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How to Save on Home Maintenance Inside and Out

Smart tips from pros in the know


spinner image woman pointing at house that is a giant toolbox filled with hammer, paintbrush, wrench, screwdriver, and drill
BEN MOUNSEY-WOOD

If you’re a longtime homeowner, it’s easy to overlook little problems that could become big, expensive ones down the road. Falling behind on maintenance can sink the value of your home.

How can you keep up with upkeep without spending any more than necessary? I asked some of the country’s top home professionals and organizations for their advice in two areas: maintenance tips that can save you money; and ways to lower the cost of projects.

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At the top of nearly all the pros’ lists for annual home maintenance were three tasks: servicing heating and cooling systems (preferably during offseasons, when prices are lower); trimming trees so they don’t threaten your house and other property; and cleaning leaves out of gutters to lower the risk of water damage. Beyond that, here’s how they answered my questions:

Angie Hicks, founder of Angi, which operates the Angi, HomeAdvisor and Handy websites

Maintenance tips: Get started on cutting heating and cooling costs by taking a lit candle around the house and holding it up near doors and windows to check for air leaks. Hicks says, “If it’s flickering, you need new stripping.”

Project tips: When you hire a pro, ask for detailed cost breakdowns for labor and materials. If you need to buy anything for the job, get it ahead of time, and group projects to avoid wasted time and money. Agree to pay up front only for materials; don’t pay in full for labor until the job is done.

Brian and Mika Kleinschmidt, hosts of 100 Day Dream Home on HGTV

Maintenance tips: Don’t ignore peeling or fading exterior paint. “Paint is like sunscreen for your house,” says Brian, who’s based in Florida. As paint ages, it can cause water to get behind stucco or damage wood siding. Check for humidity around windows once a month. “It can cause mold to grow,” Mika says. “Sometimes homeowners don’t realize it until becomes an expensive repair.”

Project tips: Don’t hire someone just because you have a coupon, Brian says. Instead, get quotes from three different professionals. “Cheaper is not always better,” he adds. “If someone drops their price without much argument, I don’t know if that’s the person I would hire. Good people know their value.”

Danny Lipford, host of the long-running syndicated TV show Today’s Homeowner

Maintenance tips: In addition to having your HVAC system checked annually by a pro, change the filters every three months — and use the electrostatic type, which helps your system run more efficiently and makes it last longer. Trim trees and shrubs so they’re at least 12 inches away from your house to prevent insect infestations, mold and mildew. Replace smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at least every 10 years; if they’re older than that, they might be compromised by accumulated dust and dirt, he warns.

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Project tips: When renting equipment such as pressure washers and paint sprayers, ask friends if they’d like to split the cost. “That way, a $100 price tag can go down to $25 pretty quickly,” he says. Plan winter jobs, such as chimney sweeping and furnace maintenance, in the summer. When looking for a home pro, ask Realtors and home builders associations in addition to friends and family. “Be sure to choose people who routinely do the kind of work that you need done,” he says. And always meet in person. Trust your gut, he says. If you don’t get a good feeling, move on.

Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit community housing organization

Maintenance tips: In addition to cleaning out gutters, clear debris from the roof, so roofing can dry and shed water properly. Check water drainage around the home by looking for puddling or spots that take too long to dry after rains. “Water can find its way into the best-sealed concrete and cause serious damage,” according to the nonprofit group’s educational materials. “If there is enough waterlogged soil around the foundation, the weight can cave in solid concrete walls.”

Project tips: Your chapter of Habitat for Humanity may provide free home repairs and mobility-enhancing modifications to low-income older Americans. Reach out for information and to see if you qualify. If the local chapter can’t help, ask if there are other community resources.

My own 2 cents: Here’s a mistake I’ll fess up to. I had a leaky kitchen faucet, so I recently bought a replacement online, paying extra to have a handyman affiliated with the site come and install it. When he arrived, he charged me an extra $125 to remove the old faucet. I paid him by check but later had second thoughts: Wouldn’t switching out the old faucet be part of the job I originally paid for? I got my $125 back, but only after many calls and emails. 

Bottom line: Make sure you understand up front the full scope and cost of any job — even a small one. Create a paper trail; never pay in cash. Question anything that doesn’t sound right. You’re better off putting the project on hold than getting ripped off!

spinner image a plant grow light shining on a few potted plants and money is sprouting up from one of them
Tommy Perez

Tips to Trim Costs in Your Garden

Start with seeds It’s more cost-effective than purchasing young plants, but usually only if you start them indoors, where you can control water and heat. You could save on the setup by using inexpensive shop lights (LED) or heating pads, advises Jonquil Nelson of Bozeman, Montana, executive director of Sage Gardeners. Use cardboard egg cartons or empty 1-pint ice cream containers for planting, instead of buying seed-starter kits.

Water early and (less) often Plants need less water than people think, Nelson says. That’s important, as water prices are surging. Nelson recommends waiting until the soil is dry to the touch, then watering first thing in the morning, using either a soaker hose or a drip irrigation system.

Be your own exterminator Lawn care companies encourage you to sign up for a pricey monthly pest control regimen, but unless you see evidence of destructive infestations, such interventions usually aren’t necessary, says Tim Johnson, director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden. “I practice more integrated pest management, which is more about choosing the right plant for your garden and monitoring for insects and disease, using the least toxic form of treatment when they emerge,” he says.

Analyze your soil Most land-grant universities offer a soil test for about $35 that will analyze the nutrients in your soil, says Mark Highland, founder of Organic Mechanics. “That will tell you which nutrients you already have,” he says. “If your soil has the nutrients you need, you won’t need to buy fertilizer.”

Grow higher-cost vegetables A 2020 analysis found that an investment of $88 in a typical-size garden could yield as much as 350 pounds of vegetables worth about $700. As inflation pushes the cost of fresh produce ever higher, you could yield even bigger savings by focusing on vegetables such as lettuce, colored peppers or heirloom tomatoes that can cost $4 or more a pound at the supermarket. 

— By Beth Braverman

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