June 23, 2008

Home Maintenance Tips

OFTEN, we take servicing our cars seriously, sending them for the recommended periodic check-up. But when it comes to our homes, we tend to leave them alone ... until a problem occurs and panic sets in.

Such an approach is not only bad for the house, it also puts a strain on our wallets as unbudgeted repairs can cost a limb if we are caught unawares.

To prepare, we should allocate about five per cent of our homes' value for maintenance and repairs for the first couple of years. That means around RM15,000 for a RM300,000 property.

Once this amount has been set aside, we should then subscribe to the following tips to keep our most important asset in prime condition.

The garden

Even if we have plants suited for the desert, we need to maintain a minimum level of moisture in the ground near the house to prevent sudden and severe brickwork cracking due to drying and shrinking of the soil.

However, there's no need to flood the house! Too much water can also cause bricks to crack and in extreme (wet) conditions, concrete floor slabs can become damp if not properly waterproofed.

If the ground becomes too boggy and water-logged during the rainy season, installing agricultural drains and backfilling with coarse aggregate could solve the problem.

If large trees are present, they should be regularly pruned and root barriers erected to prevent too much soil movement.

The roof

This should be checked regularly and the best way to examine it is by climbing into the space between the roof and the ceiling.

Check for tiles that become dislodged after a strong wind or storm - they will be visible because of the light that filters through. Also, any white powder or dark water stain appearing on the timber trusses would indicate cracked tiles.

In the case of metal roofs, look for rust, as oxidisation will quickly occur when the protective coating has been scratched. Pinprick rust holes will be as clear as stars at night.

If the roofing has been changed, it is important to inspect the trusses especially if the new tiles are heavier as they could cause damage to the supports, which would then have to be reinforced.

The fence

To prevent the fence from deteriorating, simply prune the trees and creepers near it regularly and drain the boggy soil.

The gutters

Gutters are quick to rust especially if overhanging trees are present as leaves will accumulate in them and clog the flow of water.

To prevent it from happening, the leaves should be cleared every couple of weeks. If rusting has already occurred, patching, puttying and painting the affected area with bituminous products available in hardware stores will work as a temporary measure.

The eaves linings should also be frequently checked as animals can peck and chew their way in with great speed. The eaves material can deteriorate over time but the decay is often due to water leaking from the roof, or from overflowing or leaking gutters.

Indoor ventilation

It is important to analyse how the air circulates as stale air, excessive humidity and condensation can affect health and cause materials to deteriorate.

Timber flooring

This material can cause floors to squeak underfoot over time, particularly during dry conditions. It's not a serious structural problem - just the consequence of the timber warping or shrinking as it dries. However, it can be irritating.

To deaden the sound, the floorboards can be packed with fibrocement pieces or wedges of wood.

Plastered ceilings and walls

It's normal for most plastering to crack over time, but be warned: Recurring cracking could be a sign of more serious problems and warrant further investigation.

In old houses, plastered walls and ceilings could bulge or sag because of rising damp caused by a breakdown in the damp-proof course leading to condensation, or because of roof leakages.

Professional inspection

The tips provided some things to consider in proper home maintenance. But just as we would leave our cars in the hands of trained mechanics, we should engage professionals - in this case, trained architects - to inspect our homes, recommend a maintenance programme and offer design solutions.

It should not be a one-off exercise, either. Just as we send in our cars every 5,000km, home inspection should be conducted every five years if we want to be assured of decades of pleasurable living.

* If you have a horrifying story on home defects, we'd like to hear it. Get the entry forms from www.pam.org.my or www.architectcentre.com.my. All stories judged worthy of publishing every fortnight will win OKIN termite inspection vouchers worth RM200 each and RM250 worth of Dortez locks.

Weekly winners will be in the running to win grand prizes worth more than RM18,000 in total! You could either email your entry to [email protected] gmail.com or post it to NST-Property, "Your Worst Nightmare Competition", 4th Floor, Balai Berita, 31 Jalan Riong, 59100 Kuala Lumpur or to Architect Centre Sdn Bhd, 4&6 Jalan Tangsi, 50480 Kuala Lumpur. For more information, email [email protected] or call 03-2698 2488.

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