Why it's Important & 7 Often Overlooked Tasks
A home maintenance checklist can be different for every home, but there are core basics that every homeowner and renter alike need to be aware of. Most of us remember to change the air filters, clean the gutters, and maybe even to change the fridge filters. But, there are also those often overlooked home maintenance items that are just as important. In fact, many of the most commonly overlooked home maintenance items can be the most dangerous if left undone. Every year tens of thousands of fires in the home are caused by dirty dryer ducts, lint filters, and chimneys, and thousands of people fall ill from food-born bacteria found in their dishwashers. Regular home maintenance can also help you be prepared for the worst. Keeping up with items like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers can play a key role in protecting you, your family, and your home.
Here are 7 Often Overlooked Home Maintenance Tasks.
Deep Cleaning the Dryer Lint Filter
Emptying your lint trap after every dry cycle is basic maintenance for your clothes dryer and is absolutely essential in order to prevent your dryer from setting on fire--so if you don’t already do it, start now! Heck, start yesterday!
OK, so assuming you already know that you need to empty your lint trap regularly, let’s talk about how you can (and you should) take cleaning your dryer lint trap to a new level by scrubbing it once every 6 months.
Why do you need to deep clean your lint trap? Well, tiny particles of lint can get stuck in the filter screen, and even more importantly, if you use any fabric softener in your laundry, it will actually start to build up a greasy residue on the mesh of the filter that will prevent air from passing through. When this happens, your dryer becomes way less effective and you increase your risk of fire, too.
Cleaning your dryer lint filter is really easy to do, it just requires finding a product that will dissolve the greasy residue that is caught on the mesh. We’ll discuss some options below.
Cleaning the Dryer Duct
Now, some of you might even be asking, “Wait! What is a dryer duct? Where is my dryer duct! What are you talking about!” and that’s fair enough. Everyone kind of knows that they need to empty their lint trap if they want to avoid a house fire. But for some reason, we hear a lot less about dryer ducts and the importance of cleaning those. This is weird because out of the thousands of dryer fires that occur every year in the U.S., a large portion of them are caused by clogged dryer ducts--not dryer filters. Dryer ducts get clogged with lint just like your lint trap does, and cleaning it out is a part of basic dryer maintenance.
Your dryer duct is the vent pipe or metal tube behind your dryer that leads to the exterior of the house. When your dryer is on, it pushes hot air out of the dryer, and sometimes lint gets pushed out right along with it. This leads to clogs and can be a real issue if you don’t keep on top of it.
So how often do you have to clean it? This is one of those tasks that really only has to be done when needed, and there are three easy ways to check if it’s needed:
- Open the duct and take a look to see if there is lint buildup
- Next time your dryer is running, go outside and look for the dryer vent. It looks like a plastic hose sticking out of the wall of your house, and it should have a plastic cover on it. If the dryer is running, the cover should be pushed open by the steady stream of air coming out of the vent. If the air stream is too weak to push the cover open, you need to clean your duct.
- Put in a load of wet clothes and see if they take longer than one cycle to dry.
To be safe, you should give your duct thorough cleanings every 6 months.
Cleaning the Chimney of A Wood-Burning Fireplace
Wood-burning fireplaces are incredible and when properly maintained they can provide warmth and coziness during cold winter nights. However, when left neglected they can build up soot and create a potential disaster. It only takes a small amount of creosote buildup to create a deadly house fire. But what, you may ask, is creosote? Good question! Creosote is an extremely flammable substance that builds up inside your chimney due to burning wood. Depending on how often you use your fireplace and how often you clean it, the rate of creosote accumulation will vary. Different types of firewood also create different amounts of creosote when burned. For example, pine is a terrible choice for firewood because it can quickly cause creosote buildup in your chimney.
Keeping the chimney of your wood-burning fireplace regularly cleaned will help prevent any excess creosote from building up and causing a possible fire hazard. If you regularly use your fireplace but can’t seem to remember the last time you cleaned your chimney, then it’s probably overdue for a cleaning. In most instances, removing chimney soot is pretty simple and you should be able to clean it yourself. However, if there appears to be a heavy buildup of creosote, then you’ll have to call a professional to clean it.
Changing a Furnace Filter
Simply, changing your furnace filter is the most important thing you can do to keep your heat working at top efficiency, and it’s so easy that a 10 year old could do it.
(Not that we’re recommending this. Don’t make your 10 year-old change your furnace filter.)
Your furnace functions by sucking up the cold air from your house, heating it, and then pushing it back out. In other words, the entire functioning of your indoor heat is based on your furnace’s ability to move air around. If the furnace has to suck air through a blocked filter, you can imagine how much harder this process will be and how much less effective your furnace will run as a result.
Looking for info on changing your AC filter? Don’t sweat! In most cases, this is the same filter as your furnace filter, so the information is the same, but we created a separate guide here for all the info you need.
Cleaning the Dishwasher Filter
There’s nothing worse than running a load of dishes to discover that they are still dirty at the end of the cycle. If your dishwasher is less efficient than normal--if it’s leaving food residue on dishes, or if the water looks dirty-- it’s probably well past time to clean your dishwasher filter. Cleaning your filter will keep the food mess going down the drain properly so that it doesn’t wind up back on your dishes.
In terms of replacing your filter, most dishwasher filters will last a solid 5 years with regular maintenance. You don’t need to start thinking about replacing a filter until you can see noticeable wear and tear, or until cleaning the filter alone doesn’t get the dishwasher efficiency back to normal.
Changing the Smoke Detector Batteries
Don’t bother changing your smoke detector batteries until you’ve tested your smoke detector. We’ve got a step-by-step of how to do that here.
Once you’ve read through that, it should be pretty obvious whether or not you should change your battery and why it’s important. But here’s a list of reasons just in case you need more motivation:
- -Smoke detectors save lives (it’s well documented)
- -Changing a battery takes 5 minutes tops
- -Climbing on a step stool can be fun
- -No working smoke detector batteries, no smoke detection...and wouldn’t you like to be alerted of such things?
- -You can’t smell or see carbon monoxide, so your smoke detector is your only shot at sensing it and getting the heck out of there.
Testing the Fire Extinguisher
Well actually...you shouldn’t! Testing your fire extinguisher by shooting the product out can lower the internal pressure and render it totally useless in the case of a real fire--so don’t do it. When it comes to “testing” your fire extinguisher, all you can really do is inspect it and give it a couple of turns to shake up the product, and this should be done once a month.
Inspecting your fire extinguisher can alert you to issues like if the content pressure of the canister is too low or too high, if the extinguisher has gotten damaged in any way, or if there is any build-up or clogging in the hose. If your extinguisher is located in a public place where lots of people (like high school students or angry customers) are able to mess with it, these inspections are absolutely crucial. Even if it’s located in an isolated place--checking the extinguisher’s pressure regularly and giving it a quick shake is still a very good idea.
Read more about testing the fire extinguishers
including printable step-by-step instructions.