How do you take care of a house?
January 21, 2015 7:55 AM   Subscribe

I've realized that I have little idea how to properly care for a house. What regular maintenance and preventative maintenance tasks should I be doing? How do I do them? What things should I be checking for, on what schedule? What equipment do I need? What things will I probably need to hire someone for? I'm a-googlin too, but thought you all might know some good resources.
posted by SampleSize to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 88 users marked this as a favorite
So... Where do you live? Will there be snow? Or excessive heat? Different thing has to be checked in different climate zones. Is it a single story house or two stories? Heated with gas, oil, electricity?

Some more details would be nice.
posted by Rabarberofficer at 8:08 AM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

The answers to a lot of your questions will depend on the age of your house and its neighborhood and the specific nature of the different systems within. For example, I own a 1930s-era colonial in New England with oil-fired steam heat and municipal sewer access. My routine maintenance schedule is going to be very different than that of someone who owns, say, a postwar ranch with electric heat and a septic system.

That said, certain things are required (or at least a good idea) for most houses. Here are a few I can think of:

- cleaning the gutters every year (can be done yourself with a big enough ladder)
- getting the chimney swept at the beginning of your heating season (hire somebody)
- cleaning out any roots in your sewer main (hire a rooter once, then flush a small amount of chemicals every ~6 months)
- properly draining any sillcocks (the water spigots on the outside of your house) to prevent your pipes freezing and potentially bursting over the winter (easy peasy)

and I'm sure there are plenty more.
posted by xbonesgt at 8:11 AM on January 21, 2015

Clean any debris off your roof after the leaves are done falling in autumn.

Change the filter on your furnace on its recommended schedule.

Cut back any trees/bushes/landscaping that are encroaching on utility lines or touching the siding of your house as needed.

Touch up paint on your house's exterior, especially on the bottom edges of boards.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:17 AM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Set up regular service for your HVAC system. I have people come twice a year for maintenance.
posted by something something at 8:18 AM on January 21, 2015

Clean the lint and grossness out of the exterior dryer vent (on the outside of the house) periodically.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:30 AM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Get a contract with a heating/cooling company to check your HVAC twice a year.

Change your filters on schedule

Trim trees annually, have an arborist check your trees and remove any that are dead or dying.

Gutters should be cleaned, I did mine three times a year, but I live in Atlanta where there's always something falling into them.

Lawn gets mowed 2 or 3 times a month

Tending the garden about once a month, depending on what kinds of plants you have

You will collect a To-Do list of little things that need doing. Set aside time every weekend to keep up with it. Don't let little things turn into big things.

Walk around the house every so often. Look for issues with the roof, siding and brickwork. Call appropriate pro to fix.

Paint your house every 10 years or so.

Check the windows for air loss, caulk as necessary. Do this about twice a year.

See if your utility company does an energy audit. If so, it'll be free and they'll point out stuff you can do to better insulate and save on your electric bill.

If you have a tank water heater, some folks suggest draining it once a year to insure that no mineral deposits or junk gets hung up at the bottom to mess up the heating element. It's easy to do, hook hose to spigot at the bottom, and open it up. (Turn the water supply off first.) I never did it. I've replaced 2 hot water heaters.

Pest Control. I had quarterly service with Terminix.

Attic Fan.

Change any ceiling fans direction when the seasons change. While you're up there, dust the fan blades, that's usually a horror show.

We opened the air vents in the basement in Winter and closed them in the summer to assist with heating and cooling.

Disconnect the dryer vent from the dryer and make sure there's no build up of lint.

Have your carpets steam cleaned as needed. I used Stanley Steamer, they're affordable and they do a good job.

Clean the oven.

Clean the fridge/freezer, be sure to get the coils in the back and the filter at the bottom.

Clean the screens in the range hood of all that nasty grease

Wipe down your cabinet fronts with a degreaser and wood conditioner.

Check under cabinetry for water leaks. Nothing should be damp

Now you know why I found being a home owner so exhausting.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:36 AM on January 21, 2015

Response by poster: More info: The house was an old cabin that was fully gutted and renovated about 20 years ago. I live in CT, so yes there is snow, ice, rain, heat, etc. It's a very small house on a lake. Oil heat. Central A/C. Two stories-ish. The second story is a converted attic, mostly open to the ceiling. Maybe 1/3 of it is loft space. Water is from a well. Full-height basement with oil furnace, water tank and heater.

Thanks for the answers so far.
posted by SampleSize at 8:52 AM on January 21, 2015

Depending on the age of your house, check the age of the roof. It needs to be reshingled every few years. If you have any leaks or holes it could be a huge pain with pests. Also, insulation. Has it been re insulated recently? There are groupons for that.
posted by Kestrelxo at 8:56 AM on January 21, 2015

Check for leaks periodically. Make sure you're not actively running any water in your house, then check the gauge. Wait about 60-90 minutes, or more if you want to be thorough and catch really tiny leaks, then go check the gauge again. If it's moved at all, you've got a leak somewhere.

Conducting a general energy audit of your home may be a good idea as well, both to get an idea of what improvement projects you may want to prioritize and to keep on top of emerging maintenance problems. Check for drafts around doors, windows, etcetera (doors can sag on their hinges, creating drafts; houses can settle and displace windows slightly, etcetera). It's easiest to do this in the winter when your heat is on - you'll be able to physically feel any cold drafts coming in. Do an electricity audit too; get an idea of how much electricity your home uses when all the usual things are plugged in but nothing is on. It may surprise you. That one isn't so much home maintenance as it is good energy practice, but it's worth noting nonetheless.

Finally, keep an ongoing list of maintenance you've done and issues you know about. Write down any quirks your home has. This will be extremely useful to you, and will also be the greatest favor you could ever do for the next owners if you ever decide to sell your house.
posted by Urban Winter at 9:09 AM on January 21, 2015

Septic or sewer?
posted by cecic at 9:25 AM on January 21, 2015

Response by poster: Septic
posted by SampleSize at 10:21 AM on January 21, 2015

One thing about a lake house is paying attention to humidity, especially in the summer. It's unpleasant to wake up and find your nice leather shoes covered in mold. Run fans and/or A/C in the summer. If you have closets, keep them aired out and if you spot mold on clothing, use a low wattage incandescent light bulb (turned on when you are home, away from flammables) and some of that absorbent stuff you can buy in a small pail at the hardware store.

Another thing to watch out for is, depending on how rural it is, we ran into critters like mice, and snakes, as well as the occasional turtle in the driveway. So definitely have it checked for pests. Super important to keep the lawn mowed and leaves away from the foundation, as mice love that stuff. I have seen them disappear into 3" grass that needed trimming along the edge of a driveway.

Along with moisture control, keep plants and bushes from encroaching on the foundation, especially with wood. Some lake houses have special vents under the porch (usually a porch or deck facing the lake), that allows air to flow through. You would open these in the summer and close in the winter.

If you get a lot of bugs, you might want to pop out your screens and hose them off every Spring.

Keep porch steps in good repair and painted to prevent rotting. If you have an unpainted deck or porch, it will need to be resealed every so often.

If you have a septic, it needs to be pumped every so often. Usually your state will have guidelines (here it is 3 years, IIRC). Here's some random county govt. website with some good tips on maintaining your septic system.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 10:26 AM on January 21, 2015

The National Association of Home Builders has a Study of Life Expectancy of Home Components. For more specific information, you could hire a home inspector (as if you were a potential purchaser) for a few hundred dollars. They'll walk through with you pointing out current and potential issues, and provide a written report with expected lifespans and preventative maintenance recommendations.
posted by djb at 11:33 AM on January 21, 2015

You say well water? Make sure you change the filters - buy several at a time so you always have them handy to replace as needed. Mine go about 90 days between changes.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:19 PM on January 21, 2015

See my question on this same topic from a couple months back.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:46 PM on January 21, 2015

Call some real estate agents or property managers. Ask them what servicing they arrange / provide / recommend for their managed properties. You now have a good indication of typical maintenance activities for houses in your area. Make a list. Say thank you.

Call around for quotes on getting the things in your list done. Ask when is the best time of year to get them done, and how often they should be done.

Use the quotes and recommended frequency to work out a fortnightly cost of getting that maintenance done.

Label a ziplock bag for each of the services you've decided you need. Add the dollar amount you worked out above.

Each fortnight (or however often you get paid), put the lotion in the ba...I mean, the money in the bags.

Schedule the maintenance using whatever you use to schedule stuff - a wall calendar, your iPhone, Outlook. Set a reminder two weeks out because this will give you time to get quotes and you won't be chasing tradespeople at the last minute.

Order the service. Hand the tradesperson the bag.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:40 PM on January 21, 2015

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