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August 19, 2013

The Blurred Lines Between Maintenance & Repairs

If Robin Thicke is a homeowner, the blurred lines he should be most concerned about are the ones between home maintenance and having to suddenly do unexpected repairs.

There’s a definite distinction between taking action to repair a component of your building and taking preventive measures to avoid having to make that repair. To be fair, sometimes it’s not so easy to figure out that, say, your roof should be replaced before the next rainy season. Let’s face it: Your job, family, recreational time and traveling all compete for your time, and the likelihood of using a spare moment to look for surface cracks and ponding on the rooftop is slim.

The bottom line is that genuine maintenance is best achieved by being proactive. Knowing what to look for well ahead of having to undertake expensive repairs or replacements is key. So I’ve put together a quick and dirty property evaluation guide that you can use periodically to detect red flags and potentially head off having to spend a lot of money unexpectedly:

1. Foundations and retaining walls. Check for major cracking, and if you’re on a brick foundation, deterioration of the material. Also monitor retaining walls, particularly if they’re on property lines. If you see anything really significant, contact a structural contractor who can let you know whether it’s time to take some action.

2. Siding. When you start seeing signs of boards popping out, obvious seams between panels, stucco bulging or pockets of soft wood, consult a structural pest contractor. Dry rot doesn’t get any better over time, and fixing a small section of wood or stucco is a lot easier than having to rip off part of a wall. And very importantly, if you start seeing anything that looks like wood shavings, that is a sure sign you may have to remedy drywood termites. Again, call the pest guy. Best advice, though: Have your building painted every few years. This job typically includes also sealing up gaps in the wood.

3. Water heater. You typically won’t see any signs of water heater failure until the tank starts flooding your garage or unit. But what you can do is replace the water heater before that happens. You typically replace a water heater every ten years or so; if you don’t know how old your unit is, try to find the serial number on the tank. The last two digits usually represent the year of manufacture.

4. Roof. A roof lasts for around 15-20 years, but that life span will depend on how much sun or other weather elements affect the roof. However, you can extend the life of a roof by having someone perform regular maintenance such as patching and sealing. That will protect the roof against heat from the sun that can scorch its surface, as well as water intrusion from rain. And if you can safely get up on your roof after a heavy rain, check to see if pools of water are forming. Have a reliable roofing contractor examine your roof every couple years to make sure you’re keeping up with the maintenance.

5. Flashing around joints. Flashing refers to thin strips of impervious material that are placed around certain areas to protect against water intrusions. It’s good to make sure the flashing around your windows, vents and chimneys are solid and not too worn. The same roofing contractor can check out these components, too.

6. Sewer line. If you have old, clay pipes running to the sewer line and any trees nearby, have a sewer line inspection every few years to make sure there are no roots growing into the line.

7. Decks and external staircases. When you start noticing rotted stairs or posts, it may be time to have them replaced. Best to do this on a regular basis vs. having to rebuild when the whole deck starts to sag. (I’m being dramatic, but you get the point. Besides, you have no idea what I see when I go in and out of properties on broker tour.)

8. Fireplace. Most people never have their fireplace inspected, much less cleaned. Hire a company to do just that every few years. It’s good to know if you have any cracks in the flue that could result in releasing toxic air into your home.

If you need any referrals for the aforementioned contractors, please contact me at 415.823.4656/ and I’d be happy to connect you with the resources I have. That goes for you, too, Robin, if you can tear yourself away from the latest lady you’re trying to hook up with long enough to do a roof check.

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