Keeping a home improvement projects to-do list

My Christmas curse continues! You see, for a long time now — almost thirty years — Christmas has become synonymous with home problems for me.

This all started in the first home that Kris and I owned back when we were newly married. We woke one Christmas morning to find that the water heater had overflowed, flooding the laundry room and much of the converted garage. Unfazed, we cleaned up the mess and spent our holiday without hot water. It was fun!

Since then, I’ve experienced a long line of home problems on Christmas day: frozen pipes, broken gutters, fallen fences, and more. And this year? Well, this year’s issue was minor…but may lead to a major repair.

The house that Kim and I bought last August is in good shape. We made sure of that during the inspection period. Still, no home is perfect — and a house built fifty years ago has a few warts.

“Did you know something’s wrong with the ceiling in the hall bathroom?” Kim asked on Christmas morning after she finished her shower. “The paint on the ceiling seems to be peeling.”

“What?” I said. I went to take a look. Kim was right. The paint on the ceiling seemed to be peeling.

“I’ll bet that’s from moisture,” I said. I found a footstool and climbed up to take a closer look. I turned on the ventilation fan. “Wow,” I said. “The fan doesn’t seem to be pulling any air. That’s the root issue.”

I toyed with the peeling paint, which was a mistake. The brittle stuff crumbled and fell to the floor in large chunks. “That’s so strange,” I said. I picked up a few pieces of debris. “Is this only paint? It seems so thick.”

“It looks like it’s just paint,” Kim said. “But many layers of paint. Who knows? It could be something else underneath.”

Paint peeling from our bathroom ceiling

So, now we have the first urgent home project in our new place. It’s not a huge deal, obviously, but it’s something we want to repair sooner rather than later. It’s just a matter of finding time. (This seems like something we should be able to fix ourselves rather than hiring out.)

This issue has actually been a blessing in disguise. Everywhere I live, I keep a master list of repairs and projects. But I hadn’t yet drafted that list for our home here in Corvallis. This morning, I remedied that.

My Homeownership Projects List

When you buy a home, you also buy a parade of projects. No home is ever fully functional at any given time. There’s always something that needs to be repaired or upgraded or inspected.

As a fellow who struggles with ADHD, this never-ending stream of home projects can overwhelm me. There’s so much that needs to be done that my inclination is to do nothing. But, of course, doing nothing only leads to more projects in the future. I’ve learned that it’s important for me to make constant, incremental progress on tasks around the house.

To stay focused, it’s vital that I maintain homeownership to-do list.

Longer ago, I created my project list with pencil and paper. Nowadays, I keep the list digitally. At our last house, I maintained a text document with all of the things that needed to be done. For our new house, I’m experimenting with Apple’s built-in Reminders app. This allows me to share the list with Kim, add notes and images and deadlines to tasks, and more.

I suppose there are many ways you could choose to build your personal list of home projects. For me, it’s always been easiest to use the home inspection report as a starting point.

“I use your report as a to-do list,” I told our home inspector in August.

“If you do, you’re the only one,” he said, laughing. “Nobody seems to take this stuff seriously. It frustrates me to go back and inspect a home I saw a few years before, and not a single issue has been addressed. That happens all the time.”

To begin, I let the inspection report form the structure of my list. For this house, the report was divided by major systems, such as: Roof, Grounds, Exterior, Attic, Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC, and so on. And within each section of the report, the inspector graded items as OK, MM (for marginal or “needs maintenance”), or RR (for “repair or replace”).

Highlight from our home inspection

I divide my list into the same sections as the inspection report. Because this particular report didn’t break down individual “interior rooms”, I added a section for each space inside the house: Kitchen, Living Room, Kim’s Office, Hall and Stairs, etc.

As I page through the inspection report, I copy over each flagged item as an action step. The inspector’s comment about moss growth on the roof becomes “Remove Moss (RR)”. I add notes and comments, if I have them, and I might even pencil in a tentative date to tackle the project and/or contact info for a contractor I want to hire.

But the inspection report is only a starting point.

Next, I walk s-l-o-w-l-y through the house, going from room to room and thinking about our plans for the future. I take notes as I go. I write down anything that bugs us (“install thresholds into rooms downstairs”, “install carpet runner for stairs”) and I note any upgrades we want to make to the house (“buy heater for deck”, “completely remodel hall bathroom”). I try to write down every single thing I can think of, no matter how small. My aim is to get this stuff out of my head and onto (metaphorical) paper.

As a final step, I make sure to ask Kim if there’s anything else I should add to our list of projects. She’ll often have plans and dreams of her own that she hasn’t yet shared with me. It’s good to get those on the master list, too.

After this braindump, I’ll have a list filled with dozens of tasks that want doing around the house. These tasks will be divided by subsystem and/or room (which makes the jobs easier to “batch”), and they’ll also be ranked by priority.

A look at our home improvement list

Final Thoughts

My master homeownership to-do list has proved invaluable in the past. The list gives me motivation and direction. It helps me to prioritize the tasks that must be completed soon, as opposed to those that are easy or fun. Most importantly, it helps us to address problem areas in a timely fashion instead of allowing them to fester.

I should note that this isn’t the only list of home projects that we use. We also keep an ongoing list/calendar of maintenance tasks. This started as a simple list that I had pulled from some book about home maintenance, but over time it’s become a series of calendar reminders that Kim and I modify continually.

For example, I had to blow off the roof and clean the gutters twice this autumn because our house is surrounded by massive tall evergreens. The needles are a nuisance. Each time I cleaned the roof, I placed an alert in my calendar for the same time next year as a reminder. We do the same for any regular maintenance task that we don’t want to forget.

Home maintenance and home improvement can certainly be a headache at times, but I’ve found that the pain can be mitigated by (a) keeping an updated list of home projects and (b) regularly plugging away at the list — even if doing so in an unorganized fashion.

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