Home Maintenance For Dummies book cover

Home Maintenance For Dummies

By: James Carey and Morris Carey Published: 10-26-2009

A hands-on, step-by-step guide to properly maintaining your home

Your home requires regular maintenance to operate safely and efficiently. The expert advice in this second edition of Home Maintenance For Dummies can help you save literally thousands of dollars each year by showing you how to perform home maintenance yourself!

This new edition provides the latest tips on how to tune up your home and make repairs to every room of the house, from basement to attic. By combining step-by-step instructions and expert information, this practical guide gives you the skills to tackle everything from furnace tune-ups to leaky roofs. You'll also learn how to conduct routine inspections, keep major appliances running efficiently, and increase energy efficiency.

  • Shows how to keep your home in tip-top shape, preserve its value, and avoid costly repairs
  • Covers all rooms of the house, in addition to the roof, foundation, and exterior
  • Explains how to keep all home systems and major appliances running smoothly
  • Includes a seasonal maintenance schedule
  • Provides the latest green maintenance options to help lower your utility bills

James Carey and Morris Carey have a radio show, a newspaper column, and a Web site, all called On the House, and appear regularly on CBS News Saturday Morning. They are also the authors of Home Remodeling For Dummies

If you've always wanted to tackle home repairs like a pro, Home Maintenance For Dummies, 2nd Edition is your ideal resource!

Articles From Home Maintenance For Dummies

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48 results
48 results
How to Preserve Your Deck

Article / Updated 04-14-2022

One of the best ways to protect your outdoor wood surfaces is to use a high-quality, oil-based wood preservative. Using an oil-based wood preservative with ultraviolet inhibitors keeps your deck surfaces looking newer longer. Unlike paint, oil doesn’t lay on the surface; it penetrates deeply into the pores of the wood, preventing the attack of moisture from within. Oil also penetrates between joints and connections. With oil, there is no rigid surface layer (as there is with paint) that can bubble or split. However, oil eventually evaporates out of the wood, leaving it unprotected. If you use an oil preservative, you need to recoat your wood every 12 to 18 months. Excessive amounts of oil can puddle, and puddled oil doesn’t dry. Plus, puddling scuffs easily and can stick to furniture, feet, and shoes — meaning the destruction of interior floors. So when you oil horizontal surfaces (especially decks), take care: They’re less forgiving than vertical surfaces (such as fences, posts, and rails). Help force the oil or oil stain into the surface by going back over the entire area with a paintbrush or roller (called back-brushing). A China-bristle or natural-bristle paintbrush is by far the best applicator for use with oil. Don’t use a nylon paintbrush with oils, oil stains, or oil-based paints. You can also make your own wood preservative at home. You need: Boiled linseed oil Mineral spirits Pigment (the kind used to color paint) Mildicide (a pesticide that kills mildew; it’s available at paint stores) Mix equal parts of oil and mineral spirits. Then add pigment to the intensity you like, and stir in a package of mildicide. (Follow the instructions for the mildicide as if you were adding it to an equal volume of paint.) When applying the preservative, don’t put it on too thick. A little bit goes a long way. If you opt for stain, choose one designed for the surface you want to cover: Horizontal surfaces: Well-meaning do-it-yourselfers often end up applying stains designed for vertical surfaces (such as siding, trellises, and fences) on horizontal surfaces (such as decks, porches, and steps). But if you want to stain a horizontal surface, look for a product designed specifically for decks. Deck stains are made to resist scuffing where lots of traffic is expected. A semitransparent, oil-based stain is a good bet. The combination of oil and a pigment protects the wood from both sun and water and hides surface irregularities. Plan to spend in the neighborhood of $35 to $55 per gallon on semitransparent, oil-based stain. A gallon covers approximately 300 to 500 square feet. Vertical surfaces: Stains designed for use on vertical surfaces are not as abrasion resistant as those made for decks. A semitransparent stain shows off the beauty of the wood because you can see through the stain. A solid-color stain won’t show through, but the solid color protects the wood for a longer period of time. Solid-color stain is not like paint; it looks like paint and acts like stain — full coverage, but without the pitting, chipping, splitting or bubbling. Always apply an oil or oil-stain finish (wood preservative) either early or late in the day when the wood is not in full sun. The thinner that helps the oil penetrate evaporates quickly on hot days and can reduce the viscosity of the oil to a glue-like mess. Oil that’s too thick will end up laying on the surface. One to three very thin applications of a high-quality product may be required. If you like the natural color of the wood that you want to protect, and you don’t want to alter its appearance, try a clear finish. Just be sure that the clear finish that you purchase contains UV inhibitors to fight off an ultraviolet sunburn. Beware of the popular “cure-all” water seals. Many of these products contain petroleum jelly or paraffin, which offer minimal water protection and absolutely no UV protection. Furthermore, these products have little penetration and rapidly evaporate.

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How to Clean and Deodorize Your Carpet

Article / Updated 03-04-2022

Carpet-cleaning professionals say that the most effective method of keeping carpeting clean — and making it last a long time — is to vacuum it regularly. In fact, they recommend vacuuming three or more times per week, and daily in high-traffic areas. They also point out that the quality of your vacuum makes a difference. An upright vac does the best job of removing deep-down dirt, but a big canister vac with a beater-bar head is good, too. Whichever vacuum you prefer, the motor must be powerful enough to create enough suction to remove the dirt, sand, and debris that is ground into the carpet. If the vac has a beater bar, its brushes should be free of lint, fuzz, and threads. The suction port and hose should be checked regularly for suction-robbing blockages, and the bag should be changed frequently to ease the flow of air through the vac. Aside from regular vacuuming, the best way to keep your carpet clean and reduce wear is to place welcome mats outside every exterior door, and rugs on the inside to catch any leftover grit before it gets farther into the house. Finally, it really pays to have everyone remove their shoes when they come into the house. Spot cleaning But what do you do when little Nina spills some sticky red juice in the living room? Give her a big hug, tell her that you love her, and then spot-clean! Most of today’s carpets are made with a factory-applied stain guard. So usually, a small amount of water and a drop of vinegar or club soda will get out a stain. Use a clean, white, dry cloth. Don’t scrub — blot. The most common mistakes people make when they try to spot-clean are over-scrubbing and using too much water. Scrubbing destroys carpet fibers. Excess water gets below the carpet into the pad, which leads to mildew and a funky smell. Carpet cleaning solutions Sooner or later, your carpet will need to be cleaned. Most do-it-yourself carpet-cleaning machines use the hot-water extraction method: A hot-water-and-detergent solution is sucked out of a reservoir, sprayed on the carpet, and immediately extracted with a powerful vacuum. Here are a few tips that will help you be a carpet-cleaning success: Before you head off to the hardware store to rent a machine, you need to know what your carpet is made of to select the right cleaning solution. Before you start, test the solution on an out-of-the-way spot to make sure it won’t leave a stain of its own or bleach the color out. Read the instructions on the machine and on the detergent. Follow them exactly. Open the windows (or turn on the air conditioning) and use a powerful fan to help speed the drying process. The quicker you get the moisture out of the carpet, the better. Removing odors Time, home life (especially cooking), and pets can make carpets stinky. You may not notice anymore, but anyone who comes into the house probably does. If your carpet has picked up a funky smell, you can try a commercial carpet deodorizer or you can go to the pantry and arm yourself with a box of baking soda. Sprinkle it into the carpet, leave it for a few hours, and then vacuum it up. For less money and a little extra work, you can try sprinkling grated potato (yes, potato!) all over the carpet in question. Let it stand for several hours and then vacuum. If neither of these methods works, stop trying to avoid the inevitable and call a carpet-cleaning company.

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How to Clean and Care for Glass Shower Doors

Article / Updated 03-04-2022

Glass shower doors look modern and stylish and keep water off your floors, but some people hate them because they are hard to clean and slide off their tracks too easily. You can use the hints here to clean your shower doors and get them back on track in a jiffy. Cleaning solutions Try these methods to get a shower door clean and keep it that way: Using lemon-oil polish and a scouring pad, scrub the glass panels with gusto. If the door has acrylic panels, go easy on the scrubbing or you may scratch the acrylic. Scrub with sodium carbonate. You can find a pure form of sodium carbonate, called pH Increaser, at swimming pool retailers. Use a sponge and dishwashing detergent to clean the shower door (and the rest of the shower stall) after every shower. Place a couple of small suction cups that have small hooks on the inside of a shower door. Use the pair of hangers to suspend a vinegar-soaked rag on the inside of the shower door. Reposition the hangers and rag periodically to conquer small sections at a time. This may sound funny and look terrible, but the vinegar will soften the mineral deposits. Really dirty shower doors may require some scrubbing with a nylon scouring pad. Get it back on track If the doors get out of alignment, or the rollers come off the track, you can usually reset the doors by lifting them in the frame and resetting the rollers in the channel. When the doors drag, or they don’t stay in the bottom channel, you need to adjust the rollers: Lift the outer door until the rollers clear the top track; then pull the bottom of the door out and away from the bottom channel and set it aside. Do the same with the inner door. Clean debris from the bottom track and clean the door frames. Loosen the screws that hold the rollers to the door frame and adjust them to raise or lower the door as needed. If the screws are rusted, replace them with zinc-coated or stainless-steel screws. Spray a dry silicone lubricant lightly on the rollers to keep them operating smoothly.

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Home Maintenance For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 02-28-2022

Home maintenance is all about being prepared. If you spend a little time now buying ingredients for cleaners, putting together a toolkit, and staying on top of monthly maintenance tasks, you’ll not only prevent small problems from getting bigger, but you’ll also be ready to act quickly in the future if a big problem does crop up.

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How to Care for Your Septic System

Article / Updated 04-19-2017

If you live in a rural area or have vacation property in the middle of nowhere, you’re no doubt familiar with the form and function of a septic system. In brief, a septic system is your very own onsite sewage treatment facility. It’s used primarily where access to a municipal sewer system is neither available nor economically practical. A septic system is out of sight and is odorless (when properly maintained). A septic system is reasonably maintenance-free. A well-constructed, properly maintained tank could last indefinitely. However, the leach field (the underground area where all of the sewage drainpipes are located) will most likely require some treatment or perhaps replacement after about 15 to 20 years of service. Following a few simple rules — like not using too much water and not depositing materials in the septic tank that bacteria can’t decompose — should help to make a septic system trouble-free for many years. According to proper septic tank maintenance, the tank does need to be cleaned out when too many solids build up. When thinking about septic tank maintenance, be mindful about what you and your family put into your septic system. It doesn’t take much to upset the delicate biological balance within the tank. You can extend the life of a septic system by watching everything that’s introduced to the system and by following these maintenance recommendations: Inspect your system and keep accurate records. Regularly inspect your system for proper upkeep and organize your system’s records (diagram, system maintenance, etc.). Pump out your septic tank regularly. The standard rule is to pump your septic tank every one to three years to ensure that solids are properly broken down and will not clog the drain field. Routine pumping can help prevent system failure and increase the longevity of your system. Conserve water and monitor usage. Moreover, discharging more water into the system than it can handle can cause it to back up — not a desirable occurrence. Don’t use excessive amounts of any household chemicals. You can use normal amounts of household detergents, bleaches, drain cleaners, and other household chemicals without stopping the bacterial action in the septic tank. But, for example, don’t dump cleaning water for latex paintbrushes and cans into the house sewer. Don’t deposit coffee grounds, cooking fats, wet-strength towels (paper towels that don’t dissolve easily, like the heavy-duty kind), disposable diapers, facial tissues, cigarette butts, and other non-decomposable materials into the house sewer. These materials won’t decompose, will fill the septic tank and will plug the system. Use a high-quality toilet tissue that breaks up easily when wet. One way to find out if your toilet paper fits this description is to put a handful of toilet tissue in a fruit jar half-full of water. Shake the jar, and if the tissue breaks up easily, the product is suitable for the septic tank. Avoid dumping grease down the drain. It may plug sewer pipes or build up in the septic tank and plug the inlet. Keep a separate container for waste grease and throw it out with the garbage. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, because of the presence of significant numbers and types of bacteria, enzymes, yeasts, and other fungi and microorganisms in typical residential and commercial wastewaters, the use of septic-system additives containing these or any other ingredients is not recommended. Again,it's important that you have your septic tank pumped and cleaned by a professional every one to three years. A septic tank in a northern climate will need to have the solids removed more often than a tank farther south. (This geographic variance is primarily because cooler temperatures inhibit bacterial action and provide less decomposition of the sewage solids.) How often you need to have your septic tank pumped also depends on the size of the tank, the volume of wastewater, and how many solids go into it. Constant foul odor, slow drains, and drains that back up are all telltale signs that your septic tank needs pumping. When in doubt, call in a septic pro.

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How to Quiet Noisy Water Pipes

Article / Updated 04-13-2017

A water hammer, loose mounting straps, or high water pressure can cause water pipes to clang and clatter. Never fear, here are tips for quieting your water pipes, no matter what is causing all that noise. Combating water hammers Imagine a fast-moving stream of water traveling down a narrow pipe. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the water finds a closed valve in place of what, moments earlier, was an escape point. All of a sudden, the water has nowhere to go. As it comes to an abrupt stop, a loud thud results, and it can be heard throughout the entire house. This deafening sound is known as a water hammer. The hammering action that creates the horrible racket is actually capable of damaging joints and connections in the pipe. An air chamber is a vertical pipe located in the wall cavity at the point near a faucet or valve where the water-supply pipe exits the wall. Air chambers act as cushions to prevent water from slamming against the piping. Because air compresses, it absorbs the shock of the fast-moving water before it has a chance to slam against the end of the pipe. Many household plumbing systems have air chambers built into them at critical locations — like the clothes washer and dishwasher — where electric shut-off valves close rapidly. In some homes, air chambers exist at every location where water is turned on and off — even the toilet. To eliminate a water hammer, you need to replenish all the air chambers with air. You can’t inspect the air chambers, so this procedure is a must whenever you notice a faint noise in the pipe: Shut off your home’s main water supply valve. Open the highest faucet inside your house. Find the lowest faucet on the property — it’s usually on the first floor somewhere outside or in the basement — and turn it on to completely drain all water from the pipes. As the water drains from the pipes, air automatically replaces it. The moment the water is completely drained from the piping, turn off the lowest faucet and reopen the main valve. Air pushes out of the horizontal and open vertical water lines, sputtering as it exits the faucets inside. However, air remains in the air chambers, eliminating water hammer. Tightening loose mounting straps Sometimes a water hammer can occur when a pipe-mounting strap is loose. These straps consist of metal plumber’s tape or the vinyl-coated nail-in hooks and hangers that attach pipes to framing. A loose pipe strap allows the pipe to freely vibrate against framing members as water is turned on and off. Check all accessible pipes to ensure that they’re properly and tightly connected. Never use galvanized plumber’s tape or galvanized straps on copper pipe. When different metals contact one another, electrolysis can occur, which can lead to a plumbing leak. Adjusting too-high water pressure Another reason for banging pipes is excessively high water pressure. You can adjust water pressure with a water-pressure regulator or pressure-reducing valve. Most modern homes have a regulator mounted at the location where the main water supply enters the home. If you don’t have a regulator, consider having one installed. A professionally installed pressure regulator can cost several hundred dollars, but it’s a good investment in the long run. (Only do-it-yourselfers with some serious plumbing skills should try to install a pressure regulator themselves.) Not only is high water pressure wasteful, but it can damage dishwashers, icemakers, washing machines, and other water-supplied automatic appliances. In fact, many appliance warranties are voided when water pressure exceeds 100 pounds per square inch (psi). Testing water pressure is important regardless of whether you have a pressure regulator. You can test the water pressure yourself using a water-pressure gauge that screws onto a hose bib; in most communities, the water department will conduct the test at no charge. Normal water pressure runs between 30 and 55 psi. If you already have a regulator, use a screwdriver or wrench to adjust it so that the pressure doesn’t exceed 50 psi.

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Your Monthly Home Maintenance Checklist

Article / Updated 05-12-2016

Maintenance performed regularly and on schedule provides optimum longevity and helps prevent potential breakdowns or malfunctions. Beyond maintenance procedures for operational sake, the primary (and most important) reason for checking, inspecting, and constantly tuning up your home is to ensure maximum safety for you and your family. Make these tasks part of your monthly home maintenance schedule: Check water-purification and water-softener filters. Test the water-heater pressure and temperature-relief valve for proper operation. Clean and freshen your drains. Degrease and freshen your disposal using vinegar ice cubes. Pour 1 cup of vinegar into an empty ice-cube tray, fill the balance of the tray with water, and freeze until solid. Clean and replace furnace and air-conditioner filters. Check the steam system safety valve and steam gauge. Check the water level of your steam system. Clean the filter on the interior of wall-mounted heat pumps. Check air intakes for insect blockages and debris. Clean the range-hood filter. Clean your appliances. Remove and clean range burners. Wash and rinse the clothes-dryer lint screen. Inspect, clean, and lubricate at least one major appliance per the manufacturer’s instructions. Deep-clean laminate surfaces. Clean and brighten tile and grout. Deep-clean all types of flooring. Test fire-extinguisher pressure gauges. Test smoke-detector sensors and alarms. Test carbon-monoxide detectors. Test the auto-reverse safety feature on garage-door openers.

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How to Tuck-Point Brick and Block Foundations

Step by Step / Updated 04-26-2016

Over time, mortar tends to deteriorate. Not only are cracked and deteriorating mortar joints unsightly, but they also diminish the integrity of the surface and can allow water to get behind the brick or block and cause major damage. You can avoid these problems by tuck-pointing the brick or block foundation, which means removing and replacing cracked or missing mortar. Avoid applying mortar in extreme weather conditions because the mortar won’t properly set up.

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How to Level Settled Brick Patios and Walkways

Article / Updated 04-26-2016

Although leveling and resetting a brick patio is slow, heavy work, it’s not a complex project — just one that takes time and effort to do right. If you are ready to break a sweat, gather your tools and then follow these steps: Use chalk to mark out the settled area. Chalk marks are easy to remove when you finish your project. Use a small pry bar to remove the whole bricks and stack them neatly nearby. Start in the middle of that area and work toward the edge. Number any partial, cut bricks using a light-colored crayon. Don’t use chalk — it’ll rub off and make resetting a nightmare. When all the settled area’s bricks are removed, explore what’s underneath. You should find sand. And under that you may find crushed limestone or compacted gravel. But it’s more likely that you’ll find dirt or clay underneath. If you find dirt or clay that’s wet or loose underneath the brick, dig it out until you find solid earth. Fill the now-low areas of the bed with crushed limestone and compact it thoroughly using a hand tamper. Your wrists and hands will never be the same! Use a level to see where the top of the reset bricks will be; then use more crushed limestone (tamp it down good!) to fill the bed until there are 3 inches between the bottom of the level and the top of the bed. Most patio bricks are 2 inches thick, and you want to leave room for 1 inch of sand underneath. Add 1 inch of sand. Double-check that you still have 2 inches for the bricks. Reset the bricks you removed earlier, working from the middle outward. Be careful to maintain the original pattern. Be sure to put them in straight down to avoid jamming sand between them and messing up the spacing. Whack each brick hard a couple of times with a rubber mallet to make sure they’re securely set. Sweep fine sand into the joints to fill the gaps and to lock the now-level bricks in place. Save some sand to sweep in after the next rain.

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How to Fix Fireplace Cracks

Article / Updated 04-26-2016

In a masonry fireplace, firebrick is used to construct the firebox. Refractory brick panels line the firebox of a prefabricated metal fireplace. In both cases, the bricks and fireclay mortar are designed to withstand extreme temperatures. However, over time, the brick, mortar, or panels can crack and crumble, creating a serious fire hazard. Here’s what you need to do to address these problems: If a brick in a masonry fireplace cracks, you need to patch it. If the brick is crumbling, have it replaced with a new firebrick embedded in refractory mortar. If the mortar joints in a firebox are crumbling, chisel out the old mortar and replace it with new mortar. This process, known as tuckpointing, is the same one you follow to replace or repair mortar joints in any brick structure. The only difference is that in a firebox, you must use refractory mortar, which is specially designed to withstand extreme temperatures. If the integrity of the majority of the firebrick and mortar in the firebox is in question, have a qualified chimney sweep or masonry contractor inspect it. If replacement is in order, the job is best left to a pro. If a panel of a prefabricated metal fireplace develops extensive cracks or is beginning to crumble, replace it with a new panel. This is a job that most do-it-yourselfers can handle: Simply remove the old panel by unscrewing the screws that hold it in place and install the new panel; it should fit snuggly against the adjoining panels. When replacing a rear panel, remove the side panels first. Refractory mortar is not generally needed, because the corners are designed to fit snuggly against one another. To make the job of finding a replacement panel easy, jot down the fireplace make and model number. (You can find these numbers on a metal plate just inside the opening of the firebox.) Give this information to the manufacturer or an installing dealer. Although replacement panels are often a stock item, a special order may be required, which can take from a few days to a couple of weeks. Don’t use the fireplace until a full and final repair has been made. Repairing minor cracks and mortar joints in prefabricated metal fireplaces is essentially the same as with a brick firebox.

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