Greg Bennett - The Home Expert

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You're Your Home's Doctor. When Was Its Last Checkup?

The home I live in has a septic system. And like many things around the home, it needs attention periodically. Now I wont gross you out with a play by play of what goes into maintaining a septic system (although it isn’t all that horrific), but as the septic guy was doing his thing, we started chatting.

 
As you can imagine, every person in the service industry has a story or two to tell, and this guy was no exception. And I am always astonished with how ‘funny’ people can be when faced with a problem that stemmed from their own neglect. I can certainly appreciate that someone who has ‘pooh’ making its way back into their house might be more than a little stressed out. However why they think it’s a good idea to take that stress out on the individual who is there to get them out of the jam that they’re in is beyond me.  Right up there with telling the person cutting your hair, who is an avid Leafs fan, about how many Stanley Cups the Habs have won, and then wondering why there’s a shaved spot on a part of your head you cant see (but everyone else can).
 
Anyway, it got me thinking about things people take for granted around their home in terms of maintenance. Its strange because people seem to understand that you need to maintain your car periodically, but when it comes to keeping track of things around the house, they seem to think it will just take care of itself. Well they don't. And it isn’t like you have to run around your house weekly to keep up. Once or twice a year is often enough for most things.
 
So here are some things you might want to put in your calendar.


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Kitchen & Bathroom Chalking 


Chalking (and I might go so far as to include tile grout) is generally in place to keep water from going where it shouldn’t. Now the chalking around a tub is probably going to see the most direct water contact, but chalking around sinks, toilet bases and other similar fixtures are also important.
 
What you want to look for first is mildew. It usually looks like a dark discoloration on or around the chalking. Now just because you have mildew doesn’t necessarily mean your chalking is failing, but it definitely means you have moisture that is staying in place long enough for mildew to set in. If you have it, I would say your first order of business is to clean there a little more, using a product that combats mildew. Now if your chalking is breaking down and it is holding moisture (which is causing the mildew), your should replace it. Its not that hard, and will save you trouble down the road.
 
Now if you don’t really have mildew, you can still get water making it past the chalking. Have a look around and under cabinets and anything that is in close proximity to your water sources. If you notice any water staining (or mildew) you may need to revisit your chalking, even if it looks fine. You may also need to look at any plumbing (water supply lines, drains, etc), as they can leak over time. To put it simply, if you have something that isn’t built to withstand contact with water, and yet water is getting though, it will rot and eventually fail. And that’s bad, n’kay.


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Eave Troughs and Downspouts
 
Here we go again with the water thing. Many people think that the main objective of eaves troughs is to make sure that rain comes off the roof into a pre-ordained location, which is partially true. But its real objective is to keep the water away from the foundation of your home. Why? Well, because water can be somewhat destructive and intrusive. And if you have a large amount of water collecting right up against your foundation, it wont take long before it finds a way through the foundation into you house.
 
So first things first, make sure your eaves are clear of debris. If you have a lot of trees in your back yard like I do, you can end up with all manner of gunk in the eaves. How much you accumulate will depend on how many trees you have, and by extension how often you should clean them out. There are now different options you can place over your eaves to keep debris out, so that may be an option for you.
 
The second is to make sure your downspouts are clear and are moving the water right away from the foundation. Having them dumping directly at or into the ground is a bad idea. In particular, having them going straight into the ground without being connected to some sort of underground pipe that takes the water away is really bad. And even with an underground pipe, debris can accumulate underground and effectively plug any drainage you thought you had.
 
My preference is to have the downspouts go into a pipe that physically moves the water around 4 feet away from your house.


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Roof 


You’d almost think water was your home’s worst enemy. Well, sort of. Your roof is the most obvious thing that keeps the elements out of your space. And for the most part, the main thing your roof has to contend with are the elements. Sun, rain, snow, wind. All of these things will wear on your roof over its lifecycle. And because there are now a variety of roofing solutions, the lifecycle for a roof has gone well beyond the traditional 20 years.
 
With that said, there are other things that can play into you running into problems with your roof. How many trees you have that can deposit debris on your roof can have an affect. Keeping your roof clear is definitely something you want to keep on top of. We spoke about your eaves troughs accumulating debris, and if they fill up, the water that should be quickly distributed to your lawn can backup and effect parts of your roof. Particularly if the winter comes and that moisture freezes and moves up under your roofing material.
 
And of course any time you start placing things on your roof, like TV dishes and things of that nature, you are going to be messing with the integrity of your roof. These things can be done without causing problems, but you will want to make sure the work is done well.
 
In terms of what you should be doing? As I mention, keeping debris off the roof is key.  Now I wouldn’t suggest going up to sweep leaves off, as the wind will probably do that for you. But anything heavy should be removed. In fact, as a rule, I would suggest trying to stay off your roof as much as possible. And of course simply walking around looking for any shingles that may have shifted or come off (due to heavy wind or other issues) is key. You want to sort out any issues you see right away.


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Heating & AC Systems 


Hey! Something that isn’t generally defending against water! OK, your furnace and Air Conditioning Systems are obviously important, but from a home owner’s perspective have limited aspects you can take on in terms of maintenance. The primary thing you should take care of is your furnace filter. This is generally a pretty easy thing to replace, and as a rule, replacing it on a regular basis is a really good practice. There are a number of schools of thought on how frequently you should replace your filter, and depending on how much dust you have in your environment will determine that frequency. My personal rule of thumb is to change your filter at least every daylight savings time (once in the spring, once in the fall).
 
Now with that said, these systems are becoming more sophisticated, and so I also personally think that having a specialist come in once a year to do a service can save you trouble in the long run. They can check the various parts of the system to see if they are having or likely to start having trouble. An annual service is not generally an overly expensive visit. Its certainly less expensive than an emergency visit in the dead of winter, when you are now worried about your pipes freezing.
 
So other than the filter, a good practice is to get right up beside your furnace or AC unit (while it is actually in a heating or cooling mode) and listen. These units are typically pretty smooth running. So if you hear something rattling or sounding like its trying too hard, you might have an issue.


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Safety Systems

 

You know, its really unfortunate but many people overlook the maintenance of the basic safety systems in their homes. Fire detectors and Carbon Monoxide detectors. And you see tragedies play out on the news where someone looses a family member because the detectors were not working.
 
Now I will admit that there have been situations where dinner preparation turned into a much smokier adventure than planned and the battery gets taken out of the smoke alarm. And its easy to forget to put it back in. But if I was to suggest one thing that you absolutely take the time to do every 3 months is to check that these systems have healthy batteries and that they are functioning as expected.
 
So there you go. Most of these things don’t require a major investment of your time, and with everyone having some form of smart phone with a calendar function, there really is no excuse to forget to do a quarterly walk around your house to make sure all is well with the world.


You could save yourself a lot of trouble down the road by just taking a moment to see how your house is doing today.

Greg Bennett - The Home Expert
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