Your home will likely be the most important investment you make in the financial world so it is important to understand how to protect and maintain it. Your home’s systems are not that much different than those of the body; it is a series of structures and systems that work together to perform an overall function. The best method for understanding is to break it down into its individual components. There are three basic systems: cosmetic, structural and the energy efficiency. Each should be evaluated before purchase and on a continual basis to keep your home in tip top shape.
How to Understand and Protect Your Investment In Your Home
Why have inspections?
When you purchased your home you more than likely had a home inspection to help you make an informed purchase. However the inspection process should not end here, you should keep an eye on your home as the years go by. Your home is actually an ever changing and moving structure; it should be evaluated as you live in it, as it changes, as you change, and as the environment and elements affect it. The original inspection report can be used as a reference point giving you a sense of where your house is when you take ownership and as a tool to help you evaluate your home.
What are the structural elements of a home?
The structural elements of a home are literally what keep it standing and allow the other systems to function.
- Footers and foundation
- Physical framing used to construct the walls, floors and the roof
- Plumbing system
- HVAC system
- Electrical system
- Exterior coverings
Most if these systems require an industry expert to fully understand and evaluate, however it is important and helpful to have the basic knowledge while speaking with those professionals.
So how does a homeowner
evaluate these elements?
Footers and foundation
Footers are not something that is easily evaluated but if you have problems with the footer it will more than likely manifest itself through cracks in your foundation that very slowly and progressively get bigger. Not all are structural in nature and could be the natural movement of the house. This can be achieved by walking around the house once a year and keep an eye for cracks or separations, if they seem to get bigger and you think If you think you might have a problem contact a structural engineer. An additional method is if you notice a door that is now sticking in its frame that did not before and there is a crack nearby, you might have a foundation problem. One last item to check are the foundation vents. Check these to make sure they have not come lose, have torn screens, and the vents till open and close.
If you don’t see any cracks or shifting of the walls your framing is doing its job. However sometimes the framing can shift due to weather and other factors, as it is mostly comprised of wood. Expansion and contraction is a natural element of how a house behaves in its environment. However if you see you have more than what would be considered normal, an evaluation should be considered by a professional. Cracks will manifest as visible shifts in the sheetrock, and if they seem to grow larger over time a structural engineer should be consulted.
a fairly simple thing to evaluate. If your home seems to be struggling with its air conditioning or heating you might need to add more insulation in the attic and crawl space or simply an HVAC tune-up. While these may not be the most desirable improvements they are cost effective and give a very large return in energy efficiency. To evaluate simply look in your attic and crawl space to see how much insulation you have. Current code suggests R-38 for attics and R-19 in the floor/crawl space framing for our climate zone. If you do this update yourself, be sure to wear the proper safety equipment and watch where you walk in the attic. Be careful when walking in your attic, you can go through the ceiling as the sheetrock looks sturdy but will give way under small amounts of weight.
These issues are fairly prevalent when there is a back up or clog. Most times it is simply the drain under the fixture that is clogged. However if this does not alleviate the problem you could have blockage or slow drains as the system comes together and becomes one larger pipe exiting the house to the street. There could be a crack in the main as it exits the house or from tree roots growing in the main underground sewer pipe. This type of evaluation would require a camera or snake to see what is going on in the pipe. If you have lots of large trees near the house, an annual drain cleanout to remove roots is recommended. Some of the basics for plumbing monitoring are: check in the cabinet for any small leaks that could damage the cabinet and check for leaky toilets that waste water. These are simple things to look for to prevent wasting money and to prevent costly repairs later.
Electrical is probably one of the hardest to evaluate. Keep an eye out for dimming lights, breakers that trip a lot under normal use, or GFCI outlets in wet areas that do not stay on under normal use. If it looks like you might have some of these problems you might have over loaded circuits that have too many appliances or fixtures running off of them. An older home may have circuits that were originally designed for fixtures that are different from today’s appliances. For newer homes simply rearranging fixtures or appliances in the rooms may alleviate a circuit overload. The solution for older homes is an evaluation by an electrician to see if you have expandable room in the breaker to add more circuits. In either case if you have questions you can have an electrician look at your breaker box and give you a fairly good evaluation of its load capacity.
The most difficult for a homeowner to troubleshoot. I recommend being proactive and have your unit on a service contract. About 50% of your power bill will go towards HVAC and its peak performance will keep that number as low as possible while prolonging the life of the unit. HVAC replacement can be one of the most costly expenses to incur and can be avoided through simple techniques. A service contract will normally have two checkups, scheduled around the change of each season. This is a tune up no different than your car or a doctor’s visit and will allow the service technician to diagnose any potential problems before they become bigger and more expensive. The other thing is to simply replace your filters once a month. I would recommend a basic filter and not one of the ultra allergen types, they can restrict air flow even when clean. Dirty filters can also restrict air flow to the point of taxing your system and causing its early demise. It may seem like an unnecessary expense but if you have to replace your unit when it prematurely breaks you will see the value too late.
Proper cleaning with the right cleaners and methods is the best course of action for the home’s interior; this will extend their looks and usefulness. Most products can be cleaned with standard cleaning solutions but some require different types of cleaners. Some examples; you can clean tile with Mr. Clean or Tilex but you should not use this for your hardwoods, nor would you use soapy water that could ruin the floors, hardwoods require a Murphy’s Oil or similar type of cleaner to help protect them, and you should also be careful of abrasive cleaners like Tilex or Comet on a cultured marble countertop, etc. Best to do some research on the different products in your home.
Exterior coverings can be evaluated quite easily by a homeowner. Starting from the top down looking at your roof in good sunlight each year will give you an indication of how it is weathering. All roofs weather each year from the suns effect, heat and cold changes, tree leaves and branches, wind, rain, and sleet and snow. Looking to see if there is any color change from the original color, any visible cupping of shingles, missing shingles, and possibly shingle granules in the gutter could mean it might be time to have it evaluated by a professional. You can also compare this to any notes made by your inspector at the time of purchase.