Take a look around your home to find things that need a tune-up

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Furnaces, appliances, fireplaces need regular inspections

Mike Holmes

We all get our cars serviced on a regular basis — oil and filter change, tire rotation, tune-up. We know that some moving parts in our cars require constant service and some parts will eventually wear out and need replacing. It’s just what you have to do when you own a car. But what about regularly servicing our homes?

With most homeowners, it seems they don’t think about anything unless it breaks. Or they don’t even know where to begin to kick the tires or look under the hood of their homes. But just as with a car, there are a few basic areas inside a typical house that need periodic service, or at least regular checks, to make sure they haven’t worn out.

Cars have an continuous required maintenance schedule. Our homes need a similar kind of schedule — for all the parts that wear out over time, such as rubber belts and hoses, plastic flexible ducts and various filters.

Your furnace is the one item that requires an annual maintenance schedule, preferably by a licensed professional. When a furnace starts to make noises it didn’t make before, the first thing you do is call a licensed HVAC technician. Chances are, the belt has slipped or loosened or something has gone wrong with the blower. In any case, this is strictly the domain of a professional contractor. Because your furnace runs a marathon all winter, it’s a wise investment to have a tuneup and cleaning before each heating season.

Some furnace maintenance you can do yourself: Furnace filters, humidifier screen and electronic air filter should be checked periodically through the winter. Some are washable, or replaceable, and this can be done by the homeowner or as part of an annual service call.

One big reason for flooding inside the home is caused by poor maintenance due to rubber hoses in appliances getting brittle and finally cracking. Most homeowners don’t even know where these are located in their homes — because they’re hidden behind the dishwasher, and behind the laundry machine. But just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean you can ignore them.

With new appliances, the flexible hoses are made from materials that should last as long as the machine does. But in older machines, hoses are made primarily out of rubber. Hot water constantly running through them will eventually cause them to fail. When this happens, rooms positioned below the appliance can be ruined. If you have an older appliance and have no immediate plans to upgrade it, it might be wise to have an appliance repair person inspect the hoses and replace them as a precaution.

Flexible and rigid ductwork in your home also needs inspection from time to time. Bathroom ceiling fans use flex hoses through the attic to roof or wall vents. These should be insulated to prevent condensation buildup inside the ductwork. But even still, some amount of water will gather there, and as the thin plastic sides of the flexible ducts get brittle, eventually the collected water will leak out and cause damage to the ceilings below. Inspecting and, if necessary, replacing this ductwork should be done from the autumn through to the spring, when the temperature in the attic is still tolerable for the person doing the repair.

Similar ductwork can be found behind the laundry dryer. In this case, the main reason for inspection is the buildup of dryer lint inside the hose, which can cause blockage and a potentially unsafe situation — one that can lead to a house fire. Because of the hot exhaust that gets passed through this duct, if you have the old-school plastic flexible duct, it is a wise idea to upgrade to at least the foil flexible duct. I prefer the rigid metal type.

Another forgotten area is found above the stove, in the hood vent. Whether it’s a charcoal filter that recycles air back into the kitchen, or a metal filter that vents to the outside, these need to be checked for grease buildup that will block the vent hood from doing its job, and in the event of a stovetop fire, clean hood-range filters and ducts free from grease gunk helps prevent the flames from quickly spreading.

Pretty much every part of your home could use at least an annual check: If you have a wood-burning fireplace, you need to have the chimney cleaned and checked every year. Clean your downspouts and gutters to help prevent floods and ice dams. Have your HVAC ducting cleaned to help maintain good indoor air quality. If you have big trees near you home, you might want to have the weeping tile scoped with a camera every few years, to make sure the tree roots haven’t infiltrated.

Keeping on top up of basic home repairs will help prevent more expensive repairs down the road. As that saying goes: You can pay now, or later, or, as I like to put it, after you “make it right,” you need to maintain it right.

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