Money Pit

That movie The Money Pit is only funny if you didn’t just buy a house. Home maintenance costs are not amusing, especially if you were so focused on the down payment you forgot to save for extras like replacing gutters. But there are great ways to keep home maintenance costs to the bare minimum. Basically, you want to tackle certain tasks while they’re still manageable. Okay, you can’t do every single thing you might like or you won’t be able to afford your second month of the house payment. Instead, focus on the kind of home maintenance that costs much more later on. Here are eight tasks to take care of as soon as you buy a house, so you can avoid catastrophic expenses later.

#1 – Eyeball the roof

Especially if you’re new at this owning a house thing, the roof might be something you’ve never given much thought to. If you want to avoid expensive repairs and flooding, though, it’s important to do the minor repairs before they turn into big problems. Start with the easiest task, which is to eyeball the roof every six months or so for loose or missing shingles. Then, get them replaced before the leaks start and you’re looking at rebuilding the attic or the roof caving in. Need even more motivation? A leaky roof is one of those repairs you simply should not DIY, so expect to pay top dollar to call in the pros.

#2 – Don’t play termite roulette

All that beautiful wood that made you fall in love with your house can become a liability if you don’t prevent termite damage. A treatment when you first move in and annual checks thereafter will run you less than $500. Termite damage, though, will cost $3,000 and maybe more, depending on what the little pests decided to ingest. And after you pay for the repairs, you’ll need a preventive treatment anyhow.

#3 – Change your air filter already!

Changing the air filter in your furnace is not a task you should assign to procrastinators. If the filter’s washable, this is a super cheap preventive task. But even a new air filter costs $10 or so. So what do you risk if you “forget”? First off, the reduced airflow from a dirty filter makes the heat or air have to work harder to keep you comfy. Later on, this will cost you in operating costs (hello, double utility bill) and increased repairs. The worst prospect, though, is having to replace the furnace altogether. Because it will stop working if you don’t keep the air filter clean, especially ahead of winter weather. (And it’s a good bet catastrophe will strike on a weekend or holiday, when a mere service call can cost double the normal amount.)

#4 – Seal air leaks in winter

Correcting air leaks is one of the few home maintenance tasks it’s most cost-effective to tackle in the winter. If you take the time to track drafts to their source when it’s cold, you can caulk and weatherstrip them. This will save you money now, on the heating bill. It also helps later, because the drafts aren’t as easy to detect in the summer, but you lose air conditioning through the same cracks and gaps in windows and doors.

#5 – Assess your sump pump before you need it

Reality is, if your house has a basement or crawl space, a sump pump is your friend. A really valuable friend. It’s the tool that sucks up water in those easily-flooded areas and pumps it outside. Not familiar with that process? Start life in your new home with a quick visit from a plumber. They’ll inspect your sump pump for around $50. Having it working when you need it can save literally thousands in water damage, not to mention saving you hours of bailing the water by hand.

#6 – Have a pro scope out the HVAC

Before you rev up the AC or heat at the start of the season, shell out about $500 and get that twice annual inspection from the pros. Sure, they’ll clean the HVAC system and that will assure the kind of operating efficiency that can save you lots on the utility bill. Fixing the little mechanical issues early on will also eliminate the need for big repairs like a compressor that blows one hot summer night. Even more critical, though, the pros can spot a carbon monoxide leak and fix it up. Without that safety precaution, you are literally risking your life.

#7 Don’t let the gutters go

When you are arranging your household budget, plan about $250 annually for getting the gutters cleaned. For the cost of a couple of nice dinners out, you’ll be preventing possible water damage to the roof. Oh, and it won’t stop there. If your gutters get clogged, the water may escape under the shingles and into the ceilings. You’ll be longing for a $250 payment if that happens. Just a run-of-the-mill new roof costs about $5,000-$10,000. And as for getting the mildew and water damage out of your ceilings and floors and replacing drywall, well, you’re looking at another $10,000 or more.

#8 Look for stowaways as soon as it gets cold

Deepest, darkest winter is the best time to evict any critters seeking warmth in your attic, basement, garage, she shed or even dryer vents. You’ll minimize the time they have to do damage if you get them out as soon as the weather gets chilly instead of waiting until spring. And you might just keep that lone skunk from reproducing in the garden shed or her warm spot of choice. When the weather starts warming up, you’ll want to be enjoying your home and garden, not paying a premium for repairs that would have cost far less if you did them earlier.