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11 Ways to Avoid Costly Home Repairs

Maintain your house now, so you can avoid big problems later on

Your house talks to you — and what is it saying? It's giving you early warning signs of potential trouble at its most vulnerable spots, and by paying attention you can prevent costly repairs down the road.

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Problems: Water damage, mold, foundation damage.

Trouble signs: Flaking or peeling paint on walls, bowed walls, moisture or odor.

What to do: Ensure that the ground around your foundation slopes downward away from the house at least one inch per six feet. Regularly clean downspouts and make sure they direct water at least 10 feet from foundation. Ensure sump pumps operate.

What it may cost: A weekend adding well-compacted earth around the foundation. It will cost about $50 to extend downspouts for a typical house. A battery-powered backup for sump pumps (during power loss) costs $150 to $400.

What it saves: Thousands of dollars in water damage. Foundation repairs cost $10,000 or more.

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Problems: Water leaking into your home can cause rot, insects, mold, mildew and electrical shorts.

Trouble signs: Curled, missing or broken shingles; bows or dips on roof; dampness or stains in attic or on ceilings and interior walls; broken masonry in and around fireplaces; green algae growth on attic ceiling.

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What you can do: Inspect your roof and attic every six months and ensure flashing around chimneys is tight. Check caulking and sealants for peeling and leakage and look for cracking on collars around vents. Prevent algae and fungus on wood shakes and asphalt shingles with zinc control strips.

What it may cost: One to two hours of your time if you're comfortable on a ladder; a professional inspection and minor repairs might cost about $200.

What you could save: $5,000 or more for prematurely having to replace your roof and anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars to repair interior damage.

spinner image Fall leaves overflowing in a gutter


Problems: Wet or flooded basements, foundation damage.

Trouble signs: Basement flooding, or water spilling over gutters during rainstorms or pooling around your home's foundations.

What you can do: Extend downspouts to direct water at least 10 feet away from your home's foundation. Replace dented downspouts. Clean gutters at least twice a year.

What it may cost: Twelve-foot vinyl downspouts cost $10-$15 each. For a cleaner look, dig trenches on a downward slope away from your house and install 4-inch PVC pipe ($17 per 10-foot sections) below grass, secured to downspouts with "offset adjuster" connectors ($2 each).

For $1 a foot, prevent future clogging with homeowner-installed gutter shield strips. Replacing faulty gutters or having gutter shield professionally installed can cost $1,500 to $3,000 for a medium-sized house. A professional gutter cleaning and inspection starts at about $60.

What you could save: Tens of thousands in foundation damage and thousands in repairs of finished basements.

spinner image Exterior view of dilapidated window and siding

Exterior Walls and Trim

Problems: Water damage causing rot, insects and interior wall damage; mold or mildew, drafts.

Trouble signs: Cracked, blistered or peeling paint on walls and trim; cracks in stucco; loose or cracked caulk around windows and doors; foliage touching your home.

What you can do: Scrape, patch and repaint problem areas with a quality exterior paint. Apply silicone caulk where siding meets trim and the foundation. Trim foliage so it's at least 12 inches from your house. Scrub mildew or mold with equal parts of water and bleach.

What it may cost: A gallon of paint goes for about $25. Caulk runs about $6 per tube and bleach costs pennies per application.

What you could save: Thousands of dollars in water damage and possible hundreds per year from draft-caused energy waste.

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Windows and Doors

Problems: Water damage, higher heating and cooling costs, increased risk of burglary.

Trouble signs: Air drafts; loose or cracked caulk around windows and doors (interior and exterior); water stains near windows and doors; weak security of windows and doors.

What you can do: Remove damaged caulk and reapply silicone caulk around interior and exterior windows and doors. Install plastic insulation sheathing on old windows. Use window locks and install deadbolt locks on doors — one in three home burglaries results from unforced entry.

What it may cost: A $10 insulation kit is good for six windows. Deadbolt locks start at $20 and can be installed by a DIY-er in less than one hour. A locksmith charges $50 or more to install a deadbolt.

What you could save: Thousands in water damage or up to hundreds annually in wasted energy cost; your possessions not being pilfered.

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Problems: Interior water damage; mold; energy waste; electrical shock.

Trouble signs: Leaks, dripping faucets and running toilets; water pooling around faucet handles, inside vanities or around toilets; stains on ceilings below bathrooms; standard electrical outlets near sinks and bathtubs.

What you can do: Find hidden leaks by wrapping toilet paper around pipes and looking for wet spots. Tighten pipe connections and/or replace faulty pipes. Detect toilet leaks by placing food coloring in the tank. If coloring is in an unused bowl the next morning, the flapper needs replacing. Caulk around faucets, vanities, tub sides and base. Run exhaust fans or open windows during and after showering; Install Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI outlets) near sinks and baths for anti-shock protection.

What it costs: It takes about 15 minutes to inspect, tighten connections and apply caulk; if you're handy, you can replace a drain pipe for $10-$20. New faucets start at about $30. GFCIs cost $7 each; you need to shut off the power and open the plate to install it.

What you could save: A leaking faucet can waste 10,000 gallons of water a year. Repairing water damage or mold behind walls or under floors can easily cost $2,000 or more. GFCIs can prevent electrocution.

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Laundry Room

Problems: Interior water damage; energy waste; possible fire.

Trouble signs: Leaks from loose or burst washer hoses. Clogged dryer vent, resulting in towels needing two cycles.

What you can do: Use stainless steel washer hoses to prevent bursting. Replace plastic or foil dryer vents with aluminum ones. Clean dryer's lint tray before and after each use. Check and clean the machine vent twice a year.

What it may cost: Burst-proof washer hoses cost $20 per pair. Aluminum dryer vents are $10 to $20.

What you could save: Thousands of dollars repairing water damage from washer flooding. Premature replacement of a dryer and repair of damage of fires that can erupt from badly vented dryers.

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Problems: Fire, carbon monoxide poisoning, high energy costs; water inside the fireplace.

Trouble signs: Smoking fireplace; odor when not used; sooty glass fronts; white, yellow or brown powder inside fireplace; missing or crumbling masonry (indoors or outdoors); cold feeling in room when fireplace isn't used.

What you can do: Smoke, odors or soot suggest build-up of "creosote" fire byproducts, or problems with venting or flue. Crumbling masonry and powder indicates moisture problems (often caused by chimney flashing); a closed or faulty damper causes cold rooms. Install carbon monoxide detectors near fireplaces and put in a chimney cap ($50-$150) to prevent water problems; repair cracks or missing mortar joints in masonry with a silicone sealant.

What it may cost: A professional chimney sweep and inspection costs $150 to $200 and is recommended annually for homeowners using a fireplace at least weekly. Masonry repairs or repointing start at about $200. A carbon monoxide detector costs $25 to $50. An energy-saving fireplace balloon (for when the fireplace is not in use) costs $50; fireplace glass doors or heat exchangers that push warm air into the room cost about $200.

What you could save: Your life; thousands of dollars to repair structural damage. Fireplace balloons, glass doors and heat exchangers reduce energy costs by at least 10 percent per year.

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HVAC (Heating and Cooling)

Problems: Reduction in performance; fire; water damage; higher energy costs; mold throughout the house.

Trouble signs: System cycles on and off frequently to keep to a thermostat setting and/or trips circuit breakers. Natural gas flames are yellow or orange rather than blue. Corrosion/rust spots or leakage from water heater.

What you can do: Replace air filters every one to three months to improve performance. Experts recommend that a water heater that's 12 or more years old should be replaced, partly due to the danger of bursting. Replace it earlier if you see corrosion or leaking. Consider a new HVAC system if repairing it is at least one-third the cost of replacement.

What it may cost: Air filters cost $2 to $15. $100-$200 for a professional inspection and cleaning of HVAC system.

What you can save: Energy waste, premature replacement of costly units, repair of flooding damage. Water heaters start at $350; forced-air furnaces cost $2,000 to $4,000, and central air conditioning units start at around $2,000. Clean filters can lower energy consumption by 5 to 15 percent.

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Sewer and Septic

Problems: Foul odors, slow or clogged drains, water in basement, system failure.

Trouble signs: Inside: backups, clogs, slow-running or gurgling drains or toilets. Outside: wetness or bubbling water in yard; odors.

What you can do: Rent a sewer snake at the first sign of drainage problems and clean the outlet pipe from inside your house or outside, especially if trees are near them (roots may be responsible). Call a professional for odors and water problems.

What it costs: A snake, with root-cutting head, costs around $40 for a four-hour rental. Root-kill products to prevent regrowth/future problems cost about $15. Cleaning a septic tank costs $75 to $300 and should be done every three years.

What you can save: Tree roots can break clay sewer pipes (in older neighborhoods) and homeowners may be responsible for their repair at $5,000 to $10,000. Regular cleaning and maintenance of septic systems can help avoid expensive emergency calls or premature replacement, which can cost $5,000 or more.

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Electrical System

Problems: Fire; electrocution.

Trouble signs: Flickering or dim lights (especially when portable appliances are used); circuit breakers that frequently trip; outlets that are hot to the touch.

What you can do: Ensure lightbulbs aren't loose and, if you're handy, replace two-pronged or hot outlets. Flip each circuit breaker at least once a year to prevent corrosion. If problems continue, call in a licensed electrician.

What it may cost: $2 per three-pronged outlet. $300 to $500 for an electrical inspection and basic repairs. Replacing a medium-sized home's faulty wiring typically costs $4,000 or more.

What you can save: Your life and home.

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