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 (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!
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