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Building Integrity:Mike Wozniak

Ounces, pounds, preventions, pennies: a spring home maintenance primer

May 19, 2010 - Before summer is in full swing and ambition for home improvement gives way to recreational plans, we asked local expert Mike Wozniak to walk home owners thru a quick maintenance check list.

Benjamin Franklin was credited with saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." This timeless insight still applies to how we should view and attend to our home, the largest purchase we will likely make. Even in a time when most homes have lost market value, we are still far ahead of the game by maintaining what we have rather than buying another house.

The truth is we are probably looking at being in our current homes for some time before the opportunity to move to another house is an option. With an average serviceable life of 20 years for your roofing, windows, siding and gutters, consider what components may need updating now.

Having said that, let's consider some basic actions we can take at this time of the year to hold the value in our house. Michigan winters can be brutal on a structure, with the cold, wind, snow-load, you name it…. Most of us have hibernated inside for the most part. With warm weather now upon us, it is a good time to take a stroll outside our houses to determine if there are items that, if taken care of now, will save money and grief later.

Water management is the main issue in home maintenance, whether it be rain or in a frozen form. Radio handyman Glenn Haege is right when he says "water always wins." So, it is important to be diligent with house upkeep so that we win. Start by getting far enough away from the house that when you look with binoculars you can see the roof shingles. As you walk around, what do you see? Are the shingles starting to curl or wear? Are any missing? Do you see tree branches piling up? If anything looks suspicious, call a roofing contractor to evaluate it. He will likely get up on the roof (better him than you) to be able to give a good inspect ion. If shingle replacement is recommended, get some other trusted opinions. And, if you do decide it's time to replace the roofing, consider a light colored or new solar-reflective type of shingle for best life and lower cooling costs. This would also be the time to confirm the roof is effectively 'breathing' with proper ridge and soffit venting. Creating what is known in the trade as a 'cold roof' is the cure for ice-damning in winter.

Once the water runs off the roof, it is probably being caught by gutters. Gutters that are in poor shape can be worse than no gutters, as they are mechanically fastened to your house. Once they're loose they could direct water where you don't want it.

Look for evidence they are coming loose, or have been damaged by falling objects or ice damns over the winter. Do the sections look fairly straight? Do you see evidence of fascia paint coming off behind the gutters at splice areas, or debris on the gutter face suggesting water is overflowing there? Are plants growing out of the gutters? Even if you have covers on your gutters, give them a close inspection occasionally, to see how well they are working. Again, a local gutter pro should be willing to look at your situation without charge. Pay special attention to where the downspouts direct the water. It is not unusual to stop a leaky basement wall just by extending a downspout exit a few feet more or in a different direction to assure the water flows away from the house foundation. After the next big rain storm, check to see that water does not pool on the ground close to the house. If it does, a landscaper can help you out with some ideas.

As for windows, the basic issues are checking for clear glass (no failed seals) and tight closure. Open them up and vacuum the surfaces that rub together. Look for exterior sealant integrity. Are there obvious gaps or loose window parts? Some windows have small weep holes at the bottom which need to stay open for drainage. While you are looking at the windows, check to see the siding system around the window is still laying flat on the wall, shedding water off the window edges.

Finish your walk-around inspection by looking at the a/c condenser (is it free of plant growth?) and the clothes dryer vent. Clogged dryer vents are a definite fire hazard.

This exterior home maintenance primer should help in keeping the major house devils at bay. If you take care of your home investment, you will eliminate many emergency situations that can be so costly. Then, if you decide to move in the future, you'll be more likely to sell for top-dollar. To this thought our old friend Benjamin Franklin may have added, "A penny saved is a penny earned."

Wozniak is owner of Building Integrity, a full-service remodeling company, serving the Clarkston area, since 1995. He can answer your questions at 248-625-9118

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