Ten words you never want to hear a contractor say: "It's too late. We'll have to replace the whole thing."
As an experienced homeowner, you know that occasional repairs and replacements are par for the course. But you want to do everything in your power to avoid those big-ticket failures - a flooded basement, a badly damaged foundation, a collapsed roof.
The good news is that with regular inspections and careful maintenance, you can steer clear of the most expensive home repairs. We recommend concentrating your maintenance efforts in the four areas that can result in the most damage and heftiest price tag to fix: your foundation, plumbing, roof and siding, and HVAC system. Don't Settle for a Cracked Foundation Why it matters:
Your foundation is the backbone of your home. A cracked or badly settled foundation can lead to a host of headaches, from cracked walls and warped doorways to plumbing and electrical problems. In new construction, you can take precautions to pour a solid, long-lasting foundation, but older homes require more vigilance and maintenance. Life expectancy:
Poured concrete or concrete block foundations have life expectancies of 100 years or more, but only if you take care of them.1 Biggest threat:
Water is the biggest source of foundation problems. Weak points are created when water seeps into concrete and it swells and cracks. Under no circumstances should water be allowed to collect and pool around your foundation. How to prevent damage:
How much you'll save:
- The best way to avoid pooling water is to make sure your gutters and downspouts are clean and clear and working properly. Make sure that downspouts redirect water five to 10 feet away from the house.2
- Pay attention to the slope of your property - and your neighbors'. To prevent water damage from storm runoff or melting snow, your property should slope downward away from your house at least six inches for every 10 feet.2
- Inspect your foundation for cracks at least once a year. You'll want to look at any areas that are visible above ground outside your home, as well as any part of the foundation you can see from inside your basement or crawlspace. Small hairline cracks are a normal symptom of settling, but wider cracks, especially in a crooked "staircase"-shaped pattern, are of greater concern. Mark cracks with pencil lines and dates to monitor their growth. If a crack looks bad, call a structural engineer who specializes in foundations.
By investing in preventive fixes now - a visit from a structural engineer might cost $500 to $7003
- you can avoid a full foundation repair, which can cost between $15,000 and $40,000.2
Do Make Inexpensive Fixes to Prevent Expensive Water Damage Why it matters:
When was the last time you replaced the rubber water supply hoses on your washing machine? Believe it or not, a $10 supply hose could be the only thing standing between you and a flooded basement. For greater peace of mind, buy the steel braided supply lines for your washing machine instead of the rubber ones. Life expectancy:
Washing machine hoses should be replaced every five years or every leap year, if that's easier to remember. The biggest threat:
Failed supply hoses, water heater failures and frozen pipes are among the top 10 most common causes of residential water damage. How to prevent damage:
How much you'll save:
- The life expectancy of a conventional water heater is six to 12 years, so pay closer attention as it ages.
- Have your water heater inspected annually to make sure that the anode rod, which prevents corrosion, is still working and that all valves and supply lines are in good shape. Even more importantly, drain it twice a year and flush out any sediment, which can create hotspots in the tank that may weaken and crack.
- If winter temperatures routinely drop into the teens or lower at night, take precautions to prevent frozen pipes. For example, leave faucets dripping, and make sure exposed pipes in unheated areas of the house are insulated.
- If disaster strikes and you have a seriously flooded basement, be aware of major electrocution risks, especially when the water is above your electrical outlets. Call a professional electrician or flood damage specialists before wading into danger.
Cleaning up and repairing a flooded basement costs an average of $5,308 per incident (after the deductible).4
Do Inspect Your Roof and Siding Annually Why it matters:
Roofing and siding are critical components to sealing out moisture and protecting the integrity of your house. Life expectancy:
Asphalt shingles is the most common type of roofing and should last 20 to 30 years.1
Aluminum siding has a life expectancy of between 25 and 40 years, while vinyl siding can last for 60 or more.1 The biggest threat:
Damaged or missing shingles and siding panels create spaces for water to enter your house, which can lead to mold, rot and even a catastrophic collapse. How to prevent damage:
How much you'll save:
- Thoroughly inspect your roof each spring. The most obvious sign of roof damage is a missing, broken, or loose shingle - but also look for buckling or warped shingles.
- Pay close attention to the flashing, those narrow sheets of metal or plastic that seal the cracks and gaps between the chimney and the roof, or wrap around exhaust vents and pipes.
- Any exposed nails or screws should be sealed with roof cement or silicone caulk.
- If you have access to an attic, fully inspect the attic ceiling and floor for signs of leaks or water damage.
- Conduct a full walk-around inspection of your siding at least once a year. You can greatly extend the life of your siding by keeping it clean and quickly replacing any broken or missing panels.
If you find any missing shingles, gaps, or leaks during a routine roof inspection, call a roofing professional right away. Spending a few hundred dollars now could prevent a full roof replacement, which averages between $5,000 and $10,000.5 Do Keep Your HVAC System Humming Strong Why it matters:
There's nothing worse on a frigid morning than waking up and realizing that your furnace is shot. Not only is it super-uncomfortable, but your pipes might also freeze and burst. Muggy summer months can be equally unbearable if the air conditioner is on the fritz. It pays to take care of your HVAC system, both in terms of your family's comfort and in preventing costly repairs. Life expectancy:
A well-maintained furnace should last 15 to 25 years, and your central air system should hold out for 7 to 15 years.6 The biggest threat:
Filthy air filters, damaged coils, and low refrigerant levels can all lead to HVAC failures. How to prevent damage:
How much you'll save:
- Hire a licensed HVAC contractor to conduct an annual or biannual inspection of your entire system. In some cases, signing an annual maintenance contract will earn you discounts on any future repairs.
- If you don't have a maintenance contract, replace the furnace's air filter at least once every 90 days, or monthly if you have pets, allergies, or run the system constantly.6 Invest in high-efficiency pleated filters that have an electrostatic charge to filter out even the smallest particles.
- Carefully maintain the area around your exterior air conditioning unit. When the unit is in use in the summer, keep leaves and branches from collecting on top of the machine and potentially clogging up the fans. Trim back bushes and trees to lower the risk of something falling into the unit.
- During the fall and winter, place a protective cover over the unit and make sure the refrigerant lines are insulated and free from cracks or tears.
A new furnace runs an average of $3,9217
and a new air conditioning unit costs an average of more than $5,000.8