Save money with regular home maintenance

In 2004, Kris and I bought a hundred-year-old farmhouse. We'd been living in a 1976 ranch-style home that was virtually maintenance-free. We knew that our new house was quirky, and that it needed some remodeling, but we didn't quite understand the extent to which maintenance would dominate our lives. Every summer, we've had a major project. Or two. This year is no different.

In previous years we've remodeled the bathroom, replaced the electrical system, hung new drywall, and more. This year our focus is on the home's exterior. While we've been improving the inside, the outside has begun to fall into disrepair. It's not an eyesore yet, but it could become one. This winter's heavy snow pulled the gutters away from the house. Certain sections (most of which are purely decorative, like balconies) are beginning to rot. And the paint has begun to flake and peel:

This is an extreme example from one corner of the house.

There's a lot of work to be done. As always, the prospect of the time and money involved to patch things up makes me glum. It seems as if there's always something new that needs attention.

Fortunately, we have a home-maintenance account, a sort of emergency fund for our house. Still, as our home inspector says, it's better spend a little bit of money now than a lot of money later. From his 2004 report:

The national statistic on the Cash Value of Home Maintenance states, for every $1 that is spent on maintenance, up to $100 of repairs are avoided. In my experience as a professional home inspector, I have looked at hundreds of homes in all age ranges, and I have seen thousands of dollars of damage to homes that could have been avoided by spending $5 to $10 and just a few minutes of work.

On Friday we met with a series of contractors. We stood outside in the bitter cold, climbing ladders and pointing out the things that need to be repaired. We may be able to handle some of the things ourselves (the gutters, for example), but others either require a professional, or are things we're willing to pay for. We could paint the house, for example, but we know ourselves. If we start the project, it'll take forever, and it won't be done as well as a pro could do it.

When we moved into this house, our home inspector recommended that we create a home-maintenance checklist. I'm beginning to understand the wisdom of this advice. Fortunately, the previous owner — who lived here more than 40 years — drew up a list of chores and organized them by month. This weekend, we modified this list (adding and subtracting items), and included ongoing projects. Now we have our own home maintenance checklist [36k PDF].

The checklist for each home is different, and should include monthly, quarterly, and annual tasks. You can find some great sample checklists around the web:

  • The Mississippi State University Extension Service home checklist is outstanding.
  • The National Center for Healthy Housing also has an excellent checklist.
  • For the Old School, check out the big list of house maintenance tasks from Usenet's alt.home.repair (Ah, Usenet, how I miss you…)

I have a dream that someday in the future, we'll be done with all of the maintenance and repair. Someday we'll have a summer without a home-improvement project. I just don't think that someday is coming any time soon. For now, we'll continue to tackle the most urgent projects as we can afford them. And we'll console ourselves with the knowledge that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Tip: My biggest piece of advice for saving money on home maintenance? Don't buy a hundred-year-old farmhouse!
More about...Home & Garden, Budgeting

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DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
11 years ago

Preventative maintenance for both homes and autos is always less expensive than reactionary or crisis repairs . . . good post!

Trevor - 14 Year Old Blogger
Trevor - 14 Year Old Blogger
11 years ago

Be sure to find a good inspector.

My grandma found a poor inspector and the house he checked had many problems later on.

Shevonne
Shevonne
11 years ago

Thanks for the checklists! I have been wondering about this for awhile, and now I have great resources.

Chett Daniel
Chett Daniel
11 years ago

JD,

I know right now it seems you have more money than time, but exterior work, such as vinyl siding, isn’t that difficult. My wife and I had a friend who does construction come over and show us how to get started. After that we finished most of our house ourselves. I feel your pain. Our house is 60 years old and I wonder if we will ever be finished working on it. There is a Dominguez “Life Energy” story here somewhere.

Suburban Dollar
Suburban Dollar
11 years ago

Great checklist, I will certainly need to adapt one for my home as it is about 97 years younger than yours. If you paint your house, I would pay somebody. I did my old house and I didn’t finish until I sold it about a year after I started…

Miss M
Miss M
11 years ago

I feel the same way about my house, an 80 year old cottage. The to-do list is endless! I have a home repair fund too, it’s enough to do some major work but I’ve got a case of paralysis. I can’t decide what to tackle first. I’ve been meaning to redo the bathroom since the day we moved in, I’m finally taking a few steps that direction. Expo design center is going out of business and they had granite vanity counters that I wanted. Most things were still overpriced but they only had one left of the size/color granite that… Read more »

Deborah Johnson
Deborah Johnson
11 years ago

JD,

Thanks for sharing the MSU checklist. There is so much on the list that I forgot!

Preventative maintenance is key.

Regarding home inspectors, I used a structural engineer for mine. It was worth the extra expense. He saved me from buying a money pit and offered great advice.

mcara
mcara
11 years ago

JD, Some advise on your contractor. Read up on how a repair should be done. Then when you talk to a contractor have him or her explain every detail of their work. What materials they plan to use, are there newer things that work, or is old school better, which will last longer, cost less, not requier a complete overhaul of everything to make the parts fit. When we were looking for a new furnace, my trans gender plumber (long story) wanted the more modern method of venting, but would have meant replacing our brand new water heater. An old… Read more »

partgypsy
partgypsy
11 years ago

We have a 1925 home and for the past 10 years have spent an average of 7K a year on home remodel/repair (probably would have spent more if we had it). It does slow down. After 10 years we are finally in the optional/voluntary projects stage. We are planning on taking a year off and simply doing some fun, functional but inexpensive home furnishing for kid’s room, back porch, and yard.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

mcara wrote: Always repair water damage, no matter the cost.

In many ways, this summer’s work is anti-water work. Some of it is to repair damage already caused by water. The rest is to prevent future damage by water. Fortunately, as best as we can tell, there’s no significant water damage yet. Most of the damage is to decorative features (balconies, etc.) that aren’t protected from the elements. But we’d like to prevent the damage from spreading. And we’d like to prevent future damage from occurring.

Taylor at Household Management 101
Taylor at Household Management 101
11 years ago

A similar post could be called, save money (and frustration) with regular car maintenance. I have ignored problems before that if I had gotten them checked out would have cost me $5 at the time, but costs much much more than that because I just “didn’t have the time.” I think with both home maintenance and car maintenance, the problem for me in getting things done when needed is a lack of knowledge about it. It keeps me paralyzed sometimes because I have no idea how to fix the problem. My advice: learn more, bite the bullet and just do… Read more »

KC
KC
11 years ago

I’ve always hear to expect to spend 2% of the cost of the home annually on repairs and maintenance. So if you have a $100k home you’ll spend about $2k each year. It’s held pretty accurate for me over the years – one year it might be some painting next year it might be a new appliance and fence repair. But you’d be surprised what you can do yourself. Many things can be figured out on the internet or by looking through some books at the library. I’ve learned to repair walls, apply caulk – all sorts of little things.… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Also, I should note some of the history of our house, because otherwise some people might be scared off from similar homes in the future. The home was built around 1900. The official plaque says 1903, but all of the contractors seem to think it was built 10-15 years earlier. This would mesh with local events (a trolley line was built in front of the house in 1893). I think the first owner was a doctor. Over the next fifty years or so, people added on to the house, building a kitchen and an extra bedroom, for example. In 1959,… Read more »

Camille Gaines
Camille Gaines
11 years ago

Does home maintenance ever end? I try to remember to be grateful for my home when I become overwhelmed with the maintenance of my large Texas home built in 1985. Having said that, a few comments for those of us who are not complete DIYer’s: I received a quote for a bathroom update last week. I got bids on this project several years ago but had decided to wait. The bid I received last week was considerably less than the previous bids received during the remodeling boom due to low interest and easy loans. If you have a project you… Read more »

Dan Isaacs
Dan Isaacs
11 years ago

My ouse is 7 years old, and I have a $3K+ set of estimates coming just to paint the trim. I gotta say, just owning a large house is begging for giant maintenance at least once a decade.

kate in NY
kate in NY
11 years ago

I agree about the need for maintenance on old houses. Mine is a cedar shingled 1920’s house in upstate New York. I agree too that costs can increase without maintenance, especially replacing rotted wood when a can of stain or paint a few years earlier would have prevented it. My experience, though, is there are many projects and purchases that can be put off. I have a stove from the 1940’s that many people would have replaced. It still handles what I need it for, so I kept it. My front steps are crooked, with one side settled a bit… Read more »

SingleGuyMoney
SingleGuyMoney
11 years ago

I’ve heard that setting aside 1% of the price of the home per year is a pretty standard rule of thumb. I think this certainly depends on the age of the house that you live in.

How much do you set aside for home maintenance?

Ari Lestariono
Ari Lestariono
11 years ago

Get professional Inspector, expensive but it’s worth it

old timer
old timer
11 years ago

“For the Old School, check out the big list of house maintenance tasks from Usenet’s alt.home.repair (Ah, Usenet, how I miss you…)”

Usenet, and alt.home.repair, are still around, still alive and well for the time being at least…

You can always come back for a visit, if you’re missing it so much!

JonAtHome
JonAtHome
11 years ago

This exact type of stuff is killing our budget right now. We have a strict plan to get us out of consumer debt by Dec 09, having already put in a good year of reduction. We’ve come to a low point in motivation because we have slashed/sold many things we enjoy (dining out, nights out without kids, a second vehicle, a boat). When looking at our garden plans, and some minor cosmetic maintenance for our house, I’m starting to wonder if we should reduce debt-payoff for a month or two to focus on these two things. We both enjoy gardening… Read more »

Jason B
Jason B
11 years ago

What makes me super sad is that the inspector for my house was awesome, and he created a big binder with a wealth of information about maintenance and potential future repairs, and somehow it got lost when I moved into my house! Every once in a while, I tear apart the house hoping it’s still hiding somewhere.

Finally Frugal
Finally Frugal
11 years ago

I’m on my second round of home-ownership (as a single woman) and have done so much that I never thought possible. I’ve painted both houses, interiors and exteriors; I’ve helped replace a deck; I’ve removed wallpaper and re-spackled the walls; I’ve removed linoleum and replaced it with ceramic tile. Along the way I’ve saved thousands of dollars. Although I live in a house that (so far!) has needed a minimum of maintenance (I’ve painted, and that’s about it), one of my goals is to start a home maintenance savings account so that when that furnace or hot water heater needs… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

@Jason B
Contact your inspector. He may have a copy of the document. Ours created files that he stored on his computer. He gave us a hardcopy (which I’ve lost), but he also uploaded it to a special section of his website. I was able to download another copy. It’s certainly worth a phone call to find out.

Marcio
Marcio
11 years ago

I know that it covers only part of all the maintenance required in any house, and/or maybe it is another topic, but what is your take on home warranty services like (American Home Shield) ? Do you think it is worth ?

Aman
Aman
11 years ago

great points and they can be applied in many aspects to save money.

In my field we are taught to push primary prevention to patients in order to save patients from high health care bills and hospital strain…just simple measure on a daily basis can save so much agony later down the road money and stress wise (just like your example)

Shawn
Shawn
11 years ago

I have a website where I provide reminders on when and how to perform regular maintenance on your home. Sign up to receive free email reminders at http://www.hickeyhomeimprovement.com

Great post!

Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson
11 years ago

So true! I wish I knew how often wood needs to be painted…it also helps to get referrals to contractors familiar with your type/age of house–they can appreciate the details, work on it better, and often have ways to fix problems inexpensively while preserving the character of your house.

sandi_k
sandi_k
11 years ago

JD: I loved this article – I feel your pain. When DH and I bought our 1923 house 16 years ago, we could barely afford it. We took in a roommate to make ends meet, and we used the rent money to work on the house. For years, we joked that our house improvements were merely “arresting the decay” of the house, rather than big, dramatic renovations. We too had former owners who had done bad, bad things in the name of “improvement” – plumbing pipe as handrails and closet bars; horrific wiring extensions; removal of load-bearing beams in the… Read more »

Jenna
Jenna
11 years ago

I really liked this post. I’m kind of new to Get Rich Slowly so I’m not sure if you have already mentioned this or not, but what part of the country are you from? I was looking at your checklist and I was shocked that you would be able to put out your picnic table in March! I’m from Minnesota, so we usually still have snow until April. Just curious.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Jenna, I’m in Portland, Oregon. We’ll put the picnic table out in late March, after we give it another layer of weather-proof stain. There’ll still be plenty of rain until mid-June, but there will also be many sunny days where we want to sit outside…

Nate @ Money Young
Nate @ Money Young
11 years ago

JD

I own a house and it is really tough to keep up with maintenance. But it has to be done right?

-Nate

Personal Finance Firewall
Personal Finance Firewall
11 years ago

I am still in my first home but I agree that maintenance can be tough. Our home is pushing 60 years old, and in Utah, a great deal has changed in the way of energy efficiency around the home in 60 years. We are constantly updated these kind of things for the better but it definitely takes a chunk of change.

At least with a farmhouse, you could make a little cash from livestock right? 😉

Cheap Like Me
Cheap Like Me
11 years ago

We live in a 60-year-old house that was nicely remodeled before we moved in, and so it was “move-in-ready” (i.e., didn’t need work). Now we are looking at things we want to do to improve it and our standard of living, while planning for contingencies. There’s always something. Ours are similar to your current project — a roof, a badly spalling driveway. Expensive and oh-so-not-glamorous.

Leslie
Leslie
11 years ago

My husbands Godparents own a BEAUTIFUL house in a historic district in a small southern town. They have been able to trace it’s history back to 1840 but believe it goes back farther than that. They have to work on it constantly and, because it is in a historic district, everything has to be kept as authentic as possible (which they would want to do anyway). My husbands parents own a house that they built in 1987. They bulit it to look like an old brick colonial house but, because it was new, it had modern closets, walls more than… Read more »

Josh
Josh
11 years ago

Hey, I’m running a site with a list just like this 😉

Home maintenance isn’t fun, but it’s better than a broken house.

Laura
Laura
11 years ago

We finally put vinyl siding on our old house last year. Some of my very best memories are of me and my husband painting our house early in our married life. We had several summers of lay-offs. Perfect time to do jobs that were labor intensive. Thirty years later I have to confess I’m not that sad I won’t be spending any more summers with a paint brush in my hand standing on a ladder!

Fish Finder
Fish Finder
11 years ago

What a coincidence. The wife & I spent most of the day trimming the bushes and trees around the house today. After putting all the tools away I decided, on a whim, to look in the crawl space under the house. The main trunk line for the duct work has pulled loose from their supports and is almost on the ground. We have a 1973 Ranch with a 17 year old heating and cooling system. Might be a good time to replace it. Hello (thankfully) emergency fund!

Kevin M
Kevin M
11 years ago

While we don’t have a 100 year old home, our 50 year old bungalow has certainly challenged the wife and I with many projects. I painted the entire exterior – covering up the horrible two-tone green siding – installed new gutters to replace the rusty old ones, not to mention redoing the entire finished area of our basement, nearly gutting the kitchen and bathroom. And we’re probably going to say goodbye to the home this summer. On to a bigger home for the growing family.

Scordo.com
Scordo.com
11 years ago

Hi JD, I couldn’t agree with you more on taking good care of a house. We live in a early 20th century colonial and, although in good shape, it requires constant attention. Luckily, we have a very skillful father, who helps with much of the work. My father also suggested that I utilize my social network for supplies and folks who could help with work (friend or family member who are plumbers, electricians, masons, painters, etc.) I wrote a blog entry about this tactic at: http://www.scordo.com/blog/2008/11/do-not-buy-what-you-think-you.html Also, if you can do the work yourself or learn quickly it, at times,… Read more »

Charlotte
Charlotte
11 years ago

#24 Marcio:

We have a home warranty through http://homewarranty.firstam.com/

I think it costs around $300/year.
We had 2 service calls in 2008, one for the built-in microwave and the other for a leak in the crawl space.

We paid a $55 deductible for each call. Everything else was covered.

Worth it to us in 2008 but we are not renewing it this year. I think if we had the $400 in a fund, it would cover most minor repairs.

Metroknow
Metroknow
11 years ago

I had a bit of an epiphany the other day in relation to my “attitude” of frustration around fixing things around the house. Generally I don’t mind the occasional repair or improvement, but our house is approaching 50 yrs old, and everything seems to be in a state of question. My moment of clarity was when I realized that with current economic conditions, my best move is to take care of the things I can control, and not worry about the things I can’t. That means that the menial tasks around the house take on a new value rather than… Read more »

elena
elena
11 years ago

I see that I am not alone with the home care/repair paralysis. Timely post. I especially needed to read about investment in care rather than repair. Our house is driving me crazy.

Linear Girl
Linear Girl
11 years ago

JonAtHome – If you stick to your current plan you will be Out Of Debt at this time next year. How will you feel if you lose your focus now and pay for it later? Isn’t that how you got into debt – have something now and pay for it later? On the other hand, you’re half-way into paying off your debt and perhaps you’ve made good habits. Maybe now is the time to revisit the plan and see if it’s still working for you. Maybe you and your wife can decide that you’ll change your strategy so that you’re… Read more »

mjukr
mjukr
11 years ago

Just another reason to THINK SMALL! The bigger the house, the more extensive and costlier the upkeep/maintenance…

Miss Frugally
Miss Frugally
11 years ago

I to live in an old house. I need new electrical work and plumbing. They don’t build house’s like they used too. I am excited for when I can remodel it!

Michele
Michele
11 years ago

The most frustrating part of our house is that the previous owners preferred to let things fall apart and then buy something fancy and new. We have a ton of gorgeous upgrades, from appliances to landscaping, that are too far gone to save and will have to be replaced with a cheaper model.

Moose
Moose
11 years ago

Thank you JD!!! I’ve been meaning to do this for the last 5 years of homeownership, but I say with 100% confidence, it was THIS BLOG that called me to action. Keep up the great work.

Nancy K
Nancy K
10 years ago

I need to paint the exterior of my house this year. Although it is a 1 story house, the roof has multiple levels making it impossible to reach all of the areas with an extension ladder from the ground. Also, some areas are quite high and I am definately not fond of heights. So I have decided to hire someone to paint the chiminey (which requires a ladder on the slanted roof)and the high up trim and hard to reach areas. I will paint the lower walls, trim, doors etc. myself to save money. I figure it won’t make financial… Read more »

Jason Beck
Jason Beck
10 years ago

Trying to find an old comment of mine and look for replies… and just saw your reply JD – I finally found that binder. It’s the little things… made me SO happy.

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