Must-Do Home Maintenance That Saves You Money...and Might Save Your Family


Certain home maintenance matters are a given. But what about those not-so-obvious ones, and are they really worth it? Here is a quick breakdown of several home safety and prevention items so you can learn more about the protection they provide and how they might save you money down the road. (See also: Home Maintenance and Repairs That Shouldn't Wait)

Water Alarms

A simple water alarm device is a great precautionary measure for helping to protect homes from undetected water damage. These alarms serve as leak monitors to alert a homeowner when water is first detected from anything from overflowing sump pumps to a busted pipe. Early warning means you may be able to stop a problem and avoid the costly repairs associated with water damage.

The cheapest alarms are passive battery devices that give off an audible alert tone and flashing light when water is detected. You can find these at home improvement stores for as little as $10. We use a couple on the floor in our basement near our sump pit and water heater. State Farm Insurance provides some useful information on the usual places where water damage can occur.

More advanced alarms also exist, but they can cost upwards of several hundred dollars. These active leak systems not only detect water, but also perform shut-off functions. You can contact a plumber or a flood specialist to find out more.

Dryer Vent Maintenance

You may know it's important to clean your dryer lint screen after each use, but you also should periodically clean out dryer vents and ducts. Cleaning allows for better operation and prevents your dryer from becoming a fire hazard. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, clothes dryers cause thousands of residential fires per year, mainly due to people not properly cleaning the ducts.

Luckily, keeping your dryer vent maintained is a pretty easy thing to do. It is typically recommended that you have your vent cleaned once a year. For professional duct cleaning, make sure to do a little research. I found quotes for as low as $50 and as high as $250 for a simple duct cleaning. You can also have them change your duct to ensure it is fireproof (many flexible ones are not). Some people even DIY the job, but you need to know what you are doing and do so safely. Check out Allstate's overview of dryer vent cleaning safety for additional information. (See also: Home DIY Projects You Can Do in a Day)

Radon Testing and Remediation

According to the EPA, radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas that is produced from the natural decay of uranium found in most rocks and soils. Radon moves out of the ground up to the air above and can get trapped in your home. According to the EPA and World Health Organization, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer (behind smoking). Sounds scary, but the good news is that radon in homes is fixable.

The EPA recommends testing to ensure radon in the lowest level of the home is below 4.0 picocuries per liter. You can buy test kits or get free kits through some state offices to test on your own. Or, many people rely on professional testers to do a short-term test, especially for real estate transactions. Professional testing prices vary, but the ones in my area are around $100. Check out the EPA's listing of how to find test kits or qualified radon professionals in your area.

If your levels are above 4.0 pCi/L, get a qualified radon professional to give you remediation quotes for options to reduce your levels. The most popular method is usually a vent pipe system connected to a radon exhaust fan, which pipes the radon out of your house.

I live in a very high radon region, and luckily the builders of my home had already installed a radon vent pipe. We ended up spending $300 for a professional to hook up a radon fan and make a few modifications to our existing system to bring our levels down. If a brand new system or additional vent pipes need to be installed, keep in mind the cost will be significantly higher. (See also: Costly Things New Homeowners Don't Prepare For)

Lightning Rods

Lightning can cause everything from surge damage to electronics and appliances from indirect strikes to structural damage and fires from direct hits. However, lightning protection systems (LPS) on homes can prevent such destruction as they work to provide a path for lightning to safely travel to the ground, leaving the home unharmed. And contrary to popular belief, lightning rods do not attract lightning, but rather provide a safe place to dissipate the electricity rather than having your home take the hit. The Lightning Protection Institute has a library of information for learning more about lightning and home protection. (See also: How to Prepare Financially for a Natural Disaster)

Some people can go a lifetime without lightning damage, while others are all too familiar with the threat. If you decide on getting an LPS, you need to know it's not a small investment. It can cost several thousands of dollars depending on the size of your home and if you choose to conceal the system (hide the wires below the roof) or do any kind of decorative rod. Most importantly, installing a LPS is not a DIY job. It must be done by an experienced and reputable UL-listed and LPI certified contractor. Additionally, when our LPI contractor installed our system, he gave us documentation, which we used to receive a small credit on our homeowner's insurance for protecting our home with a certified LPS.

These are just some items to consider as you go about maintaining your home. While it may feel like investing in your home is never-ending, certain items may save you money in the long run, while also keeping your family safe, should you decide to implement them.

What other home safety or maintenance items do you think are worth considering?

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