My wife called me in a panic at the beginning of July. I was at a conference in Denver, where the sun was brilliant and blazing. Back home in Portland, however, the sun was nowhere to be found. Instead, it was raining cats and dogs — and much of that rain was leaking through the roof and into our house.
With the help of a neighbor, my wife made some quick, soggy repairs to the roof. It was enough to keep things dry until the rain had passed. Since then, we’ve hired a contractor to make real repairs before the autumn rains return. In the meantime, we’ve been reminded how important it is to perform routine home maintenance.
Your house is like a living, breathing organism. As much as you try to keep things in working order, eventually something goes wrong — and usually at the worst possible time. (My wife and I once woke on Christmas morning to find our water heater had broken, flooding one end of the house. Happy Holidays!)
Just as daily exercise and a sensible diet keep your body healthy and help you avoid costly medical bills, regular home maintenance keeps normal wear-and-tear from developing into emergency repairs. Don’t be lazy or cheap. When it comes to protecting your most valuable possession, cutting corners can be costly.
As a rule of thumb, every year you should set aside about 1% of your home’s purchase price for maintenance and repairs. In other words, if you bought a $300,000 home, budget about $3,000 for annual upkeep. This is just a guideline, obviously — some years you’ll spend much more. (And some lucky years, you won’t spend anything at all!)
If you make a point of doing your own maintenance whenever possible, you’ll save money and develop confidence to tackle similar projects in the future. Home improvement can be intimidating at first, but with time you can learn to do most common household repairs. If you’re interested in improving your DIY skills, take classes from your local community college or attend seminars at a home-improvement store.
Because routine maintenance is so vital, it can be helpful to draft a checklist of annual chores. The previous owner of our home left us customized instructions. If you need general information about where to start, check out the following checklists:
- Healthy Homes Maintenance Checklist [PDF] from National Center for Healthy Housing
- Checklist for Maintaining Your Home [PDF] from the Association of Homeowners Across America
- Big List of Home Maintenance Tasks from alt.home.repair on USENET
In 2004, we bought our current home, the inspector told us that for every dollar we spent on routine maintenance, we’d avoid roughly $100 in future repairs. On his report, he wrote: “I’ve looked at hundreds of homes in all age ranges, and I’ve seen thousands of dollars of damage to homes that could have been avoided by spending $5 to $10 and just a few minutes of work.”
As a frugal fellow, it’s tough for me to accept that it’s not just okay, but good to spend on solving small problems. It’s like self-insurance, or an investment in the future. If you deal with a small problem before it becomes a big problem, you can save yourself time, money, and hassle.