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autumn leaves on roof and gutters

Home maintenance never ends. But, these 8 home improvement jobs and practices can help you avoid expensive damage at home and lower maintenance costs.

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Here’s a hard truth for homeowners: things are going to go wrong in your house. It’s inevitable.

No matter how well you take care of your home, eventually something is going to break, jam, back up, get blocked, fall apart, or get damaged. Most of the time, those things are out of your control. Like when that tree gets uprooted by the tornado and happens to destroy your deck or the moment when that sewer pipe finally fails after thirty years of solid use — there is very little you can do but react when things like that happen.

But some things can be avoided with a little foresight. Here are 8 little jobs and everyday habits to help ensure your home continues to run smoothly for as long as possible.

1. Clean out the dryer hose and vent regularly

Sure, you clean out the lint trap every time you do laundry. You might even go further and clean out the area that actually holds the lint trap in place. But over time, lint builds up inside the dryer hose that leads to the outside, as well as the vent that allows all that hot air to escape. All that lint can eventually overheat and spark, causing a fire. Clean it out at least once a year.

2. Install gutter guards

No matter what our best intentions might be, even the most industrious among us sometimes let the gutters go a bit too long between cleanings. When leaves, tiny sticks and other debris builds up, it can quickly create a dam that allows water to flow down the siding of your home, and that constant stream of water can seep into any crack or crevice.

Gutter guards keep the water flowing smoothly through clean gutters, and can save you the time, hassle and money of major water damage.

3. Be kind to your drains and toilets

Remember that everything from flushing toilets to pouring something down the kitchen drain goes to either the sewage treatment plant or your septic tank. Either way, flushing certain things can eventually lead to a problem.

Never flush feminine products, “flushable” wipes, or anything other than toilet paper. In the kitchen, beware what you pour down the drain. For instance, too much grease in a septic tank can lead to serious damage in the long run.

flush the toilet

4. Ditch the shower caddy

Do you have a nice, big shower caddy hanging from the showerhead? It’s a convenient thing to have, but it wrecks havoc on your shower pipes, and can lead to leaks. The worst part is that those leaks will happen inside the wall, which means you won’t notice them until a water spot shows up somewhere, and then you already have damage.

Store shower items on the tub surround, or go with a shower caddy that has suction cups instead of putting stress on fixtures and pipes.

5. Keep locks oil-free

When your key gets stuck one too many times, you might reach for the household oil in an attempt to help things along. The problem is that over time, that popular oil starts to attract lint, dust and other gunk that floats around, and it leads to buildup.

The result is an even worse problem with sticky keys, and eventually having to pull the lock and clean it. Avoid that by ditching the household oil and going with graphite powder or silicone spray.

6. Don’t ignore electrical quirks

This is a big one — the Electrical Safety Foundation reports that almost 51,000 fires in the U.S. alone start with wiring problems, and over 3,300 fires result from overloaded or misused extension cords.

When you notice something wrong with an outlet, such as a strange sound when you flip the switch, a receptacle that rocks when you pull a plug, or even a breaker that flips too often, get an electrician out there. Don’t just let the problem slide, as it might come back to haunt you.

7. Stop using your doorknobs as hangers

Though it is tempting to throw your coat on the doorknob, and even more tempting to hang your dry cleaning there when you come into the house, all that weight eventually leads to a wonky door.

That then leads to replacement of the door, but that doesn’t work well, because now the frame itself is crooked. Avoid the problem with a free-standing coat rack by the front door to handle all of the things your doorknob shouldn’t.

8. Make a maintenance schedule

Home maintenance requires regular attention. Sure, you know to change the filter on your HVAC unit and replace the batteries in your smoke detectors. But don’t forget the little things that can add up to big trouble. For instance, vacuum the coils on the back of the refrigerator and inspect the lining of the ice-maker on a regular basis.

Clean out the dishwasher traps if you can get to them, and run through a cycle with strong vinegar for cleaning at least once every six months. Write down the “little things” so you don’t forget to do them.

Your tips?

What things have you learned over your years as a homeowner? Share them with us so we can all spot the small things that eventually turn into the big home accidents just waiting to happen.

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.