The beginning of a new year invites a wave of optimism, with the ritualistic writing of resolutions for self-improvement. As a homeowner, the new year also marks an opportune time to check on the maintenance of your home and ensure that it is safe and healthy. Periodic check-ups are particularly important if your home is for sale or will be soon. Maintenance problems may deter buyers and will surely be revealed by the inspection once the home is under contract, which could lead to delays in closing or even the loss of a sale.
This January, resolve to spot potential maintenance issues before they become costly catastrophes. Here are some ideas:
Ensure that all smoke detectors are functioning properly. While the batteries in a smoke detector should be replaced at least twice per year, you should also check them occasionally. Most units have a test button that will cause the alarm to sound when pressed. If this does not occur, you either need to replace the batteries or the entire unit. Take the opportunity to verify that your home has smoke detectors in less-trafficked areas, such as the attic, basement, and garage.
Consider having your home tested for lead and radon. If your home was built before 1978, when the use of lead paint was banned, lead paint testing is a worthwhile investment. A test of a paint chip costs $50 or less and can detect the toxic substance that causes lead poisoning. Regardless of your home's age, radon may be a threat. Radon gas is released when soil and rock beneath the home naturally deteriorate, and breathing the noxious air that results is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Most hardware stores sell an inexpensive radon test kit.
Have you noticed a musty smell, or do you suffer from allergy symptoms like watery eyes or congested sinuses? These may be signs that mold growth exists somewhere in your home. If you find mold, remove it to avoid the risk of serious health problems. Mold growth within the walls may be caused by a leaky pipe. Observing your home's water meter should help you determine if any pipes are leaking. When you are sure that no water is running, check the number on the meter and then check it again after a half hour. If the number is different but no water has been run, it is likely that there is a leak somewhere in the home.
January lies at the peak of fireplace season. Continue to enjoy your fireplace safely by having it swept when necessary. The timing between cleanings can vary, so investigate before you call a chimney sweep. Chimney fires can ignite when creosote, a tar-like substance, accumulates inside the chimney. You can test for creosote build-up by shining a strong flashlight into the chimney and probing the walls with a fireplace poker. Be sure to wear goggles and a dust mask. If the poker scratches a groove that is a quarter-inch thick or more, refrain from using the fireplace until the chimney is cleaned. If the groove is an eighth of an inch thick, the fireplace should still be safe to use, but you will want to schedule a sweep soon.
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