If anyone knows about the slow toll that the elements can take on your home, it’s a home inspector. These pros have seen it all, from honey dripping out of walls that bees have invaded to foundations cracked so thoroughly that the whole structure is in danger of collapse.
“What were they thinking?” you might ask as you tour one of these money pits, gasping at the conditions and relieved that the inspector just saved you from handing over a big down payment on a property that needs way too much work to become your dream home.
The thing is, most people don’t set out to let bad things happen to their homes. Serious damage takes time to develop, and it most often starts with one small thing: a drip of rainwater here, a tiny crack there. It’s when the little things go unchecked that, over time, big problems take hold.
So how can you avoid major home repairs once you’re a homeowner yourself?
Glad you asked.
Home inspectors have seen it all, and they’ve got plenty of practical advice to help you keep your biggest investment in tip-top shape. Here’s what home inspectors want you to know:
1. Gutters and downspouts need to be cleaned twice a year.
Nobody likes to clean their gutters. It can be dangerous if you don’t have a good ladder, and you never know what you’ll find in there: pebbles, twigs, bird nests, rotting leaves, live plants, and dead animals. Gross.
But clogged gutters mean that water can’t run off your roof properly, which can lead to a whole host of issues. First, excess water near your foundation is likely to find its way into your home, weakening the foundation and leading to the growth of mold and mildew that can exacerbate allergies (or worse). Second, winter blockages can lead to the formation of ice dams, which cause major damage to your roof by heaving up shingles and allowing the eventual melting to run directly into your home.
Solve this problem by pulling on some work gloves yourself or calling a handyman to tackle the gutters every fall and spring.
2. Musty smells should never be ignored.
It’s easy to think that a certain musty aroma is par for the course in basements and bathrooms, since these areas are naturally often damp. But a mildewy scent is a sign that you’ve got mold growing on your home — and just because you can’t see it yet doesn’t mean it isn’t an issue.
Musty, mildewy smells are a sign that your home’s ventilation is lacking, so you could have duct, heating, or cooling issues to solve before it gets more expensive. These scents are also a good clue that you may have a hidden leak somewhere, which could lead to massive rot and damage if left unchecked. It’s also a sign of poor air quality, which can lead to respiratory symptoms like coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, and increased asthma attacks.
Solve this problem by inspecting for leaks around pipes, windows, and doors. You can also call in an HVAC specialist to diagnose and improve airflow issues.
3. Handrails aren’t optional.
Did you know that each year over one million injuries are caused by falling down the stairs? Many of these could be prevented simply by holding on to a handrail along the way — but that only works if there’s a handrail to hold.
Many homes — especially older ones — skip handrails in areas with only a few steps. Porches and decks are the biggest culprits, but home inspectors also see plenty of broken or missing handrails in basements, too. Having a handrail for any area with three or more steps isn’t just about safety — you’ll also need to have them to meet lender guidelines if you ever sell to a Fannie Mae buyer.
Solve this problem by hiring a handyman to install new handrails as needed.
4. Clogged dryer vents are dangerous.
It’s easy to forget about the lowly lint trap, but believe it or not, this is actually one of your home’s more important safety features. Every time you run your dryer, tiny pieces of fabric slough off of your clothes. Unfortunately, this lint is highly flammable, and it only takes one stray spark to ignite it.
There are almost 300 dryer fires each year, and they cause $35 million in losses. The odds of a dryer fire go up with every bit of lint you leave behind, so don’t skip cleaning that lint trap. If you do, eventually the excess lint will make its way into the dryer vent, causing a clog that reduces your dryer’s efficiency and puts you at risk of fire.
Solve this problem by cleaning your dryer’s lint trap before every use. No excuses!
5. Overgrown vegetation can lead to big issues.
Well-groomed foundation plantings and mature trees can add value to any property, but beware the ones that get out of hand. Large tree branches that overhang your roof can cause serious damage if they break off in a storm or fall because they have died from disease, age, or an insect infestation.
For their part, shrubs and vines planted too close to your home’s foundation can be a breeding ground for insects and vermin. They also throw shade against the siding and prevent the free flow of air, which can lead to mildew, mold, and moss growth on your home’s structure. Over time, it is more than just an aesthetic problem — it can also weaken the structure and pave the ways for water breaches.
Solve this problem by pruning your foundation plants once per year and having large trees inspected by an arborist every five years.
6. Regular HVAC maintenance is a must.
Keeping your home at the right temperature isn’t just a matter of comfort — it’s increasingly one of survival, with extreme temperature shifts becoming more and more common. The last thing you want to do is wait until you’re freezing or sweltering to find out that your system needs to be replaced.
Regular inspection of your heating and cooling systems will help ensure they run efficiently, which is better for the environment as well as your wallet, as a tuned-up HVAC system will use less energy. For combustion-based systems that burn fuel like wood, coal, gas, or oil, regular maintenance and inspections are also important for safety. Faulty systems can allow deadly carbon monoxide to build up in your home, and fuel leaks will cause an expensive environmental disaster in your basement or back yard.
Solve this problem by having a professional inspect and tune up your HVAC system once per year, ideally before the season of heaviest use.
7. Pools and decks need to be inspected, too.
Just because something is outside doesn’t mean that it’s maintenance-free. A swimming pool can be a major source of pleasure, but it also needs regular upkeep to (you guessed it!) avoid long-term problems. Annual pool maintenance will make sure that your pool is healthy and safe to use, and you should consider hiring a home inspector for a pool inspection to check for cracks, leaks, and problems with the motors and filters that keep things humming.
Likewise, outdoor decks need regular maintenance to perform their best. Wooden decks are exposed to all kinds of weather, which can hasten the decay of boards. Rotting framing members can cause a deck collapse, leading to extensive damage and possibly serious injury.
Solve this problem with annual pool and deck maintenance. For decks this may also mean professional repair or refinishing every few years.
8. Radon is odorless but deadly.
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas, so you can be forgiven for forgetting that it even exists. But radon exposure is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, and most people are exposed in their own homes without realizing it. Ironically, radon can be more of a problem than in the past, thanks to the tighter home construction, better insulation, and aggressive air sealing designed to make homes more energy efficient. The heat stays in, but so does the radon.
Getting a radon test is a crucial bit of due diligence that everyone should do on every home they live in. If your home inspector finds elevated radon levels, you can have the problem mitigated with a specialized fan system that vents the gas up and out of your home, where it floats harmlessly away on the air.
Solve this problem with a one-time radon inspection and, if warranted, mitigation.
We get it — buying a house can be overwhelming. HomeGauge is here to help! We support home inspectors so they can support you by making sure you know exactly what you’re getting before you buy your next home. Find a home inspector today with our handy search tool, or visit our Learning Center for more helpful information about the home inspection process.