5 Maintenance Mistakes Home Inspectors See All the Time

published Aug 24, 2019
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Every home needs a little TLC—and the fact that you’re reading Apartment Therapy means you’re probably more than willing to give yours some extra love. But even the most enthusiastic, well-intentioned upkeep isn’t safe from costly mistakes. If anyone knows this, it’s a home inspector: After looking at hundred of homes, they’ve seen every mistake big and small, and, of course, know what bad habits homeowners are prone to.

With that in mind, we asked home inspection professionals for the errors they see time and time again. Here, they share the most prevalent mistakes—and what you can do to avoid them:

Not changing the HVAC filter

Even if you hear “change your HVAC filter on a regular basis” all the time, that doesn’t mean it always sinks in. As you may know all too well, life gets busy—and you forget. But that blip of memory can have you paying a lot more over time. According to Cristina Miguelez of Fixr.com, the longer you go between filter changes, the more stress it puts on the system, and the more debris can build up in vents and ducts.

The fix: Plan on changing your filters about once a month if you have pets or use your HVAC system all day every day, or once every three months for all other scenarios. We’d recommend putting a reminder on your calendar so you don’t forget.

Painting over water damage

While it’s true that a fresh coat of paint can work wonders to revive a space, it’s not effective if it’s covering up bigger problems. It may fool an untrained eye, but it definitely won’t go unnoticed by a professional home inspector. Atlanta-based home inspector John Mease sees homeowners painting over water damage, most commonly surrounding a shower in a bathroom or on a ceiling. The majority of times, water damage is a sign of another issue (e.g. leaks), and masking it can actually just accelerate damage. For example, if there’s rotten wood, painting over it often will just promote more rot rather than fix it. Yikes!

The fix: Figure out where the water damage is coming from and then fix it (we’d recommend hiring a professional). Once the leak is fixed, you can paint over the damage. According to Bob Vila, first clean the stain with bleach, apply a coat of stain-blocking primer (make sure it’s water-insoluble), and then cover with ceiling paint.

Overlooking small cracks in the foundation

When it comes to your home’s foundation, no problem is too small. While you may be tempted to dismiss what looks like a small crack, you’re likely to regret it says Chuck Naish, founder of City Residential Foundation Center in Ottawa, Canada. 

“If a dime can fit into the crack, it could potentially lead to significant basement leaks,” says Naish.

The fix: Naish says homeowners can fix small foundation cracks (at least 1/8″) with spray or waterproofing paint, but when in doubt, to call an expert. (HomeAdvisor says professional repairs for minor cracks will cost you anywhere from $250 to $800.)

Lazy weatherstripping

Weatherstripping (sealing any potential gaps from doors, windows, or other crevices in a home) is a great way to protect your home’s interior from moisture damage, manage the temperature, and save on energy costs. However, it’s not worth your while if it’s not done properly. 

“People tend to get really lazy about putting it on properly or removing it correctly before redoing it again,” says Miguelez. “This can lead to build-up of adhesive and inconsistent sealing.”

The fix: Before you install weatherstripping, read up on how to do it (we even have instructions on how to clean up build-up properly!). That includes measuring twice, cutting once, and above all—being patient.

Improperly-installed air conditioning units 

When a heatwave strikes, the urge to get the window A/C unit in ASAP is strong. But don’t just put it in any old way. An improperly-installed unit can leak onto a wood floor and cause damage, according to Michael J. Franco, an agent with Compass in New York City. An unsecured A/C could also fall out of the window—a huge safety hazard for unsuspecting passersby below. Units should also be serviced and cleaned annually

The fix: The NYC Buildings department recommends making sure your unit has a strong support that’s fastened to the wall in some fashion. If using additional leveling objects, check that they’re secure as well. Make sure the unit has tilt for draining, but not too much. Clean and service the unit annually, too. If uncomfortable with installing yourself, hire a professional (HomeAdvisor quotes professional installation starting at about $138).

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