Home maintenance is one of the less enjoyable aspects of homeownership. It’s easy to put off and even easier to forget completely. When the time comes to put your home on the market, though, all that deferred maintenance rears its ugly head. You may find yourself in a panic, trying to repair years of neglect.
Worse, deferred maintenance has health and safety implications. The most important home maintenance tasks that need to be performed on a regular basis are those that protect your family from fire.
According to the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency, between 2008 and 2010 dryers caused almost 3,000 fires in residences. These fires caused five deaths, 100 injuries and $35 million in property loss.
What is truly sad about this is that the number one reason for these fires is failure to clean the dryer’s vents. Imagine losing a family member because you failed to perform routine maintenance.
Dryer lint, which is composed of debris on the clothing and small fibers from the clothing, is highly combustible and, if allowed to accumulate, reduces air flow to the dryer.
Ensure that your dryer doesn’t add to FEMA’s statistics:
- Clean the lint filter before you run the dryer. Scrub it with a stiff brush twice a year if it is clogged with lint.
- Clean behind and underneath the dryer monthly. While you’re back there, inspect the venting system to ensure that the hose isn’t crushed or restricted in any way.
- Call a professional if clothes seem to be taking longer to dry than usual. This may be an indication that the interior of the dryer and the venting system need to be cleaned.
- Call a professional to inspect a gas dryer at least once a year. Ensure that the connections are intact and that the gas line is free of leaks.
- Consider replacing wire foil or plastic vent tubing with rigid, non-ribbed metal. The flexible vents sag and allow lint to build up at the low points, according to Consumer Reports. Lint may also get trapped in the ridges.
Creosote buildup along the inside walls of a chimney is the most common cause of chimney fires. The best way to prevent these fires is by having your chimney inspected and cleaned by a qualified chimney sweep once a year.
Here are a few other ways to ensure your chimney is safe:
- The New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control recommends that you burn only well-seasoned hardwoods in the fireplace.
- If you don’t have a chimney cap on the roof, install one. Chimney caps prevent sparks from flying out of the chimney and igniting the roof. They also keep rain away from the chimney, which can cause rust and the breakdown of mortar. And they keep out combustible materials such as leaves, branches and bird’s nests.
- Have the chimney inspected for damage immediately after a large storm, flood or earthquake.
Electrical outlets can also pose a fire hazard, so check them once a year. Outlets and wall switches should never feel hot to the touch. If they do, it could indicate a wiring connection failure and require the attention of a licensed electrician.
Test the ground fault circuit interrupters (GGCI) in the home once a month by pressing the test button.
Even hardwired smoke alarms require backup batteries, and as we all know, batteries don’t last forever. Whether they are dead or not, it’s a good idea to replace smoke alarm batteries once a year.
It’s easy to forget smoke alarm maintenance, so talk show host Jerry Doyle suggests choosing one day that you’ll remember – such as that day in March or November when we set our clocks ahead or back – to change out all the smoke alarm batteries in the house.
Smoke alarms reach the end of their lives at around the 10-year mark and should be replaced at that time.
If you also have a carbon monoxide monitor or alarm in the home, change its batteries annually as well.
Check your fire extinguisher once a year to ensure that it will operate properly if you should ever need it. Couple this task with the smoke alarm battery change to make it easier to remember.
The National Fire Protection Agency suggests that you check your fire extinguisher monthly and have it professionally inspected by a fire protection equipment company once a year.
Here are some tips on what to look for during your monthly inspection:
- Ensure that the pull pin is inserted in the handle. If it isn’t, call a professional to inspect and fix it.
- Check the pressure gauge to ensure that the extinguisher has the proper pressure, which should be marked in green on the gauge.
- Check for damage to the exterior, and if you find any – such as damage from being dropped – replace it immediately.
The National Fire Protection Agency claims that residential fires cause 13,910 injuries, 2,520 deaths and $6.9 billion in damage each year. While most of these fires are attributed to cooking, many others are the result of deferred maintenance. Don’t let your family become a statistic.