Do I need a new roof?
April 28, 2009 1:51 PM   Subscribe

In my second year of first-time home ownership and husband and I are thinking we need to do a little spring cleaning around the house. Other than a minor plumbing issue in the bathroom we have had (knock on wood) zero problems with the house. In an effort to keep up this track record, what trouble spots should we look for in the house? How do you know if the roof is in good shape? What are typical home maintenance needs?

A little info.... Our house is a single-story 1950s cottage. The sewer line is only about 15 years old and was clean as a whistle when we scoped it two years ago. The roof looks pretty good from the ground but I don't really know what I'm looking at. We have a crawl space that is partially excavated to house the furnace and hot water heater. We have what we think is asbestos shingle siding. It has wood flooring throughout and still feels nicely solid. It's a pretty un-creaky house.

As we walk around, what should we look for? What are telltale signs that something must be done? I'm fairly handy so any advice on what can be done yourself verses calling the pros is welcome.
posted by amanda to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Being in about the same boat, one of the things I did was look at the gutters on my house. I'm terrified of ladders, and paying someone to clean the gutters could get pricy, fast... I wound up getting "The Real Gutter Protector" on the guarantee that they would last the life of the house, have no overspill, and never need manual cleaning. The cost was about $3K for my house, but the way I look at it, that will pay itself off in about 10 years ($300 a pop cleaning them), assuming they only need cleaned once a year.

The gutters come into play because overspill / clogged gutters creates pools of standing water at the base of the house, which leads to other issues (flooding, rotting, etc.). They did a free in-home demo, of course.
posted by GJSchaller at 1:58 PM on April 28, 2009

Tell-Tale signs you need to fix your gutters - divots / ruts along the side of the house, running along the foundation, where overspill erodes the soil away.
posted by GJSchaller at 1:59 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: Windows? Are they tight, need to be caulked, rehung, replaced, reglazed, whatever?

How is the insulation? Around doors, in the attic/basement? What are your heating/cooling costs like?

Any bugs? Hardwood floors need to be deep cleaned/polished?

Bathroom - grout, rust, recaulking?

Kitchen - clean oven, replace burners, maybe do a faucet, dishwaher or garburator upgrade?

Clean air/heat vents. Do you have a fireplace? If so, check the flue. Landscaping to do less water-intensive gardening.
posted by barnone at 2:19 PM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Each year or more often I change the furnace air filter, so do that if you haven't already, and check around furnace and ducts for good fit or problems. Since you're down there, check the water heater at the same time for leaks, cracked fittings, etc. Trim back tree limbs, if possible, over the roof & gutters.
posted by artdrectr at 2:28 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: I built my house new in 2002. Every summer I go over the exterior with a fine tooth comb and repair paint and caulk joints. Get a 5G bucket, throw in a whisk brush, sandpaper, putty knives, etc. and spend a few hours hitting trouble spots where rain and excess moisture wear down seams around doors, windows, soffits, etc. Never be without a gallon of high quality primer and a few tubes of high quality caulk, and a quart of your exterior paint for touch ups. This simple exercise will avoid a potentially costly tear down and repair someday and also will make a whole-house paint job cheaper.
posted by docpops at 2:39 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: Walk around the outside of the house. Look high and low. Termite tunnels? Loose caulk? Soft wood? Peeling paint?

Check out the window screens. Clean out the dryer vent. Look for spots where critters can get into the attic.

Look at your trees. Consider hurricane season, if it applies to your location. A tree man may be needed to trim and shape your trees.

Look at your landscaping. Is there too much dirt against the house?

Wash the siding. Paint the front door if it needs it. Even if the door is still fine, a fresh coat of paint is very welcoming.

You can glance at your roof from the ground, and detect obvious problems. Flashing around pipes and chimneys might let water in when it loosens, but that is harder to tell from outside.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 2:42 PM on April 28, 2009

This list looks like a good starting place, and has some signs to look for on your roof. Notably, it sounds like you should be checking your hot water heat for sludge and draining it annually. Considering you take showers in that water, that sounds like a smart idea.
posted by booknerd at 2:42 PM on April 28, 2009

This thread might be helpful for general household maintenance.
posted by pised at 3:27 PM on April 28, 2009

Speaking as someone who met with an exterminator yesterday..... the termite/ant/otherbug diligence is important. We basically live in the woods, so I broke down and ordered up the quarterly inspection/maintenance plan from a reputable local company. I figure that, and the money we spend on preventative maintenance on the septic system, are insurance well worth paying for. If you don't live in the woods or have a septic, obviously you don't need these!
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:46 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: Moisture is your common enemy in most of the home maintenance issues.

-- Gutters and downspouts should move water away from your foundation. So to all the comments about keeping them clear add the thought of making sure they move water out a distance.
-- Your crawl space needs air in the summer to minimize humidity and insulation in the winter to prevent freezing and heat loss. Can you get air flow into your crawl space?
-- Have you insulated your water heater? How about the hot water pipes? Summer is a good time to insulate.
-- Most roofing material comes with a 25 year lifetime. A roofing contractor can look at your roof and tell you how old your roof is and how long you have before you'll need a new one. The contractor will give you a free estimate if you're worried.
-- A lot of painting and caulking is cosmetic but if you have peeling paint in the same place each year I'd want to know why. Some caulking is fine to keep water out but if caulking seals moisture and humidity in, paint will pop when warmed up. In other words, go easy on the caulk.
-- Wooden decks, porches, outside stairs can all have their lives extended with some kind of protection. I like to use an oil stain on my decks every other year but there are plenty of good deck paint products.
-- Heating systems need maintenance every year. I have a forced air system so I have the filters changed twice a year. You should have your furnace looked at every year, usually in summer when it's not in use.
-- Finally, keep plants and trees from touching your house. Keep branches and bushes trimmed so they don't rub or create wet spots near your facades. Shade is good if you want to cool a southern/western exposure but not at the expense of dampness.
posted by birdwatcher at 3:36 AM on April 29, 2009

Have the furnace and/or fireplace/wood stove chimneys cleaned.
Depending on how the basement and outside of the house are finished, check to see that there are no gaps between the foundation wall and whatever hard material is laid beside the house. Any gaps mean water can get down there.
Don't plant maple trees or others with shallow roots that will invade your sewers. If you do have maples, you'll have to have them rotorooted every few years.
Oil the door hinges.
While you're at it, add a rain barrel to a downspout to get free rainwater for the garden. And, if you're planning a garden, look at native plants and weeper hoses (cheap) to keep down the cost of watering.
And one more: when you bought the house, did you change the locks?
posted by x46 at 4:12 AM on April 29, 2009

Response by poster: I think every one of these answers is pretty great -- I'm making a list!

x46, I did not change the locks but that is a pretty good idea! Is that something that is best to hire a locksmith for or something I could do myself?

Also, I have an oil furnace which exhausts into a chimney -- there doesn't really seem to be access to that chimney -- think it needs to be cleaned? We get our furnace checked every year and no one has ever mentioned the chimney. (The furnace is VERY old and everyone who looks at it goes, "Whoo boy! This is an antique... hmmm... seems to be in pretty good working order.... let's just clean it up a bit and go on our way.")
posted by amanda at 8:25 AM on April 29, 2009

You can buy new locks at any good hardware store like Home Depot or Lowes and install them yourself. It's only difficult to install locks or deadbolts in a new door where you have to cut the holes and chisel out the jambs. Otherwise, locks are pretty easy to change.

Chimney cleaning is more of an issue if you burn wood or have a wood stove. Creosote and soot build-up are combustible but oil furnace exhaust won't get hot enough to ignite anything. I wouldn't sweat that issue for the furnace chimney.

You'll be surprised at the deals the gas or oil companies will offer you to trade up to a new furnace. Beside the efficiencies of a newer model, there are installation benefits and even space savings. Also, the gas company is always looking to lure people to switch fuels. Call your local natural gas and propane company and see what they are offering to switch to gas. If you can make the switch you'll also get rid of an oil tank. Do you have a separate hot water heater or do you rely on your furnace to make hot water? That's a consideration if you do think about replacing your furnace.
posted by birdwatcher at 9:09 AM on April 29, 2009

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