Owning a home comes with year-round responsibilities and skipping seasonal chores could be costly.
"People don't view home maintenance the same as car maintenance," says Bryan Peterson, director of construction at FlashHouse, a real estate startup that seeks to simplify the home selling process. While most people understand the importance of regular oil changes, they neglect annual home repairs which, if left undone, can snowball into expensive problems.
Here's a primer on the essential tasks to be completed during each season of the year:
Spring can be an unpredictable time that brings snow, flooding and high winds, which makes home maintenance at this time of year especially important. Joe Meisinger, chief underwriting officer for personal insurance at Travelers, notes 32% of all home claims made to Travelers from July 2016 to July 2020 occurred in the spring. Household chores during these months focus on preparing for shifting weather patterns as well as cleaning up any damage from the winter months.
"We encourage homeowners to cross certain tasks off their to-do list before summer comes, especially if there is damage from winter storms that could get worse," says Jeff Beck, CEO of Leaf Home Solutions.
Here are important home maintenance services to complete in spring:
-- Clean out gutters.
-- Do an exterior inspection of your property.
-- Repair and clean driveways and decks
-- Renovate with impact-resistant materials.
-- Inspect exterior and interior caulking.
-- Check your sump pump.
-- Make masonry repairs.
-- Measure home humidity.
-- Rake away old mulch.
-- Turn off water when on vacation.
Clean out gutters. Between snowmelt and spring showers, there is the potential for a lot of water to be running through your downspouts.
"Gutters should be cleaned at least twice a year to prevent damage to your roof and foundation," Beck says. "If gutters are not maintained and water overflows from the gutters, it can result in basement flooding, mold and mildew growth and even foundational issues."
Do an exterior inspection of your property. Those living in northern climates may not have spent a significant amount of time outside during the winter months. Even those in sunnier climates may not regularly inspect their home's exterior. The spring is a good time to look for missing shingles, loose siding and hanging branches.
"It sounds crazy, but go outside when it's raining," Peterson says. That will allow you to see how your downspouts are performing and if your storm drains are clear.
Repair and clean driveways and decks. Asphalt driveways require regular maintenance, and winter weather can make surfaces deteriorate. Drives may require cold patches or seal coating every few years to extend their lifespan.
"Here in the Pacific Northwest, we usually have a layer of green moss or algae on our exteriors after a winter of rain," says Casey Deck, a Portland handyman services consultant with Neil Kelly, a remodeling, repair and maintenance firm in the Northwest. "Algae can be slippery and should be cleaned off all walking surfaces for safety."
Renovate with impact-resistant materials. Hail causes some of the most expensive damage in the spring, according to Meisinger. If you need to replace roofing, siding or windows, use an impact-resistant material to avoid future damage.
"Maintaining windows is crucial to their durability as well as functionality," Beck says. "Homeowners in certain locations, especially those prone to hurricanes, should consider hurricane impact window installations."
The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety has also developed a national standard that can be used as a checklist to guard against hurricane and wind damage.
Inspect interior and exterior caulking. Winter storms and temperature changes can cause homes to move and caulking around windows and doors to crack. Also, check caulk lines in bathrooms, such as where tile walls meet fiberglass shower pans.
"If there are cracks, that's where water can get in," Peterson says. Re-caulking is an inexpensive way to prevent the serious water damage that can occur should water get into walls. "It's a $5 maintenance item that could save you thousands of dollars," he says.
Check your sump pump. Take action to ensure that water from outside doesn't cause damage inside. "This is a great time to go down to your basement and check your sump pump," Meisinger says. You can test your sump pump by adding enough water to raise the pump's float and see if it is pumped out properly. For a more thorough evaluation, consult with a plumbing professional.
Make masonry repairs. Peterson, who has experience doing home inspections, says masonry work is one of the most overlooked items he sees. Tuckpointing, a process that replaces worn mortar between bricks, not only prevents water damage but also keeps out pests.
"Yellow jackets love bricks," Peterson says, and it's not unusual for homes with poorly maintained masonry to attract colonies of the flying insects.
Measure home humidity. Your home shouldn't have more than a 10% difference in humidity between the basement and first floor, according to Peterson. Any significant difference, or an overall humidity rate greater than 60%, calls for running a dehumidifier. Many garden centers sell humidistats that can be used to measure humidity in the home, but be sure to position them away from bathrooms or other water sources for an accurate reading.
Rake away old mulch. Before spreading new mulch in the spring, remove the remaining remnants from last year's landscaping. Otherwise, you risk creating a hill of mulch that could direct rainwater to your foundation and result in a wet basement, Peterson says.
Turn off water when on vacation. Jim Magliaro, risk consulting technical lead at the insurance company Chubb, notes that 45% of property claims made to his company are related to internal water damage. To avoid expensive damage to your home, consider turning off your water supply when leaving for an extended period of time. Another way to avoid water damage is to check pipes to sinks, toilets and appliances for leaks or loose connections.
"Summer is great for doing the bigger outdoor projects at your home," Deck says. The warm weather also makes this season an ideal time to take care of tasks that can deter pests and minimize the chances of property damage later in the year.
Here is a home maintenance checklist for the summer:
-- Test GFCI outlets.
-- Secure outdoor furniture.
-- Add anchor bolts to doors.
-- Cut back vegetation.
-- Trim branches and remove dying trees.
Test GFCI outlets. Kitchens, bathrooms and other areas that may be exposed to moisture should be equipped with ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, outlets. These outlets are designed to avoid electrical shocks and minimize the possibility of fires by shutting off the flow of electricity when a ground fault occurs.
The easiest way to test that the outlets are working properly is to plug in a radio, turn it on and push the test button on the outlet. If the radio shuts off, the outlet is working as it should; if not, it should be replaced.
Secure outdoor furniture. Summertime storms can upend patio furniture and large equipment, such as trampolines and swingsets. Secure items to the ground or deck with anchors, bolts or cords, and properly store items when not in use. It may also be helpful to create a wind barrier around furniture by planting shrubbery or installing a decorative wall.
Add anchor bolts to doors. Meisinger says 19% of the home claims his company receives in the summer are related to wind damage. High winds can cause garage and house doors to fail, but anchor bolts help secure doors to the structure of a home. They may be especially useful in areas prone to tropical storms and hurricanes.
If you are replacing a front door, Meisinger suggests getting one that opens out. That way, high winds will seal a door shut tightly, rather than trying to push it open.
Cut back vegetation. Keep pests at bay by trimming or removing vegetation that may be close to the house. Left unchecked, this greenery could attract and conceal insects, rodents and other wildlife.
Trim branches and remove dying trees. Walk around your property and look for overhanging limbs, cracked branches or dying trees. Trimming branches and removing unhealthy trees in the summer can help prevent a tree limb from falling on your home or vehicle during a future storm. Meisinger recommends maintaining a 10-foot clearance between the house and tree limbs.
Fall can be a busy season for household chores. "Fall maintenance should focus on preparing your home for the winter weather to come," Deck says. "Check windows and doors for proper operation and be sure weather stripping is good order."
Plus, put these items on your house maintenance schedule for the fall:
-- Clean out gutters (again).
-- Add insulation.
-- Protect pipes.
-- Clean the chimney.
-- Inspect your HVAC system.
Clean out gutters (again). Falling leaves and debris can fill gutters and clog downspouts. In snowy climates, ice dams are the main hazard associated with clogged gutters going into the winter months. However, keeping gutters free of dirt and debris should help you avoid the problem.
If you'd like to skip this chore, gutter protection systems such as LeafFilter, offered by Leaf Home Solutions, can prevent debris from getting into gutters and downspouts in the first place.
Add insulation. Insulation is important not only for comfort, but also for protecting the integrity of your home. It can prevent ice dams and pipes from freezing and may protect against fires.
However, be careful not to add too much insulation. People naturally create moisture in a house through cooking, cleaning and bathing. Too much insulation, combined with a lack of ventilation, means that moisture has no place to go and can lead to a wet attic and mold growth.
Protect pipes. Water pipes in crawl spaces, attics or basements may be prone to freezing in the winter. Adding insulation to a house is one way to prevent that from happening. Other ways to prevent freezing include plugging drafty cracks or holes in walls near pipes or wrapping them with foam or another insulating substance. Outdoor pipes, such as those for sprinkler systems, should be drained and their water source turned off to prevent frozen or burst pipes in the winter.
Clean the chimney. The fall is a good time to have a professional inspect and clean your chimney if you have a fireplace. They can remove creosote that has built up inside and check for other potential hazards such as bird nests and debris.
Inspect your HVAC system. You don't want to wait until the winter to have your furnace checked. Fall is also a good time to have boilers, radiators, heat pumps and similar systems inspected.
Ushering in ice and snow, winter can be a harsh time of the year in many parts of the country. Not only do homeowners need to protect their home against external damage from storms, but they need to address potentially devastating internal hazards.
From July 2016 to July 2020, 35% of all home claim payouts made by Travelers in the winter were fire-related, according to Meisinger, making it the most expensive loss to incur during the season. However, you need to worry about pest control and internal air quality during the cold winter months as well.
[Read: How to Winterize a House]
Your house maintenance checklist for the winter should include these items:
-- Change the furnace filter.
-- Seal cracks and holes.
-- Update alarm and alert systems.
-- Clean out your dryer vent.
-- Review your insurance coverage.
Change the furnace filter. This isn't an annual task, but one that should occur every couple months during the heating season. Changing the furnace filter every 30 to 90 days will keep air flowing freely and reduce dust. Skip this task, and you could be faced with less-efficient heating, higher utility bills and potential health hazards due to air pollution.
Seal cracks and holes. When the temperature drops, animals look for warmth and food inside. To ensure they aren't overwintering with you, seal exterior cracks or holes with caulking, foam or another filler. Make sure screens are firmly affixed over vents and other larger openings. Pay particular attention to the roofline, chimney and areas where pipes enter the house.
Update alarm and alert systems. Though they won't prevent a fire, alarm systems can minimize damage and save lives in the event of one. Homes should have a smoke alarm outside every bedroom and on every level of the house. Photoelectric alarms may be best at detecting smoldering fires that can fill a home with carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. "Maybe even get a smart smoke detector," Meisinger says. These devices will send phone alerts in the event a fire or carbon monoxide is detected.
Clean out your dryer vent. While you should be cleaning a dryer's lint trap after every use, vents need a deep cleaning at least once a year. Over time, lint can accumulate and even ignite. Check the vent hose and remove any accumulated buildup. Also, make sure the external vent is properly screened to prevent pests from accessing your home through it.
Review your insurance coverage. Not all home maintenance chores involve manual labor. As the calendar turns to a new year, it's a good time to review your homeowners insurance policy. If you've made improvements in the past year, make sure those will be adequately covered and consider shopping around for a better deal if you haven't compared insurance costs recently.
For more about how to properly maintain your home, Peterson recommends Family Handyman magazine and the website Construction Instruction.
"Keeping up with home maintenance is very important but can cause stress if you are unsure about how to do it," Deck says. If you aren't confident in performing specific tasks, look for a licensed professional who is also bonded and insured.