Fall Checklist For Your Home

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Fall is the perfect time to take care of the little things that can make a big difference for you and your home.  Most of the tasks listed below are well with-in the average person’s ability and even if you choose to have a professional handle them, it’s worth the expense. You’ll save money as well as prevent a larger expense down the road.  A large piece of why I enjoy writing a real estate blog for my business is my love for sharing information and helping others, I am still amazed at how much I learn when I look into each topic.  If you have a topic you are interested in knowing more about or would like referrals for professionals in the area who do the following work, please email me at rachelwagner@johnlscott.com.

Check out those gutters!  Your roof’s drainage system annually diverts thousands of gallons of water from your house’s exterior and foundation walls. That’s why it is so important to keep this system flowing smoothly. Clogged gutters can lead to damaged exterior surfaces and to water in your basement. They are also more prone to rust and corrosion. Before the leaves fly this fall, have your gutters cleaned, then covered with mesh guards to keep debris from returning. A dry weekend like the one coming up is a great time to take care of this!

Video instructions on cleaning the gutter

Weatherize your home. A home with air leaks around windows and doors is like a coat left unbuttoned. Gaps in caulk and weather-stripping can account for a 10% of your heating bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Weather-stripping is easily the most cost-effective way to rein in heating and cooling costs. This material also reduces drafts and keeps your home more comfortable year-round. Because weather stripping can deteriorate over time, it is important to inspect it periodically.

If you suspect a problem with weather stripping, you have several options for checking. Close a door or window on a strip of paper; if the paper slides easily, your weatherstripping isn’t doing its job. Or, close the door or window and hold a lighted candle near the frame. (Don’t let the flame get near anything flammable!) If the flame flickers at any spot along the frame, you have an air leak.

While you’re at it, also check for missing or damaged caulk around windows, doors, and entry points for electrical, cable, phone, gas, and so. Seal any gaps with a suitable caulk.

Video instruction on weatherizing doors and windows

Get on top of roof problems. Few homeowner problems are more frustrating than a leaky roof. Once the dripping starts, finding the source of the problem can be time-consuming. Stop problems this fall before winter and increased precipitation from annoyance into a disaster.

Here’s how: Inspect your roof from top to bottom, using binoculars if necessary. Check ridge shingles for cracks and wind damage. Look for damage to metal flashing in valleys and around vents and chimneys. Scan the entire roof for missing, curled, or damaged shingles. Look in your gutters for large accumulations of granules, a sign that your roof is losing its coating; expect problems soon. Finally, make sure your gutters are flowing freely.

If you are thinking of selling your home and your roof is in need of repair or replacement, start planning this into your budget.  It’s not an expense to ignore and will always be worth the upkeep.  

Silly but informative video with instructions for fixing leaky roof

Walk the walks (and drives). Damaged walkways, drives, and steps are a hazard year round, but their dangers are compounded when the weather turns icy. Fixing problems in the fall is also critical to preventing little problems from becoming expensive headaches.

Look for cracks more than 1/8-inch wide, uneven sections, and loose railings on steps. Check for disintegration of asphalt, or washed-out materials on loose-fill paths.

Most small jobs are well within the ability of a do-it-yourselfer, but save major repairs for experienced hands.

Video instructions for repairing driveway cracks

Chill out.  Although the mild Northwest weather doesn’t see extremes it is still important to take steps to ensure that outside faucets (also called sill cocks) and inground irrigation systems don’t freeze and burst.

Here’s how: Close any shut-off valves serving outside faucets, then open the outside faucet to drain the line. (There may be a small cap on the faucet you can loosen to facilitate this draining.) If you don’t have shut-off valves, and your faucets are not “freeze-proof ” types, you may benefit from Styrofoam faucet covers sold at home centers.

To freeze-proof an in ground irrigation system, follow the manufacturer’s procedure for draining it and protecting it from winter damage.

Freshen your filter. Furnace filters trap dust that would otherwise be deposited on your furnace, woodwork, and so on. Clogged filters make it more difficult to keep your home at a comfortable temperature, and can seriously increase your utility bills. A simple monthly cleaning is all it takes to keep you and your filters breathing free and clear.

Here’s how: Disposable filters can be vacuumed once before replacement. Foam filters can also be vacuumed, but they don’t need to be replaced unless they are damaged. Use a soft brush on a vacuum cleaner. If the filter is metal or electrostatic, remove and wash it with a firm water spray.

Give your furnace a physical. Once a year, it’s a good idea to have your heating system inspected by a professional. To avoid the last-minute rush, consider scheduling this task in early fall, before the heating season begins.

Here are signs that you should have an inspection performed sooner:

Noisy belts. Unusual screeches or whines may be a signal that belts connected to the blower motor are worn or damaged.

Poor performance. A heating system that doesn’t seem to work as well as it once did could be a sign of various problems. Your heating ducts might be blocked, the burners might need an adjustment, or the blower motor could be on its last leg. One check you should be sure to conduct: Make sure your furnace filter is clean.

Erratic behavior. This could be caused by a faulty thermostat or a maladjusted furnace.

Gather round the hearth. Even if you use your fireplace only occasionally, you should check it annually for damage and hazards.

Inspect your flue for creosote. What is Creosote? If you don’t know, I had no idea what it was or that it can be a potential problem…this is WHY we clean the chimney (which we had done only a couple months ago) Creosote is a flammable by-product of burning wood. If it accumulates in a flue or chimney, the result can be a devastating fire. Have your chimney inspected annually for creosote buildup. If you use a fireplace or wood stove frequently, have the flue inspected after each cord of wood burned.

For most people, the best option is to have your entire chimney system inspected by a chimney sweep. Once you know what to look for, you can perform the inspection by shining a bright flashlight up the flue, looking for any deposits approaching 1/8 inch thick. These deposits should be cleaned by an experienced chimney sweep.

Look for flue blockages. Birds love to nest at the top of an unprotected flue. A chimney cap can prevent this from happening. If you don’t have a cap, look up the flu to ensure that there are no obstructions.

Exercise the damper. The damper is the metal plate that opens and closes the flu just above the firebox. Move it to the open and closed positions to ensure that it is working properly.

Check your chimney for damage. Make certain that the flue cap (the screen or baffle covering the top of the chimney) is in place. Inspect brick chimneys for loose or broken joints. If access is a problem, use binoculars.

Keep the humidifier humming. You may know that bone dry winter air is bad for your health, but did you also know it can make fine wood more prone to cracking? You and your home will feel more comfortable if you keep your central humidifier in tip-top shape during the months it is running.

Here’s how: First, inspect the plates or pads, and if necessary, clean them in a strong laundry detergent solution. Rinse and scrape off mineral deposits with a wire brush or steel wool.

Head-off gas problems. Keeping a gas heater in good shape is both a safety and a cost issue. An improperly maintained heater can spew poisons into the air of your home, or it may simply be costing you more to operate. Have a professional check these devices annually. There are also some maintenance items you should address.

Here’s how: First, shut off the heater. Then check the air-shutter openings and exhaust vents for dirt and dust. If they are dirty, vacuum the air passages to the burner and clean the burner of lint and dirt. Follow the manufacturer’s advice for any other needed maintenance.

Keep the wood fires burning brightly. Wood burning stoves are a great way to add atmosphere and warmth to your home. But regular inspections are needed to ensure that these devices don’t become a safety hazard. Here’s how to check them.

Inspect stovepipes. Cracks in stovepipes attached to wood stoves can release toxic fumes into your home. Throughout the heating season, you should check for corrosion, holes, or loose joints. Clean the stovepipe, and then look for signs of deterioration or looseness. Replace stovepipe if necessary.

Look for corrosion and cracks. Check for signs of rust or cracking in the stove’s body or legs.

Check safety features. Make sure that any required wall protection is installed according to the manufacturer’s specifications and that the unit sits on an approved floor material. If you have young children, be sure to fence off the stove when it is in operation.

At least once a year, do a top-to-bottom review of your home’s safety features. This is also a good time to get the family together for a review of your fire evacuation plan. Here’s how to do this:

Smoke and CO detectors. Replace the batteries in each smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detector, then vacuum them with a soft brush attachment. Test the detectors by pressing the test button or holding a smoke source (like a blown-out candle) near the unit. If you haven’t already, install a smoke detector on every floor of your home, including the basement.

Fire extinguishers. Every home should have at least one fire extinguisher rated for all fire types (look for an A-B-C rating on the label). At a minimum, keep one near the kitchen; having one per floor isn’t a bad idea. Annually, check the indicator on the pressure gauge to make sure the extinguisher is charged. Make certain that the lock pin is intact and firmly in place, and check that the discharge nozzle is not clogged. Clean the extinguisher and check it for dents, scratches, and corrosion. Replace if the damage seems severe. Note: Fire extinguishers that are more than six years old should be replaced. Mark the date of purchase on the new unit with a permanent marker.

Fire escape plans. Every bedroom, including basement bedrooms, should have two exit paths. Make sure windows aren’t blocked by furniture or other items. Ideally, each upper-floor bedroom should have a rope ladder near the window for emergency exits. Review what to do in case of fire, and arrange a safe meeting place for everyone away from the house.

General cleanup. Rid your home of accumulations of old newspapers and leftover hazardous household chemicals. (Check with the state or local Environmental Protection Agency about the proper way to discard dangerous chemicals.) Store flammable materials and poisons in approved, clearly labeled containers. Keep a clear space around heaters, furnaces, and other heat-producing appliances.

Finance Friday: Improve Your FICO Score Quickly!

With mortgage interest rates hovering near record lows, you may want to either refinance your mortgage or purchase a new home before rates go higher again.  There is no better time than now to buy a home, interest rates are expected to climb which can have a big impact on the amount of home you can purchase!

The question is — can you qualify for refinancing or a purchase loan?

Since the recession, lenders have tightened loan qualification standards and their most widely used tool to determine if you qualify for a loan and at what interest rate are your credit scores. Credit scores are determined by a software algorithm that analyzes your credit and payment history.

These “FICO” scores run between 300 and 850, with the highest numbers considered to be the best scores. The 47% of Americans with credit scores of 720 or higher receive the best interest rates, according to MyFICO.com.

Credit scores make a significant impact. For every 20-point credit score increase, according to Zillow, the average low APR declines 0.12 percent, a savings of $6,400 on a $300,000 home over 30 years.

Improve your credit scores

FICO scores are based on your credit history. Each credit reporting bureau, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax calculates its own score, so you may have three scores.

The first thing you need to do is review your credit reports for errors and get them resolved as quickly as possible. Visit freeannualcreditreport.com to get copies. You can then purchase your credit scores for approximately $14.95 from each agency or all three at myfico.com.

FICO scores change with every new piece of information that comes into the credit reporting bureau, so the credit score you receive today can be improved quickly by following some dos and don’ts.

 

Don’t close credit card accounts. FICO scores utilize a credit utilization ratio that turns against you because it appears that you might be overusing your available credit.

Don’t max out or consolidate credit cards. Credit card companies like it if you only use about 30% of your available credit on your card. You’re better off having small balances on multiple cards than a large balance on one card.

Don’t apply for new revolving credit or transfer balances. If you’re buying a new home, it’s tempting to buy some new furniture, but don’t open that account until after your loan closes. You don’t want “inquiries” to be raised in the scoring algorithm.

Don’t change jobs right before you apply for a home loan, although job changes within the same field are considered more favorably in scoring.

Do pay all bills on time and with at least the minimum payment due. Lenders like on time payment histories.

Do pay down your debt, as lower income-to-debt ratios are attractive to lenders. Start by reducing credit card balances first, beginning with the balances that generate the highest interest rates. Revolving credit is considered riskier debt than installment loans such as student loans or car payments.

Do shop lenders simultaneously. Credit score software takes into account several inquiries from mortgage lenders as normal, but if you space rate-shopping out over weeks or months, that could impact your credit score negatively.

Remember, mortgage lenders are most interested in your ability to repay their loan. The most important factors are job and debt payment history. Job security — long-term employment in the same field and on-time.

There are literally thousands of people renting that could be saving money by owning their own home, and like I mentioned earlier, there is no better time than now.  If you are wondering if this applies to you, contact me at rachelwagner@johnlscott.com and I can connect you with a lender who can educate and begin the process.