Topics:Real Estate Home Warranty 101 Budget Smart Homeowner Tips Repair and Maintenance Home Warranty Companies Interior Design Press Releases
When the weather starts getting colder and we all retreat into our homes to stay warm, it’s important to make sure that your house is in good condition to withstand the outdoor elements. Make sure you check the following systems and parts of your home to prepare for winter weather: RoofAtticFireplace and chimneyWindows and doorsCeiling fansAir conditionerFurnaceHeat pumpPipesBoilerSump pumpSmoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors Roof The winter months can bring unpredictable weather beyond snowfall, such as rain and/or high winds. For that reason, it’s a good idea to visually check out your roof before the weather changes. You may not even have to climb up onto your roof — just taking a look at it from the ground can give you a quick visual of its condition. If you’d like to do a more comprehensive check of your roof, you can climb up and check the shingles and other areas of concern. Take a look at your roof for any signs of damage. Look out for any signs of damaged, buckled, or missing shingles. Replace loose shingles and repair any visual damage. It is important to visually inspect your roof, particularly if you live in an area that experiences snowfall. The cycle of snow accumulating, freezing, and thawing can be damaging to your roof; check your roof once the winter season has ended in case it has incurred any damage. Attic A lot of heat in a home can be lost through a poorly insulated attic. It is important to inspect your attic insulation and assess whether or not it needs to be replaced. Inspect and install insulation. Inspecting insulation will typically require that you get up into your attic and then measure how much insulation you have. Insulation level recommendations will vary depending on where you live, but a good rule of thumb is as follows: if your insulation measures below your joist, it probably isn’t enough insulation. A standard joist is typically measured at 2” X 8”, and you should have anywhere from 13 to 18 inches of insulation, depending on your location. For more information regarding insulation, check out this insulation guide from Insulation Institute. Fireplace and chimney While the weather outside is frightful, the fire will only be delightful if your fireplace and chimney are in good repair. Schedule a chimney inspection and cleaning. Debris, soot, leaves, and even bird nests can accumulate in your chimney, which could cause chimney fires if not swept away. Thus, it’s important to get your chimney inspected and cleaned for the winter months. Windows and doors If heat is escaping your home, or cold air is entering, windows and doors are typically the culprit. For that reason, it’s important to prepare your home for colder weather by doing the following: Check and replace weatherstripping. Check and repair caulking, but be careful where you caulk. You don’t want to cut off small openings necessary for air flow and/or drainage. It is recommended that you don’t caulk certain exterior fixtures of your home, as well as on operable windows and doors that are in frequent use. In most cases, weatherstripping will be the better option, especially for windows and doors. Remove window screens. Doing so can maximize natural light, in addition to protecting your window frames from damage caused by debris or snow getting trapped in between the screen and your windows. Ceiling fans It can be easy to forget about your ceiling fans, because you obviously wouldn’t be running them through the winter anyways. But in terms of winter preparation, your ceiling fans aren’t something you should ignore. Reverse your ceiling fans. Reversing your ceiling fans can give your heating system a helping hand by forcing warm air down that has risen. This could allow you to lower your thermostat, helping you save more energy and cut back on heating costs. Air conditioner You likely won’t be using your air conditioning system during the cold winter months, but that doesn’t mean you should just turn it off and ignore it. Winterize your air conditioner. According to Climate Care, there are five steps to winterize your air conditioner: Turn your air conditioner off. Clean units. Change the filters. Check pipe insulation. Cover your air conditioner. You may be able to clean and prepare your air conditioner for the winter months by yourself, but it can also be helpful to have a technician come check, clean, and cover it, ensuring that it will remain in good condition throughout the winter. Furnace One of the most important things to take care of before the winter months is your furnace. Get your furnace inspected. Clean air ducts. Change furnace filters. Getting your furnace inspected early on can ensure that you catch any potential problems, or even buy a new furnace, if needed, before the cold sets in. You may be able to easily clean furnace air ducts and change filters easily by yourself, but it is best to have a professional come to inspect your furnace to make sure that everything is working properly. Heat pump You can follow some of the following steps to prepare your heat pump for the winter months: Clear the area around your heat pump. Change your heat pump filter. Pipes Pipes exposed to cold air can burst, which can cause a lot of damage to your home. So you’ll want to take a few steps to keep your pipes from freezing: Inspect exterior wall pipes. Consider adding insulation to your pipes. Keep your thermostat at at least 55 degrees. This is especially important if you’re going to be out of town. Boiler You wouldn’t want your boiler breaking down during the winter months, so you can take some of the following steps to make sure it’s in good condition before it starts getting cold: Turn it on before winter starts. Check for leaks or any other damage. Schedule a boiler maintenance appointment. Sump pump A sump pump is used to detect water levels and keep them from rising. Typically located in the basement of a home, it is important to ensure that your sump pump is in good condition or else you could risk a flood. Take some of the following steps to properly winterize your sump pump: Remove the sump pump discharge hose. If water freezes inside the hose, it would render the pump unusable until water thaws. Clear out any debris. Test the pump regularly. Simply run some water through to ensure that everything is working properly. Never unplug your sump pump. Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors Having functioning smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors is important all year round. However, during the winter months there is less fresh air flow in your home because your windows will be closed to keep cold air out. This can result in a higher risk of carbon monoxide build-up. Check your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. The bottom line Most maintenance can be done visually and quickly. However, while there are many inspections and fixes that you may be able to do yourself, it can always be a good rule of thumb to schedule professional maintenance, especially for home systems. It is important to ensure that all your home systems are functioning properly when winter sets in. But some maintenance can even save you more money on your energy bills, like reversing your ceiling fans and checking your attic insulation, which can both help regulate the heat in your home.
Guest Post by John Bodrozic Everyone tells you that your home is your largest financial asset and biggest expense, yet no one tells you how to budget for home maintenance much less providing you guidance over what maintenance tasks to perform. Your car has a complete owner’s manual with a recommended maintenance schedule, and it probably has lights on the dashboard that blink alerting you of specific maintenance tasks. Yet your home on the other hand does not have a singular owner’s manual and there is no dashboard blinking at you. Let’s review the details of how to maintain your home and how to budget for it. A collection of fixed assets Your home consists of many different products and materials that are assembled in a unique way. Think of your home as a collection of fixed assets in five different categories. First are the core building materials such as the concrete foundation, framing, roof, exterior siding, windows, ductwork, plumbing pipes, insulation and more. Next are the major pieces of equipment such as your air conditioner unit, furnace, hot water heater, garage doors, electrical panels and gas fireplaces. The third category of fixed assets are the appliances such as the refrigerator, stove, oven, dishwasher, microwave, and washer and dryer. Next are all the finish materials in the house like wood flooring, carpeting, tile, built in cabinets, plumbing and electrical fixtures. The last category is all the landscaping such as lawns, trees, shrubs, driveways, patios, and fences. The important thing to understand is that most of your home’s fixed assets have a natural useful life in terms of how long it will last and that it is based on doing consistent preventative maintenance to preserve it. Budgeting for home maintenance Many homeowners completely forget or are not aware of the need to budget for annual home maintenance. These homeowners tend to completely ignore preventative maintenance tasks and then they start to believe their home is a money pit which affects their overall personal finances. Properly budgeting and staying committed to preventative maintenance tasks eliminates the many problems that come with ignoring maintenance. A simple strategy is to calculate between 1 percent and 4 percent of the purchase price of your home for an annual maintenance budget. The key is to determine how old your home is by finding out when your home was originally built, which you can find from various property and county records. If your home is less than five years old, then use 1 percent for your budget because the fixed assets are still relatively new; therefore, more of the budget is allocated to cheaper preventative maintenance tasks. If your home is between 5 and 15 years old, then use the 2 percent figure because you will naturally have more expensive repair costs as various materials in your home wear out. Use 3 percnet if your home is between 15 and 25 years old and 4 percent if your home is over 25 years old. The reason is because all those different fixed assets are reaching the end of their useful life and you will need to spend more on significant repairs and probably even replacement costs. Know what maintenance to do with your home Since your home did not come with a complete maintenance schedule, it is important to create a recurring task list that itemizes all the preventative maintenance your home needs. Some people will do this with spreadsheets but the drawback to this approach is you don’t get automated alerts and reminders. Other homeowners are turning to digital home management software like HomeZada because not only do they automatically create a recurring preventative task list for you, but they also send email and push notification alerts. This means you don’t have to remember when it is time to perform these seasonal tasks. There are many websites like one from the Housing and Urban Development that will provide you a list of typical preventative maintenance tasks that you can incorporate into creating your own personalize maintenance schedule. As with most things, the 80/20 rule applies where there are common tasks across any type of home such as cleaning gutters and changing air filters. The other 20% of your tasks are things you can easily personalize. When customizing your home’s maintenance schedule, consider where you live, the weather and climate changes throughout the year, and the specifics about the products and materials in your home. Homes where the temperature drops below freezing with snow in the winter have more preventative maintenance tasks such as insulating pipes and shoveling snow and ice off the house and driveways. Homes in hot climates with swimming pools have a lot of pool maintenance tasks. Another example is that homes near a coastline or in the mountains will have more severe weather that takes its toll on the house which requires more frequent maintenance. Track your actual costs Creating a budget is important but tracking your actual costs is equally valuable. With many preventative maintenance tasks, these are things that most homeowners can do themselves such as cleaning out coils in the refrigerator to pressure washing your driveway. These DIY tasks may have consumable costs such as buying air filters, caulking, and other tools and products necessary to perform these tasks. Many times, homeowners end up hiring a service provider for either regular maintenance tasks or specific one-time tasks for things they can’t or don’t want to do themselves. A few examples include hiring a window cleaning service to keep your exterior windows and screens clean and another is hiring a tree trimming service to prune your larger trees. Keeping track of these maintenance costs, whether they are outside contractors or things you need to do the task yourself, is important because you can build an annual history of your actual maintenance costs. Then you can review these costs and determine if there are ways to save money with your home maintenance in the future. The value of doing home maintenance Saving money on your variable utility bills like electric, gas, and water is a big value when keeping up with your preventative maintenance tasks. When your equipment, appliances, and building materials are operating efficiently because they are clean and maintained, your costs to run the house can be decreased because they draw less energy and hot and cold air don’t escape your home. Here is a list of energy saving tips from the Department of Energy. Preventive maintenance tasks usually only take a minimal amount of time to do and they don’t cost a lot of money. But neglecting those tasks will cause the equipment and building materials to wear out quicker which means you will spend more money on more expensive fix it and repair costs. It also means you will need even a bigger replacement cost much sooner than the expected lifetime of that building material. A well-maintained home is a home that maintains its overall value and may even increase the value. If you ever decide to sell your home, most buyers will do a home inspection. If the report comes back with a lot of things that need fixing, it may be more difficult to sell your home and many buyers will negotiate a lower value because of the backlog of needed repairs. Staying on top of home maintenance is also valuable for the health of your family. The National Center for Healthy Housing reports that over 40 percent of homes in the United States have at least one safety or health hazard. This is over 35 million homes with a multitude of problems due to lack of maintenance where many of them result in mold and bad air in the home which leads to significant health issues. When our families spend most of the time in the home, you want to make sure the air, water and other systems are in great working condition. Keeping a safe home is also aligned with staying on top of home maintenance. Checking smoke alarms, checking the pressure of fire extinguishers, and checking carbon monoxide detectors are important to your family’s safety. Other preventative maintenance tasks focus on minimizing a fire from starting in the home which include cleaning out highly flammable lint from the dryer duct, cleaning the grease from your kitchen fume hood, checking ground fault electrical receptacles, and cleaning out wood burning fireplaces. Ignoring home maintenance tasks and not budgeting for them leads to spending way more than you need to manage your home. It then negatively impacts other aspects of your overall personal financial situation. As with anything in life, a little proactive planning and creating a system to track your maintenance activities along with the budgets and costs for them make being a homeowner that much easier. You will have more peace of mind for your family, save money, and have more time to enjoy other aspects of life. John Bodrozic is a co-founder of HomeZada, a digital home management software platform that empowers homeowners to manage, maintain, protect and improve their home. John was previously a co-founder of a construction project management software business that grew to a global business with an eventual sale to a public company. John received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame.
Guest Post by Mission Federal Credit Union Anyone who has started a large home project knows that budgeting properly is everything. Your budget ultimately decides how much you can do, how quickly you can do it and at what price-point. Your budget will be one of the driving forces behind the contractors you hire to do the work and the materials they use to finish the job. Everything comes down to the amount of money you’re willing to spend. Yet, budgeting for home improvements or repairs can feel like an uphill battle. Even when you think you know how much a project will cost, it inevitably goes over budget, over your timeline, and sometimes over your stress threshold. How can you set a practical budget for home repairs or improvement, while still being realistic about the surprise costs that can arise? Here are ten tips to help you set your expectations and budget: 1. Start with a preferred budget and set a maximum cap for unseen issues It’s always possible to do more and spend more money, but that’s not practical for most people. Start by going through your finances and deciding what you’re willing to spend and where your limit is. It’s easy to be allured by the possibility of all the new updates, but you don’t know exactly what things will cost until the work begins. For that reason, stay on the conservative end of your budget and make it clear that you won’t go above a certain price. 2. Research the best way to pay for the work Few of us have the cash at hand to pay for renovations or home repairs outright. You’ll probably need to pay with credit or a loan, so think carefully about which options work best for you. You might be able to use a credit card depending on the project. Keep your credit card limit and the interest rate in mind before deciding to max out your card. If you’re a homeowner, you could consider taking out a home equity loan or a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit), both of which allow you to borrow against the equity you’ve built in your home. A home equity loan is ideal for items like a new roof, solar panels or all new hardwood flooring, because you know approximately how much it will cost before you start the work. A HELOC, on the other hand, works well for ongoing repairs and a bathroom remodel (pricing out each towel and accessory can get tedious) because you only borrow money as you need it. Look for great interest rates to keep costs as low as possible and consider exploring credit union home loans, like those from Mission Federal Credit Union, for their competitive rates and terms. 3. Consider a Home Warranty Another option to take care of the cost of home repairs is purchasing a home warranty. Costing typically between $300 and $600 per year with a $50-$100 service fee per trade service visit, you can get coverage for all of your major home systems and appliances. Especially if you have an older home, a home warranty may be worth it and could save you money in repairs. Here is a list of common systems and appliances that top-rated home warranty providers usually cover in their basic warranty plans: Heating system Electrical system Plumbing system Plumbing stoppage Water heater Whirlpool bathtub Oven/range/stove Cooktop Dishwasher Built-in microwave Garbage disposal Ductwork Garage door opener Ceiling and exhaust fans A home warranty can not only provide peace of mind that you won’t have to pay out of pocket for these pricey repairs, but it can also save you money and free up more money for your desired home improvements. It’s important to note that home warranty companies often allow you to customize your own plan, so you can select the specific home systems and appliances that you want coveraged. 4. Be clear about what you want Before you meet with a contractor, list your must-have items and your would-like-to-have items, knowing that you may have to sacrifice your wants for your needs depending on your budget. When you’re first meeting with a contractor, be clear about your project goals and expectations. Your largest goal might be to update your kitchen with new appliances and replacing the countertops, while replacing or refinishing the kitchen cabinets might be lower on your list of priorities. Consider all the possible updates you might want to make and let your designer and contractor know where your stopping point is, both in terms of time and money. 5. Consider where you’re willing save money You’ll also want to consider areas in which you’re willing to forego “top-of-the-line” products to save money. Are you willing to refinish the cabinets rather than replace them? Can you live with the existing faucets or replace them with faucets from your local hardware store and not the designer showroom? Are you able to recycle existing items to save on materials? Also ask the contractors where you could jump in to help complete the work. You might be able to save money by helping with demo, painting, or installation of small items. 6. Finalize the details before the work starts Many surprise costs arise when you haven’t made decisions about materials or finishings. If you know exactly what you’re buying — hardwoods versus laminate, granite versus polished concrete — and what you’re willing to pay for it, you’ll have a much clearer idea of the total cost. 7. Get a hard quote rather than an estimate An estimate may give you a rough idea of what a project will cost, but the actual cost can vary quite a bit from the estimate. A hard quote, on the other hand, details the various expected costs and time required for each step of the job. Because of the amount of work that goes into a hard quote, you’ll likely have to pay a fee. However, it’s worth it to have a clear idea of what you’re getting into so you can adjust as necessary. 8. Stick with a fixed-price contract Generally, there are two kinds of contracts for home improvements and repairs. There’s a time-and-materials contract, which allows for increases in cost of materials and extra time required for labor on more difficult projects. Contractors usually prefer this kind of contract, because it allows for flexibility and often means the contractor can charge more in the long run. A fixed-price contract, however, begins with a detailed budget agreed upon by both parties. This budget then requires that the contractor carefully consider all costs and materials required to add to the budget. Then, once work has begun, any additional work and costs outside of the original budget must be discussed. 9. Communicate regularly throughout the project It’s easier to be surprised by costs and timelines when you’re not in regular contact with the people completing the work. Make sure you’re speaking to your contractor regularly so you’re up to date on the project’s progress and know where you stand on your budget. 10. Be prepared to go over budget anyway Renovations and home repairs rarely stay precisely on budget. There’s almost always a surprise of some kind once the work begins — a problem with electrical, dry rot in the framing, evidence of a leak — so plan on spending a little more than the quote estimates. If you put some money aside under the assumption that you’ll need it, it won’t be as jarring when you have to use it. 11. Keep your end goal in mind Let’s be honest — it can be tough to live through a home renovation project. Remember why you’re doing the work and what you hope to achieve at the end of it to keep your spirits and patience on the right track. Picturing the “why” of your project will also help you make smart decisions throughout the process. It’s easy to get wrapped up emotionally in the project details and delays. Knowing that your new larger bathroom will help simplify your life, even if the perfect wall mirror is out of budget, will help you choose a mirror that’s just as nice and fits within your budget. As you get started on your project, remember that home repairs and improvements can be difficult to budget for precisely because it’s hard to know what you’ll find once you start construction. Be open and honest with your contractor about your budget cap and work with them to keep costs on budget, and remember that communication throughout the entire project is key. Even after all that, it’s best to plan to overshoot your budget just a bit anyway. Whether you use a Home Equity Loan, a HELOC or another form of credit to pay for improvements in your home, it’s a good idea to meet with a mortgage lender to make sure you choose the right loan for your needs. For home repairs, consider researching top home warranty companies to decide if a home warranty is right for you.Know your limits and remember your ultimate goal for each home project — to make your home an awesome place to live! The content provided in this blog consists of the opinions and ideas of the author alone and should be used for informational purposes only. Mission Federal Credit Union disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information provided.