By MJ Plaster
No one wants to do it or pay for it, but a dollar saved on home maintenance is not a dollar earned; it can be many dollars lost. Follow along and mark your calendars while you learn a few tips the pros and salespeople would prefer you didn’t know.
- Keep drains clear – I recently had a clogged kitchen sink drain that nothing—from vinegar, baking soda and boiling water to sulfuric acid—would clear. After the plumber snaked the pipe for $80, he told me to squirt a little dish washing liquid into the drain and run hot water for a minute after I finish washing dishes every day to keep fats from solidifying and clogging the pipes. For a few pennies a day, it should keep the pipes clear indefinitely.One day I saw this odd-looking thing called a Zip-It at Ace Hardware. With $4 added to my tab, I headed home, squirreled it away, and forgot about it until my bathtub drain started to slow. I shoved the Zip-It down the drain into the trap. When I tried to remove it, it didn’t budge—not an inch. It was an OMG moment—what’s this going to cost when the plumber comes? So I pulled harder, and harder, until bit by bit, I removed the device along with a huge wad of gunky, shoulder-length, brown hair. The drain opened, and that $4 piece of industrial-strength plastic has removed the “same time next year” date with the plumber from my calendar now that I use it every month without fail.
- Change or clean heat and a/c intake filters – Bob Vila says, “The primary purpose of a filter is to protect HVAC equipment, not to improve indoor air quality, as many homeowners have been led to believe.” Vila also warned that filters that are “too good” at keeping the air clean can also damage HVAC systems. If you want cleaner air, buy an air filter, don’t upgrade your HVAC filters. To keep my intakes clean, I purchased one permanent filter and one disposable filter for each intake, and I use the disposable filters each month while I clean the permanent ones. Today’s permanent filters cost only about three time the cost of a disposable filter, so after three months, you’ve made your money back and eliminated monthly expenditures on filters. If you have pets, vacuum the grill covering the intake once a week. Flying fur from longhair pets can block the grill and obstruct the exchange of air in a week.
- Protect your water pipes – Invest a dollar in a Styrofoam cover for each outdoor faucet. Install them at the same time you disconnect and store your hoses for the season. And when you get a hard freeze, don’t even entertain the thought of saving a few cents by not letting your water drip indoors. You’ll be sorry when the pipes burst and flood your home.
- Replace fire alarm batteries – Many smoke detectors operate with 9-volt batteries. Who stocks those at home? No one! A few years ago, the battery in one of mine died during an ice storm—beep, beep, beep at an ear-piercing level—for days. But what if the battery is still good? Change it anyway. While you’re at it, change the batteries for your fan remote controls each spring and for your gas and electric fireplaces each fall.
- Clean you gutters and downspouts – Last fall, I didn’t have the gutters and downspouts cleaned. Big mistake—one day during a week long, below-zero-degree cold snap, I heard something that sounded like someone playing a xylophone on the patio. A huge icicle caused by runoff from the gutter had broken off and landed on a small table with a glass top and shattered the glass. I was lucky; it could have hit someone in the head and caused a bad injury.
Everything except cleaning your gutters and downspouts takes just a few moments of your time; there’s no excuse for letting these little chores go unattended. When you do need help on a major home maintenance problem, before you plunk down your hard-earned money, always fire up your favorite search engine to find out if there’s an easy solution. You might just get lucky.