Maintaining Your Home

Your Massachusetts (or New Hampshire) home is one of the single biggest investments you’ll ever make in your lifetime, so be sure you do all you can to take care of it. A well-maintained home usually sells more readily and will usually bring a higher price when you go to sell your home. Regular maintenance also makes your home more comfortable and any regular care that you do put into it will minimize any unexpected repair work and expenses that could occur if your home was not maintained. Regularly scheduled small repairs and continuous upgrades to your home can and will keep any maintenance costs from becoming exorbitant.

The maintenance schedule that I’m presenting here is a general guide for you to simply follow. The actual timing is left up to you to decide when you want to actually perform the tasks. You may want to further divide the list of maintenance items for each season into months so that your everyday schedule will not become affected by this list of tasks. Now let’s get to work, so your home (and the components within your home) will last a lifetime.


Clean or replace furnace air filters every other month during the heating season. Periodically check vents outside (intake and exhaust) to make sure they are not blocked by snow or debris. Then vacuum all heating supply registers, return grills, baseboards or radiators inside the home.

After consulting your hot water tank owner’s manual, carefully test the temperature and pressure relief valve to ensure it is not stuck. (Caution: This test may release hot water that can cause burns and it may also cause the valve to develop a slow leak due to sediment build-up not allowing the valve to close fully. This will require a plumber to replace the TPR valve). In some areas, sludge may accumulate in the bottom of the tank. Draining approximately 1 gallon of water from the clean-out spigot at the bottom of your tank will indicate the presence of sludge and the necessity for regular draining to control sediment and maintain efficiency. Be sure to shut off the power or fuel supply before draining any water from the tank.

Clean the humidifier (if equipped), two or three times during the winter season.

Vacuum bathroom fan grille or any other registers you may have in your home. I recommend removing the register grills and vacuuming inside the duct work, (as far as possible). Vacuum all fire and smoke detectors, as dust or spider webs can prevent them from functioning. Dust ceiling fan blades.

Vacuum radiator grilles on back of refrigerators and freezers, and empty and clean the drip tray underneath the refrigerator.

Check inside bathroom vanities and kitchen sink cabinets for signs of moisture. Look for leaks at shut-off valves at sinks, toilets, laundry equipment, and main water shut-off valve. Carefully inspect pipes for condensation or slow drips. Repair the plumbing system if necessary.

Remove mineral deposits from faucet aerators and shower heads by soaking the parts in white vinegar and scrubbing them with an old toothbrush.

Examine attic for frost accumulation. Check roof for ice dams or ice build-up. If either of these occur, this is a sign of inadequate insulation and/or ventilation.

Check electrical cords, plugs and outlets for all indoor and outdoor seasonal lights to ensure fire safety: if worn, or plugs or cords feel warm to the touch, replace immediately. Check the operation of all ground-fault circuit interrupter outlets by pushing the “test” button. The “reset” button should pop out, indicating the receptacle is operating properly. Press in the reset button. Check the AFCI circuit breakers inside the main panel. Press the test button to make sure it trips. Then reset.


Have all heating and cooling systems checked by a qualified serviceperson once a year or according to the manufacturer’s warranty and service recommendations. Failure to do manufacturer-recommended servicing may void warranties.

FURNACE: Examine the forced air furnace fan belt for wear, looseness or noise; clean fan blades of any dirt buildup (after disconnecting the electricity to the motor). Then clean dirt and dust from around the air grills and ducts. Open furnace humidifier damper and clean humidifier (if equipped). Hire a licensed HVAC technician to inspect the thermostat, electrical components and controls, inspect the heat exchanger, check flue, air flow and air fuel mixture, adjust the burner and oil the motor and circulating fan.

The exhaust pipe should be checked for loose or corroded sections. Have your ducts cleaned at least every 5 to 6 years, this keeps your furnace clean and will increase the life expectancy. Make sure the exposed ductwork have no cracks or leaks and seal seams (where needed) with aluminum tape.

BOILER: Bleed the air from hot water radiators. Older circulating pumps should be lubricated twice during the heating season. Expansion tanks should be drained annually. The heat shield (located where the burner enters the heat exchanger) should be checked to ensure that it is not loose or corroded. Burn marks around the heat shield or soot on the front may indicate a draft or combustion problem. A technician should be contacted.

OIL FURNACES AND BOILERS: Oil systems should be checked by a qualified technician on an annual basis. Oily soot deposits at registers of forced-air systems may indicate a cracked heat exchanger. A technician should be contacted. The exhaust pipe from the furnace or boiler should be checked for loose connections or corroded sections. The barometric damper on the exhaust pipe should rotate freely. The chimney clean out should be cleared of any debris. The oil tank should be inspected for leaks. Soot on the front of the furnace or boiler may indicate a draft or combustion problem. A technician should be contacted.

Paint interior rooms while it’s still warm enough to leave windows open. Ditto for shampooing or replacing carpets.

Remove window air-conditioning units and store them. If they are not removable, cover them with plastic to protect them over the winter.

Check smooth functioning of all windows and lubricate as required. For single pane widows, remove or replace all screens with storm windows. Examine all hardware and locks on windows and doors, and lubricate moving parts. Each exterior door should have a one-inch deadbolt lock for safety.

All yard care power equipment should be drained of fuel in the late fall or early winter and serviced according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Cover outdoor furniture or store it inside a shed.

Clean and repair garden equipment after the last use of the season. Remove dirt and rust, then store in dry area. Upcoming winter will be a good time to file rough spots on hoes and shovels and to apply linseed oil to handles of garden tools. Thoroughly rinse pesticide and herbicide sprayers to prevent clogging, and rinse fertilizer spreaders to prevent corrosion.

Drain and store outdoor hoses. Close the valve supplying the outdoor hose connection and drain the hose bib (exterior faucet), unless your house contains frost proof hose bibs.

Ensure that all smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers are in good working order. Replace batteries in appropriate devices as needed, or at least twice each year. Massachusetts regulations require detectors to be installed on every habitable level of your home and within 10 feet of any bedroom.

Check gauge on all fire extinguishers; recharge or replace if necessary.

Check fire escape routes, door and window locks and hardware, and lighting around outside of your house; ensure that your family has good security habits.

Again, Check the basement floor drain to ensure the trap contains water. Refill with water or oil if necessary.

Take care of known issues with pipes that freeze. Heat tape/wire can be used to keep them warm during extremely cold weather or insulate to improve freezing conditions.

Ensure that all doors to the outside shut tightly, and check other doors for ease of use. Renew door weatherstripping if required. If there is a door between your house and the garage, install or check the adjustment of the self-closing device to ensure it closes the door completely.

Disconnect the duct connected to the dryer and vacuum lint from duct, the areas surrounding your clothes dryer and your dryers’ vent hood outside.

Ensure that all windows and skylights close tightly. Remove screens from the inside of casement windows to allow air from the heating system to keep condensation off window glass.

Again, Clean leaves from eaves troughs (gutters) and roofs, and test downspouts to ensure proper drainage from the roof. Ensure that these downspouts carry all rain water away from the foundation area at least 5 feet. Downspout extensions will improve any basement seepage conditions.

Check chimneys for obstructions such as nests. Have your wood burning fireplaces and appliances inspected annually and cleaned/swept and repaired as required to prevent chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.


Celebrate spring by cleaning the garage. Hold a yard sale, or organize a community yard sale with neighbors. Dispose of paint thinners, household cleaners and pesticides properly. Contact your city’s department of public works to find out when the next scheduled collection of hazardous materials is.

Check and clean or replace furnace air filter.

Shut down and clean furnace humidifier (if applicable), and close the furnace humidifier damper, as this will not be needed until next heating season.

Have central air-conditioning unit checked according to the recommendations of the unit’s manufacturer or every two or three years. Replace the filter in the forced-air system. Clean debris and vegetation from the exterior condenser or heat pump.

Check dehumidifier and clean if necessary (if applicable).

Turn OFF gas furnace and fireplace pilot lights where possible.

Have well water tested for quality (if applicable). It is recommended that you test for bacteria every six months.

If you are on a Septic system, have it pumped and inspected.

Check smoke, carbon monoxide and security alarms and replace batteries.

Clean windows, screens and hardware, and replace storm windows with screens, if equipped with single pane windows. Check the windows for cracked or broken glass, loose putty around the glass panes, holes or bent frames in screens, and evidence of moisture between pane and storm windows. Clean out any slider door tracks and ensure that the drainage holes are clear.

Fix squeaks in floors and stairs by applying weight to the area (having a partner stand on it) and driving an 8d or 12d galvanized finish nail through the flooring into a floor joist or stringer. If you have access to the floor from underneath, glue and screw backs to the floor or treads and toenail through a floor joist or stringer.

Open valve to outside hose connection after all danger of frost has passed.

Examine the foundation walls for cracks, leaks or signs of moisture, and repair as required.

Check to make sure your sump pump works properly by pouring water into the pump silo to raise the float and activate the motor. Ensure discharge pipe is connected and allows water to drain away from the foundation and inspect the hose line for obstructions or visible leaks.

Re-level or repair any exterior steps or decks which moved or were damaged due to winter frost or settling.

Check for damaged or improperly sloped gutters. Clean out all gutters and downspouts. Make sure they are free from leaks and rust and ensure all spikes, straps and clips are tightly fastened. Seal any loose joints and seams. Make sure downspouts are not damaged and carry all roof water at least five feet away from the foundation. Downspout extensions will improve any basement seepage conditions.

Clear all drainage ditches and culverts of debris.

Undertake spring landscape maintenance and, if necessary, fertilize young trees.


Inspect window putty on the outside of glass (single panes) and replace if cracking or falling off.

Lubricate all door hinges and tighten screws as needed. Lubricate squeaky door hinges with lightweight machine oil. Free sticky doors by trimming edges or shimming hinges with thin pieces of cardboard.

Deep clean all carpets and rugs.

Check caulking around all sinks, bathtubs, and showers. Some types of caulking become brittle with age, and therefore useless as a water seal. Replace with a long-lasting resilient caulking material, such as silicone or latex.

Vacuum bathroom fan grille.

Monitor basement humidity and avoid relative humidity levels above 60 per cent. Use a dehumidifier to maintain safe relative humidity. Clean or replace air conditioning filter, and wash or replace ventilation system filters if necessary.

Inspect the crawl space or basement walls after rains for water accumulation or excessive moisture. Look for signs of water damage on the sub floor and joists beneath bathrooms, the kitchen and laundry. Find and fix leaks now or pay the price later.

Check basement pipes for condensation or dripping, and take corrective action, for example, reduce humidity and or fully insulate all accessible cold water pipes.

Examine main support beams, support columns, and floor joists for evidence of bowing or warping.

Probe visible wood structural members such as sills, joists, beams, and columns, with a screwdriver, pocket knife or ice pick, to be sure wood is solid and free from decay and wood boring insects.

Make sure all shut-offs are marked appropriately (heating, plumbing & electrical)

If you have a plumbing fixture that is not used frequently, for example, a laundry tub or spare bathroom sink, tub or shower stall, run some water briefly to keep water in the trap. This prevents sewer gases from entering the living area. You can use cooking oil to replace water, as it will not evaporate like water will.

Check the basement floor drain to ensure the trap contains water. Refill with water or oil if necessary.

Check security of all guardrails and handrails throughout house (interior and exterior). Install bracketry or hardware if loose.

Lubricate garage door hardware and ensure that it is operating properly and lubricate the automatic garage door opener motor, chain, etc. and ensure that the auto-reverse mechanism is properly adjusted. Make sure all bolts and screws are properly tightened and secured. I highly recommend that every homeowner install an auto-closer on the hinges of the fire rated door between the garage and the house.

Check and replace damaged caulking and weatherstripping around all exterior windows and doors.

Inspect electrical service lines for secure attachment where they enter your house, and make sure there is no water leakage into the house along the electrical conduit. Check the seal at the house penetration area.

Ensure that the ground around your home slopes away from the foundation wall, so that rain water does not drain towards your basement walls. Soil should slope four to six inches for a distance of six feet out from the foundation walls.

Inspect masonry foundation walls (inside and out) for cracks or weakened, crumbling mortar. Repair if necessary. Also check for signs of termite mud tunnels.

Check exterior wood siding and trim for signs of deterioration such as peeling or cracked paint. Remove any wood/soil contact to prevent rot and wood boring insects. Clean, replace or refinish as needed. If you decide to repaint your house yourself, you can cut this job down to size by painting just one or two walls per year. Typically, the paint on the south and west-facing walls deteriorates faster and requires more frequent re-coating than paint on north or east-facing walls. Check for and seal off any holes in exterior cladding that could be an entry point for small pests such as bats, mice, squirrels and chipmunks.

Clean and seal decks. Ideally, you’ll need three consecutive warm, sunny days. On day one, dry out the deck. Apply deck cleaner and scrub the deck on the second day and let it dry 24 hours. On the third day, apply deck sealer.

Repair and paint all fences as necessary.

Remove or trim any plants, shrubs or vines that contact any house siding.

Climb up on your roof or use binoculars, to check its general condition and note any sagging that could indicate structural problems requiring further investigation from inside the attic. Note the condition of roofing material for possible repair or replacement, and examine all roof flashings such as at the chimney, roof joints, vent stacks, dormers and skylights for any signs of cracking or leakage.

Check the chimney cap and the mortar between all bricks. Tuck point between the bricks if necessary.

If you have access to attic spaces, check underneath the roof for stains that indicate leaks, especially from “flashed” areas. Tar these exterior flashing areas if necessary. Also, check all soffit vents to make sure insulation is pulled away from these areas. The attic area should always be the same temperature as the outside.

Trim back tree branches that scrape against or overhang the roof. Keep branches away from chimney to avoid fire hazard and allow proper draft for safe and efficient chimney operation.

Driveways and sidewalks should be checked for cracks and deterioration. Settling which will result in surface water run off towards the house should be corrected as should uneven sections which pose a safety hazard to pedestrians.

Clean and repair cracks in concrete driveways using epoxy patching material. Repair asphalt driveways using asphalt patching material. Seal asphalt driveways every other year.

Repair any damaged steps that present a safety problem.

And last but not least, In the event of fire, flood or other disaster, it will be important in filing an insurance claim. Photographs or video of your possessions can also be helpful. Store this in a safe place off site…maybe a relatives home.

Objectively Examining Your Home for What a Buyer Desires in a Home

The first process a seller must do to have a successful sale, is take a realistic look at their home before home staging can begin. Of course to most people this would seem a little odd, as they feel they have lived in this house and know every nook and cranny.

So if this is your belief, then let me ask you; would you feel your home is beautiful and would a prospective buyer see its beauty for the street? You may not know how to answer that question and I understand, our job here is changing your perspective to that of a buyer from that of a seller.

The home owner has grown use to the clutter they have created and see their home with loving eyes. The concern of any home seller should be how will my home present itself to a buyer on their first glance from the street?

The best method to get a clear picture is to spend some time getting a perspective on what can be improved by viewing your home from the street. At first blush you need to list any areas on the outside of your home that will need to be cleaned, repaired or modified.

You should make notes on any areas of the house that a prospective buyer would see as not perfect. Once you have taken notes on your home from the street, you should continue to scrutinize your home as a buyer would with a careful circular examine from all sides.

Make a list of everything you believe needs to be improved. Viewing your home from the eyes of a buyer what reasons would make you not purchase this home. Once you have completed this task, your next task is to examine the inside of your home from room to room with that same buyers’ eye. So what you are going to do is repeat your observation on the inside of your home and take careful notes.

The main problem for any home seller is they must determine what the market for their home requires. The good news is you do not have to go very far as I have gathered all the information that will make you task easy.

The list below contains many of the benchmarks that prospective buyers use to appraise homes listed for sale.

1. Most important has the house been staged and does it present itself well?
2. Did the interior of the home still contain clutter, were the rooms open and clear?
3. Was the home clean and tidy on the inside and outside?
4. Was there enough lighting throughout the entire interior and exterior of the home?
5. Are there enough receptacles throughout the interior and exterior? What is the general condition of the electrical system and will it last?
6. The condition of electrical switches, breakers and over all wiring?
7. Is the plumbing system up to date or will it need replacing or repair?
8. Are all pumps, valves, pipes and drains in good condition?
9. Is the inside of the house in need of painting or repair?
10. Is the outside of the house in need of painting or repair?
11. What is the general condition of the floors and will any of it need to be replaced?
12. Is landscaping in the front of the house well cared for or in need of work?
13. Is the landscaping in the back of the house well card for or in need of work?

The fact is most home buyers in today’s market are after more than a place to hang their hat, they want a warm and comfortable home. One of the most important facts is they are after a house they can be proud to live in and be able to live in it without the need for repair. The prospective buyers are looking for more than ever and you as the home seller, most likely will have to update your home so this new breed of buyer will be interested in what you offer.

Pumped Up! Maintaining the Pumps in Your Home!

It is very possible your home may have one or more pumps. A pump is an electrical/mechanical device to move fluid, usually water, from someplace to someplace else.

The most common pumps in a home are: Circulating pumps on a heating system Condensate pumps on heating and cooling systems Sump or “de-watering” pumps in your basement or crawl space These devices may work silently and faithfully, often for long periods of time. Then, they fail, without warning. Failure of pumping equipment can cause anything from an inconvenience to a catastrophe. We can minimize the troubles failed pumps can cause by maintaining them.

Your heating circulating pump

If you are enjoying the comfort of hot water heat, whether through radiant floors, baseboard heaters, convectors or classic radiators, you have one or more heating circulating pumps. The task of this pump is to move heated water from your boiler to your heating radiation, where the water gives up its BTU’s and is then returned to the boiler for reheating and another trip around your home. In hot water heating systems, heating capacity is equal to flow capacity. When your pump ceases to work, the flow stops and so does the heat.

Most modern pumps are water lubricated and require no attention from homeowners. Some of the older pumps, usually red in color, have 3 small oil ports. Add oil to these three ports each year. Use light motor oil, available at any hardware store but add it sparingly. Over oiling can cause deterioration of the rubber seals on the pump and more likely, an oily mess on your basement floor.

Your condensate pump

When air conditioning systems operate in hot summer weather, moisture is wrung out of the air in the form of liquid condensate. Most of today’s cooling systems do a spectacular job of dehumidification, pulling upwards of 20 quarts of water out of the air per hour. In most systems, if situated in the attic or basement, this water will flow by gravity either to an outside roof gutter or nearby sink or drain. Many systems have condensate drains that are either below the level of nearby plumbing or are so far away as to make gravity drainage impractical. Here, we use a small device called a condensate removal pump. Usually about the size of a shoe box, this device consists of a water reservoir, a float switch and a small pump.

As condensed water trickles into the pump reservoir, the float switch rises until it turns the pump on. The pump then discharges the water, usually through a small plastic tube, to a sink, drain line or even the exterior of the house. These pumps should be tested each year. A proper test will involve pouring significant amounts of water into the pump and making sure the switch activates the pump and the pump properly evacuates the water through the tubing. At this time, the tubing should also be examined for clogs, kinks or breaks. When a condensate pump fails, those 20 quarts of water per hour will drain by gravity right to the floor, or in the case of an overhead air conditioning system, through an upstairs ceiling as it escapes from your attic.

Today, often, these pumps can be equipped with safety switches which will turn your system off in the event the reservoir fills to the top and the pump fails to operate.

Your sump pump

Water, water everywhere! At least, we hope not. Here in New Jersey, basements and crawlspaces are very common if not universal. This creates a potential problem. There is water in the ground, at all times. The level can vary with the season and with precipitation. When the water level in the ground is higher than the level of your basement or crawlspace floor, hydrostatic pressure can force this water into your basement, causing flooding and serious damage to your home and contents. Sump pumps, properly called “de-watering” pumps can alleviate this problem. A circular pit is dug into the basement floor, usually two to 3 feet in depth. A porous cylinder is put into the pit. Cracked stone is put in between the cylinder and the side of the excavation. A small paving block is put at the bottom of the pit.

The excavation is cemented closed at floor level. Water seeks its own level and will always seek out a lower place rather than a higher place. The new pit is now lower than the basement floor. Water will flow into the pit before flooding your basement. The cracked stone surrounded the porous cylinder acts as a filter to prevent silt and dirt from entering the pit. The porous cylinder allows water to flow easily into the pit. The small paving block at the bottom serves as a secure base for the pump. De-watering pumps come in two basic types, upright and submersible. In an upright pump, the motor and switch mechanism is above floor level. These pumps should only be used in commercial boiler rooms, where hot boiler water might be drained into the pump pit. Steaming water will destroy the motor and controls of the other type of pump, the submersible. All components of a submersible pump are concealed within the pump pit. As the water level in the pit rises, a float switch turns the pump on. The pump, powered by a large motor is connected to a discharge pipe, which directs the flow of water out of the basement and away.

Pumps do not last forever. They fail. Often, with disastrous results. Your basement sump pump should be tested at least 2 times a year. Run or pour water into the pump pit until the pump activates. Observe the pump housing and discharge piping for leaks. Make sure the discharge pipe outlet, wherever it is, is clear. Pumps over 10 years old should be replaced proactively. You should not take chances. But even pumps of lesser vintage can fail, being mechanical and not divine in nature. Often, major storms and down pours are accompanied by power outages. Just when you need your pump most urgently, it lies there in the dark pit, useless as a rock. Fortunately today, we have two types of backup systems.

First, there is a battery backup pump. This pump operates off a marine-type battery. The battery is continuously charged through a nearby wall outlet. Should the primary pump fail, the water level will rise higher, triggering the battery-powered backup pump. This pump has a lower capacity that the main pump, but will usually suffice for short power blackouts. Should the power be out for longer periods of time, the battery will completely discharge. Battery backup pumps should also be tested twice a year.

The average battery life is about two years. After this period of time they should be replaced. (Note: keep records or a reminder on your computer.) Second and most recent, is the water-powered backup pump, also called water actuated. This device operates on the principal of water pressure. The water-powered backup pump is connected to the house water supply line. If the main pump fails, the water level will rise and trigger the backup pump. A mechanical valve will open, permitting high pressure water to operate a small turbine wheel. The will drives the pump. The pump will provide enough capacity to remove water in the sump pit along with any water used to power it. No batteries are required and other then twice yearly testing, there is no maintenance.

Unsure if you can handle this? NJ Residents call us at 800.287.6651 and we’ll be glad to service you!

What Should I Look For in a New Heating System For My Home?

A new heating system for a home is one of the most important considerations in buying or building the home. Health considerations are just as imperative as financial considerations. Dust, dirt and the refuse of vermin can be blown throughout the house using a system that blows air to heat. That can be deadly to an asthmatic or those with other lung malfunctions. A radiant heating system, on the other hand, uses radiation to heat the house. This does not spread illness. Radiation also means that homeowners may receive renewable heat incentives from power companies as well as tax incentives. Green heating methods means money saved.

Radiant heat uses coils through which water is pumped. Electricity heats the water which then radiates heat upward from the floor under which it is installed. The time it takes to return to a temperature set by a thermostat is longer, which will save money in the long run. People can be satisfied with a lower temperature because the space they are in will be heated directly. Forced air heat heats the whole room but can leave people less comfortable. Additionally, forced air can escape through cracks in walls, flooring and ceilings. This costs more money and leaves the people uncomfortable.

Installation of such a heating system can be done by professionals or the homeowner can do it himself. Installation by a professional can be expensive, but the homeowner can be assured of quality product applied correctly. There are manuals available to the homeowner detailing the process by which the heating system is installed. These cover direct, indirect and slab installation. They also cover water heaters heating the coils. Also available to the homeowner are manuals detailing the use of solar energy to heat the water heater for the heating coils. Solar energy receives tax considerations from renewable heat incentives, which homeowners should look into when considering systems.

What homeowners should look for in a new heating system is efficiency, zoning and the life of the present heat pump and water heater. Homeowners want a heating system that is efficient, environmentally friendly plus one that will enjoy a long life. Replacing heat pumps and water heaters is expensive. Look for a radiant heating system that considers condensation in summer in addition to being integrated with the slab or stapled up underneath the floor joists. Look for a radiant system that can work in conjunction with existing radiators or heat pumps. Homeowners should know how cooling in summer will work.

A new heating system for a home is an important consideration. Comfort, economics and environmental friendliness are tied in to this decision. Making this choice will mean health, comfort and warmth for the family.

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