One aspect of homeownership that new and soon-to-be homeowners often ignore is the recurring and possibly steep cost of keeping that home in good shape.
According to a report by the University of Illinois Extension, homeowners need to budget 1% to 2% of the purchase price of their home, each year, to cover the costs of home maintenance and repairs. That’s $3,000 to $6,000 a year on a $300,000 home, and if it’s older or has appliances that will soon need to be replaced, you may need to set aside as much as twice that amount.
When it comes to the fine line between routine home maintenance costs and those that send you into a personal financial nightmare, the tipping point is your level of vigilance.
Here are some of the most common home maintenance issues and how you can keep a small problem from evolving into a hefty burden.
While water damage is unavoidable if the foundation of your house is cracked, much of it is preventable. All you need to do is respond appropriately in weather conditions that are known to cause damage.
If you live in a cold climate, stay on top of the snowfall. David West, who owns Meadowview Construction, a remodeling and home renovations company in Georgetown, Mass., advises that homeowners clear the bottom few feet of snow from the roof, using a snow rake, as soon as possible after snowfall to prevent ice dams. These dams result in water creeping under the shingles, and eventually, leaking into your house. You’ll know them by that mysterious little drip on the ceiling or down around the window frames. On the surface, it may seem like a little burden that can be solved with the occasional bucket, but don’t be fooled. “It will cause some pretty serious water damage to the insulation and drywall,” says West.
Rain can also cause major issues that are avoidable. Kevin Leahy, the founder of a removable downspout system called “The Spout Off,” warns that non-working gutters aren’t just pointless, they’re harmful.
When rain is in the forecast, make certain that the gutter’s outlet (the hole in the gutter where the water flows out to the downspout) is clear of blockage. Failure to keep gutters working creates big costs like rotted boards, windowsills and water leaking into the foundation and basement.
The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) reports that the most you can hope for out of a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system is 25 years. Furnaces and air conditioning units generally sputter at the 15-year mark. But they’ll hardly last even that long without proper maintenance.
West advises that gas/oil boilers and furnaces be cleaned and maintained each year. This service will cost you about $200, but is the “single most important thing you can do to ensure long life and efficiency” of these systems. At the time of service, you can also ask the technician to leave a copy of your system’s efficiency rating. Armed with this knowledge, you can anticipate how much “life” is left in your furnace and plan your future home finances accordingly.
Sometimes, the most minor of tasks can help to save a bundle. Ian Patrick, of Los Angeles-based design firm Ian Patrick Interiors, says that many of his clients fail to do the most basic (and cheapest) maintenance of all: changing the filters in their HVAC units. These can be bought at any hardware store for a few dollars, and pay for themselves almost instantly in utility bill savings. “A dirty filter makes the unit work harder, so changing it is a very affordable way to make it run better and longer and saves you a service call,” advises Patrick.
If you have and use a fireplace, maintenance is also essential. You may be tempted to cut back on expenses by skipping yearly chimney maintenance. Preventative flue cleaning will generally cost $100 to $200. Ignoring this necessary maintenance could result in the need to reline the flue completely, costing you $3,500. Get the point?
Conditions like heavy snow, heavy rain and high winds, can severely impact roof quality. The material of the roof is also a determinant. An asphalt shingle roof will last about 20 years. Slate, copper and concrete roofs can last about 50 years.
You could also unknowingly be causing roof damage. Gordon Smith, owner of home inspection, remodeling and contracting company HomeSmith LLC, warns that walking on the roof to install holiday decorations or to clean gutters could crack roof materials, creating leaks. Replacing damaged shingles can cost as much as $4 per square foot.
Smith also cautions against using attics for storage, which can cause the roof to sag, or collapse the ceiling. It could “potentially cost hundreds to thousands of dollars in structural repairs, not to mention repairing or replacing anything that was under the ceiling when it came down,” he says.
While wooden windows last about ten years longer than their less costly aluminum counterparts, they require monitoring, and can be very costly to replace. (Expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $1,000 or more, depending the age and size of the window frame).
Windows that are not shaded by a porch, tree or a bush really take a beating, especially in desert regions. This can result in water damage, rot, and even heat loss. “Combined with moisture, the wood expands and contracts with such frequency that it can compromise the stability of the entire unit,” says Patrick. Check regularly for peeling paint, cracks and chips in glazing, and have them repaired immediately to avoid a heftier bill down the road.