Home Maintenance Tips - Meyers Home Inspections

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This home maintenance guide is brought to you courtesy of Meyers Home Inspections, Licensed NJ Home Inspectors & Engineers. Call 973-763-7090 for information about home inspections.

Home Inspections in NJ by Licensed Home Inspectors & Engineers 

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Regular Home Inspection & Maintenance is Important

A home is complex system of interrelated components and systems.  As a home ages the components of the home wear, and eventually will fail to perform adequately.  A systematic and regular program of home maintenance is a good idea for any home, and can extend the life of the home indefinitely.  If home maintenance is deferred for extended periods, then the home owner is forced to make repairs on an emergency basis, which is usually more costly and certainly inconvenient.


A systematic regular home inspection and maintenance program will also make you aware of conditions and components that may need attention soon.  Yearly roof inspections, for example, will give enough advance notice to allow you to obtain several roofing quotes to get the best combination of price and service. If on the other hand, no regular maintenance and inspection is done, and the roof suddenly leaks, you will need an “emergency repair”, which will probably be inconvenient and expensive.

In addition to monitoring systems which wear out, simple structural monitoring can also be done by you. It is not uncommon for people who have been living in a house for some time to  notice that a crack has appeared in a wall or that a door does not close properly. With regular monitoring, the cracks which occur in the wall surfaces or the door can be monitored and recorded over time. A calibrated crack monitoring device can be installed if you wish, however periodic recorded measurements will usually suffice. A comparison of the measurements over an extended period of time can provide valuable information to an engineer if structural problems are suspected.

EXTERIOR  COMPONENTS OF THE HOME

Chimneys should be inspected for loose or deteriorated bricks or mortar. If covered with stucco or parging, look for cracks or loose sections. Chimney caps should be inspected for loose or broken sections as should the protruding clay chimney liners. Chimney flashings should be inspected for damage. Efflorescence (a white salt build-up on the chimney) indicates moisture within the chimney and further investigation is required. Metal chimneys should be checked for rust, missing rain caps and loose braces.


Roofing should be inspected for damaged, loose or missing shingles. Flashings at dormers, plumbing stacks, valleys, et cetera, should be carefully inspected. Supports for television antennas or satellite dishes should be checked. Tree branches should be kept cut back to avoid damaging the roof surface.

Flat roofs should be inspected for blisters, bubbles, and flashing details. Tar and gravel roofs should be inspected for areas of gravel erosion. Tree branches should not contact the roof surface.

Gutters and downspouts should be checked for blockage, leakage (from rust holes or leaking joints) and areas requiring re-securing. Downspout seams should be checked for splitting (the seam is usually against the wall). A split downspout is often plugged with debris. Water accumulates in the downspout, freezes and splits it open.

Soffits and Fascia should be inspected for loose and rotted areas. Paint condition should be noted.
Safety Note: The above items are best inspected by a professional  contractor who can safely mount the roof. We do not recommend that the home owner perform this work due to the inherent hazards involved in climbing ladders and mounting roofs.

Walls should be inspected for deteriorated brick and mortar, cracking and evidence of settlement or movement.  Wood or wood product walls should be checked for rot, loose or damaged boards, caulking, and wood/ soil contact. If paint deterioration is the result of blistering or bubbling, the cause should be determined. It may be due to outward moisture migration from the interior of the house, indicating more serious problems. Metal and vinyl sidings and shingle sidings should be inspected for mechanical damage and loose or missing components. Vegetation should be kept cut back from the siding and wood trim (windows, doors, eaves, etc) and from gutters.

Soil/surface Grading immediately adjacent to the house should be checked to ensure a slope of one inch per foot for the first six feet away from the house (where practical). Buried drains and catch basins should be cleaned and tested.

Doors and Windows:   Caulking and weather-stripping should be checked. Broken or cracked panes of glass should be replaced. Storms should be installed in the fall and screens in the spring. The finishes should be checked for paint deterioration and rot (particularly sills). Window wells should be cleaned.

Decks & Porches should be checked for rot and insect infestation. Wood should be painted or stained as required. Steps and railings should be checked and maintained secure.

Garages should be inspected. Wooden components should be investigated for evidence of rot or insect infestation. Automatic garage door openers should be tested monthly for proper safe operation, and repaired to assure that a potential hazard does not exist.

Paths & Driveways should be checked for cracks and deterioration. Settling which will result in surface water run off towards the house should be corrected.  Uneven sections which pose a safety hazard to pedestrians should be replaced or patched.


STRUCTURAL COMPONENTS

Foundation Walls should be checked from within the basement or crawl space for evidence of deterioration, dampness and movement. Limited dampness from slow moisture migration can be is common with most older foundation walls. This will often result in minor surface deterioration that can be repaired, however it is always better to eliminate the cause of moisture penetration from the exterior first.  Foundation walls may show cracks. Tight cracks that are either approximately vertical or stair-step pattern are common, and are usually the result of minor settlement of the foundation footings. Unless the cracks are more than 1/8” wide or appear to be a recent change, they are not usually structurally significant. Horizontal cracks, or any cracks wider than 1/8 inch in a masonry foundation wall need professional evaluation to determine if structural repairs are needed.

Concrete floor slabs should be inspected for evidence of cracking or settlement. Although tight shrinkage cracks are common and usually acceptable in poured concrete floor slabs, any depressions or change in elevation of the floor slab is cause for concern and should be professionally evaluated.

Access hatches should be provided to all crawl space areas so that they may be inspected.

Wood Beams and other wood structural components visible in the basement should be checked for evidence of structural failure such as cracking, rot and wood destroying insect infestation. Deterioration of the beams and floor joists eventually becomes evident as sagging or weak floors, and cracking of finish walls.  It is a good idea to maintain a service contract with a pest control company to prevent or eliminate wood destroying insect infestations, should they occur.

Wall and Ceiling Surface Cracks:   Wall and ceiling surface cracks should be monitored for evidence of significant movement. Minor movement due to normal settling and shrinkage should be anticipated. Continued significant movement or cracks is a red flag for a possible structural failure.  Door frames should be checked to determine their square--ness. Door frames showing significant movement over a six month period are normally indications of more serious problems.


ELECTRICAL

Main Panel:   The exterior of the main electrical panel should be checked annually for rust or water marks indicating moisture penetration. All breakers should be turned off and on to ensure none have seized. A panel which is warm to the touch or smells of burned insulation should be brought to the attention of an electrician. All circuits should be labeled. Ground fault circuit interrupters should be tested monthly. The area around the panel for roughly three feet in all directions should be kept clear of storage. Components & wiring within the electrical panel present hazards to non-professionals and should be inspected only by qualified persons..

Indoor Wiring:   Poor or loose connections noted when viewing the exposed wiring in the basement should be corrected by a qualified electrician. Frayed or damaged wire, including extension cords, appliance cords and plugs, should be replaced. Loose outlets and switches should be tightened. Ground fault circuit interrupter electrical outlets should be tested monthly.

Outdoor Wire:   The mast head and the wires leading to the street (if overhead) should be visually inspected to make sure that they are not loose or frayed. Overhead wiring leading to out buildings such as garages should also be inspected. Exterior outlets should have proper covers. Ideally, ordinary exterior outlets should be replaced with ground fault circuit interrupter type outlets.


HEATING

All Forced Air Systems:   Conventional filters on forced-air systems should be checked monthly and cleaned or replaced as needed. Electronic filters should be checked monthly and cleaned as needed. The manufacturer’s instructions should be followed carefully. Care should be taken to ensure the interior components are installed in the correct orientation after cleaning. Noisy air handlers should be brought to the attention of a technician. Water levels in humidifiers should be checked and adjusted monthly. Interior components should be replaced on an as needed basis. The pad on drum type humidifiers should be replaced annually. The water supply to humidifiers should be shut off for the summer months and activated for the heating months.

Hot Water Systems:   Radiators and convectors should be inspected annually for leakage (particularly at the valves). Radiators in hydronic systems should be bled of air annually, and as necessary during the heating season. Circulating pumps should be lubricated twice during the heating season. Expansion tanks should be drained annually.
Steam Heating Systems: The water level in the sight glass should be checked frequently, and water kept at the marked level (usually mid-way up the sight glass).  The need for very frequent water addition is a sign that there may be a leak in the system. The low water cut-off device should be drained of a few pints of water on a weekly schedule during the heating season to prevent clogging.  Some steam boilers have electronic water level sensors that do not need to be drained. Radiator air valves should be checked for operation or leakage, and replacement on a five year schedule is a good idea.  These valves should be sized to equalize heating.

Electric Heat:   Electric furnaces and boilers should be inspected by a qualified technician every year to ensure that all the components are operating properly and no connections are loose or burned. The fuses or circuit breakers in some electric systems can be checked by the homeowner. Electric baseboard heaters should be inspected to ensure an adequate clearance from combustibles. Baseboard heaters which have been mechanically damaged should be repaired or replaced.

Oil Furnaces and Boilers:   Oil systems should be checked by a qualified technician on an annual basis. Oily soot deposits at registers of forced-air systems may indicate a cracked heat exchanger. A technician should be contacted. The exhaust pipe from the furnace or boiler should be checked for loose connections or corroded sections. The barometric damper on the exhaust pipe should rotate freely. The chimney clean out should be cleared of any debris. The oil tank should be inspected for leaks. Soot on the front of the furnace or boiler may indicate a draft or combustion problem. A technician should be contacted.

Gas Furnaces and Boilers:   If gas odors can be detected, call the gas company immediately. Do not turn on any electrical equipment or use anything with an open flame. Gas furnaces and boilers should be cleaned and serviced annually. The exhaust pipe should be checked for loose or corroded sections. The chimney clean out should be cleared of any debris. The heat shield (located where the burner enters the heat exchanger) should be checked to ensure that it is not loose or corroded. Burn marks around the heat shield may indicate a draft or combustion problem. A technician should be contacted.

Wood Stoves:   Wood stove chimneys and flues should be checked for creosote build-up and cleaned at least annually (more frequently depending upon use). Clearance to combustibles around wood stoves should be maintained at all times. If there is any doubt about the safety of a wood stove, contact the city building inspector immediately.


COOLING/HEAT PUMPS

A qualified technician should be engaged to inspect the system and recharge it if necessary annually. Most systems require the power to be on for up to twenty four hours before using the system. A condensate drain line emerging from the ductwork above the furnace should be visually checked for leakage during the cooling season. The outdoor section should be level. If the outdoor component settles or heaves, adjustments should be made by a specialist. The refrigerant lines should be checked for damaged, missing or loose insulation. Debris and vegetation should be kept away from the outdoor component of the system. Most manufacturers prefer to have the outdoor component left uncovered during the winter to prevent rust. The outdoor coil should be kept clean. A noisy fan may mean a bearing problem or misalignment. Window air conditioners should be removed for the winter.


ATTICS

Attics should be inspected annually for water stains on the underside of the roof sheathing. One should also look for rot, mildew, and fungus indicating high humidity levels in the attic. Check to make sure the insulation is not wet. Some types of loose insulation are prone to being blown around during periods of high wind. Check for bare spots and ensure that insulation is not covering recessed lights. Attic vents should be checked to ensure that they are not obstructed. Vents at the eaves are often plugged with insulation. Watch for evidence of pests (squirrels, raccoons, etc.). Rafters (supporting the roof) and collar ties (horizontal members running across the attic between opposing rafters) should be inspected for cracks or other defects.
Safety Note: Attic spaces without floors are dangerous places to enter.  If you are not careful you may slip off a floor joist and fall through the ceiling of the room below. Install boards or plywood panels on the attic floor in areas where access is needed to service equipment.

PLUMBING

Supply Plumbing:   Supply plumbing should be checked annually for leaks. Precautions should be taken to ensure that plumbing in areas such as crawl spaces will not freeze during winter months. Outdoor faucets should be shut off from the interior and drained for the winter. Operate the main shut-off valve and critical isolating valves to ensure proper operation in the event of an emergency. Leaking or dripping faucets should be repaired. Well equipment should be inspected semi-annually. A water quality test should be performed periodically on the advice of local authorities.

Waste Plumbing:   Visible waste plumbing should be checked for leaks. Basement floor drains and exterior drains should be checked and cleaned as necessary. Slow drains within the house should be cleared. Basement floor drain traps should be filled with water to ensure that they are not broken. If cracked, or if the water has evaporated, sewer odors will enter the house.

Septic tanks should be checked and cleaned if necessary every year.

Fixtures:   Toilets should be checked to ensure that they are properly secured to the floor. Listen for toilets which run continuously. Grouting and caulking at all bathroom fixtures should be checked and renewed as necessary. Sump pumps should be tested.

Water Heaters:   Gas fired water heaters should be checked to ensure that flues and vents have not come loose or become blocked. All water heaters need a functional safety release valve with a discharge pipe installed to direct hot water to a safe location if the valve releases. Look for evidence of leakage at connections and water heater tank seams, as these indicate that the water heater is failing and needs to be replaced.


INTERIOR

Walls and ceilings should be inspected for cracks in interior finishes. The amount of movement should be noted so that it can be monitored in the future. Bulges in wall and ceiling surfaces should be carefully monitored. Separated plaster, particularly on ceilings, can fall and cause injury.

Walls, particularly in comers and areas of dead air (behind drapes for example), should be checked for evidence of condensation and mildew indicating high humidity levels within the house. Water stains on interior finishes should be noted. If the source cannot be detected, they should be monitored.

Door frames should be inspected. Door frames which become out of square during a relatively short period (six months) may indicate structural problems.

Condensation on windows indicates high humidity levels during winter months. This can sometimes lead to rot and unhealthy conditions within the home.

Fireplaces and chimneys should be cleaned and inspected at least annually, depending upon usage.


WOOD DESTROYING INSECTS 

Carpenter Ants:   Carpenter ants are the largest variety of common ants found in North America. Carpenter ants do not eat wood; however, they do nest in it. They earned their name by building galleries in wood and by carefully finishing the surfaces of these galleries. When chewing their way through wood they leave small particles resembling saw dust which they push out of the colony. It is the presence of this saw dust which indicates a colony. Carpenter ants tend to be most active in the spring and early summer. They are usually dormant during a portion of the winter. Outdoors, they feed on other insects and plant material while indoors they feed on household food.

To prevent a carpenter ant infestation, decayed wood should be removed from around the building. Firewood should not be stored indoors for long periods of time. Wood used where dampness may occur should be treated with a preservative. Food stuffs, such as sugar, should be stored in closed containers and, should a spill occur, it should be cleaned up quickly.

Chemical control of carpenter ants should be undertaken by a qualified pest control company. Carpenter ants often nest inside walls, ceilings, outdoor siding, eaves, floors, window casings, etc. They prefer wet wood, and can often be found in rotting wood.

Termites:   Subterranean termites usually do not live in houses but rather in the soil below. Termites live on wood. While they prefer damp or decaying wood, they will also eat sound dry lumber. The damage to the wood is seldom noticeable as they eat through the interior. If there is no direct wood/soil contact, termites must build shelter tubes or tunnels to get from the soil to the wood. It is the presence of these tubes which indicate an infestation. The tubes are typically 1/4 to 1/2 inch in width and are made of soil glued together by the termites.

The amount of damage which can be caused by termites can be extensive. If shelter tubes are noticed, a pest control company should be contacted immediately.