Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to [email protected].
Question from Jabari in MO: Hello Brian. As a new homeowner, I’d like to know the most common home repairs that I should be aware of and prepared for. I have zero experience with home repair work. I’m willing to learn but I don’t even know what to look for. Other than waiting for something to break, what should I do to maintain and make small repairs before they become big headaches?
Answer: Hello Jabari. Your question might sound simple but it’s much bigger than you probably realize. Your home is a combination of several systems that work together. Your plumbing is one system, heating is another, electricity is another, and even your roof is a system. Don’t forget about the foundation, and those are just the big ones. When something goes wrong, it could be that only a small repair is needed. Something like replacing a garbage disposal under the kitchen sink. Or it could be on the scale of a catastrophe by needing an entirely new roof.
Jabari, I’m not trying to frighten you, I’m giving you a scale of how big your question is. Let’s break this down into some common maintenance and repairs that you can make that often prevent a minor problem from becoming a much bigger problem. Then we’ll take a short look at some potential bigger problems and what should be done regularly as maintenance or inspections.
These aren’t glamorous remodels like a kitchen makeover or a new deck. These are only common problems that are likely to happen at some time (often the most inopportune time).
Clogged drains. First, be careful about what you put down drains. Grease down the kitchen sink and feminine products in the toilet are two common clog problems. With a plunger or a drain snake, you’ll be able to clear 95% of whatever stopped up your drains.
Bathroom caulking. You don’t want water seeping behind shower walls, tubs, or sinks because it will cause much bigger problems. But before you do a full bathroom remodel, almost every homeowner can learn how to scrape out the old caulk and seal things up with new caulk.
Running toilet. Unless the porcelain is busted, you rarely need to replace the entire toilet. Instead, take the top off the tank and look for common problems like a leaky flapper, bad fill valve, or overflow pipe at the wrong height.
Jabari, you might notice that these first several problems all involve plumbing. That’s because water causes huge damage when it gets into places where it’s not supposed to be. Drains under sinks are another common place to make sure you don’t have leaks.
Drywall patching and nail pops. These aren’t as urgent as plumbing problems, but they can be aesthetic problems. Nails will pop out of walls as wood studs shrink. This may be more common in new houses but seasonal changes in humidity can be a cause in older homes. First, refasten the drywall with 1-1/4-in. drywall screws (instead of nails). Run the screws until they are recessed but don't break through the paper covering on the drywall. Next, cut out crushed or damaged drywall around the protruding nail with a sharp utility knife. Use a nail punch to drive the old nail down to the stud. Most old nail holes can be repaired simply with self-priming patching material. Bigger holes, like from a doorknob, should be filled with a joint compound that hardens through a chemical reaction. Any drywall repair is going to need a paint touchup.
In no particular order, these are common problems that homeowners want to inspect for and do regular maintenance to prevent or postpone expensive replacements.
Roof leaks. You want a good roof over your head, so this is a biggie. Keep your eyes open for ceiling leaks inside and missing or loose shingles outside. Repairing a few bad shingles can be an easy fix for a few hundred dollars. But once the damage becomes extensive, you’ll have to replace the roof completely. Replacement is going to cost thousands of dollars.
Foundation damage. Inspecting your foundation is particularly important in regions where soil contracts during the dry season and swells during the rainy season. Common things to look for are inside cracks on your floor and walls, sloping floors, and difficulty closing doors and windows. Outside, inspect the foundation walls for cracks or settling. Also, look for water pools in the basement and around the edges of the house.
Siding repair. Your siding doesn’t just affect how your home looks from the curb. It protects from all kinds of external hazards. Look for water damage, insect invasions, rot, and interior damage. Repairing individual sidings is cheap and easy. Replacing all the siding can drain your bank account.
HVAC repair. This is about being comfortable inside your home. Always perform the maintenance outlined in the owner’s manual. An HVAC system works both summer and winter. That means inspecting it every six months, tightening electrical connections, lubricate moving parts, clearing out the condensate drain, checking the refrigerant level, and cleaning dirty coils or fixtures.
Mold Damage. This tends to start small but will grow into a huge problem if you let it. It can do structural damage to your home along with cause health problems. It can be caused by pesky water leaks and typically appears on walls, ceilings, roof, or foundation. Early detection and repairing the root cause is the best way to deal with mold damage.
Water Heater. If you enjoy a daily shower, laundered clothes, and clean dishes to eat from, you don’t want your water heater going out unexpectedly. The useful life for most water heaters is about 12 years. Signs of water heater damage include leaks from the tank and connections, unusual or loud noises, and obviously when it quits working. With a little plumbing experience, many homeowners can repair and replace their water heater, but some prefer leaving this to professionals.
Jabari, those are many of the basics that you want to be aware of but certainly not everything that requires maintenance and repairs. Others are sewer or septic problems that can usually be resolved with septic tank pumping or septic cleaning. Leaky water pipes, a clogged drain, and electrical problems also happen. And your home may have other features like a deck or fireplace that require attention. Keeping good records and developing an annual maintenance checklist will help you stay on top of maintaining your house for many decades to come.
What do you want to add to the list? Please comment.
Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to [email protected].