Homeownership is a full-time, year-round job that requires constant upkeep. As we usher in the New Year, we tend to set resolutions, trade vices in for better choices, and carve out time for our priorities. Is keeping a healthy, happy home in tip-top shape on your mind?
Thinking of – and carrying out – the lengthy list of maintenance tasks that needs to be done around the home is a big undertaking, especially for new homeowners. But setting aside the time to look after your home will ensure you’re protecting it, staving off costly repairs.
Here’s our list of 10 things every homeowner should add to their beginning-of-the-year checklist to future-proof their home and keep it running as good as new.
Put Your Family’s Safety First
For peace of mind for the upcoming year, double-check that your safety measures around the home are in working order. Test your fire alarm and your carbon monoxide detector and replace batteries if needed. You can also check on the home security alarm and sprinkler system if you have one. These safety measures will put a dent on your insurance premiums, as you’re doing your due diligence to look after your home.
Inspect your fire extinguisher by checking that the gauge shows adequate pressure and is still within the expiration date. You also need to check your first aid and disaster preparedness kits – if an emergency strikes, you need to have enough resources, such as food and water, to last your family for about three days, along with a flashlight, radio, a small sum of extra cash, and batteries.
Update Your ICE List
Your In Case of Emergency (ICE) list chronicles the contacts you need to have at the ready when things go sideways. It’s important that this list is up-to-date and includes the correct phone numbers for people such as family members, close friends, neighbors, and even your family doctor, veterinarian, and any other specialists your family members rely on.
Your ICE list should also include services such as your utilities providers, poison control center, and pest control, for example. Print a copy of this list and keep it somewhere easily accessible to everyone in your home.
Do an Inventory Check
The start of the year is a great time to update your inventory list. Go from room-to-room, logging a list of electronics, furniture, and other valuables. Take pictures of these items (and a video of each room identifying your possessions), keep hard or emailed copies of receipts, and record serial numbers, product names, and their year of manufacture.
An updated, comprehensive inventory list documenting what you own and how much each item costs will help you with insurance claims in case anything goes wrong, from natural disasters to theft. Store this list, with its accompanying parts such as receipts, in a safe place. You can even email a copy to yourself for safekeeping. You’ll thank yourself in the event of misfortune – having everything at your fingertips will make the claims process so much easier during an already stressful time.
While you’re doing your inventory check, update your notes on the condition and warranties for your electronics, and throw out and store manuals as necessary. Get re-acquainted with your insurance policy too – make sure you know when your policy needs to be renewed, what it covers, and what it doesn’t.
Conduct an Energy Audit
At least once a year, homeowners should conduct a home energy assessment to better understand how to make their home’s energy usage most efficient. It’s worth your while: the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that home energy audits could cut energy bills by 20 to 35 percent.
Room-by-room, check for air leaks and poor insulation, with a close look at windows, doorframes, attics, basements, and crawlspaces. Air leaks and cracks around the home need to be sealed or re-caulked so heating isn’t seeping through and going to waste. You can even add weather stripping or replace window frames as needed. You may notice a drastic change just from this simple step – certain rooms may feel less drafty, your utility bills may creep down, and your air quality may improve.
During your energy audit, you’ll also need to check on the efficiency of appliances, such as your water heater and air conditioner. Replacing a water heater on its last legs can result in three to four times more efficiency in heating up the hot water in your home, for example.
Refresh Your Kitchen Pantry for the New Year
January is an opportune time to give your kitchen an overhaul with the New Year’s clean slate in mind. You’ll be glad the task is done when spring cleaning rolls around – there’s the rest of the house to purge and re-organize then!
Look through your kitchen pantry, fridge, freezer, and spice rack to get rid of anything that’s expired and donate any ingredients or products you barely use or don’t want to keep lying around.
Plan Ahead for the Rest of the Year
While you’re taking initiative with these New Year’s tasks, you’re not off the hook for the rest of the year. With the winter weather, it isn’t ideal to carry out some duties, such as cleaning the gutters and the garage, or making repairs to the roof or the backyard deck.
They’re still vital though – clogged gutters, for example, can cause problems such as water damage or introducing vermin to your home.
Sit down and map out your home maintenance tasks and home improvement projects for the year ahead, keeping the changing seasons in mind. In spring and summer, you’ll have to look after your home’s exterior from repainting the fence to looking after the lawn, while autumn means cleaning the chimney, stowing the barbecue and protecting your outdoor plants.
Home renovation projects may be on the horizon for the upcoming year, too. You may be thinking of adding a deck or a gazebo to your backyard, remodelling the kitchen with custom details tailored to your needs, or laying out fresh tile in your bathroom. Planning ahead and adding reminders to your calendar to look after these tasks will help you stay on top of them as the year progresses. Your safety tests on your fire alarm and carbon monoxide detector need to be conducted twice a year, so schedule a date in June for this chore, too.
Spruce up the House
We all tend to leave loose doorknobs, creaky doors, and missing drawer handles as they are, waiting for a quieter day to address these small problems. With your New Year’s focus in full force, grab your toolbox and head to each room to fix any problems. With your screwdriver, hammer, and a couple of nails, you could resolve a dozen or so minute repairs around the home. Pay attention to water leaks, because they often go undetected, but tightening a loose pipe or leaky faucet can decrease your water bill.
Cleaning the tiles, treating marble with the appropriate protection, and sealing grout lines also need to be done at least once a year. These are tedious tasks we may not want to do on a lazy Sunday but they’ll prevent mold growth, maintain the materials so there isn’t damage or discoloration, and keep your home looking sparkling clean.
Some rooms may need a fresh coat of paint or a spot retouch, too.
Organize Your Paperwork and Digital Documents
A home office full of old bank statements and unopened junk mail – we’re all guilty of letting housekeeping on paperwork pile up, especially in the last quarter of the year. Now’s the time to declutter your documents, so cue up a playlist of your favorite songs, brew some strong coffee, and hunker down to sort through your files.
Organize your documents, hanging onto records you want to keep with a filing system that works best for you. This could mean filing everything in paper copies, shifting to digital only, or a combination of both. Shred any private documents you don’t intend on keeping, as well as anything with your full name and address on it.
This goes for your email too – what better time to read unopened emails and unsubscribe from anything that’s no longer relevant to you? With or digital identities in full swing, backup your smart phone and any important files on your computer or laptop.
Put in the Annual Legwork for Better Ventilation
Your energy audit covered your bases for efficiently using energy but you should also clean your air filters and air ducts at least once a year to make sure clean air is circulating around your home. You may need to hire professional help with this, especially if you aren’t familiar with these specialty tasks around the home.
A sure-fire way to check is by pulling up a vent cover and looking inside for a buildup of dirt, dust, pet hair, and debris. You can pull out the air filter as well, and if it’s clogged with dust, that’s usually a tell-tale sign that airflow is blocked.
Checking the state of your furnace and AC coil can indicate if your air ventilation isn’t at its best.
Finally, pay attention to the humidity levels in your home – they should be between 30 percent and 50 percent humidity when tested with a hygrometer at least once a year. Anything higher than 50 percent could trigger mold and mildew while anything lower than 30 percent can hurt your paint job or even the health of you and your family.
Audit Your Utilities, Accounts, and Budget for the Year
Stay on top of your household’s upcoming finances by setting a budget that accounts for everything life will throw at you in the next calendar year. Homeowners tend to fixate on fixed monthly expenses, such as mortgage payments, utilities, and other bills, but we forget about the one-time expenses that decimate our bank accounts like property taxes and HOA fees. Be proactive and start siphoning off savings for these annual bills you know you’ll need to pay.
With your home improvement plans for the year, estimate how much these projects will cost you and set aside funds to cover any upgrades and renovations you’ll make. As a good rule of thumb, it’s safe to budget about 1 to 3 percent of your home’s purchase price each year to cover homeowners’ maintenance costs. If you’re investing in a renovation or your home is aging, lean closer to the 3 percent mark.
Evaluate your accounts and don’t simply pay them out of habit. Auditing your monthly subscriptions and memberships, doing your research to secure the best prices and trimming the fat where needed could save you thousands of dollars this year.
Carmen Chai is an award-winning Canadian journalist who has lived and reported from major cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, London and Paris. She started her career in journalism writing about crime and local news for the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper. After that, she covered a variety of subjects from federal politics in Ottawa to the 2015 attacks in Paris. She has also worked as senior health reporter for Global News and as now the Parliamentary Affairs Manager for UK Research and Innovation. For NewHomeSource, Carmen covers a variety of topics, including insurance, mortgages, and more.