Stop, Look and Listen

Checking your own house periodically can prevent disasters

Home inspectors use all of their senses when inspecting a house. An experienced inspector can draw several conclusions within the first few minutes of a home inspection. Actually, as soon as we pull up to a house, we can pretty well determine what we are in for. Many of the problems we see and report on could have been avoided. Here are some things you can (and should) do periodically to maintain your house.

At least once every six months, take some time to care for your prized investment – your house. Pick a quiet time of the day when the kids are away, no gardeners are blowing leaves, and you have about half an hour of free time. Turn off the radio, iPod or TV. Quietly walk around the interior of your house and listen. Really listen for drips, leaking water, and running toilets.

One common source of leaks is in the toilet tank. If you hear running water it is usually caused by one of three things; a high water level, a

Brittle Flapper

Brittle Flapper

worn flapper, or a worn valve. The simplest problem is when the level of the water is set too high. You will see water pouring over the top of the spill tube. Adjust the float to shut the water off before the level goes over the top of this tube.

If you still hear water trickling at the toilet when the valve has stopped, your flapper valve may be worn out. Over time the flapper valve becomes brittle. It will no longer create a good seal and water trickles through. This constant flow of water can cause a lot of problems. It can deteriorate the wax seal under the toilet which leads to floor damage. It can also cost you money because tens or hundreds of gallons of water per month are going down the drain. One telltale sign of a worn flapper is “phantom-flushing”. That’s when your toilet mysteriously fills with water periodically by itself. Flappers are inexpensive and easy to replace. We recommend replacing all of them throughout the house at the same time.

If the water continues to flow after changing the flapper and adjusting the level, the valve itself may be bad or your water pressure is too high. Flush the toilet and observed the water flow. If it is spraying really hard, or if the valve whines when shutting off your pressure regulator may have failed. Call a plumber or buyer a pressure gauge (about $12) and have it checked. If the water pressure appears normal (50 – 80 psi max) then your toilet fill valve may be worn and requires replacement. Changing the toilet fill valve is fairly easy and a reasonable do-it-yourself project.

You’ll also want to listen for dripping tub and shower faucets. Again this wastes water, but it can also rust out components in the tub and

Tub Drain

Tub Drain

 drain. Fixing this might be beyond the average homeowner. So get a plumber to do it. It will save you money in the long run.

Your water heater can cause a lot of trouble particularly if it is more than 10 years old. If the water heater pops or gurgles when it is heating water, replace it. This indicates pending failure and poor efficiency. You are hearing sediment at the bottom of the tank. Over the years, sediment from the water and the rusting tank settles at the bottom. This layer of gunk acts as an insulating layer. When your water heater tries to heat water, the flame must stay on longer to heat the water. By the way, simply flushing your water heater once a year can prevent this.

To wrap up your plumbing inspection, check all of the valves under the sinks, at your clothes washer and behind the toilet. These valves

Corroded Valve

Corroded Valve

 commonly fail, and can flood your house. If you find valves that have excessive calcium build-up, have them replaced immediately. We recommend changing them all even if you find one that is deteriorated. The others will follow.

Another item that should be checked periodically is your electric panel. Now if you have any concerns about your electrical system you should not do this yourself. Rather, call an electrician. But if your electric panel is in good condition open the lid and listen for buzzing breakers. You can also gently rest your hand on the breakers to see if they are excessively hot. If either of these conditions

GFCI receptacle

GFCI receptacle

exists you should have your panel checked.  Your GFCI receptacles must also be checked periodically. They have a built-in test button. Go ahead and test them. If they do not trip, or reset, they need to be replaced.

There are many other items that should be checked at your house including the roof, windows, garage door, heating and AC system, and appliances. Plumbing and electrical systems cause the most problems. Most home inspectors will provide a maintenance inspection for homeowners. It is a good idea to have your house inspected periodically. Catching some of these items early can save you money in the long run.