Home Maintenance: Preventative vs. Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It

home maintenance schedule

There are the folks who want to fix everything before it breaks. And then there are the folks who let things break and then fix them. You know which category you fit into. It’s OK. Don’t be ashamed. Nobody’s perfect.

Kidding aside, the question about when you should plan to fix major house systems is kind of a big deal. It’s not like these things are cheap! A roof can cost $10,000 or more on a fairly average home these days. New HVAC or appliances can hit you for almost as much. In fact, according to the Zillow 2017 Housing Trends Report, more than two in five (43 percent) homeowners have trouble deciding what to fix next, which could be due in part to not knowing what or when things are going to break and require replacement (45 percent of respondents mentioned this problem).

More than two in five (43 percent) homeowners have trouble deciding what to fix next, which could be due in part to not knowing what or when things are going to break and require replacement.

So what to do? How can you decide whether or not you’re going to be proactive and preventively maintain or replace major house systems? Or are you better off to squeeze every last rain drop of waterproofing potential from that roof before you replace it?

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It’s a tough call and the financial implications aren’t small. Take a $10,000 roof, for example. If that roof lasts 20 years, then the cost of roofing your home is $500 per year. If you replace it at ten years, that cost is doubled to an even grand a year just for the roofing. Leave a roof on too long, however, and you’re risking very costly leaks, which could literally wash away your savings -- and your trip to Disney.

Taking personality types out of the equation, here’s how I would suggest an uncertain homeowner determine what to fix and when.

First, Consider Your Skillset

If you’re super-handy around the house and can MacGyver just about anything, in the rain, with duct tape, you will of course have a pretty good bit of confidence and might not worry too much about when the next thing will break, because you’ll just run out there and deal with it when it happens. Having been a contractor my whole life, this is essentially my approach, much to my wife’s chagrin.

If, on the other hand, you really don’t consider yourself the handy type and prefer to leave that stuff to the pros, you’ll have to consider the next thing which is, you guessed it …


If you know you’re going to be hiring a pro when the time comes to do the roof, or fix the air or repair a leaky pipe, then you know you’re going to need money to pay for that. Many homeowners will put aside a maintenance fund for things like this. They know it’s part of homeownership and they plan for it.

If you feel confident that the money won’t be a problem when the time comes, then your choices might be based more on convenience. It’s always more convenient to fix things before they break. The only real downside of being proactive is that it costs more in the long run. But if money is less of a concern for you than time, then prevention may be your best option.

What to Fix First

The best advice I can give you is to get a good home inspection. A professional home inspector will go over your property with a fine-tooth comb and give you a list of what’s what. That inspection will help you establish priorities.

All things being equal, the systems with the potential to do the most damage would be first, followed by those that are the most costly to repair.

Maybe a list would look like this:

  1. Electrical: Bad electrical systems can start fires. So they should always be kept safe.
  2. Roofing: The roof on your house protects the whole thing, and leaks can be very costly, especially if you don’t meet your insurance deductible and you’re paying out of your pocket.
  3. HVAC: If you live in a cold climate, heating can be a matter of life or death. Ditto air conditioning in places where summer heat is extreme.
  4. Plumbing: Plumbing systems can be hard to fix. If you know there’s a problem, prioritize the work, because plumbing leaks can be bad, bad news.
  5. Appliances: I put appliances last on the list because they can usually be repaired with the least pain and investment. If the fridge breaks, the world won’t end. If everything listed above is in good shape and you’re looking to cross those last few items off your list, new appliances make everyone happy!

It Might Just Be Personality

In the end, it might all just come down to personality type. Some people are planners. And some people like to wing it. You know which one you are.