Now that you have spent a small fortune on your new home, don’t expect it to be problem-free. Hopefully you’ve bought from a reputable builder (see my article on this) and when legitimate breaks do occur they have a reliable warranty department that addresses them quickly and gets it done right the first time. But what do you do about non-covered items during the warranty period or when your warranty expires? If you ignore your responsibilities here, it can cost you in re-sale value and repair costs. Moreover, you should be maintaining your mold and perform mold testing at regular intervals of time. This is one of the easiest and useful way to maintain your house as a home owner. You can even hire some professionals to do that for you if you are not comfortable doing that. As someone who has spent the last twenty years servicing new home warranties I can share with you the wisdom of that experience. I have been a front line observer of many quality products and their proper installation as well as their inferior counterparts. My approach will be to break down these tasks in a fashion that sets priorities to prevent latent problems that can result from neglecting first order maintenance.
After addressing the exterior primary focus for homeowner maintenance – Foundation Maintenance: It All Starts at the Bottom – your next major concern is to prevent water intrusion from the outside. A well-sealed home will prevent mold and mildew and keep surfaces protected from water damage. Likely areas where water can intrude easily into your home are around windows and doors and where other penetrations are designed into the home as in wiring and pipe conduits from plumbing, electrical and HVAC devices.
An exterior grade caulk is your best defense for these areas. Eventually, over time, the sealants that were applied at construction will shrink and crack. Around windows and doors you’ll want to use a latex product with silicone. Other products like pure silicone or butyl may last longer but are either toxic or cannot be painted over. Polyurethane sealants like SONOLASTIC® NP 1™ are good exterior caulks for sealing pipe penetrations at brick and siding. Check these areas at a/c condenser units, hose bibs, phone lines and electric meter inlets.
Your roof is also a likely source for water leaks. Every other year it is a good practice to pay a professional roofer to fully inspect your roof and the materials used to find potential problems that will later develop into leaks. Vent pipes will develop seal breaks over time and, due to movement from shifting soils along with high winds, shingles and flashing can start to lift and come loose. A good roofer will charge around $200.00 (depending on your region of the country) for this inspection. If there are any serious problems that need to be addressed they will be willing to quote you a price for repair. Don’t feel obligated to take the first bid but if you do seek other estimates, don’t draw this process out. Act quickly before water-damage to the interior occurs.
A winter time condition that can also create roof leaks are ice dams. Ice dams are in part the result of poor insulation in the attic. Where there are insulation weak spots in your attic, combined with hot air loss through ceiling fixtures, the roof temperatures will create warm spots. This becomes a problem when it has snowed and you have a nice healthier layer of the icy blanket on your roof. A warm spot at a high point of the roof snow will melt and as it passes down the roof it begins to freeze back up creating an ice barrier under the softer snow. This serves as a dam for the melting water and over time can allow it to seep through roofing materials, into your attic, through walls and insulation where mold and mildew will develop, especially on drywall. See my previous article on this, How to Avoid Roof Damage From Ice Dams, for details and how to avoid it.
One other area where water can gain access to your home are areas around the foundation where drainage is poor. This is especially likely if the foundation is covered up completely. Ideally you should have a 6-8″ exposure on your foundation. A little less or a little bit more is not a bad thing but you should always makes sure you can see the top of the foundation and a few extra inches. Where your siding or brick meet the foundation is a “break point” and a likely area for water to penetrate.
Water can pass pretty much through anything if it sets long enough. This process is known as osmosis. Many home builders today use polymer materials in every manner to prevent water intrusion but some materials may have been slightly damaged during construction and went unnoticed. These “defects” will worsen over time. Always want to maintain a 5 degree grading away from the foundation. Periodically check, especially after severe weather and correct any erosion and fill any concave areas that might have developed close to the foundation.