Spring Real Estate 2006

Publication Date: Friday, April 28, 2006

You own it: Now what?
Keeping a home in tip-top shape

by Adena DeMonte

Whether you manage to find the house of your dreams in pristine condition or needing work, over the years a house will show signs of age.

For a new house or one already reconditioned for sale, you might buy your house with walls freshly painted and papered and sparkling windows filtering fresh sunlight onto parquet floors glistening with a high-polished finish.

A few years later, parts of your home might begin to deteriorate. Your floors, lacking their previous luster, have taken a beating from daily use. When lit, the fireplace sends smoke back into the house, damaging your marble. The rain gutters back up causing water to end up places where you know it shouldn't be and as you throw a pity-party, only the termites will be celebrating. Meanwhile, the rich, dark-hued paint you originally loved for the exterior of your home has faded to a dull pastel.

Houses, like cars, need their regular tune-ups in order to be maintained. Although it is impossible to avoid all unexpected maintenance issues, a new homeowner can steer clear of most frustrations and costly repairs by following a professional's advice for keeping a home in tip-top shape.
Contractors and home-maintenance professionals agree that it is important to have your home inspected regularly in order to ensure that a few years down the line, you aren't faced with costly major renovations that could have otherwise been avoided.

"Sometimes I think people maintain their cars better than they do their houses, even though cars depreciate in value and houses go up in value," said Bob Chesnos, a San Jose-based painting contractor who suggests that homeowners walk around their house once a year to check its exterior for flaking or peeling paint and spaces around windows that need re-caulking. "Your investment will stay there or go up as long as you maintain it."

Exterior paint
Chesnos recommends that homeowners have their exterior paint inspected on a yearly basis. Wood houses need to be painted four to five times more often than stucco. While some homes have to be repainted every three to four years, others can last as long as 15 to 20 years.

"If you have a situation where wood is not properly primed and filled and not caulked to prevent water from getting in, that could lead to wood rot or termites," he said.

Keeping termites at bay
Termite infestations can cause cosmetic and structural damage to your house if left untreated. Skip Gurney, president of A&R Termites based in Palo Alto, suggests that homeowners have an inspection every three to five years to check for the tiny, destructive pests.

Signs of termite infestation include finding droppings that look like poppy seeds on flat surfaces or floors and mud residue coming up the side of a foundation, he said. He explains that three types of termites exist in the Bay Area, the subterranean termite, damp wood termite, which requires moisture to thrive, and dry wood termites. If infestation is found, treatment options range from controlling the source of the moisture to chemical application and tent fumigation.

Fireplaces and chimneys
Fireplaces are both functional and attractive elements of a home, but left without proper inspection and cleaning they could cause smoke stains on the front of your fireplace and possibly even cause a chimney fire.

John Cline of Chimney Cricket, based in Menlo Park, recommends that homeowners have their chimney inspected by a professional once a year if they use more than one cord of wood per year and once every two years if less wood is used.

In between the professional inspection, homeowners can use a flashlight to look up their chimney to make sure the gap is open and can look on the outside and make sure all cracks are filled in between the chimney and the stucco or wood of the house, he said.

Before the winter rains hit, it is important to have your gutters cleaned out, said Mark Anderson, manager of American Rain Gutter, based in San Jose. He explains that steel gutters have a tendency to rust at their seams.

Aluminum gutters are easier to maintain, but still need to be cleaned on a yearly basis. Depending on the house, wind patterns and amount of foliage around the property, the gutters may have to be cleaned up to three times per year.

Homeowners can find out if their gutters need to be cleaned by running water from a hose at the top of the downspout and seeing if it comes out the bottom. "If it comes out really slow, or if you don't have any water at all, you know you have a clog there," he said.

Keeping windows sparkling
Filthy windows cannot damage a property structurally, but clean windows will keep a property looking new. Windows should be cleaned once a year, said Robert Spatta, an independent contractor based in San Jose.

To keep windows sparkling between professional cleanings and to avoid lime or hardwire buildup, make sure sprinklers do not spray on the windows. "Keeping water off windows is a great way to prolong their life, especially with wood windows," he said.

Windows can also fail when people use drapes to protect what's behind their windows, keeping sun from penetrating, Spatta said. The light comes through the window as ultraviolet light, passes through the glass panes, is absorbed and reradiated as infrared light, which cannot pass through the glass. The heat gets stuck inside, heating the inside pane of a double window faster than the outside, eventually causing breaks in the window sills.

To avoid this problem, he suggests that homeowners replace their window pane glass with low-E (low emissivity) glass, which tints the windows, blocking out the UV rays. It also prolongs the life of interior carpet, furniture and floors and it will keep your house cooler.

Deck your deck
Decks have a tendency to wear out from the bottom up, said Kevin Copley, owner of KCP Renewers based in Campbell. To prolong the life of a deck, it's important to plan plenty of air spaces below the deck prior to its construction.

Once a deck is constructed, the maintenance over the years will be purely cosmetic. To keep decks looking their best, they should be refinished every two to three years. All deck sealers are meant to wear off, Copley said, which is healthier for the deck. Varnish or paint refinishes will peal and will wear off "ugly" and "uneven," he said. He recommends using clear or lightly pigmented finishes, which will wear off less unevenly.