Maintaining Your Home

Site Drainage

It’s at the top because it is the most overlooked, It’s important to maintain good site drainage around the perimeter of your building.  The finish grade (soil, sidewalks, and driveways, parking areas) should slope away from the building.  This slope may vary around the building but should be consistent, always sloping away.

If water ponds along the walls, or water backs up, or does not drain adequately, there are three remedies. 

  1. Fill the low ponding areas. Low areas could be filled with appropriate soils but you must take into consideration the elevation of the interior finish slab (floor).  Do not fill the void if the fill will end up being at or higher than the interior slab elevation.  You should (if you can) maintain a minimum 4″ clearance from the top of the interior slab to the outside soil finish elevation.
  2. Re-grade the area.  Sometimes this is the only choice and would require the services of a professional landscape contractor. I prefer this method of all three as it solves the problem permanently. The grade is adjusted by using a box grader, if space is adequate to accommodate, or shovel and wheel barrel.  The sod is removed and the soil scrapped so a slope away from the building is created, typical slope is ¼” per foot. Note:  For new construction, there is a building code for each lot to maintain its own storm water run-off. 
  3. Underground Drains.  This is the method of last resort and should only be used in certain circumstances. I am of the mind set to not create more work when solving a problem.  Meaning you solve one problem and create another.   Underground drains may be a cost effective way of solving some drainage problems but then the underground pipe needs to be monitored and maintained to prevent blockage.  Underground drains are typically used at gutter downspouts to control roof storm water runoff.

Gutters

Gutters are great until you have to clean them.  For this reason we do not recommend using them unless you have to.  Life is too short, don’t create more work for yourself.  Place them sparingly and only where you have to have them, especially if you have tall trees around your building.  The only time we recommend them around the entire building would is if your lot was free of tall trees. 

If you must have them the larger 7″ seamless and 4 x 6 inch downspouts work best. Heavy flash rains we receive in Florida overwhelm smaller gutters purchased at home improvement stores.  Smaller household gutters are a waste of time, money and effort as they cannot hold the volume of water.

Roofing

There are two basic kinds of roof finishes for pitched roofs in Florida, tile and fiberglass shingles. Both require different types of maintenance.

CLEANING

Fiberglass Shingles

 There are different types of fiberglass shingles (dimensional & three tab) but were lumping them into one category as the maintenance is the same. 

This is the easiest roofing material to maintain in Florida’s (sub-tropical) climate.  As far as cleaning goes never, never ever pressure wash or water scrub the roof. High or low pressure washing will removed the granular finish and reduce the life expectancy of the shingles.  There is a company in the Tampa Bay Area called “Roof Reviver” that uses low pressure to clean roofs.  Do not contract with them. 

Only clean your roof if looks like it needs it.  Rinse the roof with water first then apply a bleach solution.  It can be sprayed on with a pump sprayer or a fertilizer attachment for a garden hose.  The latter is the easiest just fill the container with bleach. Let it stand for a few minutes and rinse it off with a garden hose using your thumb to increase water pressure.  That’s it!  If there is heavy fungus and algae growth it may take a couple of times to clean. 

Tile Roofs

 We do not recommend homeowners clean tile roofs.  Hire a professional to pressure wash the roof.  But before you sign a contract make sure they are willing to repair any tiles they break over a 15 count.  An inexperienced roof cleaner can break a hundreds of tiles in one cleaning.  So the $100 you saved contracting someone cheap will cost you $500.00+ to repair the broken tile mess.  Granted it is very hard to clean a roof without breaking a few tiles but I have seen the results of a bad cleaning.  Also make sure they use bleach or a similar cleaning solution on the roof, otherwise the cleaning will not last. 

There are some tile roofs I would recommend not cleaning as the tiles are so thin and poorly manufactured that no matter who you hire 100 tiles will be broken.  This type of tile is a cement based tile typically called “Duntex” tiles.  These tiles are no longer manufactured and are mostly on homes built before 1995.

 

Inspecting

It makes a lot of sense to every once in a while to walk around the perimeter of your building and look for water stains.  It is always a good idea to have the roof inspected bi-annually or after high velocity wind drive conditions or event.

Photo above is an example of an advanced roof leak.  The brown staining is caused by water leaking through the roof framing.  If you see this or something smaller, chances are you have a roof leak

Insulation

There isn’t a lot a homeowner can do to maintain the insulation.  The walls are sealed, the only area accessible is the attic. The attic should be covered with a consistent insulation blanket which can vary in depth from 4″ (R-11) to  12″ (R-38).  There could be more.  The blanket could be Batt Insulation (it comes in a roll) or blown fiberglass insulation (it looks like pink or white cotton) or Blown Cellulose (crushed fire treated newsprint). 

If the Batt insulation gets displaced or moved simply put it back.  If the blown insulation is matted down, more should be added.  One of the biggest problems we find is insulation damaged from rodent traffic.  If the rodent infestation is severe the insulation would have to be removed (vacuumed out) and the attic disinfected.  How do you judge its severity?  The insulation will have extensive rat runners through it, be flatted down to 1/4 of the original thickness or less and it will have a strong urine and feces odor.  This condition is very unsanitary and should be addressed ASAP. 

Walk the exterior of the building, make sure all the holes are sealed so rodents cannot enter.  Small holes can be sealed with a can of expandable foam, larger holes should be sealed with an appropriate material that is similar or conducive to that materials around the hole.  A rat can enter a small hole the size of quarter.

RODENT INCURSIONS

If you hear the pitter patter of little rodent feet, don’t turn up the stereo to drown them out. It’s not just that rodents can carry disease and make a mess nesting in the tax records and Christmas decorations you’ve stored in the attic. Rats, mice and other vermin love to chew through insulation and wiring and are suspects in many house fires.

THE FIX: Use traps and bait products or call in an exterminator. Mice droppings can carry the deadly Hantavirus, and rodents themselves can carry everything from salmonella to the plague, so professional help might be the wisest course.

THE DANGERS OF COMBUSTIBLE INSULATION

Check your home for combustible insulation (plastic). When plastic insulation burns, it gives off a tremendous amount of heat. The fire tends to travel very quickly across the surface of the plastic and gives off thick, black, toxic smoke.

The most common type of exposed combustible insulation found in houses is polystyrene – similar to the white plastic disposable cups commonly used for hot drinks.

It comes in one-quarter inch to four-inch thick sheets. It is often exposed in basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages, back side of overhead garage doors and Florida room ceilings. If you find this insulation in your home you have a couple options.

  1. Cover it with drywall to protect it from fire and to reduce flame spread if it does burn.
  2. Remove it and replace.

If it has been installed on the back side of your garage door simply remove it. Polystyrene was often used by do-it-yourselfers as inexpensive ceiling tile for drop type ceilings or “T” bar ceilings. This is disaster waiting to happen. Remove it immediately.

If you are unsure as to the type of material exists Suncoast Inspections.com can inspect and recommend a proper course of action.

Exterior Finish

The most important thing a homeowner can door is to keep a good coat of paint on the exterior.  Make sure the caulking around windows, doors and any wall penetrations are in good shape, if not remove the old before applying the new.  The typical Florida residential dwelling should be painted every 5 to 7 years depending on the exposure and quality of paint.  Coastal dwellings will need painting more often.  New homes should be painted within 3 to 4 years from construction date.  When painting stucco make sure it is properly prepped to accept the new paint.  Clean with bleach or house cleaner and pressure washing, seal the old paint in with a chalk sealer and then apply two layers of high quality of latex paint. Use high quality paint store paint stay away from “do it yourself” centers and depots.  We highly recommend using an Elastomeric paint. It is like painting the exterior with a liquid plastic wrap. 

Replace all rotted wood.  Do not try to patch with wood putty, it will not hold in our tropical climate.

Peeling Paint

Paint is like a home’s skin. It’s the first line of defense against incursions by water and pests. Water that seeps into wood can lead to rot. At the other extreme, unpainted wood can quickly get too dry and crack.

THE FIX: Scrape or pressure wash off the old paint, sand the surface smooth and apply a coat or two of fresh color. Be cautious in homes built before 1978, since many still have lead paint. Dust and chips from such paint can cause irreversible brain damage in children and nerve damage in adults. Consider hiring professionals to test your home and remove any lead paint.

Electrical

One of the most common sources of fire in homes is the electrical system. If you suspect an issue get an electrician out to inspect ASAP.   Again, have the system inspected bi-annually and don’t do any of this work yourself!

Make sure your smoke detectors are functioning.

Flickering Lights

Do your lights dim when the fridge switches on or you crank up the microwave? You may have bad wiring or too many appliances hooked to one circuit. Either one can cause a fire.

“A lot of older homes have only one or two circuits in the kitchen,” said inspector Jason Farrier of Elite Home Inspections in Phoenix. “People will update the kitchen but still have all the appliances running off those two circuits.”

It’s far safer, Farrier said, to have at least four circuits: two for countertop appliances, one to run the dishwasher and garbage disposal and another dedicated line for the microwave.

Flickering lights also can be a sign of failing connections in aluminum wiring, a feature in homes built between 1965 and 1973.

THE FIX: You can try to distribute power hungry appliances more evenly, but not running more than one at a time or by plugging some into another circuit. But the best fix is a cure: Get an electrician to upgrade your wiring, add more circuits, or both.

If you have aluminum wiring but can’t afford to upgrade, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends making your wiring safer by using special crimp connectors rather than the usual twist-on style. For more information, visit the commission’s Web site or consult a professional electrician.

Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters

These electrical outlets, with their distinctive red and black buttons, are designed to prevent deadly shocks. Outlets in bathrooms and those in kitchens within six feet of the sink should be replaced with GFCI outlets. They’re the best $15 you’ll ever spend. They’re a lifesaver.  The exception: Don’t put a refrigerator or a water softener on a GFCI. A fridge’s normal on-and-off surges can trip the interrupter and leave you with an icebox full of rotting groceries.

Water Heaters

Drain your water heater tank once a year if you do not have a water softener.  If you have a water softener every other year.  If you’re moving into a home with a tank water heater drain it now. Sediment will drain out with the water from the tank. Doing this will prolong the tanks life.

If your water heater has ever leaked at the top via plumbing lines or if an HVAC unit has leaked on to the water heater the tanks life expectancy is drastically reduced. 

Should your tank fail and you have natural or propane gas we recommend purchasing a “tankless” water heater from Ranni again, if you have natural or propane gas.  These are performing the best. Get the 9.6 gallons per minute unit as it produces water faster.  Electric tankless water heaters are beginning to make advances but do not perform as well as gas.

Water Leaks

A stain on your ceiling. A toilet that rocks. White powdery stuff that grows on your bricks or foundation. A musty smell in your house.

Whatever the source, the culprit is water, and the damage can be severe. “Water is probably the single most destructive force to any building,” said inspector Jeff Del Guercio, owner of An Objective Inspection in Throop, Pa., and president of the local National Association of Home Inspectors chapter. “And a leak can go on for a long time without being noticed.”

Left unchecked, leaks can lead to rot, dry rot, mold and termite infestations. Water can cause roofs to collapse, foundations to buckle and all manner of expensive repairs.

What’s more, water-related problems can get your home blackballed by insurance companies worried about the soaring number of mold-related claims nationwide.

THE FIX: Isn’t it obvious? Stop the leak by any means necessary and dry out the area immediately.  DO NOT WAIT! Mold growth begins after 48 hours.  If it is a small water event go out and buy an LG Dehumidifier at Home Depot.  Every home should have one.  Plug it in and let it dry the area.  If the drywall is wet removed the baseboard so it can dry. Punch small holes in the drywall where the baseboard was so the wall cavity can dry.  If it is a large water event call a local drying company, they have large equipment that can handle it.  Most insurance companies pay for this service.  Repair the damage and take the required steps to make sure the problem doesn’t reappear. Minor roof leaks, for example, can be patched with roof cement, but if your roof is aged and failing, you may need to have it replaced. That’s expensive, but not as bad as replacing the trusses and underlying structure that can rot away if not protected.

A/C & Heating (HVAC)

Keep it clean, keep it clean! Change the filters monthly if you use the cheap blue fiberglass filters.  We would recommend purchasing the heavier medium pleated HEPA filters.  They do cost more but can stay in longer and are very effective when it comes to removing more of what’s in the air.  Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for changing but you ultimately have the responsibility because your filters my require changing more often, especially if you have any pets.

DIRTY, OR MISSING, AIR CONDITIONER FILTER

Overloaded or missing filters allow dirt and dust to settle on the air handlers coils and return ductwork. Warm air passing over the coils causes condensation. What you get is mud — or a perfect medium for mold to grow and be blown through the ductwork to every room in your home or office.

Enough gunk can block air from getting into the system, causing it to heat up, possibly catch fire or cause the motor to age prematurely. Many air conditioner failures can be traced to this simple lack of maintenance.

With a $5 HEPA filter you can preserve a $6-10,000.00 air conditioning system.

THE FIX: Replace the filter once a month or every other month while the system is in use. Get your system checked and cleaned annually.

SOARING FUEL BILLS

If you’re paying a lot more for gas or oil, Del Guercio said, the culprit could be problems with your furnace. This is more than a pocketbook issue, since poorly functioning systems can cause deadly carbon monoxide buildup in your home. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates about 200 people die annually from carbon monoxide exposure in the home, typically from malfunctioning heating systems.

THE FIX: Have your air handler or furnace professionally cleaned and inspected annually, including the flue (if applicable). The cost is usually less than $200. Install UL-approved carbon monoxide detectors, which cost $25 to $50 each.

FLEXIBLE GAS CONNECTORS

Gas appliances installed more than 10 years ago may still have dangerous brass connectors that can fail, according to the safety commission, leading to fires or explosions. These should be replaced with an approved connector, typically stainless steel. But don’t move the appliance to inspect, since even a slight motion can cause the weak soldered connection to break. Have a professional appliance repairperson check and make any changes.

Fireplaces

SMOKEY CHIMNEY

Here’s another way neglect can kill your family, chimneys that aren’t properly cleaned and maintained can catch fire. Creosote, a by-product of wood burning, can build up in the flue and ignite unless removed. We don’t use our fireplaces much in Florida so this is not much of an issue.

THE FIX: Get your chimney swept and inspected annually; the cost is about $150 (depending on usage). (You can find certified chimney sweeps via the Chimney Safety Institute of America, link at left under Related Sites.) Use only seasoned wood, and build small, hot fires, rather than big smoky ones. Never burn trash, cardboard or wrapping paper in your fireplace.  This is not a big issue in Florida as we do not use the fireplace nearly as much as up north.  But as the fireplace ages creosote can build up and it is a good idea to

Garage Doors

Test the door it should run smoothly without and interruptions or jerking. If it does it may just require some simple adjustments by a professional installer.  The large springs mounted on the wall above the door have about a 5 to 7 year life expectancy, depending on use.  These springs make the doors easy to open and close, as they age the weight of the door puts stress on the opener causing it to fail prematurely.  Replacing the springs are normal maintenance high wind conditions, make sure your buying the right door for your location. 

GARAGE DOOR OPENERS

Yours should have an electric eye that looks for obstructions and an automatic reverse mechanism to prevent someone from getting squashed. The eye should be just a couple inches off the floor.  If too high a small child could lay down undetected. 

Dryer Vents

The lowly clothes dryer causes more than 15,000 fires every year, often caused by lint buildup in the duct that vents to the outside. Clean the ducts regularly and replace plastic ducts with metal versions. The cleaning should cost approx. $70.00.   If the dryer vent pipe is made of a thin plastic around a metal wire coil it must be replaced now.  This type of vent pipe is a fire hazard.

By Liz Pulliam Weston
Reprinted with permission as first appeared in MSN Money.

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