Remember when helping out around the house could earn you a few stars on the chore chart or even an allowance? Yeah. Those were the good days. Now, if you don’t stay on top of your chores, it could cost you big bucks.
Here, home maintenance experts share some tasks that commonly get overlooked and, if ignored for too long, can end up costing homeowners.
1. Changing HVAC filters
This is an easy one: You simply want to swap out old HVAC filters for new ones once every few months, says Wayne Archer, a technical expert with Sears Home Services. Dirty filters can lead to increased energy bills and damage the systems. A repair bill could cost between $350 to $900. Oof!
“Even if it doesn’t look dirty, you should still change it out,” he says.
During heavy-use periods, like summer when the air conditioning is constantly running, Archer suggests changing the filters monthly.
2. Cleaning refrigerator condenser coils
Condenser coils are what cool and condense the refrigerant (what makes your fridge cold). They are also notorious for gathering dust. “Dirty coils make the refrigerator work harder to cool everything inside, often resulting in expensive repairs,” Archer says. Repair bills could range from $230 to $300.
First things first: Unplug your refrigerator. Depending on where the coils are located, you’ll want to get underneath or behind the fridge, says Archer. Clean the coils with a brush or vacuum. This is a task that you should do twice a year.
3. Clearing overgrown trees and shrubs
The roots and tendrils of trees and shrubs can work their way into the foundation if they’re too close to the house, warns Sean Harper, co-founder CEO of Kin, a homeowners insurance start-up company. Cracks in your foundation can cause a whole host of problems, he says, including leaks and flooding.
“Plus, if you live in a region prone to wildfires, clearing unnecessary brush can better protect your home,” Harper points out.
It can be done yourself using a shovel (one with a pointed tip is best), pruning shears, and a handheld saw (or a chainsaw if you know how to use one), Harper says. Make sure to protect your hands and feet by wearing strong gloves and boots. If it’s thick undergrowth, renting a brush mower (a.k.a. a “Brush Hog“) is probably your best bet.
“If all this sounds like too much work (or too big of an investment buying the tools), you can always hire someone,” Harper says.
4. Cleaning your gutters
“Something as simple as gutter cleaning could save you some major money in future home repairs,” says Andrew Hecox, a general contractor in Wichita, Kansas. Clogged gutters can cause some major problems, including dry-rot to the fascia and soffit boards (pieces adjacent to and underneath the gutters, respectively) and the siding.
Cleaning them is a pretty easy task, too. You can use a small garden shovel, empty bucket, gardening gloves and trash bags, Hecox says. Once you have your ladder set up safely (make sure it’s tall enough to reach your gutters and use a stabilizer to keep the ladder from wobbling), clean out the gutters and bag up the debris.
“It is also best to do a complete washout of the gutters and downspouts while you are at it to ensure proper water flow and make sure the downspouts aren’t clogged,” he says. You could hire a professional to perform this task, but it could cost you as much as $250 if you have a 1,500 square-foot two-story house.
5. Patching cracks in your driveway
Over time, your driveway develops cracks from changing weather, plants and roots, and other general wear and tear, says Allen Michael, the editor of SawsHub.com, a website focused on woodworking and home maintenance tips and tricks. “If not tended to, these cracks will grow over time, ruining your driveway, and causing you to have to replace it,” Michael says. “New driveways, even if they are small, are not cheap.”
In fact, the average cost of a new concrete driveway is $7,400 and an asphalt one is $5,000, according to Angie’s List. To stall having to repair or reseal a driveway, you should patch the cracks in every year or so, he suggests.
To do this, clean the area with a blower and power wash it, if possible. Using a concrete or pavement sealer from a home improvement store, mix it in a bucket and layer it into the crack. If you’ve got a large crack, tamp down the sealer and let it dry. You may need to repeat the process several times.
6. De-cluttering the cabinets underneath your sinks
Most homeowners think that the area under their sink is for storing cleaning supplies, says Robert Taylor, a Sacramento-area house rehabber. (Guilty!) But, this is a big problem.
“When you put things under the sink, they get pushed and knocked around and sometimes bumped into the plumbing,” he says. “Over time, this can cause your plumbing to leak.”
Because you’ve got cleaning bottles and supplies crowding the area, you’re likely not to notice the leak, he says. “Most bathroom vanities are unfortunately made of particle board which is not water resistant,” he says. “Just a few days of water leaks and your vanity could be ruined.”
If you just need to replace the bottom of your vanity, it could cost your $150. If you need to replace the entire vanity, it could cost you $1,000. And if the leak is under your kitchen sink, you may end up needing to do a huge kitchen remodel because of mold and water damage.
Aside from keeping the area under your sinks clear, you can also line your cabinet shelves, Taylor suggests.
“You can use contact paper, but I prefer to use shower wall sheeting under the sinks,” he says. “It’s a flexible plastic that is about 1/16-inch thick, and provides excellent water protection because it’s made for showers.”
The material will cost you less than $25 at your hardware store and can be cut to any size with a knife or scissors. Though it won’t stop leaks or prevent water from running off of the shelf, it provides a great initial water resistant surface, Taylor explains.
7. Flushing your hot water tank
Sediment builds up on the bottom of your hot water tank over time, explains Cristina Miguélez, content manager of Fixr.com, an online home remodeling hub. But a thick layer of sediment could mean cold showers on the regular because it reduces the amount of hot water available. Don’t clean it every so often, and that sediment can shorten the lifespan of your hot water heater. Replacing a hot water tank could easily cost $4,500.
To prevent all this, you should drain your tank from the bottom at least once a year to get the sediment out, then refill it.
Shouldn’t owning a home come with a manual?! And, hey, maybe it’s time to make a chore chart again to remember to stay on top of these tasks so you don’t get sucker-punched with a big repair bill.