As an experienced owner of many homes over the years, I have dealt with most common, and some unusual problems. The most important issue for the average homeowner deals with the maintenance of those items which keep water controlled, both inside and outside of the home.
Don’t Buy in a Floodplain: While houses in floodplains may have lower price tags, they require a significant outlay in annual expenses due to the cost of maintaining flood insurance. No matter how little the home has flooded in the past, its location in a floodplain constitutes a significant financial risk to you, the owner, as well as to your mortgage lender. I owned two houses along a pretty creek. At night the lovely bubbling sound was a wonderful sleep-inducer. Birds tweeted and nested happily in the trees lining the creek. Every time the area had a small stream flood warning, my lovely stream turned into a terrible torrent that kept me awake wondering if the house would be washed from its foundation. I also feared that a large tree which hung over the creek was going to be ripped from the bank at some point. Twice our basement flooded and once we lost an expensive-to-replace furnace. While we were luckier than the others on our street, we found that our flood insurance didn’t cover the basement damage. At the time our flood insurance was inexpensive, but with the recent changes to FEMA and flood insurance rates, it would not be so today. Luckily we were able to sell both homes, even though we took a loss.
Roof Maintenance: Maintenance of the roof and related systems such as gutters and downspouts is of primary importance. Rain water entering the home structure does significant structural and expensive cosmetic damage. We accidentally degraded a basement wall by removing the channel that directed downspout water from the roof away from the building. We removed it to make mowing easier, but now the water spills into the basement through the wall at that spot every time it rains. Our basement stairs and supports are rotting out and I am sure that the cost of these repairs will be high.
Plumbing Maintenance: Even a small drip can do major damage to interior walls and supports over time. Maintain all plumbing systems in top rate condition. If you happen to have a heating system that runs on hot water, realize that if this system goes down during the winter when you are away from the home, your heating and basic plumbing systems will freeze and possibly burst, causing significant damage to the home on every level. This damage is not covered by homeowner’s insurance. A situation that happened to us was that our furnace had a puff back for an unknown cause (likely insufficient maintenance) and the furnace shut down in the winter. No one was living in the house at the time so it was not noticed promptly. In addition to the furnace smoke filling the house and covering every surface with soot, water poured from a second floor bathroom pipe and damaged everything: the walls, floors, rugs, stairs, and more.
Basement drainage and Yard Grading: Some homes are built with superior drainage systems around the basement walls, while others are not. Look for signs of seasonal water infiltration in the basement of any home you are purchasing. Adding foundation drainage to a building after it has been constructed can be costly. Also look at the grading of the yard to determine the location of seasonal surface flows. Drainage ditches are a sign that difficulties with surface water may be habitual on the lot. Avoid these properties if possible, but if you do buy, do not disturb ditching until you have the opportunity to see it functioning. We had a cabin with ditching and knew that there were some preexisting surface water problems. We didn’t realize that the water flowing under the cabin’s poured concrete floor would crack it, cause the building to shift, and result in a back door that doesn’t open, a floor that is buckled, and the woodshed with rotted supports, about to collapse.
Exterior Siding: Maintain the pointing between bricks to keep water out. Also insure that wood shingles such as cedar shakes or the strips in a board and batten home remain firmly nailed down to insure water can’t get in behind them. This is not only important because of the possibility of water infiltration. Bees got interested in the area behind our wood shingles and took up residence. We really didn’t mind them, although they made a few entrance and exit holes here and there. It wasn’t until a woodpecker discovered the bees’ nests last spring and started pecking away at our house, garage, and barn in order to feed on the insects’ nests that we realized how quickly hungry woodpeckers can destroy wood siding. By keeping the insects (bees, lady bugs, and flies) from getting interested in living behind the shingles, you are also helping to keep other pests such as woodpeckers and bats away. Yes, we’ve had bats in the belfry, too.
I always assumed that being a homeowner would be a joy. While I am still committed to owning my own home, I now realize how quickly maintenance items can spin out of control. The first priority of every homeowner has to be those tasks which involve insuring that the threat of water is controlled at all times. Don’t fail to give every drip or drop your prompt attention. A small leak can lead to a situation which results in virtually the total destruction of your major investment, your home.