Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Maintaining Your Home in Massachusetts

Home Maintenance

Your home is one of the single biggest investments you'll ever make, so be sure you that you do all you can to care for it properly. A well-maintained home usually sells more readily and usually brings a higher price. It's also more comfortable and regular care minimizes any unexpected repair work and expenses. Regularly scheduled small repairs and upgrades to your home can and will keep costs from becoming exorbitant.
This comprehensive maintenance schedule I'm presenting to you is simply a general guide for you to follow. The actual timing is left up to you to decide, and you may want to further divide the list of items (for each season) into months. Now, let's get to work.

FALL IS NOW HERE....

And another freezing winter is right around the corner. So before any of that cold weather arrives here in New England, here's your annual checklist of items that should be performed in order to get your home ready for the change of season.
Have all your heating and cooling systems checked by a qualified service person once a year or according to the manufacturer's warranty and service recommendations. Failure to perform manufacturer-recommended servicing may void warranties.

FURNACE: Examine the forced air furnace fan belt for wear, looseness or noise; clean fan blades of any dirt buildup (after disconnecting the electricity to the motor). Then clean the dust build-up from around the air grills (registers) and try to vacuum the supply ducts behind these grills. Open the furnace humidifier cover (if equipped) and clean the inside parts of the humidifier. Hire a licensed HVAC technician to inspect the thermostat, electrical components and controls, inspect the heat exchanger, check flue, air flow and air fuel mixture, adjust the burner and oil the motor and circulating fan. The exhaust pipe should be checked for loose or corroded sections. Have your ducts completely cleaned at least every 5 to 6 years, this keeps your furnace clean and it will increase the life expectancy. Make sure the exposed duct work id free of cracks or leaks and seal seams (where needed) with aluminum tape.

BOILER: Bleed the air from hot water radiators. Older circulating pumps should be lubricated twice during the heating season. Expansion tanks should be drained annually. The heat shield (located where the burner enters the heat exchanger) should be checked to ensure that it is not loose or corroded. Burn marks around the heat shield or soot on the top front of the burner area may indicate a draft or combustion problem. A Plumber should be contacted to correct any issues.

OIL FURNACES AND BOILERS: Oil systems should be checked by a qualified technician on an annual basis. Oily soot deposits at registers of forced-air systems may indicate a cracked heat exchanger. A technician should be contacted immediately. The exhaust pipe from the furnace or boiler should be checked for loose connections or corroded sections. The barometric damper on the exhaust pipe should rotate freely and not be left in the open position. The chimney clean out (located at the lower portion of the chimney) should be cleaned out of any debris. The oil tank filter area and it's belly should be inspected for leaks. Soot on the front of the furnace or boiler may indicate a draft or combustion problem. A technician should be contacted to correct any issues.

Paint interior rooms while it's still warm enough to leave your windows open. Ditto for shampooing or replacing any carpets.

Remove all window air-conditioning units and store them in a safe area. If they are not removable, cover them with plastic to protect them over the winter and insulate the wall opening to prevent freezing winds from entering the wall cavity.

Check smooth functioning of all windows and lubricate them as required. For single pane widows, remove or slide all screens in the up position and then slide the storm windows into place. Examine all hardware and locks on your windows and doors, and lubricate any moving parts. Each exterior door should have a one-inch deadbolt lock for safety.

All yard care power equipment should be drained of it's fuel in the late fall or early winter and serviced according to manufacturer's instructions.

Cover outdoor furniture or store it inside a shed.

Clean and repair garden equipment after the last use of the season. Remove dirt and rust, then store in a dry area. Upcoming winter will be a good time to file rough spots on hoes and shovels and to apply linseed oil to the handles of all garden tools. Thoroughly rinse pesticide and herbicide sprayers to prevent clogging, and rinse fertilizer spreaders to prevent corrosion.

Ensure that all smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers are in good working order. Replace the batteries in appropriate devices as needed, or at least twice each year. Massachusetts regulations require detectors to be installed on every habitable level of your home and within 10 feet of any bedroom.

Check gauge on all fire extinguishers; recharge or replace if necessary.

Check fire escape routes, door and window locks and hardware, and lighting around outside of your house; ensure that your family has good security habits.

Again, Check the basement floor drain to ensure the trap contains water. Refill with water or oil if necessary.

Take care of known issues with pipes that may freeze. Heat tape/wire can be used to keep them warm during extremely cold weather or insulate them to improve freezing conditions.

Drain and store all outdoor hoses. Drain the hose bib (exterior faucet), unless your house contains frost proof hose bibs. Do this by opening the valve supplying the outdoor faucet, then turn off this supply from inside your home. This will allow all water to leave the piping. Install freeze-proof faucet covers as needed.

Drain the sprinkler systems (if applicable): Now is the time to be thinking about having your sprinkler and irrigation systems blown out and shut down. You can rent a compressor and do this task yourself or simply contact a irrigation system installer and they will handle this task for you.

Ensure that all doors to the outside shut tightly, and check other doors for ease of use. Renew door weatherstripping if required. If there is a door between your house and the garage, install or check the adjustment of the self-closing device to ensure it closes the door completely, without you having to pull it closed manually.

Disconnect the duct connected to the dryer and vacuum the lint from duct, the areas surrounding your clothes dryer and your dryers' vent hood outside.

Ensure that all windows and skylights close tightly. Remove screens from the inside of casement windows to allow air from the heating system to keep condensation off window glass.

Again, Clean leaves from eaves troughs (gutters) and roofs, and test downspouts to ensure proper drainage from the roof. Ensure that these downspouts carry all rain water away from the foundation area at least 6 feet. Downspout extensions will improve any basement seepage conditions. If you do not like the ugly appearance of the long downspout extensions, underground Dry Well installations will hide all your drainage piping.

Check chimneys for obstructions such as nests. Have your wood burning fireplaces and appliances inspected annually and cleaned/swept and repaired as required to prevent chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.

WINTER

Clean or replace your furnace air filters every other month during the heating season. Periodically check the ventilation area outside (intake and exhaust) to make sure they are not blocked by snow or debris. Then go back inside and vacuum all the heating supply registers, return grills, baseboards or radiators.

After consulting your hot water tank owner's manual, carefully test the temperature and pressure relief valve to ensure it is not stuck in the closed position. (Caution: This test may release hot water that can cause burns and it may also cause the valve to develop a slow leak due to sediment build-up not allowing the valve to close fully. This will require a plumber to replace the TPR valve). In some areas, sludge may accumulate in the bottom of the water heater. Draining approximately 1 gallon of water from the clean-out spigot at the bottom of your tank will indicate the presence of sludge and the necessity for regular draining to control sediment and maintain it's efficiency. Be sure to shut off the power or fuel supply before draining any water from the water heater.

Clean the humidifier internal parts (if equipped), two or three times during the winter season. These parts become clogged very easily.

Vacuum bathroom fan grille or any other registers you may have in your home. I recommend removing the register grills and vacuuming inside the duct work also, (as far in as possible).

Vacuum all fire and smoke detectors, as dust or spider webs can prevent them from functioning.

Dust all ceiling fan blades.

Vacuum radiator grilles at the rear of refrigerators and freezers. Empty and clean the drip tray underneath the refrigerator.

Check inside bathroom vanities and kitchen sink cabinets for signs of moisture. Look for leaks at shut-off valves at sinks, toilets, laundry equipment, and main water shut-off valves. Carefully inspect all pipes for condensation or slow drips. Repair the plumbing system if necessary.

Remove mineral deposits from faucet aerators and shower heads by removing them and soaking the parts in white vinegar and scrubbing them with an old toothbrush.

Examine attic for frost accumulation. Check roof for ice dams or ice build-up. If either of these do occur, this is a sign of inadequate insulation and/or improper ventilation. Have these corrected accordingly.

Check all electrical cords, plugs and outlets for all indoor and outdoor seasonal lights to ensure fire safety: if worn, or if the plugs or cords feel warm to the touch, replace immediately. Check the operation of all ground-fault circuit interrupter outlets by pushing the "Test" button. The "reset" button should automatically pop out, indicating the receptacle is operating properly. Now press in the "Reset" button. Check the AFCI circuit breakers inside the main electrical panel (if your home was built after 2002). Press the white "Test" button to make sure it trips. Then reset these after testing. Have a licensed Electrician replace these if they are not tripping.

SPRING

Celebrate spring by cleaning up your garage. Hold a yard sale, or organize a community yard sale with your neighbors. Dispose of old paint thinners, household cleaners and pesticides properly. Contact your city's department of public works to find out when the next scheduled collection of hazardous materials is.

Check and clean or replace your furnace air filter.

Shut down and clean the internal parts of the furnace humidifier (if applicable), and close the furnace humidifier damper, as this will not be needed until next heating season.
Have the central air-conditioning unit checked according to the recommendations of the unit's manufacturer or every two or three years. Replace the filter in the forced-air handler Make sure the arrow (on the filter) is pointed towards the blower compartment. Clean debris and vegetation from the exterior condenser or heat pump.

Check de-humidifier(if applicable) in the basement and clean if necessary. Always make sure the drain hose is draining into a waste pipe of some sort. Collecting water in the equipped bucket only sends moisture back into the basement air. You're basically recycling the moisture back into the air.

Turn "OFF" gas furnace and fireplace pilot lights where possible.

Have your well water tested for quality (if applicable). It is recommended that you test for bacteria every six months.

If you are on a Septic system, have it fully pumped and inspected by a Septic specialist.

Check smoke, carbon monoxide and security alarms and replace all batteries.

Clean windows, screens and hardware. If your home is equipped with single pane windows, slide the storm windows in the "up" position and slide the screen in the "down" position. Check the windows for cracked or broken glass and broken weighted ropes and replace if necessary.

Upgrade any loose or cracked putty around the glass panes. Repair holes or bent frames in the screens. Thermal windows should be checked for evidence of moisture between the panes. This is indicative of an argon gas vapor leak and needs replacement. Clean out any slider door tracks and ensure that the drainage holes are clear. Then apply oil (preferably WD-40 spray) to the tracks.

Fix squeaks in floors and stairs by applying weight to the area (having a partner stand on it) and driving an 8d or 12d galvanized finish nail through the flooring into a floor joist or stringer. This will leave small holes in the floor which need to be filled with wood filler, so it's best if you have access to the floor from underneath. You can insert wedges between the floor boards and joists or toenail through a floor joist or stringer.

Open valve to outside hose connection after all danger of frost has passed.

Examine the foundation walls for cracks, leaks or signs of moisture, and repair as required.

Check to make sure your sump pump works properly by pouring water into the pump silo to raise the float and activate the motor. Ensure discharge pipe is connected and allows water to drain away from the foundation and inspect the hose line for obstructions or visible leaks.
Re-level or repair any exterior steps or decks which moved or were damaged due to winter frost or settling.

Check for damaged or improperly sloped gutters. Clean out all gutters and downspouts. Make sure they are free from leaks and rust and ensure all spikes, straps and clips are tightly fastened. Seal any loose joints and seams. Make sure downspouts are not damaged and carry all roof water at least five feet away from the foundation. Downspout extensions will improve any basement seepage conditions.

Clear all drainage ditches and culverts of debris.

Undertake spring landscape maintenance and, if necessary, fertilize young trees.

SUMMER

Inspect window putty on the outside of glass (single panes) and replace if cracking or falling off.

Lubricate all door hinges and tighten screws as needed. Lubricate squeaky door hinges with lightweight machine oil. Free sticky doors by trimming edges or shimming hinges with thin pieces of cardboard.

Deep clean all carpets and rugs.

Check caulking around all sinks, bathtubs, and showers. Some types of caulking become brittle with age, and therefore useless as a water seal. Replace with a long-lasting resilient caulking material, such as silicone or latex.

Vacuum bathroom fan grille.

Monitor basement humidity and avoid relative humidity levels above 60 per cent. Use a dehumidifier to maintain safe relative humidity. Clean or replace air conditioning filter, and wash or replace ventilation system filters if necessary.

Inspect the crawl space or basement walls after rains for water accumulation or excessive moisture. Look for signs of water damage on the sub floor and joists beneath bathrooms, the kitchen and laundry. Find and fix leaks now or pay the price later.

Check basement pipes for condensation or dripping, and take corrective action, for example, reduce humidity and or fully insulate all accessible cold water pipes.
Examine main support beams, support columns, and floor joists for evidence of bowing or warping.

Probe visible wood structural members such as sills, joists, beams, and columns, with a screwdriver, pocket knife or ice pick, to be sure wood is solid and free from decay and wood boring insects.

Make sure all shut-offs are marked appropriately (heating, plumbing and electrical)
If you have a plumbing fixture that is not used frequently, for example, a laundry tub or spare bathroom sink, tub or shower stall, run some water briefly to keep water in the trap. This prevents sewer gases from entering the living area. You can use cooking oil to replace water, as it will not evaporate like water will.

Check the basement floor drain to ensure the trap contains water. Refill with water or oil if necessary.

Check security of all guardrails and handrails throughout house (interior and exterior). Install bracketry or hardware if loose.

Lubricate garage door hardware and ensure that it is operating properly and lubricate the automatic garage door opener motor, chain, etc. and ensure that the auto-reverse mechanism is properly adjusted. Make sure all bolts and screws are properly tightened and secured. I highly recommend that every homeowner install an auto-closer on the hinges of the fire rated door between the garage and the house.

Check and replace damaged caulking and weatherstripping around all exterior windows and doors.

Inspect electrical service lines for secure attachment where they enter your house, and make sure there is no water leakage into the house along the electrical conduit. Check the seal at the house penetration area.

Ensure that the ground around your home slopes away from the foundation wall, so that rain water does not drain towards your basement walls. Soil should slope four to six inches for a distance of six feet out from the foundation walls.

Inspect masonry foundation walls (inside and out) for cracks or weakened, crumbling mortar. Repair if necessary. Also check for signs of termite mud tunnels.

Check exterior wood siding and trim for signs of deterioration such as peeling or cracked paint.

Remove any wood/soil contact to prevent rot and wood boring insects. Clean, replace or refinish as needed. If you decide to repaint your house yourself, you can cut this job down to size by painting just one or two walls per year. Typically, the paint on the south and west-facing walls deteriorates faster and requires more frequent re-coating than paint on north or east-facing walls. Check for and seal off any holes in exterior cladding that could be an entry point for small pests such as bats, mice, squirrels and chipmunks.

Clean and seal decks. Ideally, you'll need three consecutive warm, sunny days. On day one, dry out the deck. Apply deck cleaner and scrub the deck on the second day and let it dry 24 hours.
On the third day, apply deck sealer.

Repair and paint all fences as necessary.

Remove or trim any plants, shrubs or vines that contact any house siding.
Climb up on your roof or use binoculars, to check its general condition and note any sagging that could indicate structural problems requiring further investigation from inside the attic. Note the condition of roofing material for possible repair or replacement, and examine all roof flashing's such as at the chimney, roof joints, vent stacks, dormers and skylights for any signs of cracking or leakage.

Check the chimney cap and the mortar between all bricks. Tuck point between the bricks if necessary.

If you have access to attic spaces, check underneath the roof for stains that indicate leaks, especially from "flashed" areas. Tar these exterior flashing areas if necessary. Also, check all soffit vents to make sure insulation is pulled away from these areas. The attic area should always be the same temperature as the outside.

Trim back tree branches that scrape against or overhang the roof. Keep branches away from chimney to avoid fire hazard and allow proper draft for safe and efficient chimney operation.

Driveways and sidewalks should be checked for cracks and deterioration. Settling which will result in surface water run off towards the house should be corrected as should uneven sections which pose a safety hazard to pedestrians.

Clean and repair cracks in concrete driveways using epoxy patching material. Repair asphalt driveways using asphalt patching material. Seal asphalt driveways every other year.

Repair any damaged steps that present a safety problem.

And last but not least, In the event of fire, flood or other disaster, it will be important in filing an insurance claim. Photographs or video of your possessions can also be helpful. Store this in a safe place off site...maybe a relatives home.

Good Luck in Maintaining your home.
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Massachusetts Home Inspections