Looking for trouble can pay off

Looking for trouble can pay off

I  know that preventive home maintenance is the grown-up way to save money in the long term and keep rats out of my pantry in the short term.

 But I’ll grant for the sake of argument that it’s somehow a wise thing to spend a day looking for trouble around the house – a gorgeous spring day, after a long winter’s worth of crummy weather has beaten my house to scratch.

But how exactly would one know what to look for in the first place, and how long will it keep me from my couch?

I posed these questions to Donald Lovering, an inspector with 33 years of experience, and owner of Advantage Home Inspection Inc., in Massachusetts; Bill Loden, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors; and Charlie Wing, author of “How Your House Works: A Visual Guide to Understanding and Maintaining Your Home.”

My advisers said it doesn’t take long to conduct a fairly thorough inspection. “If you take a few minutes and look at your house and say, “‘That just doesn’t look right, ‘ you have a chance of getting it repaired before the problems come,” Lovering said.

For those who are loath to sacrifice a sunny day for the task, my advisers said it actually helps to pick a rainy day. Grab an umbrella and a pair of binoculars and watch how your house sheds water and where the rain settles once it’s off the house.

Regular cleaning

Winter snow and ice can strain gutters and dislodge the nails that keep everything tightly in place against the house. If the gutters or downspouts are clogged, have them cleaned out by someone with adequate insurance, and check them again for leaks and gaps during the next rain.

While you’re circling the house, be sure you can squeeze between the shrubs and the siding of your home. “If there’s no air circulation there, the moisture stays against the siding and promotes decay,” Lovering said.

We have a climbing plant thing that’s growing off its trellis and onto the front of our house like a bad beard. We’re looking into relocation options. Now step back and see if trees are closely encroaching on your house or utility wires. If so, call a professional to have them pruned.

If you’re a do-it-yourself pruner, check with the utility before you assume anything about the voltage of the wires in question, and then call a tree service anyway.

Next, examine the chimney. It should be topped by a cap, to keep rain out of the flue.

If there are cracks or gaps, have them repaired before next winter, when freezing water can further damage the masonry. Remember that damage later when you’re checking the fireplace.Next, use your screwdriver to poke at windowsills and other wood trim.

If the wood dents easily or the paint looks flaked or cracked, it’s time for wood repairs or new paint.

A natural feel

Now for the interiors. If you’re a fan of air fresheners, put them away for at least a week before your inspection, Lovering said.

A neutral scent may help you find mould or traces of animals that have found their way inside.Start at the bottom, since basements require more attention.

Look for signs of water entry around the edges of the foundation. If you have a crawl space, inch your way in and inspect the insulation, especially around pipes, where even small gaps can cause major problems.If you have oil heat, check the flue pipe between your furnace or boiler and the chimney.

The exhaust pipe should have no cracks or gaps. Open the small cleanout door at the base of the chimney and clear any accumulated soot before it can interfere with air flow. Lovering said to sniff and search for mould or fungus around the basement.

Likewise, if you haven’t already tested your air-conditioning system, do it immediately. If you have issues, you’ll get much faster repair service before the first heat wave. Those with window air-conditioners should check and straighten any bent cooling fins, Wing said, to improve the appliance’s performance and longevity. Clean the unit’s removable air filter while you’re at it.

After checking bathroom sinks and showers for signs of leaks, head up to the attic with a flashlight. Look for places where the insulation may have been soaked by leaks, or spots of wood with mould, especially if you have bathroom vents that (unwisely) terminate in the attic, or entrance points for moist air from other parts of the house.

If the attic has no plywood covering the ceiling joists, use caution, Loden said. One client stepped between the joists and broke through the drywall, he said.Loden grabbed him before he could fall onto the grand piano in the living room below.