Weekend Warrior, meet the Half-Hour Hero. Here’s a rundown of the best home maintenance tasks you can do for your Money Pit in less than 30 minutes.
1. Locate and label important valves: Imagine that a pipe broke in your ceiling and water is now leaking through every electric light fixture on to your brand new carpet. Got that mental picture? Locate and label every important water valve in your house including the main water valve, hose valves, icemaker valve and water heater valve. If that unthinkable level of leak ever really did happen, you’d now be all of 30 seconds away from stopping the flow.
2. Leak Check: Put your sinks and tubs and shower pans through their paces to find small leaks before the ceiling caves in:
- Sinks: Turn each faucet on and run it full blast for a minute or two. Then, with a bright flashlight, inspect the drain under the sink. If no leak is spotted, close the stopper and let the sink fill up until it hits the overflow (do not walk away during this part as some faucets can fill a sink faster than the over flow can drain it!). After the water has been running through the overflow for another minute or two, check the drain under the sink again. If no leak is spotted, your sink is good to go. Move on to the next sink and repeat the procedure.
- Tubs: Similar to sinks, run the tub for a few minutes and then go downstairs, or to the crawlspace or basement and check the area where the tub drain is for leaks. If none are spotted, go back to the tub, close the stopper and this time fill it all the way up to the overflow. Then open the stopper and check beneath once again for any leaks.
- Shower Pans: If you have a tiled shower pan that is more than a few years old, it is important that it be tested for leaks. Pans can crack below the tile and rot away the sub floor and floor joists below before you know it. Grab a washcloth or one of those rubber jar openers and block the drain. Then run the shower and fill the pan up with three to four inches of water – being VERY careful not to let the water overflow the pan. Then, check the area below the pan for leaks. If none are found, leave the shower pan plugged for another 30 minutes and check it again. If leaks are spotted, your shower pan may be cracked and needs to be replaced.
3. Check toilet for leaks: Toilet flush and fill valves can break down over time wasting lots of water. A running toilet or one that “ghost flushes” all by itself needs new valves. Another easy way to tell if flush valves leak is to add food color to the toilet tank, wait thirty minutes and then check the bowl. If the food coloring has leaked into the bowl, the flush valve is leaking and should be replaced, a job that can easily be done in less than 30 minutes and for only a few dollars. Toilets can also develop leaks at their base where a wax seal makes the connection between the toilet and the floor. An easy way to check this is to gently press your foot against the floor to the immediate right and then the left side of the toilet. If the floor feels spongy, the wax seal may be leaking and the toilet should be reset.
4. Caulk a tub: Bathtubs are the closest thing in a home to a boat and that proximity to water wears on the caulk, which must be replaced. Remove the old caulk and clean the lip of the tub with a 1:4 solution of bleach and water to kill any mold or mildew that may have been left behind. Fill the tub with water and recaulk. Yes, you read that right, so take off those shoes and step in. When the caulk dries, drain the tub. As the water drains, the tub will come back up and compress the new caulk so it won’t fall out. Clever, no?
5. Clean faucet aerator and shower heads: Slow flowing faucets or shower heads are typically caused by blockage from debris or mineral deposits that get stuck there. To free up the flow, unscrew and disassemble the aerators or faucet heads and soak them in a white vinegar and water solution. Then reassemble and enjoy new vigor in your shower or sinks!
6. Drain water heater: Water heaters can build up sediment on the boot that makes them less efficient. To keep yours running at peak efficiency, use the tank’s drain valve to carefully let a few gallons of water out of the tank every 6 months.
7. Exercise your circuit breakers and ground fault circuit interrupters: Exercise is good for you and your circuit breakers! About every 6 months, turn each breaker off and back on again. Every month, push the test button on the GFCI to make sure it stays flexible and strong – just like you after a good workout!
8. Check outside walls, windows and doors for drafts: With this home maintenance task, be a draft detective and save on energy bills all year long. Using the back of your hand, carefully run it along the top, bottom and sides of windows and doors. The skin on the top of your hand is much more temperature sensitive than your palm and if there’s a draft, you’ll pick it up right away. Also check outlets and light switches along the exterior walls. If you pick up a draft, grab your caulk gun or weather-stripping and seal away.
9. Lubricate locks and hinges: Grab a can of WD-40 and use the straw attachment to squirt lubricant in all your exterior door locks and hinges. WD-40 will clean both clean and lubricate the metal all at the same time.
10. Free-up a stuck window: Have an old double-hung window that’s stuck in place? Usually this happens when it has been painted in place for a long time. Grab a putty knife and work it around the entire frame to break the paint seal. If it needs more convincing, take a block of wood and place it on the top of the lower window sash at the corner. Give the block of wood a few downward quick taps with a hammer. This will help break any remaining part of the paint seal you haven’t been able to get to with the putty knife and the window should open right up.
11. Clean dryer exhaust ducts: Dryer fires happen when ducts get clogged with lint. Keep your dryer safe by cleaning the entire exhaust duct from the dryer to the exterior vent using a dryer duct cleaning brush available at home centers or hardware stores. Also check to make sure your exhaust duct behind the dryer is not plastic, which is unsafe and should be replaced with a metal duct.
12. Check bath exhaust fans: Bath exhaust fans that discharge into the attic instead of outside dump moisture where it can cause damage. Damp insulation won’t insulate and that same moisture can condense on roof sheathing and cause rot. Test yours by turning on the fan and then going outside to make sure you see the flapper door on the exhaust fan vent spring open. Also take a look in the attic to make sure the duct that goes from the fan to that vent is free flowing and has as short a distance to travel as possible.
13. Check HVAC ducts for good supply and return air flow: Good air flow is a key to the efficiency of any forced-air heating and cooling system. To check yours, turn your fan to the “on” position and then check air flow at every supply and return duct with a tissue. If you find any that are blocked, contact your heating and cooling contractor to track down the cause. Ducts can get disconnected or inadvertently turned off.
14. Bleed excess air from hot water radiators: Air sometimes gets trapped at the top of old cast iron radiators and prevents the radiator from fully heating. For this home maintenance task, turn your heat up and check each radiator in your home. If you find one that is cold at the top, bleed the excess air from it using a bleeding key (small thumbscrew shaped wrench available at any home center or hardware store). Open the bleed valve about a half of a turn until you hear air hissing out. When the air stops hissing and water dribbles out, the air has been drained and the radiator should fully heat up.
15. Replace HVAC filters: If you use disposable fiberglass filters in your heating and cooling system, they need to be replaced once per month. The filter will be at or near the blower compartment in the furnace or at a return duct. Remove and replace keeping the air flow in mind. Fiberglass filters have an arrow on their side which points in the direction of air flow. Make sure you follow it when replacing yours or the filter won’t work nearly as well. For a more permanent solution, consider having your HVAC contractor install a whole house electric air cleaner. These are far more efficient and you can cut back your maintenance to once per year!
16. Clean or replace filter on kitchen exhaust fan: Kitchen “recirculating” exhaust fans are in the “better than nothing” category as far as an air cleaning appliance is concerned, but that doesn’t mean they should not be kept at their limited but peak efficiency. Remove both the metal and charcoal filters in the exhaust fan. Soak metal screens and replace charcoals filters every 6 months. Wipe any grease from the underside of the hood and replace the light bulb.
17. Test your air conditioner’s cooling power: Wondering if your A/C is performing up to snuff? Here’s a quick way to test it without calling in a pro. Take a thermometer and measure the air flow at the supply and return duct nearest the blower. The temperature difference should be between 12 and 20 degrees. If it’s not, your system is not running efficiently and probably needs refrigerant, which can easily be added by your local HVAC pro.
18. Clean and reverse ceiling fans: Ceiling fans need to run in a different direction based on the season and have a small reversing switch on the side of the motor to do just that. In the summer, fans should “pull” cooler air up from the floor and in the winter they should “push” warm air from the ceiling downward. Check your fan, reverse the spin if necessary and clean the blades every 6 months.
19. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors: These detectors monitor your air 24/7/365 and need to be maintained. Use the device’s test button to check its function once a month and replace batteries at least twice a year or in accordance with manufacturer’s directions. It’s also a good idea to vacuum them to reduce dust accumulation.
20. Clean refrigerator coils and drain pans: Coils on the back side of your refrigerator must stay clean for the refrigerator to run efficiently. Pull the refrigerator away from the wall and vacuum every 6 months. Also if you have an old style refrigerator with a drain pan underneath, be sure to pull that out and clean it frequently to avoid mold growth.
21. Clean humidifier: If they are not maintained, humidifiers can get clogged and stop working or worse yet, distribute mold or bacteria through your house. Clean your humidifier as recommended by the manufacturer. One trick of the trade is to soak the evaporator pad in a white vinegar and water solution. Humidifiers often get clogged by the mineral salts that are left behind by as water evaporates and the vinegar melts that salt. Be sure to rinse well though – or your home might start to smell like an antipasto.
22. Check for roof leaks: Inside your home, the area where roof leaks are most likely to show up is fairly predictable. Most roofs leak under protrusions like where chimneys or plumbing vent pipes go up through the roof. The next time you have a heavy rain; check these areas carefully with a flashlight to spot small leaks that can be fixed before they become bigger flows. Outside the home, check the same areas using a pair of binoculars. If you spot loose flashing or missing shingles get them fixed before the next downpour.
23. Inspect your deck: Decks take a lot of punishment from sun and snow alike. Check yours for rot or cracks at least yearly. Your deck check should include the floor joists beneath, as well as posts, columns, girders and decking. Most importantly, check its attachment point with the house. If you spot cracked or rotted beams or any rusty hardware, get it repaired before your next big family blowout.
24. Repair cracked sidewalks: Cracks in sidewalks can worsen quickly and cause the sidewalk to lift or heave if they are not fixed. Small cracks can be fixed quickly with silicone caulk. For larger ones, we’d recommend an epoxy patching compound.
25. Caulk windows & doors: Caulk joints around windows and doors should be checked yearly to prevent drafts and leaks. If yours is looking a bit tattered, scrape out the old caulk and replace with a good quality window/door caulk. At the same time, check window sills and trim for rot, which can be easily detected by tapping horizontal areas with a screw driver.
26. Clean air conditioning compressor: In order to run efficiently, the central air conditioning compressors need to be kept clean. For this home maintenance task, inspect coils and wash them down with a hose to free up loose dirt. Also be sure that all bushes are trimmed to allow at least twelve inches of space around the compressor. Any closer and the unit can’t cool properly and will have to run longer to cool your house, lowering efficiency and increasing costs.
27. Caulk chimney crown: One common weak link in a masonry chimney is the crown, the cement are between the outside edge of the brick and the terra cotta clay chimney liner. When the crown cracks, water leaks down into the chimney causing brick to freeze and break therefore driving up repair costs. Inspect and caulk chimney crowns yearly to help maintain the chimney’s structural integrity.
28. Kitchen cabinet checkup: For this home maintenance task, clean and lubricate drawers and hinges on kitchen cabinets. Replace any catches that have stopped working.
29. Clean screens: Give your window screens a bath. Remove all the screens, mix up some household cleaner like Spic and Span. Apply with a gentle brush, rinse with a garden hose and reinstall.
30. Handrail safety check: Check inside and outside handrails to make sure they are secure. Repair any loose railings, posts or spindles. Loose wood spindles inside your house can be repaired by wedging a wood toothpick dipped in glue where the spindle goes into the handrail. Let the glue dry and then break the tooth pick off in place or trim it with a utility knife.