Keep Your House in Tip-Top Shape: An Incredibly Handy Home Maintenance Checklist

by Jeremy Anderberg on October 8, 2013 · 65 comments

in DIY Home Maintenance, Manly Skills

spruce

Update: One of our commenters, Brandon Beeson, was kind enough to put this into a Google Doc as a checklist. Click here to access that document. Feel free to print and use as needed! Thanks Brandon!

When buying a home, most people probably first think of the financial responsibility. Don’t let yourself forget, however, about the time and labor that home ownership also requires. Just like regular oil changes for your car keep your engine happy and healthy, keeping up with regular home maintenance tasks will keep you from future headaches and wasted money.

It can be intimidating to think about these various tasks, especially if you’re a new homeowner. It’s a long list — there’s no denying that. The good news is that you can do the majority of it on your own without much experience. Google is your best friend, and if you really get stuck, call up your local handyman to help you out.

In order to maximize your efficiency and actually get all of these tasks done, you might want to create a home maintenance calendar for yourself. Whether online or on paper, you can jot down small, regular tasks for each weekend and not be too overwhelmed. We’ve listed tasks that need to be done monthly, quarterly, and biannually. We’ve also given you a list of tasks to be completed seasonally. Not every expert agrees as to which task needs to be done in which season, so this isn’t a black and white list, necessarily. Do what works for you and your schedule, and as long as all these things get accomplished, your home will be happy for years and years to come.

Monthly

  • Inspect, and possibly change out HVAC filters. Many experts will say to change the filters monthly, but that’s not always necessary. For smaller families without pets or allergies, you’ll likely be okay changing the filters every 2-3 months. If the filter is dirty, change it out, otherwise inspect it again next month. I’ve also been told by handymen to go with cheaper filters and replace them more often versus going with the expensive filters.
  • Clean kitchen sink disposal. There are a bunch of ways to do this, but the handiest and best all-around solution seems to be vinegar ice cubes. Put some vinegar in an ice tray and let it freeze, then run the ice cubes through the disposal. It freshens it, but as a bonus, ice sharpens the blades. You’re welcome.
  • Clean range hood filters. If you’ve never thought of doing this, you’re in for a real “treat” when you get that filter off the hood to clean it for the first time. The Family Handyman suggests simply using a degreaser from an auto parts store mixed with hot water. Let the filter sit for a few minutes, rinse it off, and you’re good to go.
  • Inspect your fire extinguisher(s). We’ll assume you have and know how to use an extinguisher. This inspection doesn’t require much: ensure it has easy access (not being blocked by a garbage can or anything else), that the gauge shows adequate pressure, and that it has no visible signs of wear and tear.

Quarterly

  • Test smoke/carbon dioxide detectors. Another simple task; your detectors should have a “test” button. If the alarm sounds, you’re good to go. If not, replace batteries immediately and test again. If it still doesn’t sound, it’s possible there’s simply corrosion on the battery terminal, and it won’t detect new batteries.  Clean it and try again. If it still doesn’t work, you’ll likely need a new detector.
  • Test garage door auto-reverse feature. In 1993, federal law required all garage doors to have this feature after multiple child deaths. Test every month by placing a 2×4 on the ground where the door would close. It should reverse after a second or so when the door hits the wood. Also test the photo-electric sensors if you have them by placing something in front of them (not your body). If the door doesn’t immediately go back up, you have a problem.
  • Run water and flush toilets in unused spaces. This mostly applies to guest bathrooms, or any other sinks/water sources you don’t use on a regular basis. The idea is to prevent grime or any other kind of build up. Regularly running a little bit of water through will prevent this.
  • Check water softener, add salt if needed. You shouldn’t need to add salt every month, but better to check anyway, as it only takes about 5 seconds.

Biannually

  • Test your water heater’s pressure relief valve. This will prevent mineral and corrosion buildup, which safeguards against leaks. It will also help your heater run more efficiently.
  • Give your house a deep clean. Take one Saturday every six months with your whole family, and give the whole house a proper deep clean. Appliances, windows, dusting every nook and cranny (including the basement), etc. Keeping things clean and not letting dirt/grime/dust build up over years and years will help keep your home in tip-top shape.
  • Replace batteries in smoke/carbon dioxide detectors. I’d never heard this before, actually. I just assumed you changed it out when it started giving you the low battery beeping noise. This tip was in everything we researched, however. With something as important as this, you can’t be too careful, and batteries won’t break your bank. Change ‘em out every six months.
  • Vacuum your refrigerator coils. I actually learned this tip from a refrigerator repairman, and our research confirmed it. The fridge can use up to 15 percent of your home’s total power, so you want it running as efficiently as possible. Over time, the coils get dirty and your fridge requires more juice. You can save up to $100 a year by doing this, and it’s not at all a difficult task.

Annually (Organized by Season)

Spring

Spring is a big month for home maintenance. They don’t call it “Spring Cleaning” for nothing. Especially focus on the exterior of your home as it’s just gone through winter and is preparing for summer heat, and in some parts of the country, brutal humidity.

  • Check the exterior drainage. Will rain water flow away from the house? Puddles should not stand around your home for more than 24 hours. If water stays, or moves toward your foundation, you have a few options. First, check your gutters. It could be a bad spout or a loose connection there; they may also just need cleaning. Second, you can grade the area around your home yourself with some dirt; this has worked just fine for me in the past. Third, for pavement, you can have professionals come out and raise it so it drains away from your home.
  • Clean out gutters. They’ve likely accumulated leaves from the fall and grime/sediment from the winter snows and/or rains.
  • Inspect the exterior of your home. Is any paint chipping? Is any siding damaged from winter? Are there any holes in your brick? Take a close look all around your house, and make any repairs as needed. Also be sure to check the foundation for any cracks. A good silicone/caulk can fix a lot of your problems.
  • Get your air conditioning system ready for summer; consider having it serviced. This one really depends on your individual home, and even which part of the country you live in. Some places mostly just use window air units, while other places (like my home in Colorado) use a big swamp cooler up on the roof — these are fairly basic machines where a quick internet search can help you fix any issues that come up. Also refer to the user guides for specific regular maintenance. Central air is obviously a more complex system. Getting it serviced by a professional should be around $100 or less, and it will save money and headaches down the road.
  • Repair/replace damaged window screens. You don’t want bugs making their way in because you missed a hole in a window screen. And no, duct tape doesn’t count. It can be a quick fix, but don’t leave it for long. It just looks bad.
  • Clear dead plants/shrubs from the house. This could double as a gardening tip, but if you didn’t trim trees or shrubs in the fall, do so now. Plants can weasel their way into cracks and holes on the exterior of your home, causing damage and shortened longevity. Nip that in the bud before it’s an issue. If you have decorative vines on the exterior, pay close attention.
  • Check trees for interference with electric lines. Have professionally trimmed if necessary.
  • Inspect roofing for damage, leaks, etc. Repair as needed; you may need a professional.

Summer

Summer is a great time to focus on the exterior of your home, as well as your lawn and garden. It’s also perfect for having that garage door open and utilizing the prolonged daylight to work on any manly projects you’ve had on the backburner.

  • Check grout in bathrooms, kitchen, etc.; repair as needed. This will prolong the life of your tiled surfaces and just looks better.
  • Inspect plumbing for leaks, clean aerators on faucets. Go around to all your faucets and toilets and check for any small leaks. If you have poor water pressure out of a faucet, the aerator is the likely culprit and it’s an extremely easy fix.
  • Take care of any insect problems you may have. Summer is their playground. You probably won’t have to look too hard to notice any insect problems. Ants, spiders, moths, etc. are all common, and fairly easy to take care of. Keep cobwebs clear, have ant poison handy, make sure all doors are tightly closed, etc. If termites are common in your area, this handy article gives some tips on how you can do some inspection and prevention yourself.
  • Clean and repair deck/patio as needed. It generally just needs a good washing. A deck may also need re-staining. Also check for any loose boards or posts and repair as needed.
  • Clean out window wells of debris. If you have a basement, you also have window wells. All kinds of things can get down in there from leaves, to trash, to animals.
  • Check and clean dryer vent, other exhaust vents to exterior of home. While the dryer is running, check that the exhaust is coming out. It should smell nicely of fresh laundry. If there isn’t much exhaust, check for blockages as well as you can. You may need a professional. Also vacuum the lint from the hose at the dryer.
  • Clean garage. Cleaning the garage should be a summer ritual for every man. Keeping it clean and tidy will extend its life, and it often gets neglected of regular care. With all the extra dust it gets from the manly projects you’re working on, you should actually clean it even more. Once a year, however, give a thorough going-through.

Fall

Fall is an in-between season where you’re finishing up your summer home maintenance tasks as well as getting your home ready for winter. Cold, snow, and rain can do a number to a home, so you don’t want to ignore winter preparation.

  • Flush hot water heater and remove sediment. This prolongs the life of the heater and helps with efficiency as well.
  • Winterize air conditioning systems. Remove and store window units. If you have central air, cover the outside unit with a tarp or plastic sheeting and secure with bungee cords.
  • Get heating system ready for winter. Check for any leaks in windows or doors; these can cost an arm and a leg. Make sure heating vents are open and not blocked by furniture. Get furnace serviced/inspected at least every other year, preferably annually. As with the AC, this shouldn’t be a huge expense. Don’t forget about fireplaces if you have them.
  • Turn off and flush outdoor water faucets. Also flush hoses and store them. Winterize sprinkler systems as well, if you have one.
  • Get chimney cleaned, if you have one. Some folks say to do this in the spring, some say fall. Either way, just make sure it’s done once per year.
  • Test sump pump. You don’t want to wait until you need your sump pump to find out it’s not working.
  • Check driveway/pavement for cracks. Make sure to have re-sealed before winter; water can freeze and expand in the cracks, causing more damage.
  • Buy winter gear. Have sidewalk salt, good shovels, etc. ready for winter. You never know when that first snow will come!

Winter

Winter is the time to go around the interior of your home and check for any little things you may have overlooked, or perhaps noticed and said, “I’ll get to that later.” Winter is your later. If you have any interior honey-do projects, whether it be painting, building shelves, etc., now is a great time to tackle those as well.

  • Regularly check for ice dams and icicles. De-icing cables that sit at the front of the roof work well. Don’t let icicles grow, as much as the kids may want you to. They’re not only a danger to people standing beneath them, but they’re incredibly heavy and can cause damage to your home. They also can cause water damage to your foundation when they  melt.
  • Test your electricity to the extent that you can. Always, always be extra careful when working with electricity. You can do a couple things on your own, though. Check that all outlets work; if they don’t, you can re-wire them on your own. Also, test your GFCI outlets. There are wildly varying opinions on how often to test this. Some say monthly, others say annually.
  • Tighten any handles, knobs, racks, etc. Go through the house and inspect anything that could have a loose screw.
  • Check all locks and deadbolts on your doors and windows. If anything doesn’t work right, replace.
  • Check caulking around showers and bathtubs; repair as needed.
  • Remove showerheads and clean sediment. This prolongs its life and helps with water pressure as well.
  • Deep clean and inspect the basement. Basements are notoriously overlooked, especially if they’re primarily just storage areas. Dust ‘em up, clean any windows, make sure there isn’t mold anywhere, etc. Give your basement a good inspection at least once a year.

While this list is certainly extensive, it’s not a complete list of all the things you can do for your home. What do you do to keep your home in tip-top shape? Do you have any hacks for doing these tasks as efficiently and effectively as possible?

{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nic October 8, 2013 at 9:01 pm

It’s funny that you post this, because I was hoping to compile something like this myself!
Now It’s just a matter of putting dates on things that need to be done.
THANKS!

2 criolle October 8, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Make this a printable!

3 Andrew October 8, 2013 at 9:20 pm

Instead of, or perhaps in order to reduce how often you need to replace HVAC filters, give them a good vacuumming once in a while (once per month?).

I’m not sure how well this works (I’m renting an apartment) but my parents have been vacuuming their HVAC filters for as long as I can remember.

4 HA October 8, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Great list. However, you might want to check your window and deadbolt locks in the fall or spring. If there is a problem that needs fixed you won’t let all your heat out in the winter, or the cool out in the summer.

5 jerry October 8, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Take a piece of 1 inch hose and attach it with electrical tape to your vacuum sweeper hose to clean out your refrigerator coils.

6 Josh October 8, 2013 at 10:23 pm

“Run water and flush toilets in unused spaces…The idea is to prevent grime or any other kind of build up.”

The purpose of this is not to prevent build up (which, in an unused drain, wouldn’t build up), but to keep the trap full of liquid to prevent sewer gases from venting into your home.

7 Tina October 8, 2013 at 10:58 pm

RE: fridge coils. If your coils are underneath rather than on the back, use an air compressor to blow the dust out from underneath. Most vacuums won’t get anything but the first two coils which isn’t enough to make a difference.

8 Michael Moore October 8, 2013 at 11:45 pm

> ice sharpens the blades

I am having an extremely difficult time imagining how this could possibly be true.

A) Aren’t the blades going to be very much harder than some vinegar ice
B) They’re going to be hitting the blades at all sorts of random angles which wouldn’t help anyways.

The other tips seem good, but this one seems like something you’d find on a top-10 list on pinterest.

9 Matthew Hayes October 9, 2013 at 1:02 am

Could you make a list like this for cars?

10 david October 9, 2013 at 4:20 am

Great list! Thank you. Thank you… One correction though is that biannual is every two years. I think you meant semiannual which is every six months. Great article, thanks for putting it together.

11 Lasse October 9, 2013 at 5:26 am

A very nice list indeed. I have a single comments, just from my own experience.

The range hood filters can often be cleaned effectively in the dishwasher. In my experience, the most intensive program is better than anything I have been able to do by hand until now.

Furthermore, if your fridge has a tray behind where it collects water, empty it while you vacuum the ribs, and make sure the passage through the fridge wall is clean and empty – ells your fridge might flood inside.

12 Jeremy Anderberg October 9, 2013 at 7:13 am

@Michael — thanks for asking about disposal blades. This is actually a very common piece of advice we found. After doing a little more digging, it’s not entirely accurate, just easier to say it that way than fully explaining.

From InSinkErator: “Many people think a disposer works like a blender, with spinning blades chopping and breaking down the waste. In reality disposers work in a different way – and there are NO blades involved. Instead, impellers (or lugs) mounted on a spinning plate use centrifugal force to continuously force food waste particles against a stationary grind ring. The grind ring breaks down the food waste into very fine particles – virtually liquefying them.”

What the ice does is clear/clean those impellers for maximum efficiency and freshness. So while the tip wasn’t 100% mechanically accurate, it still applies. Thanks for asking.

13 Native Son October 9, 2013 at 8:07 am

A couple of minor critques:
For the refrigerator, get a coil brush. Let’s you get behind coils on the back and simply at the coils on the bottom of the fridge. That coil brush also works on clothes dryers to get lint out of them, or at least loosen it so it gets blown out of the machine.
For checking the batteries in the smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, check ‘em if you’ve never done that. Otherwise, per the local fire department, change the batteries when you reset the clocks for daylight savings time (OK, use the equinoxes if your area doesn’t do Daylight Savings).
Gutter cleaning is a mid-to late autumn deal if you live in an area with a Mediterranean climate (virtually no rain for half the year). It’s a good idea todo it that time of year anyway, you’ll want the gutters and downspouts clear to handle winter precipitation…and if your children are like mine, you’ll likely find a few small balls up there…Theodd badminton shuttle cock makes an excellent drain plug for a downspout as well.

14 Watts October 9, 2013 at 8:07 am

Great list, as someone who is looking to buy a home soon, this will certainly come in handy!

I would also consider adding two things to the list:

1 – Checking the condition of the water hoses on your washer annually. A broken hose can quickly flood and ruin everything in your basement (or worse if you have your washer upstairs)

2 – Checking all shut off water shutoff valves (toilets, sinks, washing machine, etc) monthly or annually. By shutting off the valve, you’re ensuring that it still works and has not locked up. Also working the valve occasionally will help prolong its life. Better to find out now than when your toilet is overflowing!

Great article, thanks!

15 Jake Hughes October 9, 2013 at 8:10 am

Great article! I’m a real estate agent and will share this with all of my clients (and use it myself!).

I remember the first time I heard about cleaning refrigerator coils. We had been in our home for about 5 years and boy were they dirty!

16 Joshua October 9, 2013 at 9:42 am

I would love a pdf layout of this post. Very helpful.

17 Brad Felmey October 9, 2013 at 9:59 am

This might be a bit tangental, but for many people home ownership includes gasoline power equipment such as lawnmowers, leaf blowers, chain saws, etc.

At least quarterly these should be started up for a few moments to ensure that the incredibly small fuel passages in the carburetors don’t clog with dessicated fuel.

18 Matt October 9, 2013 at 10:26 am

@Josh

Actually, if you live in an area with hard water (as I do in Ohio), water rings and scale buildups from unused fixtures can be a real headache, especially in toilets. I’ve also had to replace tub/shower diverters that have mechanically frozen from disuse.

But your point about traps is a very legitimate concern as well. I’ve been on the wrong end of a dry trap in an unused shower/tub a couple times, and it stinks.

19 Dan October 9, 2013 at 10:31 am

I used to work in electret filtration at 3M (i.e., HVAC filters). My job was to test filters for particle penetration, as well as pressure drop across the filter. We used oils, salts, and just about everything else imaginable for test materials. After all that experience, I can assure you, the cheaper HVAC filters work about as well as a screen door on a submarine. Invest in a good filter, change it every 3 months, and your lungs will thank you.

20 Jerry October 9, 2013 at 10:39 am

I don’t have a carbon dioxide detector, is that important to go along with my carbon MONOXIDE detector? :) Thanks for the great article, it will be a great guide to keep handy!

21 Mike October 9, 2013 at 11:40 am

Perfect timing. Seriously. My wife and I just bought a house and I thought to myself…”dang, I gotta start a list…” Thanks for starting one!

22 Guy October 9, 2013 at 12:04 pm

From my experiences and recommendations from plumbers “Do Not Test The Hot Water Tank Pressure Relief Valve”. As soon as you do it will start leaking on you and will need replaced. I’ve gone through 3 in three years…testing each year before a plumber finally gave me the advice.

23 Ryan Cobin October 9, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I have always done the hot water heater flush in the beginning of the summer for the start of hurricane season. Your hot water heater is a 40-60gal emergency water supply so it’s important to keep it clean.

24 Alex October 9, 2013 at 2:26 pm

@ Josh

“The purpose of this is not to prevent build up (which, in an unused drain, wouldn’t build up), but to keep the trap full of liquid to prevent sewer gases from venting into your home.”

- To add on to what @Matt said about scaling – unused drains are stagnant and can grow bacteria colonies that clog the drains. This is why you should pour bleach down the HVAC drain too. To prevent bacteria clogs and evaporation issues you should pour about a cup of bleach in anything that will sit for a while. Then add a few ounces of mineral spirits which will coat the surface and help prevent evaporation.

In general, for unused sinks/toilets/drains I’d recommend adding this to the monthly check – quarterly is far too long to go without being used.

25 1stGenRex October 9, 2013 at 3:17 pm

On the shower head thing, take the shower head off and put it in a ziplock bag with white vinegar. Leave it there for a few hours and then rinse it out.

We have hard water, and this trick saved me from buying a new shower head, because I thought ours was messed up.

26 dale October 9, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Love the article, but to make it really great for your readers, why not provide it in pdf, or another printable format? It’s supposed to be a checklist right?

27 John October 9, 2013 at 7:37 pm

So, just my 2 cents as a plumber: If you don’t have hard water or lots of sediment problems with your water, you don’t necessarily need to drain your tank.

If you do feel the need to, take my advice, remove the plastic piece of crap drain valve, thread in a brass (you really want to spend the money on that) nipple, ball valve, and hose adapter.

Also, dont put any cleaning chemicals in the tank of the toilet, such as 2000 flushes, it degrades the rubber and plastic parts much faster.

28 Doug October 9, 2013 at 8:41 pm

While you’re flushing out unused sinks and toilets, it’s a good idea to test the shut-off valves, too. Deposits can build up overtime and cause the valves to seize.

And second topping off the drain traps. Don’t forget the overflow drain on your water heater if you have one.

29 Tom October 10, 2013 at 9:17 am

Ok, so I guess I might be a bit young (I’m nearly through being 17) to be really considering this, but it’s only a few years off.
So I’m a bit unclear on some things, and obviously there will be differences because this article is probably tailored to the States, and I’m Canadian.
Firstly, what exactly is the difference between “hard” water and “soft” water? I’ve heard different definitions for each before. Is it that common in the States that your tap water is, in general, undrinkable without putting your own additives in?
Secondly, how common is it to have a garbage disposal in your sink? I’ve never in my life seen one. It’s pretty much a US thing, as far as I know.
Well, otherwise, this list is pretty well comprehensive, I think. In urban Canada the winter’s aren’t too bad, but out in the rural areas it is downright awful (or awesome, depending on your views).

30 Debbie M October 10, 2013 at 9:25 am

I’ve heard it’s best to use the three-month HVAC filters and change them every month anyway. (I live someplace with very heavy use half the year.) I’ve also heard that vacuuming them doesn’t help–something about the sharp particles having ripped through the filter, and then you are ripping them back out with the vacuum, leaving big holes so the filter is no longer protecting the unit.

31 Viper October 10, 2013 at 9:40 am

Does anybody know a good reference book for general home maintenance? I’d like to learn how to fix more stuff around the house. Cheers!

32 Tyler October 10, 2013 at 10:17 am

I don’t remember ever seeing anyone in my parents’ house do any preventative maintenance like this in their house, and it really shows. Most things either get fixed when they break, or they just get left until it gets worse and they have to spend even more time and money to fix it. If I were there more often, I’d definitely implement this list, but for now, I’ll just have to wait until I have my own home. Thanks for the tips.

33 Debbie M October 10, 2013 at 10:48 am

Tom, hard water has lots of minerals in it. US tap water is always drinkable by government standards, but some people don’t like the minerals (which makes it harder for soap to lather) or the taste and so they treat the water anyway.

I almost always see a garbage disposal in the kitchen sink, especially when there is a dishwasher. I don’t know why; I’m happy to use the trash can or compost heap.

34 Jeremy Anderberg October 10, 2013 at 11:37 am

@Viper – I relied heavily on this NY Times guide: http://www.amazon.com/Times-Repair-Almanac-Season—Season/dp/0867307595/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1381419421&sr=8-2&keywords=new+york+times+home+maintenance. My version was a little different, but similar to this. Otherwise, you can just search “home maintenance” in Amazon and get a bunch of good results.

35 Viper October 10, 2013 at 1:10 pm

@Jeremy – Thanks for the suggestion. I know there are many options out there, but some are better than others.

36 Josh October 10, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Nice article! It’ll definitely help me along in my adventures as a homeowner.
A request for a future article: could you do one of these for car maintenance as well?

37 Mark October 10, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Great list! have you made one for cars and/or gardening?

38 ChrisS October 10, 2013 at 2:41 pm

RE: the chimney sweep and doing in spring or fall.

I have mine cleaned in the fall right before I start needing it for fires on those cold nights. My reason? In the late spring, a few weeks I’ve stopped burning wood for the winter, squirrels (and sometimes birds) like to stuff twigs and leaves into the chimney for nests. I’d rather pay to have my chimney cleaned once in the fall than once in the spring and again in the fall to clean out critter debris before I start burning all that lovely wood I’ve split.

39 Brandon Beeson October 10, 2013 at 3:47 pm

I was also wanting a printable easy checklist of this article. So I figured I would make one and share it with all of you.

It is in Google Docs and you can download it and change it to fit your needs.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mVH1Fn9WVdviKQ4W0Qtl_veGYd7Z_nBphknRP_T75uU/edit?usp=sharing

40 Lee October 10, 2013 at 5:18 pm

You got to hand it to the gent in the yellow suspenders holding a beer in one hand and chugging one with the other. I’m hoping he is bringing it to his buddy waxing the car!

41 Justin October 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I have found that rubbing alcohol on some paper towel works wonders on a range hood, kitchen ceiling fans and light fixtures which may all be greasy. Try it. You will be amazed.

42 Mathew October 11, 2013 at 9:29 pm

@ Brandon Beeson

Thanks for putting a printable list together!!!

43 JDanny October 13, 2013 at 7:50 am

Wow! Usually good stuff like this list appears in time for Spring Cleaning and in Spring it’s too tempting to be outside rather than attending to essentials like those on your list. Now the routine can begin! Thanks.

44 NS Daddy October 13, 2013 at 10:54 pm

If you see ice cicles or ice dams on your roof it’s a sign of much more serious problems with your house. By far the most common cause if the attic being improperly insulated & vented.

The attic should be a cold zone – too little insulation causes your heat to escape into the attic and melt thew snow on your roof. The melt then trickles to the eaves, where it re-freezes because there’s no longer a source of heat under it.

The ice freezing has a good chance of getting under the shingles, and the expanding ice can pop shingles up. This allows water penetration on to the sheeting and will eventually mold & rot.

It can NEVER hurt to add more insulation to your attic if you live in Canada or a colder US states. $200 in extra insulating (I prefer blown-in cellulose, but the pink batt insulation is just as good) and a little know-how will save you from a $10,000 roof repair job.

45 Phil October 14, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Don’t pour bleach down the drain.

1) Goes straight into the sewer system

2)Certain household chemicals when mixed in the drain could form a sudden noxious cloud which may cause you to pass out, and injure yourself in a fall.

Instead pour half a cup of baking soda down the drain followed by a cup of vinegar then a cup of warm water.

46 Anonomus Coward October 15, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I wouldn’t jump up and go check the pressure safety valve on the water heater. I did this once and it never completely seated giving a drip for a long time. There are multiple reasons it could not have seated but i blame built up crud. If the heater is new and hasn’t had a chance to build up a lot of crud then you could start this as a maintenance item. But for an old heater just leave it.
I doubt testing it will make any difference in its functioning anyway. In fact I doubt it is really needed other than to satisfy some section of ASME boiler code. For a heated incompressible liquid you need to move what, an ounce, of water to get back to safe pressures?

47 Ray Habenicht October 15, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Thanks for the article Jeremey and for the list Brandon Beeson.

48 Armandt October 16, 2013 at 6:36 am

I have absolutely none of these things, I live in South Africa, no aircon,no chimney, I have a toilet but only one (so its got a high F/day ratio).

49 Tony October 17, 2013 at 1:19 am

I’d have to add one more chore that may be peculiar to my part of the state, but we have to regularly clean our sewer lines of roots from the many trees in our yard. Most do it annually.

50 unamed October 17, 2013 at 8:28 am

Some other things that I do in my house as part of my maintenance plan:
-Softener salt reservoir could be cleaned out annually to prevent it from making a slab of salt on top and not working properly – use a small shovel or whatnot to scoop out the salt and debris/dirt that builds up in there and toss it (you can probably reuse it for something…?) — I’ve been meaning to do this for the past couple years…*sigh*

-Change whole-house water filters regularly (mine require it about once every 3 to 4 months because of the amount of rust in the lines; your mileage may vary)

-If you have an air exchanger clean or replace its filter per owners’ manual (mine is a permanent cleanable filter that I hose down each spring)

-De-ice your deep freeze freezer occasionally — I haven’t done mine for about three years now and the ice was taking up (surprisingly) a lot of space on me; I chipped it off because I didn’t have time or room to store the contents elsewhere while the inside melted but doing that can be risky to damage your freezer if you slip (a bbq flipper worked well for this to carefully slide under the ice-chunks where I could and gently pry away the big ice chunks). Again…I was being lazy and shouldn’t have been, so don’t do this like I did, I probably shouldn’t have gotten away without damaging the lining or hurting myself in the process…

-Remove the burners from your stove (if you have one of those older stoves with the coils that pop out) and clean the liners and underneath; I like to use the foil oven liners too to make cleaning the bottom easier and quicker (and rarely do a self-cleaning cycle to clean everything else and the glass and whatnot)

-Don’t forget to empty the central vac dirt bin thing! If your suction sucks, it’s most likely overfull and needs to be emptied (before the contents start blowing out the exhaust vent into your garage or wherever you have it located!); or for non-central vac owners, be sure to change the bag on your upright vacuum or whatever. Check the brush underneath to make sure it actually makes contact with carpet to pick up and stir up the dust to be sucked up too – I noticed my vacuum wasn’t working too well a while ago and it was because the carpet was too high and the brush would rub too much on the carpet and wore the bristles down to the point where it didn’t really help! Replacement brush for my model was only $20 or so and was a simple fix to get it vacuuming like new again!

-I have a wood pellet stove, so I have to clean that out regularly but before each heating season I *should* sweep the chimney (or hire a pro to do it) but I haven’t done that in the past three years yet; I am going to do it this year (dammit!). Chances of a chimney fire with a pellet stove are low but still, better safe than sorry and at the same time it should help the stove to be as efficient as possible due to clogged chimney from soot/flyash

-As for cleaning stove glass, just use a piece of newspaper and a squirt of water and wipe (I’ve also heard of folks using white vinegar but haven’t tried it myself cuz newspaper with a little moisture works great) – it comes clean in no time and the oils from the ink in the newspaper help keep it clean longer

-For summer-izing your lawnmower, consider getting your blades sharpened every other year or so (or more depending on how many rocks and sticks and large items you accidently mow over…oops!)

-Winterize lawnmower in the fall after last use (drain gas i.e. let it run dry; put 2 ml of oil or so into the spark plug hole and pull the cord slowly to cycle the oil through to prevent corrosion but don’t start it; check your owners manual for more details)

-Summer-ize snow-blower in the spring after last use (same as lawn mower, let it run dry after last use and then put a little bit of oil in the spark plug hole and cycle the engine a bit to get it into the cylinders to prevent corrosion — check your owners manual of course too); additionally hose it down and after it’s dry, spray wd-40 all over it (in the scoop mostly) to decelerate rusting from salt

-Lawn care — the whole fertilizing/weed-control thing (I just overseed in the spring and late fall and my grass is super thick and healthy the seasons that I get a chance to do that). It would be better if I fertilized or used weed control but I don’t think it’s worth the environmental impact for “pretty” lawn and don’t like the idea of my 3 year old playing on treated lawn and bringing it indoors on the carpets and her clothes and ingesting it after the off-gassing period or whatever you’d call the time you usually stay off treated lawns, just isn’t worth the unknown and known risks and impacts to health and environment in my opinion…

-Don’t forget to reverse the ceiling fans at season changes – it should blow wind down in the summer to cool you off and suck air up to circulate warm air better in the winter. If you have a thermometer or thermostat that shows the temperature in the room, watch it change when you turn the fan on in the winter when you need heat, mine changes temperature by at least 2 degrees in a room with a vaulted ceiling that slopes! Also note that baseboard heaters with thermostats built in aren’t as efficient as a wall-mounted thermostat because hot air rises of course (meaning that the thermostat on the heater will run longer to heat the room up till the air lower at your ankles is to temperature whereas a wall mounted thermostat will kick off when the air by your shoulders is warm, the difference from your ankles to your shoulders in temperature can be a couple degrees and heating the room this low is senseless (or just turn it down to a more comfy setting but it still runs longer between on/off cycles) – of course, the majority of folks have forced air and this doesn’t apply but for the minority, fyi…something I never really thought of till I tried puzzling out why I was using so much energy in the winter in my house (a rogue basement baseboard electric heater to blame!)

-In addition to testing the garage door reverse function, check to see that you can manually open and close it without the automatic opener if equipped; it should have a lever on the arm that pulls the door up somewhere that you can flip to enable manual operation for during a power outage for example; best to do this occasionally to make sure you know how it works before you need it and also to ensure it doesn’t cease up and make it more difficult during a critical time (i.e. an emergency!). I never tried mine till I need to get the car out during a long power outage and it was REALLY a pain to do with only flashlight…. (see article on flashlights!)

-Look for cracks and mold in your walls (basement cement walls, drywall, outside brick or siding for cracks/holes).

-A little trick I do to save a couple bucks a month (because I have an electric water heater and time of use billing with differing rates depending on the hour) is to flip the breaker for the water heater off during on-peak billing hours, and turn it on during off-peak hours. I only have problems with not having enough hot water when I forget to turn it back on at evenings but this generally saves me $20-$30/month on energy costs :)

Note – as for smoke detectors, you should have one of each type per floor at least (photoelectric and ionization – one detects a slow smoldering fire, the other a fast spreading flame or something like that…But this article is about maintaining things, not what you should have but nonetheless…)

I am going to add all these tasks to my outlook calendar so I get reminders (since I rely on just remembering to do them when the seasons change and whatnot). Thanks for the motivation to make sure I get all these things done ;o)

51 Charles October 17, 2013 at 1:30 pm

@Alex

A cup of vinegar down drains/toilets will achieve the goal of removing bacteria, without the need for environmentally harmful bleach.

52 Melika October 19, 2013 at 7:41 am

For the kid asking about hard and soft water:

Hard water refers to water that has a lot of minerals dissolved into it. It’s called hard (probably) because it leaves scale build-up on and inside plumbing. Generally, most homes with hard water will show tell-tale signs around faucets, on sinks/tubs below faucets, and in the toilet bowl. Red indicates dissolved iron (rust), white is usually calcium or lime. It can be extremely difficult to clean and worse, it tends to clog up the plumbing where you can’t easily clean it.

“Soft” water is hard water that has been treated. Most home treatments involve a simple chemical reaction involving salt (a type of salt, not table salt). This is the use of a home “water softener”. It’s basically a big tank where water is passed through salt. The negative ions in dissolved minerals are attracted to the positive ions of the salt and attach themselves to the salt, thereby leaving the water free (or mostly free) of the dissolved minerals causing the problems. The problem with water softeners is that some of the salt inevitably is dissolved and transported with the water. Most water softeners have a way to adjust how much salt is exposed to the water. A particular big-name company that supplies the salt for their units often set the water “softening” to the maximum and there are home owners that don’t know any better. Water in these houses tastes horrific and often feels slick. I don’t know any other way of describing it, you just have to experience it. While you certainly get a lot of suds with softened water, overly softened water doesn’t rinse very well (the ions are all bound up with the salt). The ignorant home owner then often installs a secondary drinking water filtration system in the kitchen or simply purchases bottle drinking water. Properly adjusted softeners should filter most of the minerals out of the water, but not be so full of salt that you notice. The company that sets the unit to maximum is basically dumping excess, unused salt into your system and wasting it. Adjustments from a professional are based on chemical tests that determine you water’s hardness (how much dissolved minerals are in the water). In the US, you can often get these done for free in rural areas by the Extension Office or even some local plumbing supply (mom/pop, not big box). Bear in mind that dissolved minerals are not necessarily bad for you, many people want their minerals in their water (it’s why you can buy mineral water); the issue is to prevent problems in your plumbing.

Many houses with well water have some amount of dissolved minerals. Some municipal water sources have hard water, but many treat the water before sending it to home simply to prevent problems in their system. Many city/town people don’t have to deal with this and have never experienced hard water. If you have hard water, you will notice with softeners that you get more suds, again because of ions and how bubbles are made. You may not need a softener where you live. I have slightly hard water, not really enough to warrant the money, expense, or time for a water softener. I add a little sprinkle of baking soda to my dish rag before washing dishing to increase the suds and that’s about it.

Central Air Filters: Somewhere on the internet is a meme that apparently is spreading it’s ugly wings again. To wit: “old-time furnace repairmen say to use the cheapest air filters and replace them every month, it’s better for the system/wallet/whatever than the more expensive ones.” – so, of course, it must be true. Here’s the low-down: furnace filters are there to filter out dirt/debris/allergens (large -small particle). If you want/need allergens, dust, & dander filtered, you need a more expensive filter in your unit. The pretty packaging and construction type doesn’t matter, what does is the filter rating. All filters have this on their packaging. Plain blue fiberglass filters have the lowest. They are the cheapest for a reason and about the only thing one of these will filter is a stick or maybe some large seed pods. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blue filter that was actually dirty unless it was in the unit for 2 years and spiders weaved some filament on it that caught stuff. One owner bragged that she only has to change the filter every couple of years (or more) and I thought “that’s because it doesn’t filter anything”. You SHOULD change the filter every month (unless it’s blue fiberglass, then you don’t ever have to change it since it isn’t filtering anything but very large particles). If you have a very clean house, you may be able to get away with it bi-monthly. Even though your filter doesn’t look dirty, that doesn’t mean it isn’t chock full of microscopic allergens.

As for how strong a rating to get, you need to base that on your unit (how powerful/old the blower is) and your own power consumption. Old timer guys say to get the cheapest piece of crap because they have experience with old units that are only powerful enough to blow the air. If you put a heavy duty filter in one of these, you stress the blower motor because they weren’t made to function with the advanced heavy duty filters available to home owners today. Chances are that not only will you get greatly reduced airflow, but you’ll stress the old motor to the point of failure (it’s fighting the backup of air before the filter – which also = heat). Since the unit isn’t putting out the full volume of heated air, it will take longer to heat the area, so it is wasting energy. This can happen with newer units, which is why you check to see what the maximum/recommended filter rating and change rate is for your unit. Most recommend monthly changes simply because you may not see how blocked a higher rated filter really is and running the unit with a blocked filter results in the same symptoms as running one too high for your unit.

Ceiling Fans: I disagree with the previous poster on this one, ceiling fans are not meant to blow air on your person (like table fans), they are for air circulation in a room. Hot air rises to the ceiling and heat registers/radiators are usually along the walls. You want to set up air circulation to maximize your heat energy. Therefore, in winter you set the fan to blow the hot air along the ceiling (usually center of room) straight down to the floor where it will cool a bit as it is forced towards the walls where it is reheated/mixed by the registers/radiators and travels back up to the ceiling. Process repeats.
In summer, you reverse the direction to draw the cool air that is sitting on the floor up to ceiling, where it travels along to the walls, cooling a bit and dropping back to the floor to be “super” cooled by that pool of air. Repeat this process.
Some people find this counter-intuitive because they are accustomed to the table fan that cools them by evaporating their sweat. Remember, it’s about room air circulation. Yes, I’m sure he gets an increase in 2 degrees, but that’s only because he is churning the air. Doing it correctly will get an increase in temperature AND a drop in energy consumption.

Defrosting Freezers: do it more often (yearly depending on build-up). Frost build-up not only loses you space, but it also retards refrigeration, which means (again) more blower wear and tear and energy consumption. No I’m not a greenie, just frugal. Use the wife’s hair dryer to speed up the process and prevent damage from manual removal, or buy one at the thrift store.

53 Melika October 19, 2013 at 7:53 am

Oh wait, forgot two:
I’ve heard two conflicting reports on covering your outdoor condenser for whole house A/C. One is to cover it, the other is not to bother because it prevents humidity from escaping, thereby causing rust. My unit wasn’t covered for years until I bought the house. I covered it for one season with a fitted cover (not just a tarp) and sure enough, there is now some rust on the blades. I don’t cover it anymore. It would be best to contact your manufacturer on this one and it may depend on where you live.

To clean your range grids easily: Get large 1 or 2 gallon plastic bags that seal. Place your grid/grease catcher in the bag (I can get one set in a 1 gal. bag). Put a in 1 Tbsp of ammonia. Seal the bag and let sit overnight (or at least a few hours). Keep your head away from the bag when you open it and pull out the parts; rinse in water. Do NOT dump the ammonia, even though it will look dirty. It’s the fumes that clean. Put the next bits in the same bag and repeat the process. When I am done, I dump the ammonia, rinse the bags, then store them with the cleaning stuff until the next time I need them.

54 Dan October 19, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Melika: I totally agree on the filter quality issue. One thing you may not know is that the filter quality rating is a function of both particle penetration and pressure drop.

Quality Factor = – ln (Penetration) / Pressure drop.

So, if two filters are equally good at getting junk out of the air, the one that has a lower pressure drop will have a higher quality factor. If you get a very high quality filter, it will likely be easier for the blower, as well as keeping your air cleaner.

55 Melika October 19, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Dan: No, I can’t say I knew that, but it’s been a while since I’ve seriously considered the old “which is the best filter” question. I was referencing the actual filtration rating, presuming that someone wishes to filter out as much as possible. I’ve always wondered why there wasn’t an air flow rating.included, but I guess now I know it was, it was just hidden. Thanks for that!

56 Lisa October 21, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Regarding icicles: if you find yourself having to clear icicles from your home, as the winter check lists suggest, you are throwing money away on your heating bills. Adding insulation to your attic will significantly reduce icicle formation and keep the heat you’re paying for inside you home, where you can use it.

We always do the big garage clean out in October, the deadline is that we have to fit the cars inside by Halloween, where they’ll be safe from any miscreants.

57 unamed October 22, 2013 at 7:56 am

For the ceiling fan directions, I was following the owners manual on mine from years ago which was consistent across a couple different models but your idea has merit too. Whatever works, plus you need to weigh your hvac system (forced air vs radiant, etc.) I guess :)

As for icicles and insulation…All the insulation in the world won’t help if the vapor barrier is missing, torn, etc. (ok, maybe all the insulation in the world would help but you get the idea). It is more beneficial to have sealed vapor barrier between attic and house then insulation in my experience (your mileage may vary, just my experience where I had a melting zone and it didn’t get better till I realized the vapor barrier wasn’t sealed and had a tear in it from new till I patched it – even with plenty (and extra and then some) insulation).

58 unamed October 22, 2013 at 7:58 am

I used to cover my BBQ and went through one every two years from rot and rust. Stopped covering them, and I’m going on year 5 with hardly any rot/rust! I dunno if an A/C unit outdoors would be the same since it doesn’t go through the heat up/cool down process as extreme as a BBQ and you generally just cover it for the season, not on/off between use so it should generally be consistently temperate in contrast to the BBQ that goes hot/cold/damp/dry, etc.

59 Doug Reynolds October 22, 2013 at 7:09 pm

While doing my annual checklist, one thing that I always include is the home dryer. Not only should the discharge hose be cleaned from lint but I like to open the back of my dryer (electric – be sure to disconnect from power source first), then vacuum inside the fan housing and any lint accumulation around the heating element. Care must be given not to damage any components. The fan housing contains a small area that will allow to accumulate small items accidentally placed in the fryer with the clothing (toothpicks, small nails, etc.). These items over time can build up and eventually damage the fan motor. Also the lint that accumulates near the heating element and housing is the first place where a fire can be started. Remember to be sure to disconnect an electric dryer from its power source. Too many dirty dryers have resulted in house fires. I recommend not to start a load of clothing drying then leave your home. If a fire starts with your dryer, a responsible adult needs to have a plan how to address it before it can destroy your home. In all things, be safe; think safety and plan for an event.

60 Diana Hopper October 23, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Nice post!!. These checklists are really necessary for mainteanace.

61 Joel October 25, 2013 at 11:14 am

I work with filtration, I can tell you that buying a cheap filter is not necessarily the right move, A MERV 8 (minimum Efficiency Rating Value) is what most home systems are designed for, any more and you will lose air flow. any less and more dirt will make it to your coils, and into your vents. Check specs on your unit, and use what is recommended. Don’t Vacuum them either you pull the fibers apart and you filters fail faster.

62 Caleb November 25, 2013 at 1:21 pm

It is always good to stay on top of the maintenance required for your home. It is essential that you do it often so that you do not get behind.

63 Rabbi January 26, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Thanks for this post.

64 Chip February 14, 2014 at 8:37 am

very useful list. Any way to make this something you can export to outlook?

65 Jeremy Anderberg February 14, 2014 at 9:07 am

@Chip – one of our commenters graciously put this into a Google Doc for anyone to use and print. Here’s the link: https://docs.google.com/a/artofmanliness.com/document/d/1mVH1Fn9WVdviKQ4W0Qtl_veGYd7Z_nBphknRP_T75uU/edit

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