Home Maintenance for People with Better Things to Do

Owning your own home shouldn’t mean an endless list of chores.

Weekends are meant for coaching a youth soccer team to victory, chopping your way through “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” or training for a 5K to help save the pandas — not working your way through a tedious, 30-item maintenance checklist. But then, taking care of the home you love is important, too.

So how do you have your fun and keep a well-maintained home?

It’s simple: Just be mindful of your home. You don’t need a rigid maintenance list. (They work best for Type A people anyway.) Instead, train your senses to warn you of these problems, and then act ASAP:

Your Dryer Seems Hotter Than Usual

If your clothes and your dryer are super, super hot or, conversely, your dryer is taking longer to dry, you could have a clogged lint vent, a leading cause of house fires. “Sometimes the dryer connection will wiggle loose going to the outside, causing all sorts of issues with lint,” says Jeff Devlin, licensed contractor and host of DIY Network’s “Stone House Revival and “I Hate My Bath.” Heat and packed lint make the perfect recipe for fire. To defuse that combination:

  • Pull out the dryer connection — this is the tube or pipe that connects the dryer to the window vent.
  • Suck out all the lint from the pipe and pipe connection with a vacuum attachment.
  • Re-attach, making sure it’s not loose or bent.

You can also hire a pro to do it.

You Smell Something Musty

Your nose knows what’s normal in your home. “If you go into a room and it smells musty, there’s something going on,” says Frank Lesh, executive director of American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). When you smell that mildew-y smell, you know you’ve got a problem, he says. What kind of problem? Read on.

You Can See Mold or Mildew

Mold and mildew are the banners for moisture, your home’s No. 1 enemy. If you see them, you know moisture has broken through your home’s defenses and is bringing reinforcements. Find out where the water source is and eradicate it ASAP. Moisture is like cancer to a home. If you don’t catch it early, it will eat away at your home’s very structure, causing major damage to its foundation, walls, floors, and ceilings.

You Spot a Water Stain

You get it now. Water = bad. So even a faint water stain should light a fire under you. Zero in on the source before moisture can settle into your home’s bones. A water stain on the ceiling could signal a leak in your roof, or if it’s under a bathroom it could be a pipe that’s leaking. Stain under a window? Your window may need caulking.

Your Drain Is Really Slow (and It Gurgles)

Showering in water up to your ankles defeats the purpose. “A clean drain is a healthy drain,” says Devlin. If your drain makes odd noises and takes foreeeeeeever, you could be at risk of a sewer backup, which is not only a moisture issue, but one that ranks high on the stinky scale. If you’re lucky, it could be a simple clog, but either way it might be a good idea to put your plumber’s number in your cellphone’s favorites list.

You Hear Something That’s Alive

The pitter-patter of tiny rodent footsteps is enough to send shivers down your spine — and can quickly multiply into a mini stampede. One couple found out the hard way.

“We found that a squirrel had taken up residence in the attic and was chewing through electrical wires,” says David Bowers. By the time he and his partner, Sharon Bowers, (BTW, they co-authored “The Useful Book: 201 Life Skills They Used to Teach in Home Ec and Shop”) got around to calling a pro, an entire squirrel family (with more on the way!) had settled in to dine on those wires — a costly fix that was also a fire hazard.

If you hear unwanted visitors, evict them quickly, then block the entry they used. With squirrels, it might be an overgrown tree limb, which they use to jump onto your roof and then slip through a hole under roof flashing or rotting fascia, or an open window. For smaller pests, keep in mind they can come in through the tiniest of holes. (Mice can squeeze through a dime-sized opening.)

Your Gutters Create Waterfalls

You may love the smell and sound of rain, but when it’s cascading off your gutters in torrents instead of traveling neatly through them … well, remember those warnings about moisture? Cleaning the gutters is home maintenance 101 for good reason. “It can lead to exterior damage, as well as water damaging the foundations,” says Bowers. If you spot a gutter clog, clear it. You’ll be happier for it. It’s probably the best thing you can do to protect your home.

Originally posted with HouseLogic.

4 Ways to Avoid DIY Mistakes — From a DIYer Who’s Made Them All

DIY gone wrong is your worst nightmare. Sleep better with these tips to master DIY know-how.

New backsplash? You’ve done it. Upgrading a faucet? No problem. You’re a DIY master. But what about that electrical issue? Or fixing a leaky roof? Even though you (and your BFF, YouTube) have pulled off many DIY projects, you know there are projects you’ve no business trying on your own. But what about those projects that fall somewhere in between “I got this” and “I’m calling the pros”? How can you know if a project is really DIYable for you?

For Lucas Hall, finding that answer has been trial and error. As a “DIY landlord” for more than two years and founder of Landlordology, an online resource for landlords, he’s gutted three homes and renovated countless others.

“I’m just handy enough to be dangerous,” Hall says.

He’s suffered more than his fair share of DIY disasters, and with each, he’s learned a valuable lesson about his own limits, as well as how he can do better next time.

Think 10 Steps Ahead

When Hall updated a tiny kitchen in one of his rentals, he installed a brand-new, expensive fridge — and then built a peninsula countertop extension.

“We thought it was the greatest idea,” he says. But adding the peninsula narrowed the space in front of the refrigerator, making it impossible to remove without lifting it entirely up and over the extension. (Ever tried to lift a fridge?)

“I’m just praying the fridge doesn’t die on me, because I’m going to have to hire four or five burly guys to get it out,” Hall says. “Or just Sawzall the thing in half.”

DIY lesson: Measure once, measure twice, measure again, and think through every possible scenario before changing a room’s layout.

Don’t Go With the Cheapest Option

Speaking of kitchen appliances: Hall was looking for an island range hood, which can be extra-expensive because it needs to be attractive from all angles. Dismayed by the prices he found elsewhere online, he went to Amazon, where he found an $800 hood on sale for about $250.

“Of course, it was from a brand we hadn’t really heard of,” Hall says.

Less than a year after installation, the hood was on the fritz. Removing the appliance was a challenge. The electrical wiring needed to be redone, and the wall needed to be drywalled, requiring a professional contractor.

“It probably cost me three-fold to fix my mistake,” says Hall. “For any appliance that’s more complicated than plugging it in and rolling it into place, upgrade and buy something that’s not going to break on you within a year.”

DIY lesson: For any DIY project, the cheapest option, from materials to appliances, should raise a red flag.

For Specialty Work, Seek Specialty Advice

Hall is no electrician, but since he’d done some minor electrical work before, he figured the job of adding a dimmer switch would be no big deal.

“We hung a chandelier in the dining room, and figured you might want to dim this giant chandelier for a relaxing candlelit dinner,” says Hall. Because the space had switches at both entrances, he added a dimmer to both — the more the merrier, right?

Wrong.

“After four hours spent blowing circuits and lightbulbs and struggling to get this chandelier to dim correctly, we called the manufacturer,” Hall says. Spoiler alert: You just can’t have two dimmer switches for one circuit.

A dimmer works by modulating the amount of electricity flowing through the circuit; adding another causes chaos. A little research would’ve indicated the second dimmer switch was a no-no.

“It just flips out,” says Hall. “It doesn’t know how much dimming should be happening. The lights were flickering like a poltergeist.”

DIY lesson: No one blames you for not being a specialist, but any time you’re taking on a specialty project make sure to do your research first or consult a pro.

DIY When Help is Available (aka, NOT on a Holiday)

Holidays might be a great time to tackle minor DIY projects, but if you’re working on anything that could require a professional if things go south, consider waiting for a normal business day.

“I was trying to get a property ready to rent,” says Hall. “Time is money. It was the Fourth of July … and I was adding a new cabinet [in the bathroom].”

It sounds easy enough, but the unit was in a condo building with a centralized water system; there wasn’t a water shut-off valve for just that bathroom. Not wanting to shut down the water for the entire building on July Fourth, he decided to risk it.

And oh, what a risk it turned out to be. When trying to loosen a pipe, the whole thing broke off. It was rusted out. Water sprayed out so hard, it hit him in the chest. After rushing to the basement, he flipped every knob he found until the water shut-off.

“Luckily my property was on the first floor and the basement was a laundry room, because water was leaking through the floor, destroying drywall,” Hall says.

Being a holiday, the rest of the day was no less of a disaster. The condo association’s emergency line sent him a plumber who was angry to be missing his holiday events and drinking as he tried to fix the problem. Sloppy work resulted in a fire — in a building with no water.

“He runs to my fridge and starts grabbing anything liquid — milk, a bottle of Sprite, cans of beer,” Hall recalls. “He’s dumping water into the middle of the wall, punching holes in it, trying to find the fire.”

DIY lesson: Always do tricky DIY projects when you know a pro — a pro you trust — can help out in a hurry.

Originally posted with HouseLogic.

Making A Home Emergency Kit – Real Estate

dd97ac19058afbbf1981bccc587aa120555f45e0When a disaster strikes your areas, it is better to be prepared and assemble essential supplies for a home emergency kit. Sometimes, this may seem like a waste of money. But when disasters happen beyond your control, it can change your perspective.

Stock all items in a suitcase or easy-to-carry bag that is readily accessible during any time of the day. Brief all of your family members of it’s location and how to handle the kit.

Here are are some guidelines for a basic “grab and go” kit:

Water
For drinking and sanitation, provide one gallon per person in you family for 3 days. Consider doubling the amount if you live in a very hot climate, or have young kids. Bottled water is advised. Tap water can also be stored in food-grade containers or two-liter soda bottles that have been sanitized. If you have pets, give assign your pets portions too.

Food
Again, provide a three-day supply of non-perishables. Don’t forget a can opener unless you’re handy with a spoon. Pack protein, fruit, and vegetables, but prepare them in a way that you actually like. It is not bad to include cereal bars, trail mix, and candy bars. Store food in the best way possible, in a pest-proof plastic or metal tubs and keep it in a cool, dry place.

Flashlights and extra batteries
Flashlights are better than candles. Candles are recommended to avoid house fires. If you have chargeable lamps, remember to charge first before storing.

First-aid supplies
This will be your best friend in case of accidents. Gather Two pairs of sterile gloves, adhesive bandages and sterile dressings, soap or other cleanser, antibiotic towelettes and ointment, burn ointment, eye wash, thermometer, scissors, tweezers, petroleum jelly, aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever, and stomach analgesics such as Tums or Pepto-Bismol, and a laxative.

Sanitation and hygiene supplies
Sanitation is a way to avoid sickness. Remember that moist towelettes are sealed in packets.  Also be ready with paper towels, toilet paper, garbage bags, and plastic ties. You might also want travel-size shampoo, toothpaste/toothbrush, and deodorant.

Radio or TV
Get updates; keep a portable, battery- or crank-operated radio or television and extra batteries to remain connected in case the power goes out.

Helpful extras:Duct tape, dust masks, a signal whistle, toys for kids. Have at least $100 for emergency cash

Tailor a emergency preparedness kit to your needs
You may not need extra blankets in case drastic changes in weather occurs.

Update your emergency preparedness kit regularly
Replace everything that needs to be changed. You definitely don’t want your emergency kit to grow some molds.

Buy a pre-made kit
As an alternative to making your own kit, you canbuy a stocked kitfrom the American Red Cross ($50-$100).

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