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Home Improvement : Essentials for a Safer, Problem-Free Home

December 24, 1989|GARY ABRAMS | Abrams is a Los Angeles general contractor and a free-lance writer

A great number of the home repair and safety problems are avoidable with just a little preventive maintenance.

The truth, though, is that most homeowners are simply not informed of the regular home maintenance items they should be taking care of and, unfortunately, find out the hard way when accidents occur or when the repair bills arrive.

Here is a list of the most important preventive measures a homeowner can take to help eliminate problems before they happen.

Electric circuit breakers: Every homeowner should know where the circuit panel is located, in case of an emergency. Because circuit breakers are subject to "sticking" due to dirt and dust, each breaker should be flipped off and on several times at least twice annually.

This will help assure that the breaker will trip automatically when an overload occurs. Smart timing for this procedure is in the spring and fall when the time changes and digital clocks have to be reset anyway.

Smoke alarms: Every home should be equipped with at least one smoke alarm in every sleeping area and one in the hallway outside. All smoke alarms have a test button that should be activated three times annually to assure that the horn is operational.

Also, on battery-powered alarms, it is a good idea to replace the battery once annually even if the horn sounds when tested.

Fire extinguishers: Fire officials recommend that every home have at least one easily accessible, good-quality fire extinguisher with a built-in pressure gauge. The gauge should be checked every month to assure that the extinguisher is sufficiently charged to be effective.

Termites: Termites are one of your house's worst enemies. Once they get started on a home, they can continue unseen consuming the structural members for years until the home is no longer safe to occupy.

It's imperative that any wood-frame structure be checked for termites by a licensed inspector every three to five years, or whenever "fecal pellets" (small poppy seed-like droppings) are seen anywhere around the property.

Obviously, the extent of infestation and resultant damage is minimized if the colony is found and treated early.

Roof and gutters: The roof, perhaps the most important part of a house, usually receives the least attention or preventive care. At least twice a year the roof should be checked for loose or cracked shingles or tiles, cracks around vent pipes and flashings, holes or cracks in flat roof surfaces or open seams where two roof surfaces join.

Most of these problems can be easily repaired by a roofer or handyman, thereby preventing water damage to the roof's structural members and ceilings below, and greatly extending the life of the roof.

Roof drains and rain gutters and downspouts must be kept clean. Not only will accumulated leaves and debris clog the gutters, rendering them useless, but the material stays wet long after the rain has passed, causing the gutters to rust and corrode. At least once monthly during the rainy season all roof drains and gutters should be cleared.

Paint and window glazing: The exterior paint and window glazing (or putty) on a house serve to protect wood trim, siding and window frames from weathering and decay. When cracks and blisters appear in the paint or when glazing is loose or missing around a window, the lumber is subject to harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun and dry-rot damage from moisture incursion.

To prevent these problems, the painted outside surfaces of a home should be inspected three or four times annually and repainted or "touched up" as needed.

Tub, shower and sink caulkings: Caulking is the material that forms a seal between the porcelain and tile or plumbing fixtures of a tub, shower or sink or between two tile surfaces that join at an angle.

Because of normal shifting and settling of all wood-frame structures and normal wear, the caulking material will eventually crack. Cracks or holes in the caulk allow water to leak into adjoining subsurfaces with very damaging results to the lumber, tile and plaster.

Worn caulking accounts for a large percentage of needless calls to plumbers as many homeowners misperceive moisture damage from bad caulk to be a plumbing leak. Caulking material should be inspected for looseness or cracks every other month and replaced or touched-up where necessary. Smooth new material with a wet finger.

Gas Furnace and Appliance Inspection: Because of the risks of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning posed by gas-fired furnaces and appliances, the Gas Co. recommends that all homeowners contact them every other year for a safety inspection. This is normally a free service.

Furnace filter: All forced-air furnaces and furnace/air conditioning units have a replaceable or cleanable filter somewhere on the air intake duct or behind the lower furnace panel.

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