“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Those were the wise words of Benjamin Franklin, and they’re as valid today as they were back in the 1700s when the elder statesman uttered them. It’s interesting that many homes built in New England during the revolutionary period are still standing today. In fact, many are as good as new. They haven’t only maintained their value — their worth has appreciated to a thousand or more times than their initial cost to build.
What do these three-hundred-year-old homes that fetch a premium price have in common? Besides being properly built, they’ve been properly maintained. And, if continued on a proper maintenance program, they will remain in pristine condition come the twenty-fourth century.
Well-maintained homes shine from the curb and gleam from entering the front door, all the way to the flooring, fixtures and furnace. Whether it’s making sure your existing components are kept in top shape or adding improvements to your home, proactive maintenance has the highest return on investment.
Here are ten of the best home improvements to increase value.
1. Water Control and Leak Repairs
Water is the single, most destructive force on a building. As they say, you can’t live with it and you can’t live without it. In a home, you have to control water. Leaks cause far more financial damage to homes than all the other elements, including fire. And leaks can come from inside your home as well as from out.
The biggest offender for interior water leaks is the hot water tank. Despite the warranty, all hot water tanks have a limited life span with ten years being the average. A tank’s life span is severely shortened if there’s corrosive materials in the water, especially a high iron content. Flush the sediment at least annually to maintain tanks, more often if the water is a brown or reddish color. Examine your tank for the date of manufacture. It’s stamped on a metal plate or printed on a label. If your tank is approaching its “best before” date, consider replacing it before it fails without warning. Please feel free to contact us if you’re considering replacing your water heater.
Leaking plumbing fixtures such as toilets and faucets need to be fixed immediately. An even better strategy is to maintain them before the leakage starts. Seals and washers should be examined yearly, including flappers in toilets. Shut off valves should be tested yearly, as should the pressure release valve on the hot water tank. A plugged faucet aerator may cause low water pressure. You can easily remove the collar and clean the screen to fix it.
Hose bibs are another terrible offender for leaks, and they cause water damage inside wall assemblies and in basements or crawl spaces. Wetness or mold around the hose bib is a sure sign of leakage, and it’s usually caused by a loose tap or connection. Ensuring that exterior hoses are removed from exterior faucets as part of your winterization process is a must-do in your maintenance program.
Gutters should be inspected and cleaned at least twice a year. Plugged gutters cause damage quickly, affecting the roofing material, the fascia, soffits and even the siding. Gutter maintenance is cheap, easy and is a prime preventer of expensive damage.
Exterior water drainage is another high-risk to structures. Clogged perimeter drains can be a costly repair and are easily prevented with a yearly flushing of the perimeter drain system. You can either run a hose down the pipes or rent a “snake,” which is a mechanical tool for routing the drains.
Watch for water pooling around your foundation’s exterior. Standing water means improper drainage, and it can be caused by improper grading that won’t let rain water or snow melt naturally run off from gravity, or it could mean that the percolation of the ground near the backfill is too compacted. Water that stands for more than 24 hours after a rainstorm is a sign of poor drainage and should be addressed immediately.
2. Roofing Upgrades or Replacements
Replacing a roof is one of the costliest home improvement or home maintenance projects, but it’s inevitable at some point in all structures’ lives. Your roof is entirely exposed to nature’s elements — rain, snow, ice, wind and heat, as well as seasonal stresses. The average roof life is 20 to 25 years.
Here are tell-tale signs a roof is nearing its end:
- Cupping, curling and lifting of the roof shingles are early signs that a roof is distressed. Repair or replace loose or broken shingles before they become a source of leaks.
- Granules in your gutters or eave troughs are a natural occurrence for asphalt shingles. An abundance of grit in the gutters is a sign that the roofing life is ending. Even more alarming can be the total absence of granules, which implies the roof has none left and is in imminent need of replacement.
- Waves or dips in a roof is a serious sign that it may be leaking and has caused rotting of the wooden sheathing below. At this point, it’s best to bring a professional roofing contractor in for an expert opinion.
The most important roof maintenance you can make is keeping a close eye on it and conducting preventive replacement before it’s too late.
3. Heating Maintenance
Regular servicing of your furnace, including cleaning or replacing your filters, is a routine part of home maintenance. Filters should be checked monthly, especially in the warmer weather when dust, pollens and insects are plentiful.
Furnace life is usually extensive and lasts as 15-20 years on average. Indicators that your furnace is ending its lifecycle are noisy fan motors, slow starts and notable smells that come from stressed burners or electrical components.
Homes with electric baseboard heaters are normally trouble free. A regular watch for items placed against electric heaters, especially fabrics, is great insurance against possible combustion and a serious fire.
4. Air Conditioning Servicing
As with heating, your home’s air conditioning system should offer a long service life, provided it’s properly maintained. Blockage to the supplies, registers and cooling coils is the most common source of trouble, depending mainly on the location of the unit.
Air conditioning units should be clear of debris like leaves and branches. Air conditioners with filters require cleaning on the same regular basis as furnaces do. Window mounted appliances are traps for insects and other small pests. Heat pumps must keep their safety guards intact and be kept free from blockage, including placing yard implements against them. Air conditioners produce a lot of water in the form of condensation when running. Drains and condensate pumps should be cleaned and flushed regularly as part of your maintenance plan.
A properly maintained air conditioning system will provide years of continuous, problem free service, but a broken and non-operational unit will seriously affect the value of your home. Air conditioning is an important feature to potential homebuyers, so it’s important that your home has a functioning a/c unit.
Joining our One Call Club is a great way to ensure your heating and cooling systems are always running optimally.
5. Energy Loss Prevention
Energy efficiency is a huge issue for most homeowners. The cost of heating and cooling a home, as well as the day-to-day operation of appliances, cooking and cleaning, is hugely important to potential buyers. Your home’s energy consumption record tells a lot about the operating costs, and it forms part of the overall home ownership budget.
Most energy loss occurs from air leakage. Usually, heated warm air escapes from your home — but the same holds true with cooled air in the summer. Energy saving upgrades like thermal windows, additional insulation and high-performance furnaces add value to your home, but they don’t have the same rate of return that simple and routine maintenance tasks can have.
A caulking gun can be your best home maintenance friend. Adding caulking or replacing aging caulking around windows, doors and outlets is quick and inexpensive. A very small hole in your building envelope can be a tremendous source of energy loss.
Take proactive action to remedy potential energy loss, and then gladly share your history of energy bills with new potential buyers.
6. Painting Upkeep
Most people think of painting as purely cosmetic. It’s visual, and there’s no doubt that fresh paint adds to the perception of value in a home. A well and recently painted home, inside and out, reflects proper homecare and overall maintenance, which preserves and often increases the value of a home.
Paint adds additional value to your home, as well. It protects your home’s surfaces, especially outside where your siding and trim withstand blistering heat and thrashing rain. Unprotected surfaces quickly break down from erosion or rot. Well-painted interior walls and woodwork are preserved against fair wear and daily use, whether from cooking, showering, children playing or pets scratching.
Paint your home as often as needed, and never buy cheap paint. More expensive, higher quality paint usually lasts a lot longer, which protects your investment.
7. Appliance Cleaning and Care
Today, most appliances are considered fixtures that remain with the home. They’re part of the overall package, often including plumbed-in refrigerators and gas-attached ranges. Washers and dryers, as well as freezers and even home entertainment systems, are included with the purchase of a home. Appliances like furnaces and air conditioners require a certain amount of maintenance to keep functioning properly and retain their value.
Clean them regularly to prolong appliance life and appearance. Refrigerators with coolant coils should be vacuumed regularly. Stainless steel is hugely popular and needs special care to prevent marking. Dishwashers and garburators work best after vinegar flushing. Regularly cleaning the filter in your central-vac system prolongs its life, and helps it function more efficiently.
Old, worn and tarnished appliances are a big red flag to potential purchasers, so maintain your appliances! Perception matters — it’s all part of the package.
8. Safety and Danger Prevention
Safety inside and outside your home is never to be taken lightly. Safety features are a big contributor to protecting the overall value of your home. Safety starts from the moment you walk on your property to when you’re asleep in your bed. Maintaining a driveway and walkway in the winter prevents slippery snow and ice buildup, and prompt removal of deicing salts come spring prevents spalling of the concrete from long-term exposure.
Loose or worn guards and handrails need securing or replacing, as do cracked stair boards and deck surfaces. Locks need to be serviced regularly. A squirt of lubricant keeps a deadbolt free, so it can properly secure when you’re gone.
Inside, smoke detectors are the foremost line of defense against disaster. Today’s codes require smoke detectors to be hard-wired into the electrical system. They come with built-in warning devices when the power is interrupted. Make sure you regularly inspect and test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Routinely replace batteries if needed, and check that the passages are clear. Early fire detection doesn’t only add value to your home — it preserves it.
There’s a rule of thumb in home building that sets 10 percent of the construction costs aside for landscaping. Savvy builders know this, and they spend the proper amount on attractive landscaping features because the money they invest will pay off in greater returns in the perception of property value. Usually, that also includes a faster sale.
Hedges and trees need pruning. Lawns require cutting, edging and fertilizing — as well as watering and the constant maintenance of irrigation systems. Flowerbeds must be maintained with the seasons. Drives and walks should be power washed occasionally. Rake debris, and consider hanging baskets and seasonal ornaments.
Properly maintaining your landscaping provides passersby an idea of what’s inside and underneath your home. The perception from your home’s appearance is immeasurable — good and bad.
10. Curb Appeal
They say not to judge a book by its cover, but people do — and they’ll definitely judge the value of your home from its curb appeal. Protection and improvement of your home’s value is compounded from doing everything right. Properly maintaining your home’s exterior gives a silent suggestion that if the home looks good from the street, then it must be good all the way through. The opposite holds for poor curb appeal.
The time and money you invest in caring for your home on the inside will automatically place you in a mindset to keep going beyond the walls and maintain the top, bottom and perimeter of your home.
Tackle the Most Important Issues First
Accomplishing important maintenance tasks truly helps preserve and improve the value of your home, but it can seem overwhelming with limited time and financial resources. A simple suggestion for allocating time and money is to tackle the most important issues first. Put your effort into what seems to pay off the best, and be sure to prioritize your projects.
There’s a formula for prioritizing home improvement and maintenance expenditures, especially with the big ticket items like roof, furnace or hot water tank. Determine the total life expectancy for the components of your home. The industry standards can be found on many internet resources like Consumer Reports. Find the current age of your component and determine its remaining life expectancy.
Give the overdue items the highest priority, and perhaps consider creating a five-year focus list or list of areas of future concern. Don’t worry about anything that has a five-year or better service life. Watch for something called an expense cluster, which is a group of components all reaching their expiry date around the same time. Dealing with issues early is good protection against multiple maintenance costs hitting you simultaneously.
Schedules and Checklists
Organize your home maintenance priorities and tasks by making a schedule when they’re due. Seasonally is the best way to schedule when different maintenance jobs should take place. Spring and fall are the busy times, allowing you more free time in the summer and less weather-sensitive work in the winter.
No home maintenance program should be without task checklists. Many examples are available online, and many homeowner maintenance manuals include helpful lists. Checklists also provide an appropriate record of proving your home’s maintenance to a prospective buyer — they’re one more tool to protect your home’s value.
Setting a budget with funds reserved for home maintenance is a prudent part of your program. It allows you to control tasks without getting caught short when something unexpected arises.
There’s no secret way to determine a yearly home maintenance budget, but there are two helpful formulas. One is the one-percent rule, where one percent of your home’s fair market value is reserved. Another is the square-foot rule, where one dollar per square foot of your floor size is dedicated. There are exceptions to these rules and perhaps the best approach is planning to spend an average of the two formulas in preserving your home’s value through investing in proper maintenance.
Benjamin Franklin also said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Perhaps the best home maintenance investment you, as a homeowner, can make is educating yourself on proper maintenance tips, tricks and paybacks. A quick search on Amazon for “home maintenance books” found 23,920 hits. There’s plenty of information available on preserving and improving your home’s value through proper maintenance.
Here are Amazon’s top ten home maintenance books:
- The Do-It-Yourself Home Maintenance Manual
- How Your House Works
- 100 Things Every Homeowner Must Know
- Home Maintenance For Dummies
- Readers Digest Fix-It-Yourself
- Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook
- Black & Decker Guide To Home Repair
- Home Depot’s Home Improvement Manual
- The Ultimate Guide To Home Repair
- First Time Homeowners Survival Guide
Play defense — not offense — when maintaining your home. Proactive maintenance is the key to preventing small problems from becoming big and costly issues. The time and money you invest in maintaining your home is the best investment you can make in its value. If you’re interested in learning how to increase your home’s value through preventive maintenance, check out our One Call Club.