7 Overlooked Home Maintenance Hacks

You replace your air filters every month. You know to check your smoke and CO2 detectors annually. You even get up there and de-muck the gutters every year. Kudos to you, proactive homeowner! However, there are some lesser-known tips that can ensure the efficiency, longevity, and safety of your home. Here are a few you should definitely know:

Test your garage door

Does your garage door automatically stop when the sensor goes off? Or how about when it closes on something that’s clear of the sensor but in the path of the door? If not, you could incur all sorts of insurance liabilities, damage to your vehicle, or worse:  you could harm or kill someone. Here are two simple tests to determine if your garage door is working properly:

1) With your garage door open, press the button to close it on your remote. While the door is in motion, break the photoelectric beam between the sensors with a broom. If the door stops, your sensors are good. If it continues to close, check that they are:

a) powered,
b) aligned properly,
c) connected to the main drive unit (typically the large box that houses the motor on the ceiling in your garage).

If none of those checks solves your problem, it’s either time to call a garage door tech or get a new unit.

2) In addition to the infrared sensor that acts as a sort of tripwire, there is a sensor that stops the motor should it encounter any resistance when closing. Take a block of wood, a stack of phone books, or a similarly shaped object (one that clears the sensors, and one you don’t mind seeing crushed) and place it directly in the path where the door would normally close. If upon closing and encountering this new object, the door doesn’t stop and immediately reverse, the internal sensor in the main unit is faulty.

As above, if it fails then it is either time to call a garage door tech or replace your unit.

Your vacuum cleaner is for more than floors

The lowly vacuum cleaner. More than just a pet-hair-removing, toddler-cereal-cleanup tool, your vacuum can actually make you money.

Start with those dust-clogged cooling coils on the back of your refrigerator – yes, this means you’ll have to slide (or rock) it out far enough to get a hose attachment back there. That dust is costing you money by inefficient cooling that requires more energy (read: higher electric bill) and by way of shortening the lifespan of what, these days, is a not-so-cheap appliance. These coils don’t have to be photo-shoot clean, but they shouldn’t look like they’re wearing grey wool socks.

Now let’s move on to the air registers for your HVAC system. Sure you clean or change the filter – but next time, take a look up inside your intake vent and see the dust that’s in there. Odds are you’ll notice some – and any dust on the wrong side of the filter can be hazardous to your HVAC system, so get as much as you can with your vacuum cleaner, and you’ll have that much less to worry about down the road.

Finally, let’s talk ceiling fans. No, not the blades – you should be cleaning those already to avoid the inevitable dust-bunny-from-above invasion. But think about it: all that dust that accumulates on your fan blades? Maybe you should take a look at the ceiling fan motor itself. Odds are that motor is not too dissimilar to those coils we looked at on the back of your refrigerator. And the same rules of inefficiency and shortened lifespan apply. A clean fan will run more efficiently, last longer, and be far less prone to overheating/shorting.

Test all your GFCI circuitry (easy)

That little red reset button you have on some electrical outlets in your home? Those are known as ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets. And those buttons aren’t just for when you have an overload on your home’s electrical system. They’re actually there to prevent you or anyone in your home from getting a lethal shock. These outlets detect dips in the current as low as 4 milliamps, and when such a dip occurs, stops the flow of electricity. The person who would have normally received a full household current of electricity only receives a small shock.

To test, simply press the button (typically white or black) marked “TEST” which, if operating properly, will cut the power to any appliance plugged into it (might be a good idea to plug a lamp in here first to check). Then, when you press the red button marked “RESET”, your GFCI outlet should return to regular working order. If neither of these things happen, it is time to replace that outlet as it may not perform as intended and could result in injury.

Check your emergency flashlights (my what?)

You don’t have one? In fact, you should have two or more. From the completely-off-the-grid hand-crank styles to those with long-lasting batteries, this simple investment will prove invaluable in the eventual event of a power failure. When you blow that master fuse, and you realize your fuse box is in the garage, behind the camping gear (and the lawnmower, and the pool toys), you’ll wish you had a reliable light source. And if your neighborhood is experiencing a blackout due to a storm or a blown transformer, firing up the generator (and filling it with gas) is a lot easier in the light versus in the dark.

Check your water heater without even looking at it

This one isn’t a comprehensive evaluation, but it can rule out one common symptom of older tank-style water heaters without having to stare down that hulking beast in your garage. Go to your showerhead or kitchen faucet – whichever uses the most hot water in your home, and remove the shower head/aerator faucet tip and look for small pieces of plastic (usually white) about as thick as an eggshell. If you see these caught up in the faucet/shower head, then your water heater is delaminating – the interior insulation is failing – which can lead to inefficient water heating (read: higher energy bill and shorter showers) and possible failure of your water heater. If you see these little bits of plastic, know that your water heater is falling apart – from the inside – and will need to be replaced as soon as possible.

Do a whole-house walkaround

While admiring that perfect edge you just put on the lawn, or those new blossoms on the crape myrtle, take a couple of laps around your home with a more critical eye. Starting from the top – you’d be surprised what you can learn about your roof from a simple glance at your roofline. Look for breaks in what should be a symmetrical layout of shingles, roof lines, and vents. See a shingle or two out of place? Does there appear to be a dip or sag in one section of your roof? You might want to have it inspected.

After you’ve inspected the roof, gutters, and overhangs, start looking down. Are there visible cracks in your foundation? Do you see “stair step” cracks in the mortar between the bricks on your home’s exterior? You may have a foundation issue. Also, if you notice excess standing water, places where moss is growing (yet it grows nowhere else around your home) or soil that has eroded away from excessive runoff, you could have a plumbing issue and/or may need to have the ground around your home regraded to direct water away from your foundation. If you suspect a foundation issue, have it checked out by a professional. You can get a free evaluation, so why wouldn’t you do it for the peace of mind?

The rest of your HVAC system

Yes, we know you said you change the filters. And you already followed tip #2 and cleaned all the dust from your entire system? Awesome. But did you know about the condensation lines? Make sure those are working properly and diverting excess moisture away from the home. What about that shrub that is being sucked up against the condenser outside? Restricting the flow of air into and around your condenser can not only render your HVAC unit ineffective at doing its job, but you can also shorten the lifespan of the device by forcing it to work overtime when it shouldn’t have to. Or did you know that the system in your attic can also leak water? Once a year you should get up there and check to make sure that system is draining excess condensation properly. A little preemptive maintenance can save you thousands and avoid the agony of no A/C in August while waiting for a repairman (who will be charging you the highest rates of the year).

So, while by no means exhaustive, we feel confident that there was at least one thing on this list you hadn’t thought about before reading it. Knowing these simple tips, and following through with them on a regular home maintenance schedule can bring you a myriad of benefits from lower electric bills, longer-lasting appliances, to potentially saving a life.

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