I created this home maintenance checklist to help
home owners remember important maintenance items

Below You Can Read About Each Item

Monthly

“Almost three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (41%) or no working smoke alarms (16%)” [www.nfpa.org]

Locate the button labelled “test”. Push and hold the button until the alarm goes off. If the sound is not VERY loud, if it stutters, or doesn’t make any sound it may be time to replace the battery. 

It also may be time to replace the detector. These devices expire: 5-7 years for carbon monoxide detectors and 10 years for smoke detectors. It is very common to find all original smoke detectors in the houses we inspect. This is a major safety issue!

While you are testing the device, unscrew it from the ceiling (just twist it) and look for a date on the back of the unit. This date might be the manufacture date or the expiration date. 

If expired or around 10 years old (or near the expiration date), it is recommended to replace the device to mitigate failure in a time of need.

A good common rule is to change detector batteries every time you change your clocks for daylight savings.

Kitchen sink disposals, if you have one, seem like a magical way of making gunk disappear down the drain. Over time that gunk adds up, and your disposal can start to stink.

Fortunately, these are easy to clean. All you need is ice cubes, baking soda, and lemon!

Most grime will accumulate on the rubber splash guard. You can just remove this piece and scrub it with soap and water. 

As for the inside of the disposal, simply toss in 4 or 5 ice cubes, 1 tablespoon of baking soda, and half a lemon cut into slices and run the disposal while also running the sink.

The ice cubes help dislodge larger chunks, while the baking soda acts as a scrubbing agent. The lemon smells nice, and has the added benefit that the acidity kills germs. 

Do you have a fire extinguisher? If not, it might be something to consider. 

The chemicals expire and should be tested regularly. There are a few different kinds of extinguishers for different kinds of fires and each has different considerations.  

We like this write-up from American Family Insurance (no affiliation) which covers much of the information to know.

Amfam.com/fire-extinguishers

Every 3 Months

You should change your HVAC / Air filter(s) every 90 days. 

The longer you leave it, the less efficient the entire system becomes. This will not only leave dust and other contaminates in your air, but it puts extra strain on the mechanical components which decreases the life of your HVAC system. 

Locating your filter is generally easy. The most common locations are at the base of your indoor unit (called an Air Handler) or on the other side of the wall the unit is on. Sometimes, the filter is in a relatively random location, but the give away is usually a large square grate with fixed fins (they can even be on the ceiling!)

Once you find out where it’s located, simply remove the old filter and replace it with the new one. Make sure to look for the arrow indicating which way the air flow goes.

Most homes use the vent from the underside of the above range microwave. Your home might have a dedicated range hood even exhaust fan, but the concept is still the same.

Do you even turn the vent fan on when cooking? Do you feel like it doesn’t do much? 

In our experience, if the vent doesn’t work well, the filter is clogged. There is a metal filter on the bottom of your vent (or microwave) that is there to trap grease from entering your ventilation system. So, naturally, after some time this vent becomes clogged with grease.

Cleaning it is the same as cleaning a greasy pan: hot water and soap. If you haven’t done this for some time (or ever..) then be prepared for a VERY greasy filter. The process is the same, it just may take a few extra rounds of scrubbing. 

  1. remove filter – usually it is held in with a clip or simply slides into a little shelf. 
  2. Use as hot of water as you can get.
  3. A non-abrasive scrubbing device works well – like a synthetic brush. Don’t use steel wool because it creates micro scratches which will build up with more grease and make it harder to clean the next time.
  4. Scrub, rinse, repeat – until clean.

All garage door motors have a safety function that should detect resistance before closure, and automatically reverse. This is to save someone from being trapped under the door. 

Grab something sturdy like a 2×4 or maybe a tool box and place it in the path of the garage door. If the door does not stop, and reverse path then the motor needs to be adjusted.

Most  motors will have adjustment screws which you can set the closure and open levels. Refer to the manufacture’s instructions on how to set this. If your garage door motor does not have these adjustments, it may be time for a new safer motor. 

These limits will  wear out and roll back over time, that is why you want to test them frequently.

Whether you have an installed water filtration system, use your fridges water, or installed a filter on the end of your faucet, the filter needs to be replaced or serviced about every 3 months. 

The most important thing here is to refer to your manufacturer’s recommendation in terms of replacement, especially for installed filtration systems like reverse-osmosis. 

Small carbon filters which you find in brands like Britta last around 3 months. Follow the instructions on replacing them properly, paying attention to how to “prime” the filter, which usually means running some amount of water through. 

When buying new filters buy them in bulk so you save money, and have a filter handy when it is time to replace (instead of having to go to the store every time).

Winter

This helps keep pests away form the home – namely termites. 

The further away from the home the better. It is also recommended storing your firewood off the ground somehow: on a tarp at the least or on an elevated rack

If your home is like most, there is only two outlets outside – in the front and the back. This creates a hazard when stringing up lights around the entire house. Not only do you run the risk of over loading the circuit, but every extra connection creates the risk for electrical arcs and shorts. Not only that, but extension chords all around the house can be a trip hazard!

One relatively simple long term solution is to install an extra outdoor outlet (or two). But if your not up for that, or its already holiday season and the lights must go up, spend extra time ensuring all the connections are secure and extension chords are out of the way.

Do you have a bathroom a service sink that rarely gets used? Does it smell funny? The smell may be coming up from your drain lines because the trap seal has evaporated.

The “P-Trap” under sinks also exists under toilets, baths, showers, and even basement drains. The point of these is to create a water seal so drainage odors can’t make their way back into the home. If water isn’t being replenished by using the device, the water evaporates and allows odors back in.

Take this time to go and run these devices or pour water down these drains to refill the trap. This is a good opportunity to check that the drains function properly.

Water shutoff, gas shutoff, oil lines, and electrical breakers – all incredibly important safety devices that you and your family should be aware of. 

Your home inspector should have pointed these out to you, but if not fortunately they are not too difficult to find (most of the time).

The gas shutoff, if your home is equipped with gas, can be found in a few places. The gas meter shuts off gas to the entire house.  This is found outside the house. If you are not totally sure if what you are looking at is the gas meter just google “gas meter” (they all look very similar).

The other gas shut off locations are just before individual appliances, or they should be. If there isn’t a way to turn off gas, or it isn’t totally obvious or even easy to access, for each appliance separately, call a licensed professional to come and install one. These are essential safety devices. Remember, your dryer might be gas powered as well! 

The main water shutoff can be found in different locations. In the basement / crawlspace, under the kitchen sink, or even an access panel behind a wall. There should also be a cutoff valve on the cold water side of your water heater. If there isn’t, get one installed. All sinks, toilets, baths, and showers should have individual shutoff valves (commonly called angle valves). Operate these angle valves in emergencies only, because usually once you re-open then – they leak. 

Most people are familiar with electrical breakers, but less know about the main breaker. Often the main electrical shutoff is outside, near the meter and where the main service comes to the house. Sometimes they are in the same box as the meter, but most often there is a single electrical box for the main breaker. Shutting this off turns off all the power to your house (our at least it should).

Speaking of breakers, sometimes the labeling inside the electrical panel isn’t accurate. Take this time to test your breakers and confirm that work, and you know which breaker powers which section of the home – then label them precisely.

Disclaimer: sometimes a breaker will turn off but not back on, and need to be replaced to restore power. Ultimately this is a good find because it was destined to fail at some point.  

This is a similar idea to caulking windows and doors, except the main goal here is to mitigate water damage. Though the cracks might seem small, any amount of moisture behind your tiles or tub can lead to big damage (and costs) in the long run.

Seal all around your tub to wall connection including the top section, the shower head escutcheon, and the often overlooked tub spout.

The tile grout can be a little more of a job, but the cracks need to be filled to stop moisture intrusion, plus fresh grout looks much better than grout full of old gunk! 

One way to check if there is already damage behind the tile is to push on the tiles and wall. Put your body weight into it. If there is movement, or even a cracking sound then you might have some hidden damage behind the tiles. If this is the case, give a qualified professional a call to evaluate further.

Be sure to spend some time researching  different kinds of caulking / sealant because there are several kinds which might fit your situation better.

 

GFCI have been one of the most important safety standard updates ever to be introduced in a home, and the required locations have increased to be basically any location that might be near water. 

If you have an older home, the outlets aren’t breaking any rules by not being GFCI, however it is recommended to upgrade for safety. An electrician will be able to help you know which upgrades are needed.

Testing these outlets is simple, though you do need an inexpensive tool (Here) which can be purchased at any hardware store.

Insert the tester into outlets throughout the home, compare lights to the device’s diagram to see if circuit is wired correctly, then press the test button to simulate a Ground Fault state causing outlet to “trip”. 

Here is where it can get a little tricky. Outlets that don’t look like they are GFCI protected might still be protected as they can be chained to a “master” outlet in the same circuit. This is an efficient and safe way of protecting an entire circuit. Hopefully you will hear the master outlet “pop” and know where to reset it. Otherwise you might have to go hunt it down. Often a master in the garage will protect bathrooms and exterior outlets as these were among the first required locations. 

Sometimes what is called a GFCI redundancy is present where two masters will be on the same circuit. This common with renovated homes, and becomes clear when you trip an outlet and the closest master GFCI will not reset – it means there is another master outlet on the circuit that you need to find and reset first. While not a safety issue it can be confusing. It is inexpensive to permanently fix.

As with any electrical work, if any repairs or upgrades need to be done call a licensed electrician to perform the work.

This is a simple item. Go through the home and check handles on drawers, cabinets etc… If it is loose, tighten it. If the knob doesn’t want to stay tight try adding some thread lock to the screw.

The refrigerator coils are what pull heat out of your fridge, and when they are covered in dust they aren’t as efficient. All you need to do is dust them off.

The coils might be in the front of back. If they are in the front they are probably behind a cover on the bottom of the unit which can just be unclipped.

If the coils are behind, pull the fridge out from its location. Be careful with the water hose if you have an ice machine (you might need to shut toff water then disconnect it in order to pull the fridge out.)

Vacuum all the dust up. There might be some tougher baked on dust which a paint brush or tooth brush might help you get off. 

Spring

This is perhaps the most dangerous of the maintenance items, but also can save the most damage from occurring. 

If you don’t feel comfotable walking on the roof, you can usually see a good amount of the roof from just standing on a ladder or even from the yard with binoculars. 

What we are looking for here is missing shingles, spots with obvious wear, shingles that are bowing upward, and just general damage. Also, make sure no trees or brush are rubbing against the roof as this friction can do a surprising amount of damage. 

If you spot any damage, a roofer can repair sections of the roof and mitigate any potential leaking.

While you are up on the roof or ladder you will have good access to the gutters. After autumn you will probably have a good amount of leaves and debris collected in the gutters.

Cleaning this out at least once per year mitigates lots of related issues – drainage issues, ice damming, roots in gutter, falling gutters etc..

Often the easiest way is to take a hose with a high pressure nozzle and spraying out the debris. This has the added benefit of visualizing that the water drains properly. If there is excessive debris then its a good idea to shovel it out by hand into a bag as to not make a mess, then test the drainage after its cleared.

After the gutters are clean, check that the downspouts are connected properly. Often the connections to the home will pull away and the downspout will just be dangling, this is a safety hazard!

The last thing to check is where the water exits the downspout. It not only needs to clear the gutters, it needs to move away from the home and its foundation. If the water is gathering near the house, or if the ground around your house slopes toward the foundation, the water needs help getting further away. 

There are several options for this. We recommend some kind of smooth extension hose that puts water at least 6 feet from the house. 

Windows and doors are basically giant holes in your home. Over time, the paint and sealant around these wear out and needs to be maintained. These cracks are relatively easy to seal, but account for approximately 1/3 of the lost air (and lost money) from the conditioned space.

In our experience, this is almost always neglected by home owners because it is something that tends to wear out over a long period time, so the effects of the deterioration are not very noticeable. 

The Home Depot has a great video describing all aspects of this process in general. For more specific information about which exact product is best for your situation, spend some extra time on research – you’ll be glad you did. 

Also, you don’t have to do your whole house at once. Do what you can this season, and then spend the next year saving up again to finish some more.

Here is the video mentioned above (Youtube): 
The Home Depot: Weatherizing Doors and Windows

Most HVAC equipment manufacturers recommend services the equipment once per year. This includes both the inside and the outside unit if you have a split air system (which is by far the most common). Defer to your equipment’s recommendations.

While HVAC can go many years without experiencing a problem, frequent servicing keeps the system efficient, lowers operational costs, and mitigates any emergency failures.

Take this time to schedule your system for maintenance.

Exposed nails and screws, splinters, torn ropes, loose slides – all injury risks!

Take some time to go around the equipment and make a list of all the issues you see. You can then transfer that list to the printed check sheet (downloaded above) so you can take care of the issues through out the year.

While you are at it, might as well check all around the yard for other safety issues. Look for things like: trips hazards, splintering wood, bee nests, and holes in the lawn.

An alarming number of injuries occur every year from deck failure. While decks are a nice feature to have on a home, it is incredibly important they are maintained in good condition.

The deck should be repainted, stained, or sealed every few years depending on the condition of the seal. This is to prevent moisture getting into the wood. Any crack or break in the seal needs to be repaired because it will allow water into the wood and eventually lead to rot.

That brings us to another concern – soft, rotting wood. Go all around your deck with a screw driver and poke the wood. If the driver goes into the wood more than 1/16 of an inch, it’s probably rotted and should be replaced. 

After checking all the wood for rot, take some time shaking the deck components. Everything should be tight and secure. If anything is loose, tighten the fasteners or replace them if they are rusty. Nail or screw down any nails or screws that are popping up.

Now to check the most important connection of the deck, the ledger board. This is where the deck is secured to the main structure of the home. You won’t be able to understand what to check without technical knowledge of deck construction but you can check for all the things mentioned before – soft wood, rusty or extruding fasteners, or damage to wood. If any of these things are present it probably means that the deck has not been very well maintained and you may want to call a deck inspector or contractor to evaluate it.

There are a several area that water could be leaking. Bring a flashlight so any small leaks will glisten in the light.

Check under sinks in the kitchen and bathroom while they are running. It could be leaking from the basin, or any point of the drain. The shutoff valves might also be leaking. If the valves look like they are covered in white calcium it could mean that they were leaking but the calcium has caused them to self seal. Generally these will last a long time with no problem, but they are prone to fail, so if they are excessively covered in calcium you might want to replace them.

Check water heater connections for leaks. leaks can occur at any and all transitions – at corners, extensions, and  connections. The same thing applies here with built up calcium. These are signs of previous leaks which have self sealed. 

If you can access your crawlspace it is a good idea to check the plumbing there too. Check along all sewer pipes and water pipes. 

Summer

Do you know what kind of siding your home has?

It could be a solid brick home, or brick fascia; you might have wood, vinyl, or hardy board siding. There are some other siding options too, like stucco, which is less common in Virginia. 

Each kind of siding has its own specific considerations – too many to go into here. Though, the main thing we are going to be looking for is obvious damage. Where there is damage there is a potential for moisture and pest intrusion.

Another simple check is paint covering. If you have wood or even stucco siding it needs to be regularly painted to maintain a healthy life. 

If you don’t know what kind of siding you have, take some time to find out and then research what kind of maintenance and mechanical considerations apply.

When it is dark at night, light equals safety.

First of all, if you have sets of steps around your home, even if it is just a curb or step down into the driveway, it should have a light available to light up the area.

If there are lights out there, they need to be regularly checked.

Because the dryer vent carries lint, it can (and will) become clogged without regular cleaning. As more lint builds up in the venting lines the dryer will take longer to dry clothes, and there is an increased risk of fire.

The most simple thing to do, and recommended every year, is to remove the connections just behind the dryer and vacuum out the lint. Then find the vent outlet (which needs to vent to outside – not attic or crawlspace). Remove the vent cover and vacuum there as well. This might be on the roof.

While these two locations tend to harbor the most lint, over time the entire system will build up. To clean this you will need a special dryer vent cleaning kit.
Something like THIS (Walmart link)

You probably don’t need to clean the entire system every year, but this depends how much you use your dryer. It will be clear whether it is needed or not when removing the ducting just behind the dryer.

Locks do eventually stop working. We have seen locks on all kinds of doors and windows stop being effective. Take some time to go through the home and test all door and window locks.

When the weather is nice it is nice to open up the windows and let some fresh air into the home. Without effective window screens bugs and pests can quickly ruin the mood.

Check for rips and holes in screens, and of course if windows don’t have screens install new ones!

Floods, fires, even earthquakes… They aren’t fun to think about but its essential the family has a plan to deal with these scenarios. 

Take some time developing different scenarios. Be as specific as possible: where are the extra batteries, the flashlights, and the first aid kit? Where is the meeting point? What if the main doors are blocked?

If the plan is already developed review it every year, and take some thought to make sure it is the best it can be.

One of the most common reasons for flooding in the home is burst washing machine hoses.

Do your hoses look like THIS (image link)? It is time for a replacement.

Check other hose connections while your at it. The hose behind dishwashers, refrigerators, and even sinks are out of sight and could be damaged. Look for cracks and bubbles. 

If its damaged, replace it! They are not as expensive as a flooded home (few things are).

Do a quick check of the power lines around your property. If a tree is growing too close to powerlines call out a qualified professional to get rid of the branch. In a storm the branch can knock out power – which could potentially cause a fire from the electrical arc.

Fall

If you regularly use your fire place then it is recommended to sweep it out once per year. Not only does this reduce the chance of a chimney fire, and reduce soot from falling into the home, the sweep can also check for cracks or other issues related to the chimney (which can cause water damage).

If you don’t regularly use your chimney you can keep the flue closed to stop cold air from drafting in.

Another very important note about chimneys – does yours have a cap? Without some sort of covering rain goes right inside causing all kinds of issues. If your chimney doesn’t have a cap, we recommend getting one installed ASAP. We recommend stainless steel or aluminum to prevent rusting. 

If you have a basement, then you probably have a sump pump. Hopefully it doesn’t need to be used too often as it is most likely there for the occasional flooding that basements are prone to. But, when you need it, it needs to work.

Testing is easy. First, look inside the sump pit for debris. There should be no rocks, dust, or anything in the pit as it could clog or damage the pump. To test, slowly pour a large bucket (or a few buckets) of water into the sump pit. It is important to test with a large amount of water to ensure the pump is consistent, and we want to avoid short cycling the pump.

If the pump runs fine, check the output hose and where the water is draining to. If the water is draining right back toward the home it may just be making its way back inside. The water should be discharging at least 6 feet away from the foundation. 

The hose may be buried to avoid damaging, however the exit should be above ground so any clogging can be visualized.

If the pump does not activate, or if you cannot identify where the water is discharging call a qualified professional to evaluate the system.

This is relatively common knowledge: if you don’t winterize your water pipes they can freeze and burst causing massive damage.

The solution is simple. Before the first freeze of the winter turn off water to your outside water spouts then go disconnect any hoses or devices that are on them. Open the valve until no water is coming out.

Then, insulate the outdoor valve. You can purchase inexpensive insulation caps, or you can wrap them in foam and plastic wrap. 

In Virginia, the lawn mower usually goes into storage for a couple months throughout the winter. Storing it with gas inside, and dirt and moisture around the machine, can cause deterioration.

Empty the fuel tank before storing. Also, take some time to clean the mower, including the blades. Its a good idea to remove the blades and oil the bearings too.

Furthermore, most manufactures recommend changing the spark plugs and engine oil once per year.

Over time sediment collects inside the water heater and settles at the bottom. This sediment is corrosive and will eat away at the heater casing and cause leaks.

The procedure is relatively simple, but if not done correctly can cause major damage to the heater, and subsequently to your home. 

There are some basic steps, but we recommend watching a few videos about the process. (This YouTube video is a good start)

The little metal screens on your faucets collect sediment and become clogged over time so it is a good idea to clean them occasionally. 

Simply unscrew the faucet head (sometimes there is even a flat section to place a wrench).

A toothbrush works well to clean these out.

Cleaning

Every home has its own cleaning needs on top of the home maintenance items listed above. The downloadable checklist has space to add your own items. Here are some ideas:

  • Backyard play equipment maintenance
  • Vacuum under couches
  • Clean out kitchen cabinets
  • Clean out refrigerator
  • Clean and organize garage
  • Clean and organize storage shed
  • Power wash exterior
  • Rake leaves and fallen sticks from the yard