Protect your home in 2006
A few fast and simple moves each month can bring peace of mind -- and help boost your home's value.
By Kate Ashford, MONEY Magazine staff

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - Termites. water leaks. fire hazards. They're all out to turn your biggest asset into a money pit. But home upkeep needn't swallow your weekends and lay waste to your savings. "Do the maintenance in small doses and you'll avoid the big problems later," says David MacLellan, author of The National Home Maintenance Manual.

Some of the moves can be made anytime, depending on your region's weather, and none require much time or money. Best of all, we've paced them across 12 months, so you'll have more time throughout the year to enjoy the sweetest part of home ownership: hanging with the family and doing, well, absolutely nothing.


  • Grab a screwdriver and wander the entire house, tightening loose screws on doors, drawers, cabinetry and furniture.
  • Conduct a home inventory for insurance purposes. 1. Walk through the house and garage and record all your belongings with a camera or camcorder. 2. Store these photos or videotapes in another place, like the in-laws' house or a safe-deposit box.
  • Clean the range-hood filter. Grease buildup can damage the fan motor and plug the ductwork and can be a fire hazard when pan frying. Twice a year, run the filter through the dishwasher and clean the fan blades.


  • Check around washer, fridge and dishwasher for leaks, and replace hoses if they show signs of wear and (worse) tear.
  • Pull fridge and freezer away from walls and vacuum condenser coils so that the appliances cool more efficiently. Have cats or dogs? Then do this twice a year.
  • Inspect grout and caulk around tubs, sinks and showers. Chip out and replace if seals are cracked or missing to keep water from seeping into walls or under floors.


  • Call to arrange an annual central airconditioner service visit in April. You'll save as much as $100 by calling before hot weather hits.
  • Assemble (or review) your family's disaster supply kit. First-aid gear; battery-operated radio; canned juices; visit for a complete list.
  • Storing firewood close to a back door for the winter freeze? Move the wood at least 30 feet away from the house. It can attract termites in warm weather.
  • Check basement sump pump before spring rains to make sure it'll work in the event of flooding. DIY tip: Pour water into the pump silo to raise the float and activate the motor.


  • Eyeball house's brick and mortar for cracks or crumbling from winter freezes. Fill gaps as needed. (While you're at it, check walkways and driveways for similar freeze damage.) Costs: Pro, at least $200 a day. DIY, find instructions at and
  • Replace batteries on smoke and carbon monoxide detectors when clocks spring forward for daylight saving time. (In 2007, DST moves to March.)
  • Inspect crawl space or basement floors and walls after heavy rains for water stains or pooling. Portable dehumidifiers ($50 to $75) can help dry out spaces in some cases. If damp conditions persist, call a contractor.


  • Order firewood for next winter. You can often buy it for less this time of year. Plus, the extra months of summer will help season the wood. Unseasoned, it can lead to chimney fires.
  • Do you need pest control? Inspect the ground around foundation walls for signs of termites, such as tunnels or dirt bridges. Contact an exterminator if you suspect termites or other bug problems.
  • Examine outdoor wood structures -- posts, railings, windowsills -- for signs of deterioration, especially rot. Use a very sharp awl to probe for soft spots.


  • Weekend project! Clean and seal wood decks during a sunny stretch. When the deck is dry, apply deck cleaner and scrub; next day, apply deck sealer. Also, if nails are popping up, consider replacing them with galvanized screws.
  • Schedule annual chimney cleaning (every two years if you don't use your fireplace frequently). The cost is typically lower about now: $30 to $50 for an inspection; $60 to $130 for cleaning.
  • Replace air-conditioning and heating filters to boost energy efficiency. At least twice a season. The cost is $10 to $25 a dozen.
  • Hose down your house's exterior. Wash away grime with an ordinary garden hose and a mild detergent. (Pressure-washers can harm exterior finishes.) Be on the lookout for winter damage to siding.


  • Inspect roof eaves for water stains (a sign of leakage). Use binoculars if necessary. Also scan for: 1. Cracks in roofing tiles 2. Loose or missing shingles or loose granules on asphalt shingles 3. Shifting of metal flashing in roof valleys and around chimneys 4. Cracked skylights and 5. Nests in power fans
  • Dispose of old oil-based paints and solvents. They're too flammable to store. Check with local agencies on disposal rules.
  • Got a septic tank? Have it inspected annually for, uh, leakage issues and get it pumped out every three to five years. The cost is $50 to $150 to inspect; $150 to $175 to pump


  • Call your heating service and schedule an annual checkup for your heating system before the busy fall season kicks in. The cost is $60 to $150.
  • Clean gutters. Check for damage, and use a hose to flush summer debris from downspouts. Consider adding leaf guards that allow leaves to slide off easier. Costs start at $60 for a 2,200-squarefoot home.
  • To prevent drain clogs that'll require a plumber (or worse), remove drain traps under sinks and wipe their innards clean. Do this twice yearly. An easy how-to guide can be found at


  • Vacuum dust from vents, baseboard heaters and cold-air returns to aid heating system air flow.
  • If you don't remove and store window ACs, then cover with plastic to protect them during winter and prevent heated air from escaping your home.
  • Weekend project! If winter brings snow and ice your way, apply a coat of epoxy to the garage floor to help prevent road salt from eating holes in the concrete. Costs: Rust-Oleum garage floor kit: $60
  • Drain and refill hot-water heater once a year to keep it fully functional. Also: 1.Test the water heater's temperature/ pressure relief valve, as shown in the manufacturer's instructions. 2. If little or no water flows out or the relief valve doesn't shut off, replace it as soon as possible. Costs: Pro, $60 to $150 DIY, Search for "water-heater maintenance" on


  • Examine weatherstripping and caulk around doors and windows. Replace worn or damaged material that's no longer blocking air. It'll cost about 45 a foot
  • A tip for the twice-a-year switcheroo from window screens to storm windows (and vice versa): For the items going into storage, label them with room descriptions, so you can re-install them faster next time.
  • Time again for new batteries in smoke and CO detectors when clocks fall back (In 2007: November.)


  • Clean gutters and downspouts again. Also, trim tree branches and shrubs that touch the house to prevent storm damage and discourage squirrel visits.
  • Turn off outside water supply. Store hoses. If your sprinkler system is below ground and your area freezes in winter, have a pro "blow out" any water. That will cost $50 to $150.
  • Lubricate garage door rollers with light oil to avoid the dreaded wintertime stickies. (Test safety features too, such as automatic stops.)
  • Throughout the house, lightly lube locks and hinges on windows and doors.


  • Review family's fire-escape plan with the whole household. Check pressure and expiration date on fire extinguishers. A new extinguisher is $10 to $50, depending on size.
  • Look inside bathroom vanities and kitchen-sink cabinets for moisture and other signs of leakage. Inspect pipes for condensation or slow drips.
  • Check clothes dryer vents and hoses for lint buildup that can cause a fire. Clean if necessary. Costs: Pro, about $130 for a thorough cleaning, DIY, about $40 for a brush-and-rod tool like the LintEater (Go to A similar rig can be found at a good hardware store.
  • End the year with a little extra financial protection: Pay January's mortgage bill before Dec. 31 so that you can deduct more interest from the year's tax return.
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