One of your main jobs as a homeowner is to maintain your home. And home maintenance isn’t just something to keep your neighbors from complaining: it’s an essential investment in the value of your property, whether you plan to sell in a few years or stay forever.
Many first-time homeowners don’t realize home maintenance is something they’re expected to do when they buy a homeowners insurance policy. Most home insurance policies explicitly exclude damage from “neglect” or “failure to properly maintain the property.”
Translation: your insurance policy doesn’t cover things that fall apart because you didn’t take care of them. It only covers damage from acute, unexpected events.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a home maintenance guide for new homeowners. It includes two sections:
- A descriptive guide to various maintenance tasks, organized by season. Read through this section to get an idea of what kinds of home maintenance you should do and why. In each section, we’ve also indicated which part of your homeowners insurance policy each task corresponds to – e.g., checking your smoke detector helps prevent fires, which connects to the property coverage portion of your insurance.
- A chart with links to DIY guides for each task, along with cost estimates for outsourcing. Head to this section for an in-depth look at what it costs (in time and money) to keep a home in good shape.
Part 1: Home Maintenance Tips by Season
Home Maintenance Tips for Spring
Dates: March 20 – June 20
Duration: 14 weeks
From a home maintenance perspective, spring is a busy season. That might not seem too bad, though, after a cold winter. In fact, you’re probably looking for chances to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. Proper maintenance gives you plenty of opportunities.
Property Insurance-Related Home Maintenance
In addition to generally making your home safer and nicer-looking, these maintenance tasks will help minimize the likelihood that you’ll have to make a claim on the property portion of your homeowners insurance, which offers coverage for damage to the the physical structure of your home and your personal possessions.
- Inspect your trees: Really, you might want to have a professional take a look. The goal is to detect any dead branches or rot that could kill branches, which can damage your home (or your neighbors’), catch fire, and seriously injure guests.
- Check and clean your gutters: If the winter was icy or snowy, they may be pulling away from the house, which makes you susceptible to water damage down the line. And keep in mind: if water comes from outside your house, your homeowners insurance probably won’t pay for the repairs.
- Inspect the outside of your house: Take a walk around the property to look for anything that needs fixing: cracks in cement, missing shingles, loose steps, etc. Make or schedule repairs as needed to keep your home well sealed and safe.
- Remove creeping plants: Plants growing too close to your foundation could lead to cracks, which can let water in, which can cause all sorts of problems. Don your favorite gardening gloves, put on a podcast, and pull out (or replant!) plants getting too close to your foundation.
- Check your sump pump: This is classic home maintenance in that it’s something most people have to be reminded to do because when it works, it’s invisible. Your sump pump pumps water out of your house to a place it won’t cause problems; if it stops working, water will build up in your basement and cause all the problems excess water causes (mold, mildew, rot, etc.). Expect to need a new sump pump every seven to 10 years.
- Give your plumbing a once-over: Check for dripping faucets and running toilets. Even better: look in the tank of your toilets to see how the flapper valve is doing. Worn flappers cause toilets to run, so you can prevent this problem by catching it in time (and take it from us: you’ll feel like a real hero if you do).
- Check smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors: Preventing fire damage is much easier with a working smoke detector, but we all need a reminder to check our alarms. Consider doing it every time you change your clocks so it gets baked into your routine.
- Check and clean your chimney (if you have one). Burning wood creates a substance called creosote, which is highly flammable and can build up if not cleaned out regularly. Removing creosote is the main goal of chimney maintenance; failing to do so can significantly increase your chance of a chimney fire.
Life expectancy of a sump pump: 7 – 10 years
Liability Insurance-Related Home Maintenance
Homeowners insurance does more than pay to repair your house and its contents if something goes wrong. It also offers payments if a guest is injured while visiting. These home maintenance tips will help prevent the kinds of insurance claims that would be covered by the personal liability portion of your home insurance.
- Check the driveway and sidewalks for cracks and damage, making repairs as necessary. Water can get in small cracks and freeze during the winter, making cracks larger and leading to uneven surfaces. Patching and repairing these can prevent trips and falls, especially in wet or dark conditions.
- Prep your pool for summer (if you have one). In addition to all the normal things you do to get your pool ready for swimming, make sure the area around it is free of tripping hazards, spiny plants, and other things that could hurt your guests.
General Upkeep Home Maintenance
Of course, not every bit of home maintenance ties directly to homeowners insurance. These springtime efforts won’t necessarily prevent any major insurance claims, but they will help maintain (or boost) your property value, which is good news for you and your neighbors.
- Reboot your lawn: Clear off winter debris, mulch your gardens, and turn your hoses back on. Consider ditching the classic (and energy-guzzling) lawn altogether and plant native wildflowers or other suitable options for your climate. Hint: you may be able to get around strict local lawn-care ordinances by certifying your native-plant lawn as a wildlife habitat with your local Department of Natural Resources.
- Check your maintenance equipment: Check that your lawn mower is in good shape, and get it serviced if necessary. As many as 35,000 people in the United States visit the ER every year for lawn mower-related injuries, so this may be a job best left to a professional. These injuries are associated with power mowers; if you’d like a safer option, choose a push mower (you’ll also save money on gas!).
- Deep clean your house: Spring cleaning can be a rewarding part of home maintenance because there’s suddenly much more daylight to see all the dirt and dust that’s been gathering. Put on some tunes and get out the mop!
- Clean outdoor spaces: Patios and decks usually need a thorough cleaning after winter. If you have a wooden deck, you’ll probably also want to stain and reseal it to prevent water damage and prolong its life.
- Inspect your HVAC system: Check the air conditioner and heat, plus ducts. This may be a job for a professional. If you have radiator heat, spring is a good time to drain your boiler for the off season.
- Paint as needed: Painting the exterior of your house adds an extra layer of protection to wooden exterior fixtures like shutters. This can prevent water from getting in and causing rot. (Plus, it just looks nice).
35k people visit the ER each year for lawn mower injuries
Home Maintenance Tips for Summer
Dates: June 21 – September 22
Duration: 13 weeks
Summer’s warmer temperatures and extra daylight make it the perfect time to tackle maintenance projects on your home’s exterior, even if you’re at work most of the day. And if you’re dreading the sound of “maintenance” in your time off, remember that a lot of these tasks are great excuses to spend more time outside. (And as we mentioned before: podcasts.)
Property Insurance-Related Home Maintenance
- Take care of exterior repairs and upgrades: This might include anything from painting to fixing the porch to planting the apple tree you’ve always wanted. This kind or repair might also include patching holes where water could get in and clearing debris after major summer storms.
- Check and clean the dryer vent: Clogged dryer vents cause more than 15,000 fires per year. Keeping yours clear of lint goes a long way toward fire prevention. While you’re at it, take a look at other exhaust vents leading out of your home and make sure they’re also clear.
Clogged dryer vents cause 15k fires per year
General Upkeep Home Maintenance
- Garden: We get it. Gardening’s not for everyone. But if you’re a first-time homeowner, you’ve got a whole new world of opportunity before you. Keeping a garden is a great way to spend time outside during the summer and it forces you to pay attention to things around your house that you might not otherwise notice. If you do try a garden, make a habit of pulling weeds every week, and check every day or so to see what needs water.
- Point your ceiling fan blades the right way: They should be going counter-clockwise for summer. While you’re checking, dust those babies off!
- Prepare for heat: If you want to stay comfortable without spending a ton of money on your A/C bill, make sure the weather-stripping along your windows and doors is in good condition (and update what’s not). Invest in curtains to block direct sunlight, especially for south- and west-facing windows. Consider planting deciduous trees on the south and west sides, too. These will offer cooling shade in the hot months and let sunlight in during the winter.
- Prepare for storms: Summer storms range from the lightning blast that zaps the power for thirty minutes to all-out hurricanes that leave you without utilities for days or weeks. Even if there’s no major storm in the forecast, make sure you’ve got bottled water and battery-powered flashlights handy.
- Prevent or eradicate bugs and other pests: Don’t wait for unwelcome visitors to take action. Seal holes where mice and roaches can get in. Keep ant killer on hand. Inspect wood for signs of termite damage. If you’re traveling, always check for bedbugs, and if you think you may have been exposed, wash and dry everything on the highest heat settings before letting it back into your house. Another way to prevent pests from getting inside is to keep plants from getting too close (especially peonies, which ants LOVE).
- Clean window wells: These can accumulate all kinds of stuff over the course of the year. Making a point to clean them out will prevent anything unwanted from rotting, smelling, or taking root.
Landscaping can increase the value of your home from 5 – 12.5%
Home Maintenance Tips for Fall
Dates: September 22 – December 21
Duration: 14 weeks
Fall home maintenance is all about battening down the hatches and getting ready for winter. It’s also a good excuse to spend a little more time outside before winter clenches its icy paws around the northern hemisphere.
Property Insurance-Related Home Maintenance
- Turn off exterior faucets and train hoses: Be sure to flush the faucets, too. This is crucial to make sure water doesn’t freeze in external pipes; if it does, it could burst them, which could translate to serious property damage that you don’t want to deal with.
- Clean the gutters and inspect your downspouts: Once the leaves have stopped falling, make sure your gutters are clean and ready for the winter. The less stuff in there, the less likely they’ll be to come off in a storm or under the weight of snow and ice. Make sure, too, that your downspouts are pointing away from your home’s foundation so that any meltwater goes away from your home.
- Inspect your heating system: Whether you have radiators or heating ducts, a clean, well-maintained system will run better, keep you warmer, and use less energy. If you have a boiler, you may need to drain it to clear sediment. You may also want to bring in a plumber to check that your radiator valves are in good working order so that the heat comes out when you need it.
- Check your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detectors: This home maintenance task takes just a few seconds but can save your life. Again, we recommend tackling this when you change your clocks.
- Insulate pipes if necessary: Any pipes that tend to get cold (like those in under-sink cabinets) might benefit from insulation, especially if you’d rather not leave your cabinet doors open during the coldest weather. A layer of insulation can prevent freezing and bursting.
21% of home fire deaths were in houses with non-working smoke alarms
Personal Liability Insurance-Related Home Maintenance
- Check for (and seal) cracks in the driveway and sidewalk: Left untended, small cracks can expand during the winter, as water gets in and freezes. The good news: if you tackle cracks when they’re small, you can prevent expensive repaving work.
- Stock up on winter gear: Fall is the time to make sure your snow shovel works (and is findable) and you’ve got salt for the sidewalk. Keeping walkways clear of snow and ice can prevent slip-and-fall injuries and therefore personal liability or medical expenses claims on your insurance.
General Upkeep Home Maintenance
- Plant next spring’s perennials: Want daffodils in March? Plant them now! An afternoon in the yard at this time of year can set you up for a really blossomy spring, which (trust us) will be just what you’re in the mood for after winter’s done with you.
- Take care of leaves: The best news about leaves is that you can often just mow right over them instead of raking and bagging. The mowing approach is usually better for your lawn, too: leave the leaf bits in place, and they’ll help fertilize the whole yard. Or you can gather them in your mower’s bag and add them to a compost pile.
- Close up the pool (if you have one): Sigh. It’s never fun to admit that swimming season is over, but it’s crucial if you want to ensure that you’ll have a swimming hole again next year. This is a great maintenance chore to outsource if you’re not a pool expert.
- Stock up and store firewood (if you’ve got a fireplace): Set yourself up for cozy nights in front of the fireplace by ordering firewood now. Or chopping some! But make sure you don’t store it on the ground, where it can get moldy, or inside, where it can attract bugs. Build a wooden cradle and cover it with a tarp, and you’ll have nice, dry wood all winter long.
- Seal the house: Make sure your doors and windows aren’t letting in any drafts; if they are, tighten, seal, and caulk as needed. Then install storm windows and doors to keep the cold air out.
Home Maintenance Tips for Winter
Dates: December 22 – March 19
Duration: 13 weeks
The key to winter home maintenance is catching things early. Unchecked, cold temperatures can wreak havoc on various systems in your house. But a little prevention goes a long way.
Property Insurance-Related Home Maintenance Tips
- Keep an eye out for icicles and ice dams: Get rid of them as soon as you see them, as they can wrench apart seams and let water into your house. One way to prevent ice from forming is with a snow cutter, which lets you brush snow off the roof as it falls. If you do see icicles, take a trip to the attic to make sure no water is getting in.
- Maintain your heating system: Check your air filters about once a month, as some need changing that often. If you’ve got a boiler, make sure its water level doesn’t get too low or too high.
- Open sink cabinets to prevent pipe freezing: If you didn’t get around to insulating under-sink pipes, you can prevent freezing by opening cabinets on the coldest days. This helps warm air circulate.
- Keep the temperature at at least 55º F: Even if you’re traveling, maintain the 55º temperature, which will prevent frozen pipes and all the headaches that come with them.
- Clean the hood filters on your range: Some experts recommend doing this as often as once a month. You can make this an easy job by putting the filter in a sink (or bucket) filled with water and water-based automotive degreaser. Let it soak for a while, and you shouldn’t have to do much scrubbing at all. Keeping your hood filter clean can help prevent kitchen fires.
- Check the caulking around tubs and showers: Touch up anything that needs it to prevent leaking and water damage.
US fire department respond to 17,200 cooking-related home fires every year
Personal Liability Insurance-Related Home Maintenance Tips
- Keep walkways clear and de-iced: Ordering holiday gifts online? Then keep in mind that your delivery driver may be a part-time contract worker and not have access to benefits like workers’ compensation insurance. So if they slip and fall on your icy sidewalk, they could sue you to cover their medical costs and lost wages. And yes, that’s a worst-case scenario. But it’s important to keep in mind that the stakes are high for keeping your walkways clear.
- Eliminate icicles as they form: In addition to protecting your property, this can prevent unfortunate falling-ice injuries to your guests.
General Upkeep Home Maintenance Tips
- Tighten what’s loose: When the weather’s really nasty, spend an afternoon testing door knobs, handles, windows, and anything else that can get loose. Tighten up what’s rattling.
- Check locks and deadbolts: Anything that locks (doors, windows, etc.) can break. Repair or replace locks that are no longer working.
- Clean the garbage disposal (if you have one): Do this as often as you need it. One easy method: freeze white vinegar in to ice cubes, then put them into your disposal and run it. Follow it up with some hot water, and you should eliminate any unpleasant odors.
Part 2: Quick Home Maintenance Guide
If you just read through those tips thinking, “Yes, but how do I do all of that?” then this section is for you. Here, we’ve compiled the home maintenance tips for every season into one handy chart. Here’s how to read it:
- Home maintenance task refers to the specific project we listed above. If you have any questions about what a task entails, refer to the top of the guide.
- Expertise level required refers to how difficult the task is. “Low” means something that any person with reasonable mobility should be able to do. “Medium” means a task requires some specialized knowledge but shouldn’t be beyond the average homeowner. “High” refers to something that requires expert-level knowledge and, in most cases, doesn’t make sense to do yourself.
- Time to complete is an estimate of how much time to budget for the task.