Get the Most From Your Home Repair Dollars

Home maintenance chores can be daunting, especially for newer homeowners who aren't familiar with their home's maintenance needs. When the list of home repair chores, from inspecting the roof to regrouting the bathtub, grows overwhelming -- perhaps because necessary tasks have been put off due to financial pressures -- the question naturally arises: What's most important?

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The answer: Maintenance chores that involve safety or water intrusion should be top priority, according to David Tamny, 2010 president of the American Society of Home Inspectors and owner of Professional Property Inspection in Columbus, Ohio.

"One of the most important elements of homeowner maintenance is anything that has to do with drainage or water flow. Gutters or problems with grading and drainage around the structure that can contribute to foundation problems are probably things you don't want to defer," he says.

Stop water intrusion, fix safety hazards

In the safety category, homeowners should prioritize:

  • Inspecting and repairing broken hand railings or walkway cracks that could lead to a slip-and-fall injury.
  • Pushing the "test" buttons on electrical outlets to make sure the ground-fault circuits are working.
  • Installing and testing smoke detectors in sleeping areas and hallways that lead into bedrooms.

Water is so insidious that it's the No. 1 concern of home inspectors at Amerispec of Northeast Florida, according to Charles Gifford, owner of the home inspection company in Jacksonville.

In the water category, homeowners should prioritize:

  • Cleaning out rain gutters and downspouts.
  • Repairing stucco cracks.
  • Using good-quality exterior paints.
  • Recaulking showers, bathtubs, sinks and toilets to keep water out of the walls and floors.
  • Repairing and sealing window leaks, which can cause mold and damage the structure of the home.
  • Cutting back plants that have grown too close to the foundation.

"Vegetation should be trimmed back so rain is running away from the house," Gifford says.

Head's up for a roof inspection

A periodic roof inspection is also a must because undetected leaks can cause myriad costly home repairs. How often a roof should be professionally inspected depends on the age and type of roof and local weather conditions. An older roof exposed to severe weather should be inspected more often than a newer roof in a mild climate.

In any case, homeowners shouldn't wait until they see telltale stains on the ceilings to get the roof checked out. Instead, a roof inspection should be part of the regular home repair routine.

"When you start having damage due to water in the interior (of the home), that's going to devalue the property, and the worse that it gets, the more expensive and tough it will be to fix," Tamny says.

Cool it now: your HVAC system

Next on the to-do list should be the home's heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, known in the trade by the abbreviation "HVAC," whether that means a furnace, air-conditioning unit, heat pump or other components. These systems should be serviced at least once or twice a year because, again, poor maintenance practices can lead to much more costly repairs.

"A dirty filter can lead to all kinds of problems," Gifford says.

Next: Should you hire a professional?