September 26, 2001
Los Angeles - Autumn is the time to get one's house in order, literally.
Homeowners preparing for the coming onslaught of ice, snow, wind and rain can tackle projects that help prevent burst pipes, basement leaks and other threats to a home's structure and systems.
Many online resources are available to assist in winterizing houses. Trade groups and real estate Web sites have a slew of information for maintaining homes interiors and exteriors, include guidance on maintaining heating systems, cleaning chimneys, fixing driveways cracks and installing attic insulation.
"Lack of maintenance ends up costing you more money," said Richard Roll, founder and president of the American Homeowners Association.
"For some people that's just a trade off they have to make because of time constraints or even financial ups and downs."
Routine maintenance costs generally amount to 1 to 3 percent of a home's total value each year, Roll said. They vary depending on the home's present condition, when it was purchased, and upkeep of systems such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning and hot water heater. The homeowner's aspirations to remodel, improve or refresh the property are also a factor.
Sites such as Homestore.com offer detailed guidelines about what areas of the house should be inspected and how to go about doing projects on your own. Retailers such as Lowe's and Home Depot also provide "how-tos" and seasonal project checklists that homeowners can reference before shopping for materials.
Consumers also can browse for the best prices and products at retail sites such as OurHouse.com.
Other sites such as Improvenet.com, Servicemagic.com and Repairnow.com will link homeowners to professionals in their area for help with complex projects such putting more insulation into an attic or making repairs to a roof.
"Now's a really good time to get started because you'd get a professional in there to do it," said Andrew LeGros, senior editorial producer of home improvement at Homestore.com. "And if you're going to do this yourself, how much time do homeowners have to do this stuff? It's going to take you a weekend at least, depending on the size of your house."
Here are some tips to assist in your winter home inspection.
Start by checking the furnace and making sure the filter is clean. It's wise to have the heating ducts cleaned every five years, according to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Germs and bacteria can live in the ducts and cause allergies and other illnesses.
Remember to check the thermostat and ensure that it's working properly and the pilot light is running. Homeowners may want to replace their thermostats with more efficient electronic, programmable systems.
"You program it so your heat comes on a couple of hours before you get home, and then goes off a couple of hours before you go to bed, so you save energy that way," LeGros said. Devices start at $35 for basic models, while those with more features can run $100, he said.
Tom Kraeutler, host of syndicated radio show "The Money Tip" and a spokesman for Improvenet.com, recommends installing a carbon monoxide detector that can be placed near the bedrooms. The devices usually run $20 to $40, and can be purchased at any hardware store, he said
Insulation is also a key concern, even if your home isn't that old, because about 80 percent of heat loss is through ceiling, Kraeutler said. "If you don't have 10 to 12 inches of insulation in your attic, you probably don't have enough."
Check windows and doors to prevent air from seeping into your home. If you discover leaks, caulking is "really cheap," LeGros said. A 10-ounce tube of acrylic caulking, enough for most windows, costs about $1 and caulking guns start at $2.
It's also a good idea to inspect the roof, particularly the shingles. Look for damage or signs of deterioration caused by hot summer sun. "Old roof shingles will curl up at the corners, new ones will crack, and the best time to check is before winter ahead of high winds that whip roofs around," Kraeutler said.
While you're at it, be sure to look over the chimney since you haven't used it in a few months. It's a good idea to have it inspected and cleaned by a professional, Kraeutler said.
Cleaning the gutters will also prevent a few headaches. When the gutters are clogged, rainwater backs up and can spill onto walkways, the NARI warned. When the mercury drops, the water freezes, causing gutters to expand and crack. And if the water is unable to drain properly, it can freeze on the shingles and lead to more damage.
To avoid bursting pipes, drain hose bibs. You may also need to shut off and drain outside water spigots because the pipes are susceptible to freezing.
Homeowners with green thumbs take note: Fall is the best time to plant new grass. "It has enough months to develop a root structure before the heat of next summer's sun," he said.
After reading about various projects, those feeling overwhelmed may consider hiring a home inspector to determine what's functioning properly and what could use some work. Homeowners can search the American Society of Home Inspectors site for an inspector in their area.Cecily Fraser is Assistant Personal Finance Editor for CBS.MarketWatch.com in Los Angeles.
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