Home Maintenance and Repair: What's an Emergency and What Can Wait?


When money's tight, even a minor home repair takes on a new and stressful dimension. But when you're looking a laundry list of things that need to be done with limited funds, it can be overwhelming. If home repairs have you longing for the days of apartment life, don't despair. Here's how to take a step back, prioritize what needs to be done, and embrace a slow, steady, and budget-friendly approach to home maintenance. (See also: What It Actually Costs to Own a Home)

1. Electrical and Wiring

Safety comes first. Wiring and electrical problems can damage sensitive electronics, and lead to fires and even electrocution, so it's best to address them head-on and with the help of a licensed professional. If the lights in your home dim when you turn on multiple appliances, if your circuit breakers trip frequently, or if your outlets are hot to the touch, it may be time to call an electrician. The cost of rewiring a house varies based on the size of the home, but typically ranges between $3,500–$8,000, according to houselogic.com. (See also: 10 DIY Jobs Homeowners Should Avoid)

2. Roof

Water intrusion is one of the quickest ways to rack up big-dollar expenses. Rot, mold, insect infestation, and electrical problems can all result from even small leaks in your roof. Be aware of dank or damp smells in your home, stains on drywall, and damaged shingles, algae growth, or pooling water on the roof.

Because roof problems usually progress quickly, if you notice an issue, contact a roofer right away. An initial inspection is usually free of charge. Again, roof replacement costs depend on the size of your home and can run anywhere from $2,000 to $25,000.

3. Basement and Foundation

A solid footing supports (literally and figuratively) everything else in your home. Protect it.

As homes settle naturally or shift due to extreme rain or flooding, structural problems can occur. If you notice sagging beams, large cracks in the masonry, or floors that develop a new dip or slant, it might indicate a larger problem. Hire a contractor to inspect your home and if there are significant issues, retain a home inspection engineer to get an accurate picture of the solutions and the associated costs. You can search for a qualified home inspection engineer by visiting the National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers website at NABIE.org.

4. Gutters and Drainage

Gutters help your roof do its job and without good drainage, even the highest quality roof can't protect your home from water damage. Look for dented, damaged, or split gutters and downspouts that don't connect properly. Also, survey your home immediately after a rainstorm; look for clogs, leaks, or pooling water that may indicate larger problems with your gutter system. The cost of new gutters varies depending on the size of your home and the complexity of roofline. For a handy calculator on the price of seamless gutters, try this calculator from homewyse.com.

5. Exterior Paint

Paint does more than beautify your home — it provides protection from the elements that damage wood and other siding products and helps discourage boring insects. Look over areas with cracked, flaking, or blistering paint. Small areas can usually be sanded and repainted without hiring a professional. A full paint job usually runs between $3,000 and $5,000 according to costhelper.com (See also: Home DIY Projects You Can Do in One Day)

6. Heating and Cooling Systems

Upgrading the heating and cooling systems in your home can help reduce energy costs and minimize the chances of a malfunction that could lead to frozen and burst pipes in winter.

If your system is working properly, replacement is, of course, elective. But if you're not sure how well your system is performing, keep an eye out for frequent on/off cycles that may indicate a bad thermostat or equipment that's struggling to regulate temperature. Call in an expert if you have other concerns or would like an estimate on the price of new equipment. Typically the price of a new HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system runs between $5,000 and $7,000. (See also: 9 Ways to Seal Leaks and Reduce Your Winter Heating Bill)

For broader information on how to plan for and buy a new heating and cooling system, check out from HomeAdvisor's Heating and Cooling Cost Guide.

Although we can't always predict when home repair or maintenance issues will arise, we can plan for them and be strategic in how we react to them. By understanding that not all issues are emergencies, we can leverage our resources to take care of what's essential first and phase in less urgent repairs over time. As with any expense, it always helps to anticipate likely repairs based on the condition and age of your home and begin to set aside funds for those inevitable expenses before they become critical.

Have you prioritized your home maintenance to-do list?

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Guest's picture

This is great, Kentin. It can be tough to bite the bullet on big home repairs, and even tougher to determine what's most important. I just want to add that an emergency can hurt a little less if you're prepared financially. Here's a tip sheet that we developed: http://talkingcents.consumercredit.com/2013/08/27/tuesday-tip-build-your...

I hope you and my fellow readers find it helpful.

Guest's picture

Having a home is everyone's dream and one of the biggest investment in our life. But during home maintenance sopmethimes I think owning a home is a pain. And its cheaper to rent and to make someone responsible for the maintenace.

Guest's picture
Louisville HVAC Pro

I would add that keeping a simple service/maintenance schedule can extend the life expectancy of your HVAC system. If you are a DIY kind of person then it is something easily accomplished. There are some safety issues to be concerned about so a consultation with an HVAC would be wise. The preventative maintenance could keep the upgrading your furnace and air conditioner an elective and not become an emergency.