Home Maintenance - Things to Check

Structure / Exterior

Drain water away – Few things can damage a foundation and a home more than water. Check all downspouts off the gutter, to be sure they are attached and taking water away from the foundation, best to be 5-6 feet away.

Dirt should slope away from the house to drain water away. Step back and check the slope on all sides of the house. It’s not hard to add dirt and build up the slope to correct the problem.

Walk slowly around the house and look for cracks in the foundation and the sidewalks. Use a sealant (clear silicone caulk or match the color) to keep moisture out of cracks. Clean the crack with a stiff bristled brush to remove dirt/sand, then squeeze a bead of caulk into the crack. Use a damp finger or damp rag to gently smooth the caulk into the crack. Let dry.

How’s the paint job holding up? If you have permanent siding, there’s not much to check, but, if you have a painted exterior, check for pealing or chipping paint. Again, it’s the moisture we want to keep out. Minimally, the problem areas should be spot scraped, primed and painted. Primer and paint are like most things….you get what you pay for. This is NOT the area to buy the cheap stuff.

For the most part, keep a gap between your foundation and growth of any kind, particularly if it needs watering, (flowers, bushes, etc.) Tree roots can be very strong and can cause problems with a foundation. Keep trees several feet away to avoid future problems.

Unhook exterior hoses before winter. Leaving them hooked up can cause an outside faucet to freeze and crack.


Check under the sinks – all the sinks, not just one or two. Turn on the water and check for drips. Turn on both the hot and the cold, as the supply lines are separate, so one may leak, but not the other. If you get drips, follow the dripping water up, to see if it’s the drain that leaks or is it one of the supply lines. A plumber is a good idea if something looks cracked. If you want to do the work yourself, don’t forget to turn off the water if it’s from the supply line, and have a bucket ready with drip rags. Sometimes a drip just needs some plumbers tape.

Check windows and doors for air leaks. This is great to check on a windy day, but, it’s easiest to fix on a calm day. Simply using weather stripping will fix most air leak problems. The weather stripping is made with peal off tape on one side. Peel off the tape and stick to either the door or the frame. Caulk may be needed to seal up around a window pane or around a door with a window.

Hinges squeaky? Whether it’s a door, a cabinet, whatever, anything with hinges can be quieted with a little shot of WD-40. Have a rag or paper towel ready, but give each hinge a quick shot and open/shut the door a few times. Use the towel to wipe up excess. WD-40 is especially good in areas that may get wet as WD stands for Water Displacement.

The end of most sink spigots typically have a screen to make the water flow evenly. Once a year or so, it’s good to remove that end piece and clean the screen. Get a pair of adjustable pliers, put a cloth or something pliable between the pliers and unscrew the end piece. If you do this regularly, the end piece will unscrew easily. Don’t over tighten when you put it back on.

Stopped up drains should be cleaned out with a plunger, rather than chemicals. A good plunger technique will clean out most problems. Don’t be gentle with the plunger….plunge like you mean it!!

Know where the main water shut off is to the house. Most often, in the basement coming up from the floor, there should be a shut-off valve near its base. If any water line breaks in the house, this should be the first action you take….shut off the water! Even when it’s off, water won’t immediately stop. The pipes will drain for a minute or two.

Partially open some faucets throughout the house, so when you turn the water back on (slowly) the air can escape the system.

If you have floor drains or basically any drain that doesn’t get used much….each month, pour about a quart of water into the drain to keep sewer gas from getting into the house.

It’s a good idea to turn off the supply lines to the clothes washer when it’s not in use. Some of these shut-offs are very handy, simply flipping a valve to the side. If yours is hard to get to, turn it off before leaving for vacation to prevent a mess if your washer line breaks. It’s also a good idea to buy the more expensive hoses that have metal exterior…..these are far more durable than the regular black hoses.

Toilets are not something to be afraid of. Take the lid off the back and take a look. Most have an arm with a balloon type float attached. When the float drops, it allows water to run into the tank. When the tank is full, the float “floats” to the top and shuts off the water valve.
Another feature is the flush mechanism. When you push the handle to flush the toilet, it pulls a chain or cord that’s connected to a drain plug at the bottom. It’s very common for this plug cord to break, or to get build-up at the plugs drain. By simply fixing the cord and/or cleaning off the drain area, you may be able to fix the problem without a plumber. By adjusting the arm of the float, you may be able to stop a toilet from using extra water and save a few bucks.

Water softeners are nearly a must in Pierre and Ft. Pierre. If you keep the salt container nearly full, the softener will run at its most efficient level and will use far less salt in the long run (nearly ½ as much salt!). If you buy the salt and fill it yourself, you’ll not only save money, you’ll get your strength training whenever you add a bag to the container. It’s good to give the salt container a shake or a kick now and then to prevent the salt from bridging or building up along the edges.

Filters are located in nearly anything that has air moving. If you have a forced air furnace; central air conditioning, vents for the stove, vents for the bathrooms….there will most likely be something that needs cleaning or changing a few times per year.

Furnace filters are typically located near the furnace and simply slide in and out of the ductwork, where the air flows. You need to know which way the air is flowing and it’s good to put a big magic marker arrow showing it. The filter will have an arrow on it, too, showing which way to put it into place. Filters vary in size, so be sure to check the size and match it exactly. Don’t skimp on the quality of the filter. Buy a good quality filter to get the cleanest air in your home.

Air conditioner filters are typically either in the air supply duct, similar to a furnace, or they are at the beginning of the intake vent. The condenser unit for central air sits outside the house and you won’t find the filter there, so you may need to do some extra hunting. Again, it’s very easy to slip out a dirty filter and put in a new one. Again, don’t skimp on the quality!

Vents for the stove will eventually get greasy and dusty. These are normally easy to reach and are reusable. Soak in hot water, give a scrub and put back into place.

Vents for the bathroom will usually vent to the outside, so don’t have filters, but will need a good wipe now and then to look good.

Dryer vents will need to be checked and cleaned. The filter should be cleaned after every load. The outside vent should be checked occasionally and wiped clean if there is a build up. Dryers should always vent to the outside, not into another room or attic. The shorter the venting pipe, the quicker your clothes will dry.

Refrigerators have coils that will need to be cleaned a couple times per year. Getting to the coils with a vacuum is the easiest way to clean them. They are typically behind the unit, so it will need to be pulled out away from the wall. The new ones will need to have the back unscrewed to expose the coils. Take off the little grate (pops right off) on the bottom and you’ll find more coils to clean. Also, get a thin brush or a yard stick with a rag and wipe out the stuff that gets under the appliance.

Do you have a garbage disposal? If you get something jammed in it, they come with a wrench that can be used to twist the blade without sticking anything down the drain. The wrench can be used under the sink to wiggle the blade back and forth, hopefully freeing the blade. Also, there should be a re-set button down there, too. It may trip itself off if something gets jammed up and this prevents the motor from burning out. If you can wiggle the blade with the wrench, chances are the item is no longer stuck. Push the re-set button and try again. Another way to try to un-jam the blade is to stick a broom handle down the drain and wiggle it around. NEVER reach in with your hand and ALWAYS remember to run water while you are using the disposal.

Electricity can be deadly, but it’s so simple to turn off the power before working on something and be perfectly safe. If have a bad switch or a bad plug-in, TURN OFF THE POWER AT THE BREAKER BOX, double check that the power is truly off. Now you can get out the screw driver to take a look. Plug-ins and switches are very inexpensive, but, you want to be sure that you replace the bad one with the same thing. In other words, if you have a 20 amp plug-in, you’ll want to replace it with the same. It will be engraved on the old one, so pull it out and look. When you get the new one, note how the old one is wired and wire the new one the same way. Take tape to mark wires if you can’t remember where they will go& be sure all wires are held tightly with the screws. Put back together and give it a try.

GFCI plug-ins (ground fault circuit interrupter) should be found in bathrooms and around water situations. If you plug something into one of these and it doesn’t work, it probably needs to be re-set. Simply hit the re-set button on the unit itself and it should work. There can be a GFCI plug-in at the beginning of a series of regular plug-ins and if the GFCI needs re-setting, none of the plug-ins will work. It’s simple fix! They also have a test button that should periodically be pushed to be sure that it cuts the power and re-sets properly.

Smoke detectors should minimally be on each level of your home. Best if located near the bedrooms, you should get in the habit of changing the batteries, whether they need it or not, once a year. On your birthday is a good rule of thumb to remember. If they begin giving off a chirping noise, change the battery and that should stop. The chirp is simply a signal that the battery is about dead.

A Carbon Monoxide detector is a wise purchase if you have any type of vented heating system; including a gas water heater, furnace, fireplace, dryer, attached garage, etc. These detectors are cheap and can save lives.

Simple Tips and Common Sayings

  1. Have a set of basic tools and know where they are. A couple screw drivers; adjustable wrench; hammer; a few screws and nails; WD-40 and duct tape or wire.

  2. Righty Tighty. Lefty Loosy.

  3. Call before you dig 1-800-781-7474

  4. Have your home professionally treated for pests at least once per year. This will help prevent spiders, crickets, beetles, and ants from invading your home inside and out. Twice per year is even better.

  5. Do not use wood landscape timbers or rail road timbers on the ground by your home. Wood products are practically calling to the bugs….including termites!!

  6. When cleaning, start high and work your way down. Floors should be last.

  7. Water is wetter but dry is better. (Watch for water, condensation, etc….in a house it’s never good.)

  8. If it moves and it’s not supposed to….use duct tape.
    If it doesn’t move and it’s supposed to….use WD-40.

  9. An open valve runs with the pipe. A closed valve makes a right angle to the pipe.

  10. Screw driver types can be + (Phillips) or – (Standard) easily referred to as the plus or minus screw driver.

  11. All houses have mold to some extent. Help to kill it off by scrubbing with bleach and water.

  12. Always have your yard sprinkler system “blown out” before freezing weather hits.

  13. If you put out ice melt in the winter to prevent slipping, read the label to be sure it won’t harm your concrete or your plants in the spring.



Joni Hansen
Fischer Rounds Real Estate
125 E. Dakota Ave.
Pierre, SD 57501
E-mail Joni