DIY

Home maintenance checklist: a timeline for upkeep, cleaning and remodelling

To minimize the cost of unexpected repairs and breakdowns stay on top of routine home maintenance
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Any homeowner knows that routine maintenance is just part of the property ownership experience. As time goes on, many components of your house will get dirty, rusty, broken, or just stop working. To minimize the cost and frustration of unexpected and potentially costly repairs you need to get comfortable with preventative maintenance. Whether you are looking to buy, sell, or you already own a home, a routine home maintenance checklist is vital for making sure the home and surrounding land consistently increase in value rather than deteriorate in worth. But with all of the appliances, areas to clean, and sometimes invisible deterioration, where do you start?

Let this home maintenance checklist serve as your guide for your home upkeep needs. As a homeowner, refer to it as an agenda for your routine maintenance to keep your house up to date. As a buyer, knowing when the last time a home had a pest or termite inspection, or when the furnace should be replaced, could help you avoid some costly repairs and replacements and even help you negotiate a better sale price on a home. If you are looking to sell your house, check off all the things on this list as a preventative maintenance guide, so you know your home is in tip-top shape to encourage selling at full price.

Why should you do preventative maintenance on your house?

Preventative maintenance should be done on your house for the same reason you get an oil change in your car, or go to the doctor for a routine checkup. To keep your home livable, comfortable and attractive, you can’t neglect the many factors that work to make it a comfortable, safe place to live, work and play.

The unfortunate alternative to preventative maintenance can be spending a lot more money to repair or replace something that, due to neglect, has broken. In many cases, failing to maintain parts of your home can lead to disaster, meaning instead of just fixing one thing, you have to replace a whole room, floor, or worse. Preventative maintenance is quite literally about preventing disaster and failure, so you can anticipate expenses and know exactly what the health of your home is, regardless of its age.

There’s a good reason why some real estate listings prominently feature a home’s age: usually, the older a building, the more of its components that may need repairs or replacement. As such, home buyers may be interested in the maintenance records of a property. Sellers who have documented their efforts to maintain a home can show potential buyers exactly what the condition of the home is not just in terms of age, but upkeep. An old home doesn’t have to mean old appliances, an old roof, or a long series of renovations being passed off from one owner to the next.

But perhaps the biggest reason for preventative maintenance is to reduce your frustration levels. Like all homeowners, there’s probably a few appliances or features that you either use or rely on almost every single day. Now what if these appliances or features broke or stopped working? While you can’t always predict a breakdown, preventative maintenance can certainly prolong expensive fixes or replacements and go a long way to making sure problems don’t pile up.

To best way to maximize your preventative maintenance efforts, is to use a schedule, task-list or home maintenance checklist. As you go through each item you can be sure that obvious and not-so-obvious components and systems in your household are getting the attention they need. To help you get started, here’s a list of basic, but essential, preventative maintenance tasks.

Tasks to complete every year: Annual home maintenance checklist

There are certain tasks that are easy to overlook because you only need to complete them once a year. Even if you pride yourself on keeping a clean house, these items may not always occur to you, so it pays to create an annual home maintenance checklist as a way to remind yourself. Using this checklist you can plan in advance, making it easy and affordable to keep up with these once-a-year tasks.

#1: Inspect and lubricate garage door springs

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Your garage door springs assist in opening and closing your garage door. Garage doors are heavy and need this assistance whether being opened manually or with a door opener. Over the course of about a year, the lubrication of these springs can dry up and the spring can crack and could potentially cause a disaster. It’s vital that you annually lubricate your garage door springs and open and close the door a few times to circulate the lubricant.

#2: Clean drains and plumbing

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You may be surprised to learn that plumbers hate conventional chemical drain cleaners — the type you can buy at most convenience stores. These are often bleach-based, contain some of the most hazardous chemicals found in the average household, and may actually do more harm than good. For one thing, some clogs can’t be treated even with the harshest chemicals; you’ll need a snake or other type of pipe-cleaning tool to dislodge or remove the clog. Serious clogs can end up backing up drain cleaners, forcing plumbers (or DIY-ers) to interact with pools of dangerous chemicals when they finally end up snaking the pipe.

What is more, harsh drain cleaners do more than clear pipes of hair and grime: they clear pipes of virtually all organic material, some of which may actually be beneficial to your plumbing. It turns out, plumbing can be a lot like your digestive tract: it relies on helpful bacteria and organic processes to keep cleaning and running smoothly. Harsh chemicals can disrupt the balance of bacteria and cause damage to the pipes themselves, while regular application of natural, bacteria-based pipe cleaners like Bio-Clean can keep your pipes clean without the biohazard of conventional cleaners. Making this part of your regular house maintenance checklist can protect you and your plumbing.

#3: Cleaning your refrigerator

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A consistently clean refrigerator will reduce the spread of bacteria, resulting in a safer environment to house your leftovers. But while you may be reminded to clean the inside of your fridge — who wants to look at that nasty, caked on spills — it’s just as important to clean the outside of your fridge. Cleaning the areas outlined below will prevent mould, as well as likely increase the efficiency and longevity of your refrigerator.

Drip pan

On older fridges, there is a drip pan located underneath the unit which can be easily cleaned. It collects the moisture given off by condensation from your fridge and since it is a damp, cool surface, there is always the possibility for mould. A yearly cleaning with soap and water can help curb the growth and spread of mould.

Vacuuming your coils

Dust, dirt and pet dander accumulate around your refrigerator’s condenser coils over the course of the year and can slow down its efficiency. This clogging can increase your energy usage and potentially reduce the life of your fridge. It is recommended that you pull your fridge out from the wall and vacuum the coils at least once a year to save energy costs and extend the life of the refrigerator.

#4: Check your water heater

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No one likes a cold shower, but if you don’t do routine maintenance on your water heater, it can not only fail, but it can also leak and cause water damage to your house. Over the year, your water heater builds up calcium, along with other sediment and minerals, that can clog, flood, or even explode your water heater. Fortunately, it is very easy to check on your water heater yourself. Simply put a cup under the downspout (located at the bottom of the unit) and turn it on. If the water runs smoothly, then the unit is operating fine with no clogs or other causes for concern. If not, call a professional plumber. For Canadian residents, a rented water heater often comes with routine maintenance included and can often mean free repairs and replacements.

#5: Chimney and fireplace

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If you are fortunate enough to be able to sit next to a warm fire in your home, consider getting your fireplace and more importantly, your chimney, inspected. Or, if you are contemplating buying a house with a fireplace, make sure a chimney inspection and cleaning has been done within the last year.

Fires and the smoke they give off carry many materials that can weaken the structural integrity of your chimney. One of these materials is creosote, which can build up and ignite — causing an unwelcome fire that can spread to other areas of your house.

If the fireplace and chimney isn’t used very often, blockage including small animals, birds, sticks and leaves can accumulate as well. You may be able to sweep your fireplace, but a chimney inspection is well worth the cost to prevent smoke from coming back into your house, or even a house fire. The price really depends on where you live, how well your chimney and fireplace have been maintained and whether it will require a simple sweep or a more intensive cleaning.

#6: Dryer vent

Cleaning out your dryer vent and exhaust hose is a DIY preventative maintenance project you should do once every six months to a year. It’s one thing to clean the lint trap, however, lint can collect in the ductwork and vent of your dryer. According to the National Fire Protection Association, “The leading factor contributing to the ignition of home fires involving clothes dryers was a failure to clean the dryer vent.” In many cases, you can easily replace the ductwork and vent of your dryer by taking a trip to your local hardware store.

#7 Replace smoke detectors

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There are multiple tests to see if a smoke detector is working, but perhaps the most crucial test is to see if you need to replace the whole thing. For a definitive answer of when you should replace a smoke detector, remove it from the ceiling and look at the manufacturer date underneath the unit. If it is 10 or more years, you need to replace your smoke detectors.

Don’t wait until disaster strikes to come to the regrettable conclusion that your smoke detectors were not working because they were past their shelf life. Most newer smoke detectors will beep incessantly as a reminder that the battery is dead, but there is no beeping to let you know that the whole unit is “dead” and that you need to replace it. It is critical for the safety and longevity of your house to know when to replace the smoke detectors. If you do this at the same time every year, you’ll always know your detector is working and ready to alert you to a potential life threatening fire.

Tasks to complete every 2 to 5 years: Routine prevention

#8: Caulking & grout

Noticing a drafty window? This may be because the caulking of your house has become too old and has dried out or cracked. It is recommended that you apply caulk to your windows to prevent drafts and water damage, as well as bathtubs, sinks and showers to stop mould and mildew. Grout can discolour and stain, making your bathroom or kitchen tile unsightly. Apply new sealant every two to five years to keep your grout fresh and your tile looking nice and, most importantly, to help prevent drafts and leaks that could seriously damage your home.

#9: Sealing HVAC ducts

Ductwork-framework-home-maintenance-ZoloYour heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, HVAC, is the climate control of your house and keeps you comfortable year round. It is crucial to maintain your HVAC system, not only for comfort but air quality as well. Your hot and cold air is dispersed throughout your house via the duct system. Over some time, however, your home’s duct system can become compromised, as lines get leaky, come loose from one another, or get punctured over time. If you notice high utility bills or rooms that are either stagnant and stuffy or seem impossible to properly heat or cool, that is a strong sign you have leaky ducts.

An HVAC professional can inspect your ducts and let you know if they are leaking or need attention, and perform the necessary repairs. Costs can vary significantly (from less than $100 CDN to several hundred) depending on the size of your home, the number of vents and where you live, as well as whether your ducts simply need to be reattached, resealed or replaced. For simple repairs, you can DIY duct sealing using metal tape or mastic sealant.

#10: Termite inspection

Termites can cause significant structural damage to your home and cost you a lot of money. Termites can damage floors, ceilings, walls, windows and even your foundation. You should always be aware of termites, but the frequency of when you should get an inspection varies depending on if you live in a dense termite area or not.

As an owner, you’ll want to keep up on your termite inspections to prevent damage. As a seller, damage can knock down your asking price. As a buyer, you’ll want to have the peace of mind to know that the home has been recently inspected, so you are not buying a house that will soon be damaged. Termites are more prominent in southern climates, but have been known to infest certain Canadian neighbourhoods. A good trick is to call a large, well-known pest exterminator, such as Orkin, and ask if they’ve sprayed in a neighbourhood in the last year or two. While the firm cannot provide specifics, such as address or reason, they can tell you if they were called in to spray within specific neighbourhoods. And chances are if a home close to your home had termites, you are probably living in a termite-prone neighbourhood. If that turns out to be the case, you may want to get your home inspected and then continue to get it inspected once every two or three years.

Tasks to complete every 5 to 10 years: Budgeting and planning for routine repairs or upgrades

Homes that are closer to a decade old can start to really show their age if these items aren’t taken care of. It can be easy as a homeowner to become so used to your home’s paint job or the kitchen appliances that you don’t notice them getting worn or out of date. If you aren’t sure when these items were last updated, that’s a good sign you need to make them a priority for either a renovation project or replacement. If and when you decide to sell your home, you can bet potential buyers will notice these kinds of things, and potentially start to question your home’s value.

#11: Repainting

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Ten years is enough time for the paint on the exterior of your house to crack and peel and it will need a facelift. An unattractive exterior can devalue your home.

For a buyer, this may be an advantage as you can pay a little less for the house and then, with a bit of elbow grease and some paint, restore the home’s charm and value.

As an owner or a seller, an old outdated paint job isn’t a good thing. Save yourself the time and effort of repainting your house by hiring a professional. It’s worth noting that you’ll probably save a good amount of cash if you can do it yourself. You’ll have to contact painters in your area for an accurate bid, as many factors affect costs, but you can expect exterior repainting to run at least $2 to 4 CDN per square foot, not counting factors like weather, outdoor obstacles, etc.

#12: Kitchen appliances

Even if you’ve kept up on the routine maintenance on all your kitchen appliances, you’ll need to start replacing some items. With advances in technology, 10 years is enough time to start thinking about upgrading and replacing the following appliances:

Dishwasher

The average lifespan of a dishwasher is right about at the 10-year mark. Problems could arise with the control panel, the water temperature during washing, the washing arms, and more. Replacing your dishwasher starts at around $150 CDN and goes up depending on the size and features.

Sink

Now is an excellent time to replace your kitchen sink. Over time, even “stainless” steel sinks can accumulate some wear and tear, including: stains, stuck-on waste, or simply the cumulative dents and scratches from years of dishes going in and out. Mineral deposits may be building on on your faucet, and your in-sink disposal may be near the end of its life. A new kitchen sink can kick your whole kitchen up a notch, which may also be the selling point of your house. Professionals can do this, but if you’ve got the handyman and plumbing skills, you can make it a DIY project.

Microwave

A microwave is a very inexpensive way to spruce up your kitchen. Furthermore, an old microwave may not cook your food correctly, make terrifying noises or emitting sparks and smoke. No one really wants an old microwave, and after 10 years it’s time to update this appliance.

Tasks to complete every 10 to 15 years: Efficiency and safety considerations

It can be tempting to ignore anything that isn’t broken; after all, if it still works, why worry about replacing it? When your home or appliances get more than 10 years old, however, you are better off taking a more critical look at the following items and considering whether, for safety or aesthetics, you are due for a replacement or even an upgrade (especially when there are more energy-efficient options available). Remember: it pays to plan ahead and take of these things over time, rather than finding yourself faced with a laundry list of things you need to pay for in anticipation of moving or — even worse — a home disaster that could have been prevented.

#13: Kitchen appliances

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Some appliances will last longer than others. However, that does not mean they will last forever. Here are some appliances you’ll want to upgrade and replace no later than 15 years down the line.

Fridge

Whether you’re selling or you will continue to live in your home, an old refrigerator will do you no good. An old fridge is not energy efficient and will cause your food to spoil faster. It is recommended that you upgrade to a new refrigerator every 10 to 15 years, depending on the manufacturer and the size.

Oven/Stove/Range

Ovens, ranges (both gas and electric) and stoves all should be upgraded and replaced every 10 to 15 years. Warning signs that your stove may be too old include: cooking your food unevenly, taking longer to preheat and taking longer to heat food in general. When deciding to repair or replace, consider the age of your stove. Gas ranges have to tendency to last a little over 15 years, but as with most appliances in your kitchen, improvements in style, technology and preference can make you want or need a new stove earlier. For electric ranges, lifespan depends in part on what type you have. Ceramic ranges are, by design, easier to clean and maintain, but cracks in the surface or other visible damage is bad for both performance and safety, and is a sure sign you’re due for replacement. Electric coil ranges can be harder to properly clean; if they become warped or misaligned, this generally warrants replacement.

#14: Replace the garage door opener

More than likely you’ll start to get frustrated with your garage door opener as it ages. It may begin to open only on occasion, reverse sporadically, make loud noises or open very slowly. Ultimately it may not even open at all. When the ease of access to your garage is taken away, it can become a major inconvenience. While some DIYers can do this job easily themselves, many will opt to get a professional to complete the task with costs ranging from $100 to $600 CDN depending mostly on the brand and horsepower needed for your garage door.

Tasks to complete every 15+ years: Major repairs and renovations

Only the handiest of homeowners are likely to notice problem areas in the wood or the plumbing — that is, until they start to fail completely. For the rest of us, it is best to take a look at these items when you know they are 15 years or older. Likewise, getting a professional opinion may be for the best, so you know exactly what the issue is and what you’ll need to budget for repair or replacement. If you’ve been diligent about all the previous items on this checklist, there’s a chance you’ll be able to get through the rest of these relatively cheaply. If you are buying a home, you’ll definitely want to look into these items before getting into a money pit or paying extra to keep your new home in livable condition.

#15: Checking your roof

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As a seller, your roof can make or break your potential buyer’s decision. As a buyer, you should know that a roof of 15 or more years should factor into lowering the asking price, as you will likely be replacing the roof on your dime within the next decade or sooner. As a homeowner, replacing your roof can make your house look much better while removing the potential of leaks, missing or cracked shingles and other unsightly problems associated with an old roof.

It is important to know that different materials can determine when you should think about getting a new roof. Asphalt roof tiles are cheaper, and generally warrantied for up to 25 years, while slate or metal roofing materials can last more than 30, but also cost more. A new roof will most likely be the most significant expenditure of your home maintenance checklist, as replacing standard asphalt shingles can range from $5,000 to $15,000 CDN. As always, you’ll have to contact a local professional to get quotes for your particular home.

#16: Replace faucets

If you possess the necessary handyman skills to replace your kitchen and bathroom faucets, this is an easy fix. Kitchen and bathroom faucets are changed either to update the aesthetics and style of the room or because they become leaky. In fact, a leaky faucet can waste a notable amount of water each year — water you are likely paying for. In many cases, you can find everything you need at a hardware store for a weekend DIY home maintenance project.

#17: Check decks for rot

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Your outside deck takes a daily beating. Over the course of about 20 years of being sunbaked, rained on, and having debris falling on it, your deck can become structurally compromised and may even have rot. If you haven’t been applying sealant for waterproofing, the lifespan of your deck may be shorter. Replacing your deck may not be a weekend DIY project, but you can still take the task on by yourself (or with a friend) for this classic home improvement project.

#18: Replace HVAC unit (AC unit)

Even if you have been diligent in your HVAC maintenance, there will come a time when the units start acting up or quit on you. It usually takes around 15 to 20 years, but it will eventually happen. This will be another pricey home maintenance necessity that will normally require a professional to replace and install. A new furnace can cost anywhere from around $2,000 to over $6,000 CDN while an new central AC unit can run over $3,000 CDN, depending on the size of your home, number of rooms and how efficient your system is. The replacements may seem costly, however, you’ll only have to swap them out once every 15 to 20 years.

This home maintenance checklist can be your manual for what to inspect, replace, seal, clean and upgrade to keep your home in the best condition it can be. The information above can prove to be beneficial to all people involved in the home buying process. Whether you’re doing routine or preventative maintenance, looking to see how well a property was cared for by a previous owner, or just trying to make sure you are maximizing what your home is worth, this guide is for you.

Romana King
Romana King

Romana is an award-winning personal finance writer with an expertise in real estate. She is obsessed with the property marketplace and is the current Director of Content at Zolo.