Keeping Up With Maintenance in the Home

By Bill Primavera

Last week, I got really ticked when my heating and air conditioning system suddenly went on the fritz after only five years of service.

I’m always impressed when I learn about how homeowners get long-term service from equipment that’s well-maintained. In my case, I live in an upscale condo where everything is supposed to be maintenance free.

Further exacerbating my dismay was finding out that my unit could not be repaired, only replaced – and at a hefty cost.

With some maintenance discipline, our homes can also get great mileage.

For most of my married life and prior to living in my current residence, my wife and I lived in an antique home that was over 275 years old. It had stood through the American Revolution, the Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, presidential assassinations and terrorist attacks, along with the invention of electricity, indoor plumbing, technological wonders and normal wear and tear to the structure itself. 

Just since I have owned the house, there has been a roof leak, flooded basement, the last gasp of a hot water heater, then the boiler, and the most spectacular occurrence, when the transformer on my corner exploded and blew my electrical panel off the basement wall. 

But on the positive side, I can see that the previous guardians of the house had taken steps to upgrade and maintain it through the years, and I have tried my best to continue that tradition. However, sometimes life gets in the way. 

I was spoiled by my first home. It had been completely renovated just before I bought it and I never had to do anything to keep it going for my five years of ownership. I wasn’t going to get away with a free pass forever. But embarrassed as I am to admit, I’ve usually waited until something has malfunctioned before attending to it, rather than taking preventative measures.

That’s probably natural for most of us. Realistically, when was the last time you cleaned your chimney or, better yet, drained your hot water tank?

For those of you who want to join me in making a New Year’s resolution to gift your home with proper maintenance, here is a checklist of the basic “to do’s.”


Roof: If you’re agile and fearless enough to mount your own roof, check for loose or damaged shingles, as well as the condition of flashing at dormers, plumbing stacks and valleys. The rest of us can call a reliable roofer to check anything close-up that may look suspicious from ground level. 

Gutters and downspouts: Check for blockage, leakage and areas requiring re-sloping. Gutters should be cleaned in spring and fall.

Eaves: Monitor the condition of soffits and fascia, looking for the onset of rot.

Foundation walls: Check for deteriorated brink, block, mortar and for cracking due to settlement.

Grading: The grading immediately adjacent to the house should be sloped away from the structure, at least one inch per foot for at least six feet.

Doors and windows: Caulking and weather stripping should be checked for better insulation.

Porches and decks: Check wooden components for rot and insect infestation. Steps and railings should be secure.

Driveways and sidewalks: Check for cracks and deterioration, especially if there is a possibility of someone tripping.


Attic: Should be examined annually for signs of water stains on the underside of the roof sheathing. Also, determine if attic vents are obstructed.

Basement: Check the walls and floor for dampness and consider a dehumidifier if needed. While down there, make sure the sump pump is operating property.

Plumbing: For supply plumbing, precautions should be taken to assure that pipes in crawl spaces do not freeze during the winter. Outdoor faucets should be shut off from the interior and drained for the winter. And remember to remove any hoses from the outside faucets. Check all indoor faucets for leaks and replace washers as necessary.

Electricity: The main panel should be examined at least once a year for rust. Periodically check for frayed or damaged wiring in extension cords, appliances cords and plugs.

Heating system: For forced air systems, conventional or electronic filters should be checked monthly and cleaned or replaced as needed. With hot water systems, radiators and convectors should be inspected annually for leakage, particularly at the valves. Radiators should be bled of air annually. Electric, oil and gas furnaces and boilers should be checked by a qualified technician on an annual basis.

Smoke detectors: At least one should be placed on each floor, and one in each bedroom.

Carbon monoxide detectors: Install one on each level.

Hot water heater: Drain to remove sediment from the bottom of the tank.

Fireplaces and chimneys: Have them inspected and cleaned once a year.

Does this basic list seem overwhelming? Does it have you wondering whether you should become a renter, rather than owning, and have a friendly landlord who does the maintenance work for you?

There is an alternative. Get yourself the best darned handyman you can find.

Bill Primavera, while a writer and public relations practitioner (, is also a licensed realtor ( affiliated with William Raveis in Yorktown. Anyone considering selling or buying a home can reach him directly at 914-522-2076.