Home Maintenance Made Easy

Updated on December 29, 2017
F.B. asks from Kew Gardens, NY
11 answers

A friend of mine will soon be a first time home owner. Having always lived in apartments myself, I know that there are regular maintenance jobs that go along with a home, or bleeding your radiators, cleaning the vents, chimney cleaning etc. who would a person turn to to learn how often that sort of thing has to be done and get a tutorial on how to do it? I am not in a position to advise. In the same way that I know that the oil in a car needs to be changed because the men in my life have always taken care of it, I wouldn’t know how often or how.

Better yet, is there a reputable company that does this sort of home inspection/ maintenance?

Thanks much
F. B.

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answers from Washington DC on

that's a great question. i've often wondered how i'd fare without my resident handyman. i've become very complacent about it all.

the home inspection is probably a great place to start. at least that will give him or her a list of things they know to look for.

it's probably a great idea to canvas the neighbors and get some recommendations for plumbers, electricians, carpenters, chimney sweeps and/or all round handymen to keep on hand.

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answers from Boston on

A lot depends on what crops up in the home inspection as problem areas (e.g. faulty wiring, wet basement), and what's been done recently by the prior owners. Hopefully they'll provide info and the names of their contractors.

DO NOT assume that nothing will go wrong for a while. We have a bunch of new neighbors, and two of them had major plumbing problems (including one where a pipe burst and the ceiling caved in). These were well-maintained homes - but stuff just happens sometimes. Murphy's Law. Plan ahead!

Bleeding radiators? Depends on the type, I guess. I've never done in after decades in this house.

Chimney cleaning - remind your friend that he has more than one flue inside his chimney. One is for fireplace and one is for heat. So even if he never uses the fireplace, he needs to clean the other side due to soot build-up. There are licensed and certified chimney sweep services. Consider a chimney cap to keep squirrels and other rodents out. Nothing worse than a raccoon down the chimney....

Yearly maintenance of oil burner or other furnace. We swear by the annual maintenance contract - they'll clean it once a year, and often service for free with basic parts included. Just one big repair can bust the budget and it's great to have the oil company run out to help for free if you're out of heat. Look into a budget plan with a monthly payment so they don't get hit with a big bill in January and February.

Gutter cleaning - essential after the leaves have fallen so gutters aren't clogged. Water collects, freezes, expands and causes ice dams with cause inside leaks. He might have the gutter person take photos with his phone to show before and after. November is a good time - after leaves are down and before major freezes. For our 8 room house, it's about $85 a year. Well worth it. We sometimes have to do it twice a year because some of our oak trees don't lose leaves until the spring when the new growth pushes the brown leaves down. Watch pine needles too even if there aren't a lot of regular leaves coming down. They are hell! Have the gutter person check for any holes around the eaves - otherwise squirrels happily take up residence in the attic insulation. Do not ask me how I know this! LOL!

Shut off outside water (valves in basement) and open the spigot(s) where you attach garden hoses. Drain and re-close. Take in hoses so they don't freeze. If this has been done already since it's December, have your friend check to be sure the spigots were tightened so he doesn't turn the water on in the spring and have it spurting all over the yard!

Septic tank pumping unless they're on town sewer. How often depends on the number of people in the house and whether or not they use a garbage disposal. Companies will tell you to do it yearly; we've often gone 3 years with just 2 people in the house and composting our vegetable peelings/scraps and not using the disposal. If the tank lid is down deep, the homeowners can save money but digging up the grass/dirt themselves. Just put it on a tarp next to the area and replace it, grass and all, when pumping is done. Do any time of year except when ground is frozen.

Learn about lawn care. Mow it short before winter and get up the leaves; leave it longer in the heat of the summer. Do not water every day, but do water deeply (1 inch down) once a week so roots grow deep rather than spreading out on the surface - the lawn will be more drought resistant and will grow thicker, keeping weeds down. Think hard about fertilizer as it pollutes ground water and local reservoirs; use organic if possible. We have a lot of pines (acidic) so we lime generously (organic limestone) - use pellets, not powder so it doesn't blow all over. Check on local water bans or requirements during a drought.

Understand that you are responsible for shoveling snow from around hydrants on your property (our neighbors all share this job) and from your mailbox if you want mail delivery. Requirements are on Postal Service website. We also have to shovel a path to the oil fill pipe if the snow is deep, including a cut through the "plow pile" at the curb. The delivery guys walk through 4-6 inches but above that, they need our help. Consider a plowing service for driveway and mailbox area, or invest in a snowblower (a good one) if in a northern state. Do not let snow pile up in front of vents. Get carbon monoxide detectors even if they aren't required by law.

Your friend can find tools, yard implements and so on at yard sales. No reason to buy new when someone leaving the area or downsizing is unloading rakes and snow shovels and tarps and so on.

Find out if trash pick-up is provided or if it's private pay. I always assumed it was a taxpayer provided service and was shocked to find out that it wasn't automatic.

Find a good, old-fashioned general appliance repair person who will be the go-to expert for washing machine, dishwasher, everything. Have a good plumber's name in your contacts list because usually when you need one of those professionals, it's usually urgent. Also find a small, old-time hardware store that will sell you a few nails or bolts or washers so you don't need to spring for a pack of 100 at Lowe's every time you need something. They're great at service, in my experience.

If there's an automatic garage door opener, learn what to do in a power failure so you can get in and out.

Consider tipping your letter carrier and garbage pick-up/recycling pick-up person at the end of the year. Small gifts or gift cards under $20 (supermarket, not restaurants) are appropriate - you'll get better service.

Learn about town services and local organizations (Scouts, etc.) that do great things. We have textile recycling (all the clothes and stuffed animals and bedding that are too old/stained to donate, plus broken backpacks/purses), styrofoam recycling, hazardous waste disposal day, prescription and non-prescription drug disposal (please do not ever flush this stuff down the toilet!), Christmas tree pick-up and recycling (chipping into mulch), and a lot more. If the local Garden Club has a plant/shrub sale in the spring, your friend can often get good advice on hardy plants good in his area.

Learn about wildlife. We have raccoons, skunks, wild turkeys (sometimes 20-25 up in the trees at night!), coyotes (so we never, ever leave our small dog outside on a run), deer (choose plantings carefully as they will eat certain shrubs in the winter), and more. Assume that mice will find their way into the house at some point - can't keep them out, just gotta deal with them. The larger animals are around if you have woods, but the mice happen no matter what, and it's not a sign of a dirty house.

Get to know your neighbors! They are your best source of information. Give a key to at least one good neighbor in case you get locked out - there's no superintendent to let you in!

Hope these lists don't scare him off! It's great having your own place - most of the time!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Your friend should be getting the home inspected before the purchase to uncover issues and help negotiate the price for fixing issues. I have found that when the inspection company hands over their report they also include things that need to be maintained and the schedule for maintaining them. You can transfer that into into a month by month binder so its easy to see what needs to be done and when.

As far as learning how to do maintenance? You tube videos can teach you just about anything you need to know. Changing the filter on a furnace? Piece of cake. Cleaning the furnace as part of yearly maintenance? Probably left to a professional because its a dirty job but you can do that too.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on


Girl - you should KNOW how to care for your car!! :) Really. Oil changes should happen between 3 and 5K miles. If you don't drive your car often? Every 3 months. Why? Because the oil gets gunky. Tires should be rotated every other oil change and checked for wear.

The person who is buying the home MUST have a home inspector come out and "inspect" the home. There are MANY reputable inspectors out there. You can typically get recommendations from Angie's List or HomeBuyers.com (i think that's it). Talk to the managers at Lowe's and Home Depot - they talk to contractors and listen....so if someone isn't good? Word of mouth can help....

I have the Sears Home Warranty plan. It's $70 a month and they come out and inspect my appliances and repair if needed. If the costs are over $500 - they replace. They handle plumbing and electrical issues as well.

chimney's should be sweep yearly (usually in the fall).
gutters can be cleaned every 3 months (especially if you live where there are a LOT of leaves) getting gutter guards CAN help - all depends on the style of home.

Windows? Typically last 10 years or longer. Technology is changing things to make them more energy efficient.

Siding? We have Hardee-Plank siding - looks like wood but is concrete. Lowers termite issues.

Water heater - we "leak" ours every year. Usually in January.

HVAC system MUST be maintained quarterly. Find an HVAC company that you like and trust and have them come out 2 to 4 times a year to ensure it's working properly.
Change the filter on the HVAC every 2 months (we have a filter company send us filters and then we don't forget).

Venting? We had ours cleaned and sealed. Not bad.

Garage door - the motors and the rails need to be serviced once every few years.

Heck -there's a list - Here are some books that a home owner should have (in my opinion).



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answers from Norfolk on

A lot depends on the home he is getting.
Will it have some yard maintenance, none, a lot?
Will he have well water/septic system or city water/sewer?
Will he have a garage/basement/attic?
Will he have a Home Owners Association?

In general - check Better Business Bureau for local handymen/contractors.
Word of mouth from neighbors can come in handy too.
Some people swear by who ever they find through Angie's List.

3 books every home owner should have:




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answers from Boston on

I don't have an answer for this but have long thought that this would be a great business, perhaps for a retiree. It would be great to be able to hire someone to do a walk-through of a new home and yard and put together a how-to manual or maintenance list for that particular home and property. Because each is so different, it's impossible to advise on things in general. I've lived in three different homes and each has had, for example, a different heating system. I've had steam, forced hot water, and forced hot air. Each needed different routine maintenance (radiator bleeding, changing filters, servicing the oil burner and chimney etc.). In some of my houses, you needed to take out the window screens and replace them with storm windows in the winter. In other houses, you just slide the storm windows down. Some houses had seasonal features like a sprinkler system to open and close. The list of particulars is endless, and you don't know what you don't know.

Perhaps a good idea would be for your friend to find the neighborhood hardware store in town and ask there if anyone knows of a good handyman who could help? My local ACE branch has been incredibly helpful over the years - I bring in parts or pictures and there is always a knowledgeable staffer who has seen it before and knows exactly what I need (and perhaps how I could have prevented the problem). Her realtor might have some ideas as well. At the end of the day, she'll have to just learn a lot of this as she goes but perhaps she can hire a local "know it all" kind of person who can spend an hour giving her an overview while she takes notes and builds a good checklist for herself.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I learned from my dad but a quick search for home maintenance can give so much info. I had a neighbor long ago who bought a house with her niece. The niece looked up each appliance and item in the house and learned how to take care of it herself. They did call a professional every few years to check the furnace and other gas fed appliances. But otherwise they did it themselves. She learned how to hang drywall, fix plaster, take care of the furnace and vents (no radiators), the hot water tank (supposed to drain a bucket of water or so every month at least), hang a ceiling fan. She even did some minor brick work and put in walkway to the garage. Many large places like Home Depot have classes to learn how to take care of things.

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answers from San Francisco on

Hopefully the initial home inspection (which takes place before/during escrow) will make sure everything is in working order and any initial problems are addressed.
Everything else will be a learn-as-you-go process. If your friend is curious I'm sure s/he can google things like "how long will my roof last" or "how often does my A/C unit need service."
If it's a well maintained home there shouldn't be many issues for a while.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

My local community college and vocational school offer programs for adults to teach basic home and car maintenance.

Also, for your friend buying the house: she/he should definitely go with the home inspector that is inspecting before the purchase. This person is a great source of knowledge. They can tell the homebuyer what they are looking for, why, and what kinds of maintenance different parts of the home need. They are experts in this because they see the long-term effects of poor maintenance habits.

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answers from Atlanta on

is this a home or a town house or a condo?

There are plenty of reputable places that does home inspections. NO ONE should buy a home, town home or condo without an inspection. Their real estate agent should have a list of home inspectors.

Tyler and I don't worry about our HVAC. We use this place to send us filters
https://www.filtereasy.com/ and our home warranty, they send us e-mails to schedule our every six month check up on our HVAC. With the wind we get and the Georgia clay? It can really mess up systems!!

We, like many, have the Sears Home Warranty for our appliances and electrical. We have a $50 co-pay and if they can't fix it? they replace it with no additional co-pay.

I would talk with neighbors about reputable businesses they use if the house doesn't come with a warranty (many do) and they don't want to use Sears. I know my friends use another company that has been good to them over the years. I can ask what the name is, if you'd like.

Go to the library and find books on home repairs and maintenance. Then suggest them to your friend.

Does your area have septic or public sewer? that's a HUGE difference too. Septic systems require maintenance as do sump pumps in basements.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

I would ask the insurance person about the fire place. Most of them have done home fires from fireplaces before and they would know how often they should be cleaned. On the other hand I think most people just have a guy come and run a thing through the chimney to make sure there aren't any nests or build up.

2 moms found this helpful
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