No matter how much time you spend safeguarding your home and performing routine maintenance to keep everything in tip-top condition, you’ll still be blindsided by unexpected breakdowns. But often you can eliminate potential problems before they arise, saving yourself a lot of money and hassle.
1. Replace Washer Hoses to Avoid a Flood
Approximately $170 million in damages is caused to homes in the U.S. every year because of washing machine hose failures, according to State Farm Insurance. “We advise our customers to inspect their washing machine hoses regularly. Make sure the connections are secure,” says Dick Luedke, spokesman for State Farm. “You should also make sure there are at least 4 inches of clearance between the water connection and the back of the washing machine. This reduces the chances that the hose will kink. We would also advise that you do not leave your washing machine running while you are not at home.”
Reinforced rubber and stainless-steel hoses can break, even the ones that say “burst-resistant” or “burst-proof.” The hoses typically fail at the same spot—the coupling. But cracks and leaks at the connection point are common, too, so check that as well. If your hoses are more than five years old, replace them with ones made from braided stainless steel. That $20 investment for a two-pack can eliminate thousands of dollars of damage from hoses that fail.
2. Clean Your Fridge’s Coils Before Its Performance Deteriorates
Coils underneath or behind a refrigerator attract dust, debris and dog hair. Besides being unsightly, dirty coils can restrict airflow and make the fridge work harder, which could shorten its life span and reduce its efficiency. “If coils get dirty enough to block the air exchange or reduce air exchange, then cleaning them will help improve the energy consumption and cooling capacity,” says Lakshmanan Ramamoorthi, senior consumer scientist, refrigerator technology, for Whirlpool.
Use a refrigerator coil brush ($10 at home centers) to wipe the coils clean. If you have a newer fridge, you may be off the hook. Some new models have the coils encased, so cleaning isn’t necessary. For the rest of us, clean the coils twice a year.
It’s unlikely that dirty coils will shorten your appliance’s life too much, but cleaning them could give you an energy efficiency boost. And while you’re at it, follow these additional tips from Lucinda Ottusch, a consumer advocate at Whirlpool. “Reduce the quantity of ‘old items’ in the refrigerator that will no longer be used and block airflow from effectively cooling the other items. Adjust the controls for the refrigerator and freezer to meet your needs—having items that are colder than they need to be uses additional energy.”
3. Remove Dryer Lint Before It Catches on Fire
The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that clothes dryer fires occur about 15,600 times each year. The leading cause of these fires is lint in the trap, the vent and the area around the dryer—lint is highly combustible. If your clothes take a long time to dry or the dryer is hot to the touch, your dryer vent may be obstructed.
While cleaning out the lint trap inside the dryer after each use is easy, cleaning out the vent itself is a multistep operation. Here’s a quick step-by-step:
1. Unplug the dryer.
2. Pull the dryer away from the wall.
3. Uncouple its connector to the wall. Replace the connector if you find it’s a flexible plastic vent; these are designed for venting bathroom fans, not dryers. Replace the connector if it’s dented, cut or severely kinked.
4. Use the vent-cleaning rods, or brush by hand to make an initial pass to clean out the dryer vent. Push and pull the rod/brush combo and work the vent clean.
5. Then, attach a cordless drill and spin clean the vent Go outside, remove the exhaust grille and repeat the procedure from the outside. If the entire dryer vent run is more than a few feet long, you can actually use an electric leaf blower to blow the vent clean. Set its nozzle into the dryer-vent opening in the wall on the inside of the house and blow the vent clear (inside to outside) while brushing the vent clean. Yes, this means that you’ve got this blowing in your face as you clean from the outside, but do you want the vent clean or don’t you?
6. Remove the dryer’s front panel and clean the inside of the appliance, being particularly fastidious to remove lint accumulation near the burner (if gas) or near the heater-element box, if it’s electric.
If possible, remove the panel shielding the moisture-sensor assembly. Clean the assembly itself and any lint that could interfere with the dryer’s ability to read moisture.
4. Free a Stubborn Sliding Door Before It Gets Stuck
If opening and closing your patio door is akin to working out, then debris is probably clogging the track and jamming the wheels. You’ll want to fix the problem before you break the handle (or strain a muscle) tugging on the door.
Start by removing the door from the track. The removal process can vary by door, but typically, it requires removing the screws at the top and bottom rails, then pulling off the stile cover that keeps the door panels from lifting out. Then lift up the door and pull the bottom toward you to remove it from the track. For more detailed instructions, check out our article on replacing a patio door.
It’s a good idea to have a helper since the door is heavy. Lay the door flat and look at the wheels along the bottom. If they’re broken, you’ll need to replace them. Otherwise, clean the wheels, door bottom, and door track with warm, soapy water. Wipe everything dry, then replace the door. Spray silicone lubricant on the track, then slide the door back and forth a few times to spread out the lubricant across the track. Return to Gallery
5. Fix Up Crumbling Masonry Before Cracks Widen
Crumbling mortar can cause bricks to come loose and even fall out of the wall or chimney. When you notice deep cracks in the mortar and wasps are taking up residence in holes in your masonry, it’s time to act. It may be that only one side of a house, chimney or retaining wall has problems, but it needs to be fixed before it gets worse.
To make minor mortar repairs, you can start by grouting: Mix up portland cement, lime and sand and force it into cracks in the mortar. (Be aware that the new mortar probably won’t match the existing color exactly, but it will weather over time for a pretty close match.)
To make more serious mortar repairs, though, you’ll have to get out the tuckpointing tools. Tuckpointing involves using an angle grinder and a plugging chisel to remove the old mortar to a depth of about three-quarters of an inch to an inch. After you mix up the mortar, put it onto a hawk or trowel, hold it next to the wall, then use a pointing trowel to pack the mortar into the joints. When the mortar starts to harden, use a joint strike tool to “finish” the joints, starting with the vertical joints and finishing with the horizontal ones.
However (and this is important): Tuckpointing is a much bigger repair job than grouting; it has the potential to cause serious damage if not done right. So if your home needs major mortar repair and you want to do it yourself, first be sure to get some training.
6. Secure Loose Rails Before You Take a Header Off the Deck
Deck posts and railings that rock back and forth can break off. Screws and nails won’t fix this problem. This job calls for a special connector that secures the railings to the deck framing and meets code requirements.
Several companies offer this type of connection. Simpson Strong-Tie Company, for example, has a DTT2 Deck Post Connector that attaches posts to joists. Simpson Strong-Tie advises: “Because the post is tied back into the deck joists, rather than to the rim joist alone, the connection is stronger than typical through-bolt installations and complies with IRC and IBC code requirements regarding handrail and guardrail post connections for decks.
7. Snip Wayward Carpet Strands to Eliminate Runs
This one’s easy, but surprisingly important. Strands of loop carpet that stick up higher than the rest of the floor need to be cut down to size. Otherwise, you can catch one with your vacuum cleaner or have a curious kid pull on it, which will cause it to unravel and leave a run across the floor. “Never pull a snag,” advises Mohawk Industries, a floor-covering manufacturer. “You’ll lose the whole line.”
Fixes don’t get any easier than this—just cut any strands that are sticking up with scissors until they’re level with the surrounding carpet. Problem solved!
8. Replace Drawer Slides Before You Pull the Drawer Apart
If pulling out a drawer has become a feat of super strength, it’s only a matter of time before you pull the face right off the drawer—or bust it up by using all your body weight to shove it back in. The problem probably comes from worn out slides. This happens to silverware drawers, for example, because they support a lot of weight.
To fix the problem, replace the drawer slides with ones that are the same size or nearly the same size as the ones you have now. This job can be challenging: It entails unscrewing the old ones and screwing on the new ones, but it can be difficult to reach—and see—screws that are far inside an assembled cabinet. If the screw holes on the new slides don’t line up exactly with the old ones, drill pilot holes before driving the screws.
Home centers carry a small selection of drawer slides, but you can find a wide range of suppliers online. There are different types, such as side-, center- or under-mount, with various operating methods. Less expensive options typically have plastic roller wheels that run along a track, while the pricier ball-bearing slides generally glide smoother and hold more weight, and some offer a self-closing option. Return to Gallery
9. Fill Cracks in an Asphalt Driveway
Small driveway cracks can fill with water and then freeze, causing them to widen and multiply. Plus, grass and weeds end up growing in the cracks, which looks hideous. So start by using an herbicide to kill those weeds or grass.
Once they’re dead, pull them out and rake the joint clean with an old hacksaw blade or reciprocating saw blade, or, for wider cracks, use a putty knife. For severe cracks, you might have to use a more powerful cleaning method, such as a wire wheel brush on a Mantis garden tiller or a rental machine. If there’s any debris such as pebbles or stones left in the cracks, remove them using a vacuum with a narrow nozzle.
Fill wide cracks with clean sand—pack the sand tight—or use backer rod. Then fill the crack with a cold patch or crack filler. Be sure to rigorously follow the manufacturer’s advice for the maximum width of crack the patch or filler can handle.
Crack fillers don’t last long, especially for wide, deep cracks. But using a sealer can help. Once you fill the cracks, don’t forget to seal the entire driveway—otherwise all your work might be in vain.
Popular Mechanics, February 2012 Volume 8 Issue 2