the sewer main in the street is repaired by your community.


GAS: Natural gas and propane, while convenient, may have some hazards. Whether you have a gas line from a utility company or you have your own tank, if there is a gas leak, you must evacuate the house. Gas is highly combustible, and even a simple electrical spark from a light switch can ignite it. Gas suppliers add a sulfuric, rotten egg scent to the gas, because it is easy to notice. If you smell this odor, IMMEDIATELY leave the home. DO NOT flip any switches, unplug anything or use a phone. Wait until you are outside before you call for help.


If you have allergies or a cold, you may not smell the sulfuric warning odor. You can buy a gas detector which will sound an alarm if gas levels are above safe limits.


Gas leaks can also occur outside of your home. Signs of a broken gas line are dirt blowing up from the ground or a hissing sound. You will need to take care digging in your yard if there is a gas line passing through it. Before you dig, call 811 for the National Underground Service Alert Network. This service will mark utility lines on your property for free, so you know which areas to avoid.


Finally, another hazard of gas is carbon monoxide, an odorless gas which is produced by burning natural gas. High concentrations of carbon monoxide in the air of your home can be fatal. It is wise to install a carbon monoxide sensor in any area where you use a gas appliance.


ELECTRIC: Occasionally, a storm may sever your electrical service via downed wires from trees, ice and snow. If you see a wire on the ground, do not go near it. Live wires can electrocute you. Instead, call your electrical provider to report the outage or the downed wire. Many electric companies will estimate the repair time and offer to call you when the service is restored.


Another potential problem with your electrical service occurs when your house settles. As the house settles, the conduit and collar which connects your electric meter to your house may become damaged. If this happens, you may still have electrical service, but you will notice that wires are exposed at your meter. Because this is a hazard, you will need to call an electrician to repair the exposed wires.



Gas-powered water heater with insulted jacket

W is for Water Heater


You very likely have a water heater. It quietly does its thing, and as long as you have toasty warm water, you really don't even think about it. But did you know that you should perform regular maintenance on you water heater? If you do these steps, your water heater will last longer and save you money.


TEMPERATURE: Exactly how hot should the dial be set on your water heater? While it's up to you to a degree, the maximum temperature should not exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Hotter than 120 degrees could cause scalding. Keep in mind that while a lower temperature will save fuel and electric costs, a higher temperature will kill pathogens which might be in the water.


If you are looking for cost saving without lowering the temperature, you might consider buying an insulated jacket to install on your heater. This will prevent heat loss and in turn save you money.


WATER: The water entering your home will naturally have minerals and sediments in it, to some degree. These minerals and sediments will eventually migrate to the bottom of your water heater. If you have hard water, the deposits will build up more quickly. If you do not remove the sediments, your water heater's efficiency will decrease and some of the particles may contribute to your tank rusting through. It is much wiser to drain your tank once every year to remove these deposits.


CLEANING: First, be cautious. Your water heater will either run on gas or electricity and contains very hot water and steam. Before you do anything else, you must turn off the gas valve or the electricity at the circuit breaker. Next, look for the water shut-off valve, which is normally on the top of the heater. Close to that valve is also the pressure release valve. Both should be labeled. Finally, find the water drain, which is near the bottom of the tank. This drain should have threads to attach a hose.


Turn off the gas or electricity. The direction to shut off the gas valve should be clearly marked on your unit. Before you begin to drain the tank, you will need a hose, a bucket and gloves to protect your hands. First, turn off the water valve. In most cases, right is off and left is on. Next, attach the hose to the threads on the water drain. Place the other end of the hose in your bucket, or stretch it to the outdoors if it’s long enough.


To drain the tank, turn the valve on the water drain to open. At first, water will rush out, but in a few minutes, will slow. This is because a vacuum has been created by the water leaving the tank. Open the pressure release valve, and water will continue to drain. The initial water will be dirty — this is good! We want that sediment out!


After 20-30 minutes, the water should be completely drained. Before you close the water drain, turn on the water shut-off valve to flush any remaining sediment from the tank. When the water runs clear, turn off the water drain and close the pressure release valve. Allow the tank to refill, but do not turn on your gas or electric until it is full. An empty tank will damage the heating element.


Finally, turn on your gas or electric to begin heating the water once more. You are all set to enjoy cozy, warm water for another year!



Sweet William, Purple Coneflower, Marigold, Lavender, Sedum, Pansies, Black-Eyed Susan, Aster, Lamb's Ear

X is for Xeriscaping


Yes, Xeriscaping is a real word! It comes from the root words, xeros (dry) and scape (picture) and refers to a landscaping method which uses plant types and placement to create an oasis-like design in your yard while minimizing water use. The concept originated in Colorado, but is being embraced throughout the United States by indigenous plant choices which suit the particular climate of your region. Xeriscaping conserves water usage, yet looks attractive and beautiful. Read on to learn specifics.


PRINCIPLES: Remember that grass and turf areas require the most water. Therefore, a Xeriscape uses grass, but carefully and intentionally in the whole plan. If you think of your house as the center of your personal oasis, the areas of highest water use will be nearest your home. As you move away from the house, planting

water use should decrease.


A final consideration is placement and space. Although plantings may look quite small and sparse when you plant them, as they mature they will fill in that space. To avoid the mature plants' looking cluttered, be sure to leave plenty of space for growth. You also will need to avoid planting trees and bushes too close to the house and over underground lines.


PLAN: To Xeriscape well, you must start with a plan. Many professional landscape services can help you with this. Keep in mind that if you have a plan, you don’t need to implement it all at once. Ask your landscape professional which plants use minimal water yet have colorful and lush foliage. Also plan your irrigation system before you begin. Irrigation which releases water near the ground is more efficient than water systems which spray high into the air. Drip emitters and bubblers are irrigation systems which work well for slow and deep watering. You will also need separate lines for the grassy areas, as grass needs a much higher volume of water.


HOW TO: The first step is to improve your soil. Most unmodified soil is not ideal for a water-conserving landscape. The best soil should drain well but also store water efficiently. Adding compost to your soil will increase its organic content and aerate it. Your local extension office also has soil test kits so you can determine if your soil is acidic or alkaline. For alkaline soil, add bone-meal and phosphate. For acidic soil, add powdered limestone. Begin in moderation with the pH balancing additives and re-test to check.


The next step is to mark your area divisions — what will be turf, what will be bed plantings, what will be trees. Take care to not mix plants with different watering needs in the same area. Now, install the irrigation system. It's important that this is in place before you begin to plant. That way, your new plants will receive correct watering right from the start, and you will not disturb their new roots.


Step three is the planting! Don't fret that everything looks so diminutive. With time and care, your Xeriscape will fill in and become your personal oasis.


Finally, add a layer of mulch to any exposed soil. Mulch may be leaves, compost, pine needles, wood chips, bark, cocoa shells, rubber or gravel. The mulch is necessary to preserve moisture, to prevent erosion and to inhibit weed growth. Organic mulch substances are better than inorganic, because they break down and blend with the soil. Gravel and rocks should be used cautiously, as they increase and retain heat. Your mulch layer must be several inches thick to work well.


MAINTENANCE: Xeriscapes are relatively low-maintenance. The most necessary component is irrigation. Remember that the purpose of the Xeriscape is to conserve water, so irrigate deeply and infrequently. Also note that different times of year may change your plants' water needs, so you will need to adjust irrigation accordingly.


Second, mow the turf areas, but not too short. Taller grass protects the roots and retains moisture.


Third, weed. If your mulch is thick, weeds tend to not sprout well. But if one makes it through, be proactive about pulling it from the base to get the roots.


SUGGESTIONS: The following perennials are drought resist yet lush and lovely: Artemisia, Aster, Baby's Breath, Black-Eyed Susan, Columbine, Coreopsis, Crocus, Delphinium, Echinacea, Gaillardia, Iris, Lamb's Ear, Lavender, Pansy, Purple Coneflower, Red Valerian, Safe, Sedum, Statice, Sweet William, Tulip and Yarrow

The following annuals are also great for low water: Cosmos, Marigold, Phlox, Portulacca Sundial, Red Plume Blanket, Rose Campion, Santolina, Vinca Passion and Zinnia.



Y is for Yellowing


Unless you opted for custom paint colors in your new home, you very likely have some shade of white walls and white trim throughout your house. After several years, you may notice that these walls are not as fresh-looking as they used to be. They might even have a yellowish cast. This color change, called yellowing, may occur for several reasons.


ALKYD PAINT: A very durable and water-resistant paint, alkyd is often used in kitchens and bathrooms. You will notice the yellowing if the wall is seen next to something that is pure white, such as your tub/shower. To understand why the yellowing occurs, you must learn a bit about alkyd paint. All paint has two components — the color (called the pigment) and the binder. After you apply the paint, the binder dries and holds the pigment in place. While early paints had an oil binder, modern paint has either a latex binder or an alkyd binder. Latex is water-based, and alkyd is synthetic oil-based. Latex paint will not yellow. Alkyd paint yellows even more quickly in dark rooms and when ammonia is present.


WHY IT HAPPENS: If a room is dark or if it receives little natural sunlight, alkyd paint will have a chemical reaction that accelerates the yellowing. If you know in advance that a room will not get much light, considering using only latex paint in that area. Yellowing from ammonia exposure may happen from two sources. First, if you have some latex-painted areas and some alkyd-painted areas, wet latex paint can emit ammonia. To avoid the yellowing, if you must use both latex and alkyd, be sure the latex paint is dry for at least a day before applying the alkyd. The second source of ammonia is from household cleaning products. Avoid such cleaners if you have alkyd paint.


OTHER YELLOWING SOURCES: Yellowing may also be caused by cooking, by fireplaces or by smoking. All those sources can release microscopic particles into the air, which are attracted to your paint surfaces. If you have a yellow film from cooking, using the fireplace or smoking, it will need to be removed before a fresh coat of paint is applied. For double protection that no discoloration will bleed through your new paint, after cleaning, use a coat of KILZ primer before applying your new, fresh paint.


WHAT TO DO: Unfortunately, once the yellowing has occurred, it cannot be reversed. The only solution is to repaint the areas which are yellowed. Again, priming with KILZ will prevent any bleed-through.






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