Fourteen Tips to a Safer, Sounder Home

Have you put your home through its annual health checkup? Checking in on these 14 items can keep your home in tip-top shape and protect the health and safety of your family.

Don’t believe roof shingle guarantees. Whether your asphalt roof shingle guarantee is 25 or 30 years, given the power of the Florida sun’s ultraviolet rays, you can bet on a shorter lifespan. If it’s at the 10 year mark, have it inspected. At 15 years start budgeting.

Further, don’t wait until the asphalt shingle roof is leaking to replace it. Many minor, slow leaks aren’t detectible inside a home. Yet such leaks quickly destroy the underlying plywood. Replacing the shingles before the roof decking is damaged will save you money in the long-run. Also, once your roof is replaced, call your home insurance provider. After shelling out $100 for a wind mitigation inspector, you’ll likely save $400-600 annually on your home insurance premium.

Examine window casements. A home’s greatest natural enemy is moisture. Once a year, replenish the caulk around exterior windows, doors, stucco cracks and any other areas where water might sneak in during a wind-blown rain. Use a paintable latex-based caulk.

Time to Paint? A common homeowner mistake is failing to maintain a home’s raincoat, which is its exterior paint. On average, you should expect to paint your home’s exterior once every seven years. Find a part of your home which gets a lot of sun exposure. Rub your fingertips down the wall. If you see chalk rub off on your fingertips, you are well overdue for a new paint application

Properly direct sprinkler heads. Be sure sprinkler heads are not spraying the side of the house, especially near window areas.

Maintain proper yard grading. Any water that pools against the home needs to be addressed. When landscaping, be sure not to change the slope of the land to ensure water drains away from your home’s walls. Also, don’t just constantly add mulch to your landscaping beds. Once the bed is too high, the moisture retained by mulch can eventually migrate through the concrete block wall and into flooring, baseboards or other building materials. Strip out a layer of mulch before replenishing it and be sure the grading is at least four inches below the interior floor slab level and that it generally slopes away from the home.

Only use handymen when appropriate. If a door needs re-hanging or some tile needs to be repaired, by all means, call your favorite handymen. Handymen, however, should not be used indiscriminately. Hire a licensed tradesman for plumbing, electrical and air conditioning and only use a skilled roofer when replacing shingles.

How old is your water heater? A home’s water heater is one of those mechanical items that is largely ignored until it becomes a major headache. If you use your garage for storage or if your water heater lies inside the house, the damage caused by its failure can be significant. If it’s more than 10 years old, the clock is really ticking on it. If it’s 12 or 13 years old, replacing it now will save the hassle, damage and rush later. It’s very difficult to tell how long any water heater is going to last.

Budget for the aging HVAC unit. After roofs and floors, a home’s air conditioning unit likely represents a home’s third greatest cost. If yours is older than 10 years, start socking away the dollars. On average you can figure that your air conditioning and heating unit will last about 13 years in Florida. Many homeowners use duct tape and rubber bands to keep AC units going long beyond their recommended lifespans. With modern units operating more efficiently at a lower cost, a new unit may save you in the long run. Water heaters and AC units combine to represent homeowners’ biggest headaches when selling. If they’re old and they get flagged by the inspector, be prepared to issue a credit for their replacement.

Replace your washing machine hoses. You may not think of hoses as very threatening, but washing machine hoses are one of the greatest causes of home flooding – as well as they nylon hoses connecting some toilets to their water supply. Replacing these can protect your house from flooding from a burst hose, a fairly common home insurance claim. Replace them with the high strength, stainless steel braided hoses.

Clean your dryer vent annually. Your clothes dryer’s exhaust vent runs out the back of your dryer and up through your roof. Over time, it slowly gets coated with clothing lint, which is highly combustible. This is a significant fire hazard that has caused more than one catastrophic home fire in Westchase. A clogging vent will also dramatically slow the drying of clothes. To make sure it’s done properly, hire a licensed contractor. Also check to make sure the roof vent hood uses a flapper rather than wire mesh, which clogs very easily.

Ensure your pool is safe. Florida leads the country in drowning deaths due to its plentiful beaches and pools. New state codes require pool safety features like child fences or alarms, but the most reliable protection you can offer children and even pets is child safety fencing. Pool alarms break and when they do, few homeowners take the time or money to repair them.

Keep trees trimmed. Trim overhanging tree branches and ensure that no branches touch the home. This will make it less likely squirrels and rats will take a liking to your roof. Also keep leaf debris from collecting on roofs. It will retain moisture and degrade the shingles faster.

Pull the welcome mat for mice and rats. About one-third of Westchase houses have open line set chases and these are a common way for rodents to get into ceilings, walls and attics, where they wreak havoc on insulation, ductwork and even electrical wiring. What is an open line set chase? Go outside and look at your exterior air conditioning unit. Follow its lines as they crawl up the side of your home (often within aluminum ductwork) and enter the eaves of the house on their way to the HVAC unit in the garage. The opening of the ductwork or the opening in the eaves is the open part of the line set chase. To make it harder for rodents to crawl through this to the roof, stuff bronze wool (steel wool rusts) and follow up with a bit of canned expanding foam (a little goes a long way).

Replace smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors really do save lives, but changing the batteries isn’t enough. Detectors’ sensing abilities diminish over time, making them largely faulty or inoperable after just ten years. If yours are older than a decade, it’s time to replace them with new models. Newer ones even have batteries that last as long as ten years, eliminating that infuriating midnight chirping. If you have gas appliances or an attached garage, a carbon monoxide detector is a must-purchase. This is especially true now that many vehicles can be started by a child playing with a key bob.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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