Owning a home comes with expenses that go beyond the mortgage and insurance. Storm damage, fires, soil settling, and just plain wear-and-tear can cost more than you were expecting. Some repairs you can take your time with, others require immediate fixes.
Even the most conscientious of homeowners will, at some point, write a check much larger than they were hoping to. And while no home is completely invincible, there are warning signs to look for and measures you can take to help be more prepared in an attempt to minimize repairs and expenses for some of your home’s most expensive repair items.
Your foundation is literally the base upon which your home is built. If it cracks, leaks, settles, or sinks, it can compromise almost every other part of your home.
Your foundation can become damaged from age, drainage issues, soil shifts, plumbing leaks, or poor construction. Some early signs of foundation problems include cracks, sinking, doors that no longer close easily, and windows that are out of square.
Foundation repairs can be complex and, if left too long, very expensive (from a couple of hundred dollars for a minor repair to ten thousand or more for major damage).
Things you can do to help prevent problems are:
- Ensure proper drainage of water away from the house via sloped grading, in-ground drains, and downspouts that exit away from the foundation
- Plant shrubs and trees away from the house so that water doesn’t pool near the foundation
- Regularly inspect your foundation for signs of settling, cracking, or shifting
While a firm foundation is the base upon which all homes are built, your roof is equally as important. It provides cover and protection from the sun, rain, snow, wind, and all the other elements that Mother Nature can throw at you.
So, how long will your roof last? As with many things, “it depends.” The quality of building materials, the expertise of the roofers, and the general climate and weather in your area all contribute to the longevity of your roof, meaning that it could last 20 years or 100 years.
Depending on your location, time of year, and needed repairs, costs can range from a couple of hundred dollars to fix a small leak to $15,000 or more to replace your entire roof.
Here are some things you can do now to avoid or minimize paying for in the future:
- Have your roof inspected by a qualified roof inspector about 10 years after its initial installation, and then every 2-5 years thereafter
- Have your roof inspected after major storms, especially if there was large hail involved
- Inspect the underside of your roof (in the attic) to look for signs of leaks, such as water streaks, stains, or water in your attic
- Replace any missing or damaged tiles or shingles
- Make sure the areas around vents, boots, and flashing are sealed
- Ensure any drains on your roof are clear of debris to keep water from pooling or backing up
Hot Water Heater
Aside from a few strange people who like cold showers and wash all their clothes and dishes in cold water, your water heater is an essential part of our lives. While it’s easy to take for granted while they’re working, a little maintenance and TLC will help prevent the shock that comes when your heater stops working or floods your home.
Repairs can run around $500 and a complete replacement can cost between $1,000-$1,200, perhaps less if you’re skilled enough to install it yourself. Some signs you should get your water heater inspected include loud or unusual noises (like knocking or popping), cloudy or foul-smelling water, or you notice it leaking (especially rust-colored water).
To keep your water heater in shape, here are some preventative steps you can take:
- Flush the tank once a year
- Inspect it for cracks, worn fittings, etc., once a year
- Check the pressure valve periodically
- Locate and know how to use the shut-off valve to the heater
- Keep the area around the heater clear so you can easily access it
Air Conditioning and Heaters
In many areas of the country, you couldn’t live comfortably without air conditioning (we’re looking at you, Phoenix and Dallas!), while places like Chicago and Buffalo require a heater to survive.
If you clean and maintain your Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems properly, A/C units and home furnaces should last between 15-20 years. When it does come time to repair or replace, expect costs to range from a few hundred dollars for repairs to $8,000-$12,000 for replacement.
Some signs that your HVAC system needs inspecting or repair are no cool or hot air (obviously), noises from your heater or A/C, the air from them smells, or your energy bills have skyrocketed for no apparent reason.
The best ways to maximize your HVAC system’s life are:
- Having them inspected annually to ensure the refrigerant levels (A/C), capacitors, motors, fans, and compressors are functioning properly
- Clean the coils of dirt and debris
- Check your home windows and doors for heating/cooling leaks and loss
- Make sure your ducting is sealed so you’re not losing heat/cool in your attic or basement
- Clean your home air ducts every 2-3 years
- Change the filters inside your house every 1-2 months
An oft-quoted saying is, “there are two types of homes, those who have termites and those who are going to get them.” Nobody likes bugs in their home, but termites can cause severe damage, so it’s important to find and fix an infestation fast.
Termites can eat through wood floors, walls, and furniture and cause thousands of dollars in damage. Signs you may have an infestation include “hollowed” out or crumbling wood floors or walls, pencil-width mud tunnels leading to the exterior walls, and swarms of small flying bugs (or bug wings) in your basement.
Treating termites can cost as little as a couple hundred for an initial treatment around your home, to upwards of $8,000 for a whole-house fumigation (and this doesn’t include the cost to repair damaged floors, walls, etc.).
Steps you can take to keep termites at bay (or at least minimally damaging):
- Keep wood and mulch away from the outside of your home
- Install termite monitors
- Have your home inspected once a year
Water Damage and Mold Removal
Water can cause wood rot, mold growth, and metal rust. Many costly home repairs come from water damage, which can be caused by external flooding, a leaking or burst pipe, backed up sewer or septic tank, or accumulated water damage that occurs over time.
Further, water and moisture can cause mold, which has all sorts of health ramifications (especially for people with allergies) and can negatively affect your home’s resale value.
Signs of a problem include peeling paint, “fuzzy” walls or ceilings (which could be mold or mildew), musty smell, and little black spots on walls near the water heater, basement windowsill, and behind the washer and dishwasher are common places mold might be found.
Both water damage and mold removal can be expensive, depending on the extent of the damage and to fix the actual leak or ingress point of the water. Water damage itself can range from $1,000-$4,000, while mold removal averages $1,100 but can run upwards of $4,000 in extreme cases.
Generally speaking, if you can prevent water ingress and damage, you can prevent mold. So here are some things you can do to keep the inside of your home dry and minimize your chances of getting mold:
- Keep your gutters clean
- Fix leaks in your pipes or roof right away
- Install a sump pump in your basement and test it annually
- If your basement is still damp, use a dehumidifier
- Insulate your pipes during winter if you live somewhere it freezes regularly
- Remove tree roots near sewage pipes
- Inspect and replace/upgrade your washing machine hoses
- Use mold-killing agents in the bathroom
- Hire a mold inspector to periodically look over your home
Like fire, electricity can be a good servant but, uncontrolled can cause severe damage. So if you start having electrical problems, it’s critical to bring in a qualified electrician to help diagnose and fix the problem.
We’re not talking about simple things like installing a ceiling fan or light switch, but situations where you put your home at risk of a fire if not remedied. Signs that you need to have your electrical system checked are frequently blown breakers or fuses, getting shocked by your appliances, or lights that flicker.
Fixing electrical issues could be as simple as replacing a specific breaker to replacing the entire breaker box to whole house rewiring, with prices running from a couple of hundred dollars for some minor repairs to $10,000 or more to rewire a home, depending on size.
Preventative measures you can take include:
- Have an electrician inspect your home at the first sign you suspect a problem
- Install GFI outlets in bathrooms, the kitchen, laundry room, or any place they might come into contact with water or liquids
- Hire a qualified electrician or handyman for the installation of items you’re not comfortable doing
Septic System Repairs
If you’re on a septic system and it fails due to a clog, you’re likely to end up with a big, messy problem requiring repair of the septic and anything that a backup came into contact with.
If you notice your system running slow or emitting foul orders, inspect it immediately. Repairs for septic systems can range from a couple hundred dollars to a couple of thousand. Should you have to replace the whole tank, prices range from $3,000-$10,000, so it’s best to catch potential issues early.
Things you can do to prevent problems are:
- Have a septic maintenance or other professional inspect it every 3 years
- Have your septic system pumped every 3-5 years
- Have the tank cleaned annually
- Use drain filters to capture hair in tubs and showers
- Don’t have your laundry or dishwasher water drain into your septic system
An ounce of prevention…… is always the best medicine. But even if you do that, things wear out and the unexpected can happen. You can avoid many of the most costly home repairs by doing your due diligence with preventative maintenance and keeping your home beautiful for years to come.