If you pride yourself on keeping your home in tiptop shape, you’re the kind of homeowner who takes the necessary steps to keep your house running like a well-oiled machine — or at least you think you’re taking all of the right steps. The hard truth, though, is that many people overlook a number of important home maintenance tasks.
“There is so much many homeowners just don't know to do,” says Melissa Mitchell, director of operations at GrayWolf Residential Services, a preventive home maintenance company based in Beachwood, Ohio.
Experts say homeowners often miss these 10 home maintenance tasks, which can have serious consequences, as maintaining your home is a whole lot easier — and a lot less expensive — than dealing with big repairs.
Clean your refrigerator's condenser coils
Most refrigerators have condenser coils across the bottom or at the back of the unit that cool and condense the refrigerant. The problem is that these coils can collect dust and pet hair and get clogged, forcing your refrigerator to work harder to stay cold. “The result is decreased efficiency and poor cooling performance in the refrigerator,” says Wayne Archer, technical expert at Sears Home Services.
Hunter Macfarlane, a Lowe’s project expert, recommends homeowners clean their refrigerator’s condenser coil once a year — or twice a year if they have a pet that sheds. You can do this yourself by unplugging the refrigerator, removing the grill protecting the coils and gently using the hose from a vacuum cleaner to suck out dust particles and debris. Make sure to wear a dust mask.
Clean your refrigerator’s ice cube maker
“We all go through such great lengths to ensure our drinking water is filtered and clean, but without properly cleaning and replacing filters, we can be creating other issues from mineral buildup, dust and other debris,” says Rob Morelli, co-founder and chief executive at HomeKeepr, a referral network for home service professionals. This can eventually lead to mold and can contaminate the ice; hence, it’s important to replace your refrigerator’s water filter as needed. (Check your manufacturer’s instructions.)
In addition, you'll want to clean your ice maker's collection bin annually, or two to three times a year if you have “hard” water, meaning it's high in dissolved minerals, specifically calcium, iron and magnesium, and causes limescale buildup. (You can buy a water test kit online for about $15 to $30 to test your water's hardness yourself.) An even mixture of white vinegar and warm water will do the trick, Morelli says.
Clean your bathroom’s exhaust fans twice a year
Bathroom exhaust fans help eliminate odors and remove moisture that would otherwise land on surfaces and turn into mold; however, a fan can't operate properly if its cover is dirty, warns Mark Clement, co-founder at MyFixitUpLife.com, a resource for DIY home remodeling. The solution is simple: Give bathroom vent covers a thorough cleaning with soapy water twice a year to keep your exhaust fans running efficiently.
Clean the dryer vent — not just the lint screen
Most homeowners know it’s important to clean their dryer’s lint screen in between loads to prevent fires, but many people don’t check for lint buildup in and around the dryer duct and vent filter, says Dan DiClerico, home expert at HomeAdvisor. In fact, failure to clean the dryer is the leading cause of clothes dryer fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
Dryer vents should be cleaned at least once a year, DiClerico says. “For best results, invest in a dryer vent cleaning kit, which makes it easy to access the vent filter through the dryer's ductwork,” he suggests.
Flush the water heater for it to perform better, last longer
Your home's water system will perform better and last longer if you flush the tank once a year to remove sediment, says DiClerico, because magnesium and calcium build up over time, which can reduce a water heater's efficiency. “This goes for both gas and electric systems,” he says. According to HomeAdvisor, plumbers will include flushing in their annual tuneup for about $200.
Sweep the chimney to avoid fires, carbon monoxide leaks
Love using your wood-burning fireplace? Smoke can leave behind ash and carbon deposits called creosote, “residue that needs to be removed periodically because it can lead to chimney fires and carbon monoxide leaks,” DiClerico says. The National Fire Protection Association recommends a chimney inspection at least once a year.
Clean the dishwasher a few times a year
This may sound counterintuitive — after all, you use your dishwasher to clean dishes — but your machine won't last as long, or perform as well, if you don't clean it a few times a year. “A good trick for deodorizing the dishwasher is to place a bowl full of vinegar in the middle of the bottom rack and then run a normal wash cycle,” DiClerico says.
The vinegar trick is mainly for deodorizing, but it will also remove some of the stains and discolorations that can build up over time in a dishwasher's interior. For more stubborn stains, which are common in homes with hard water, homeowners can try a store-brought dishwasher cleaner; DiClerico recommends Lemi Shine Original.
Keep your washing machine mildew-free
Don't want mold to fester and grow in your clothes washer? Run a cup of white vinegar through the washing machine, using a cleaning cycle (available on some washers) or a normal cycle with hot water, once per month, says Mitchell of GrayWolf Residential Services.
Also, keep your washing machine's lid or door open in between cycles to allow the basket to dry out. Front-loaders are more likely to build up mold, but it can happen to top-loaders, too.
Remove calcium deposits from shower heads
“Natural minerals in our water build up over time and clog the holes in a shower head, which can create a breeding ground for potentially harmful bacteria and mildews if left untreated,” says Bailey Carson, head of cleaning at Handy, a website and mobile app that connects consumers with home service providers.
To remove calcium deposits and other gunk, fill a small bag with one cup equal parts water and distilled white vinegar and attach it to the shower head's nozzle with a twist tie, letting it soak for 20 minutes, says Carson. “For a more thorough clean, remove the shower head to let it fully soak and then use an old toothbrush to clean away any remaining debris.” Make sure to flush the shower head with hot water once you're done cleaning before using it.
A full soak should be done about once every three months, says Carson; however, if you notice reduced or uneven shower pressure, it's time for a cleaning.
Inspect trees and tree limbs near your home for safety
That beautiful sycamore tree near your bedroom window may be a cause for concern. Depending on its proximity to your home and the tree’s condition, strong winds could force it to come crashing into your house. As a result, Angie Hicks, co-founder of Angie’s List, says it’s a good idea to add tree inspections to your annual home maintenance checklist. “Checking specifically on trees near your home, driveway, garage and any power lines is especially important,” she says.
If you have trees close to your home, you’ll want to hire a professional arborist to do an annual sweep of your property. Doing this means you’ll have an expert who can identify early signs of disease or rotting. Expect to pay $75 to $100 for an inspection of one to five trees, and each additional tree will cost around $25, according to HomeAdvisor. Then, follow the arborist’s advice on what foliage to trim or cut down. “With trees, it’s better to be proactive than reactive, as a fallen tree can cause a lot of damage” and cost a lot of money, Hicks says.