Avoid costly home repairs by prioritizing key areas of home maintenance
Solo Moms face a multitude of challenges, but one you don’t always hear about is the challenge of maintaining your home. You don’t have to buy into outdated notions about the man of the house being the resident handyman to understand that yard work, plumbing, and appliance repairs are more difficult to manage when you’re on your own.
If you are a single mom who has recently taken the plunge into homeownership, or if you’re a longtime homeowner who has never found the time to take proper care of your house, this checklist will help. It’s very easy to put home maintenance on the back burner when your days are busy managing homework and bedtimes and meal prep, but delaying basic maintenance could impact the long-term value of your home, which is quite likely one of your most valuable assets.
Now, maintaining a house can be a full-time job. There are always windows to wash, shades to dust, doorknobs to polish. For those of us who already have full-time jobs, it’s important to prioritize. Follow this checklist to stay on top of the several things that matter most.
Roof. There’s a reason why one’s home is often referred to as “a roof over your head.” At their most basic, houses are structures that provide shelter from the elements, and that starts with the roof. By making sure it stays in good condition, you can avoid costlier repairs down the road as well as leaks and critter invasions that could do damage to the inside of your house. Simply observing your roof is a good place to start. You can sometimes see visible damage or notice shingles that have fallen. But you should also be proactive and invest in an annual roof inspection by a professional.
Gutters. When I was a first-time homeowner, nobody told me anything about the need to maintain my gutters. I figured it out myself when I looked up one day and saw the gutter sagging, apparently under the weight of leaves that had fallen from my neighbor’s tree. But damage to the gutter itself is not the only thing you’ll risk if you neglect semiannual or at least annual cleanings. Clogged gutters on your roof can mess with water flow and lead to water in your basement. That’s right: roof maintenance has a direct impact on your basement. To help keep your basement dry, gutters should be cleaned at least once a year, more if you live in a very rainy area or under a lot of foliage. Indeed, regular gutter cleaning is one of the best things you can do to prepare your home for stormy weather.
Caulk. You may not immediately notice when water seeps through an unsealed crack on the side of the tub or toilet, but this unseen water can build up, even come through the ceiling below. Rule of thumb: if there’s water running, you should caulk. This means sealing your entire bathroom—from the base of the sink, tub, and toilet to the water faucets in the shower. Caulk is inexpensive and easy to apply so it can be a DIY job, although a professional may be able to apply it more neatly. Either way, the investment is small, and the payoff is significant.
Furnace. If you’ve spent much of your life living in a rented apartment, you may never think about the heating system other than to note that it’s time to turn it on when the temperature drops. But if you own your own home, you’ll probably discover that your furnace demands a lot of attention and tender loving care. The best way to ensure your furnace lives a long life is to invest in annual maintenance and have a professional come to examine the appliance. This preemptive checkup not only will help you avoid more costly repairs down the road but also could save you money on heating bills by keeping your appliance running more efficiently. The same goes for the air-conditioning.
Dryer vent. Longtime apartment dwellers are probably familiar with the dryer filter that gathers lint after each load and needs to be cleared. But if you own a stand-alone home, your dryer most likely connects to a vent on the back or the side of your house, which you’ll need to clean at least a few times a year. For all the lint that the filter on the dryer catches, there’s more that goes out the vent. If it’s not tended to, it will eventually clog and could even cause a fire. You’ll know this has become a problem when you notice your laundry is taking forever to dry. But don’t wait for that to happen. Make a point of regularly cleaning the duct that vents your dryer outside.
Batteries. The smoke detector and the carbon monoxide detector are two of the most important appliances in your home. But do you even know if they are working properly? Batteries should beep, signaling they’re due to be replaced, but maybe they expired the last time you were on vacation, maybe you live in a noisy house and don’t pick up on the subtle beeps they let off, or maybe they stopped working for a different reason. These are, after all, relatively low-cost items that are not indestructible. But if you commit to swapping out batteries twice a year, like clockwork, you’ll spare yourself the worry of a malfunction.
The forgotten places. If you have an unfinished basement or attic that serves pretty much as a storage space for hand-me-downs, holiday decorations, and whatnot, don’t be a stranger. These unoccupied spaces can invite critters and leaks and a variety of problems that can grow in darkness. So, even if these are not really part of your living spaces, turn on the lights every month or so, walk around, clear out cobwebs, sweep up dust, and look for any little problems before they become big problems.
Weed trees. Maybe you have a green thumb or maybe you have a long history of killing anything green that you come in contact with. Either way, if you have your own yard, you will most likely discover some greenery you never planted growing out of control. Typically called weed trees, or volunteer trees, they are trees that produce large numbers of seeds that have a high germination rate, and they are spread almost effortlessly by animals and even the wind. At first you may marvel at a tree that has taken root without any effort on your part, but this initial reaction will likely pass as you notice these trees shooting up in places where they are not welcome, possibly crowding out other plants or even working their roots into the foundation of your house. Because these trees grow so easily, they can be difficult to remove if you wait too long. Be on the lookout for unwanted weed trees, and pull them out by the roots before they get too tall.
Deep cleaning. Solo Moms living frugally on a tight budget may consider paying for house cleaning a luxury they can’t afford. But even if you can’t spring for a weekly or monthly cleaner to tidy up your place, you should consider investing in an annual deep cleaning to remove the grime that accumulates in all those places (such as the kitchen cabinets) that we never have time to clean on a typical weekday. We’ve all been to houses that have been neglected to the point that they seem too far gone. Don’t let your house get to that point. By investing in occasional deep cleaning—or setting aside time to do it yourself—you’ll help preserve the long-term value of your house as well as your peace of mind.
Owning a home is a big responsibility that comes with regular tasks: windows to be washed, walls to be repainted, baseboards to be scrubbed. Some of these tasks are obvious, but others, such as gutter maintenance, must be addressed proactively. As someone who often feels overwhelmed just by dishes in the sink or clutter in the bedrooms, I’ve had to remember to tend to some of the unseen things, too. Small investments of time and money up front will bring significant savings down the road.
You may also enjoy this Solo Mom’s journey taking over the chores that her ex used to handle: “Chop Roots, Carry Rocks: Taking Over What Your Ex Used to Do.”
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