One theme you will read often on this site is homeowner’s insurance isn’t a maintenance policy. Insurance isn’t there to pay for things you should have fixed on your own.

However, that doesn’t mean we can’t help you address your maintenance needs too. By making it easier for you to understand what a base level of maintenance is for your home, you can hopefully avoid unpleasant surprises, not to mention the potential for insurance disputes.

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Save Me Time!

  1. Doing routine maintenance is like an extra insurance policy. You spend a little now to save a lot later.
  2. The nine things below are either relatively easy to do yourself or address with an annual service call.
  3. Doing these things will not only reduce your risk of an insurance claim, they will also save you from aggravation (by reducing the risk of breakdowns and accidents) and potentially reduce your utility bills.

The Rest of the Story

Notice the reference above to a “base level” of maintenance. The goal here isn’t to tell you every little last thing that Bob Vila would suggest you do to keep your house perfectly maintained. Sure, it would be great if you did that, but not many of us are realistically going to achieve that.

So rather than present you with some intimidating list of all the things you could do and make you feel inadequate when you don’t do them all and unsure of which to prioritize with your limited time and budget, we are going to try something different.

Maintenance As Cheap Insurance

What follows is a list of things that you really probably should do if you want to reduce your risk of something going wrong in your home. Most of these are pretty inexpensive and some you can even do yourself.

Think of them like buying extra home insurance. Doing some of these things below reduces the chances of having unexpected damage or costly repairs to your home. You spend a little now to avoid a big expense later.

Before we get into the details, let’s set the table briefly with a way to think of the different categories of home maintenance needs.

There are basically three things you’re trying to avoid happening in your house.

  1. Having equipment breakdown due to lack of maintenance (air conditioner, furnace, refrigerator, laundry machine, etc.).
  2. A dangerous incident like a fire or water leak. Think of an electrical fire or a pipe that bursts.
  3. Damage from a weather event. This could be a hurricane, tornado, or a freeze. Proper maintenance can reduce the odds of damage.

While the first category of concerns isn’t covered by insurance, we will address ways you can mitigate all three risks.

Things You Really Should Do

These are low effort things that you should be able to do yourself that you need to address once or twice a year. These will help you identify risks early before they become a big problem.

#1 Change your filters: This includes your air conditioner, your oven vents, etc. Changing the filters improves the efficiency of the unit and reduces risk of damage from overtaxing the system.

If you’ve never changed the filters before, here’s a hint: you need to buy replacement filters first, so check that you know what type of filter you need and have it on hand before you remove the old one!

#2 Check your sinks & toilets for drips or leaks: Not convinced that small leak under the sink is a big deal? OK, let’s try to convince you. First, the cost to have the plumber come out for a small problem is tiny compared to the cost after it becomes a bigger problem and you have to pay emergency rates for them because your bathroom is covered in water.

As you may recall from our other writings, water damage from a pipe or in your bathroom is only paid for by insurance if it was “sudden and accidental”. If you knew there was a leak and did nothing about it until it got worse, your insurance may well not pay since you neglected to do the maintenance.

Finally, there is the inconvenience factor. Even if insurance does pay, would you rather address something on your own time before it becomes a problem or wait until after and then have to spend the next month with contractors replacing your tiles or cabinets?

#3 Test those batteries: Make sure your fire detectors have working batteries. And don’t forget to check any other devices with battery backups like perhaps your sump pump.

#4 Check the sump pump: While you’re checking the battery, make sure you can hear the pump working from time to time. If you’re not sure, look to see if there is any debris that got inside (leaves, mud, etc.). If it looks good, pour a little water down and see if it properly drains.

Remember, most water that enters your home from the outside won’t be covered by insurance. A working sump pump is your best form of “insurance” against flooding.

#5 Know where the water shut off is located: This one you only have to learn once. If your pipes burst or are at risk of freezing, you need to shut off the water immediately. If you don’t know where your shut off valve is, you’re going to be up a creek.

Things You Ought To Do

The items in this next category require a little more work and probably need to be done once a year. They are things everyone should do, but many people don’t.

In some cases, you can consider doing them yourselves, but they are all things you can ask a professional to do for you. 

#6 Clean the gutters: This is especially important to do before winter as you want to be sure melting snow drains properly to avoid roof damage such as from ice dams.

#7 Service the fireplace: If you have a fireplace, you’ll want to make sure the chimney is inspected annually for fire risks and cleaning. This also helps your heating system run more efficiently lowering your heating bills.

#8 Clean the dryer vent: Buildup of dust and lint in your vent can cause fires. Additionally, failure to clean the vent can lead to wear and tear on your dryer reducing its useful life and higher electric bills as your clothes take longer to dry.

#9 Drain the water heater: This may sound repetitive, but draining the water heater will improve its efficiency keeping your bills lower as well as reducing the risk of it breaking down.

If you do everything on the list, give yourself a pat on the back. You are an above average homeowner!

Enjoy The Savings

While none of these things may be tasks you look forward to, they actually can save you money. Routine maintenance can extend the useful life of your appliances and lower your utility bills since things will run more efficiently.

Upkeep on a home, including replacing and repairing appliances and structures, is often described as 1% of your home’s cost, but that is an outdated figure. It can easily be 2-3% (especially with people spending more time working at home), so if you have a $500,000 home, you can easily spend $10,000 on annual upkeep. 

If prevention helps you extend your useful life by 20%, you can save $2,000/yr on average which is more than you may spend on insurance! So it is truly in your best interest to spend a little time on these basic tasks. Instead of thinking of it as a chore, think of it like a sale on your next appliance.