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Home Maintenance Tips

from “Modern Times” Charles Chaplin


Home Maintenance Tips

A well maintained home is on every home buyer’s checklist. That’s why the easiest way to increase the value of your home is through simple, proper maintenance that shows that the home has been cared for and is in good condition. Follow these simple steps to maintain your home’s major systems and appliances, and it will protect you and your family for many years to come.

Air Conditioner
General Maintenance
  • To ensure efficient operation, check filters every month. Clean or replace as needed.
  • Keep the condensing unit free of debris.
  • Trim shrubs and plants near condensing unit to ensure proper air flow/circulation.


Problem: Unit constantly cycles on and off.

  • The evaporator unit is likely damaged. Call a qualified professional to clean the evaporator unit and fan.

Problem: Air conditioner doesn’t make air cold enough.

  • Check the area around the exterior condensing unit making sure it is clear of leaves, bushes and other obstructions that prevent adequate airflow.
  • Clean or replace air filter.
  • Create shade for the unit.
  • Secure the insulation firmly to the suction line (large line) and replace any worn-out insulation.

How To: Change Air Conditioning Filter.

Changing your air filter regularly is the least expensive thing you can do to maintain your cooling system. Dirt and air pollutants can damage your health and damage the equipment requiring expensive repair or replacement of the system. Follow these simple steps to change your air conditioner filter.

  • Step 1- Locate your furnace and the filter compartment. This compartment is normally covered by a strip of metal that slides in and out of place.
  • Step 2- Determine the size of the air filter that needs to be replaced. The sizes are noted on the side and usually appear as 16×24 inches and other similar sizes.
  • Step 3- Purchase a replacement filter in the size required for your system. There are a variety of filters to choose ranging from the inexpensive standard spun glass filters to pricier synthetic polyester fibers.
  • Step 4- Consider high efficiency filters if you live in warmer, dustier climates as they do more than just capture dust particles. The high efficiency filters can trap tiny particles of dust, pollen, mold and other irritants.
  • Step 5- Look at hepa filters and filters coated with chemicals to kill bacteria if allergies and other irritants are a concern for your family.
  • Step 6- Use a black permanent marker when you change the filter. When you slide up the metal guard, note the direction of the air flow marked on the side of the old filter and draw arrows in the same direction on the metal guard. This way you will have no question which direction to insert the new filter.
  • Step 7- Replace high efficiency filters at least 4 times per year. Read the manufacturer’s label as most recommend changing your air filter on a monthly basis. (High efficiency filters do have a longer life expectancy than the less expensive spun-fiber filters.
  • Step 8- Discard the old filter.
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Heating System
General Maintenance
  • Check filters every month.
  • Visually inspect exhaust vent for rust, damage or deterioration.
  • Trim shrubs and plants near condensing unit to ensure proper air flow/circulation.


Problem: There is no heat at all.

  • Check for blown fuses or a tripped circuit breaker.
  • Replace the drive belt.
  • Call a qualified professional.

Problem: Your home isn’t warm enough.

  • Replace the filter.
  • Locate and clean the registers throughout your home: remove obstructions blocking each register.
  • Seal leaking ducts with duct tape.
  • Call a qualified professional.

Problem: The blower makes unusual noises when the burner is off.

  • Righten the setscrews of the pulley.
  • Replace the blower mounts.
  • Replace the drive belt.
  • Adjust the belt tension.
  • Call a qualified professional.

Problem: The heater will not turn on at all.

This usually indicates that no electricity is getting to the unit. Most furnaces installed in the last 15 years have a switch located on the inside of the front panel known as the blower door switch. The panel needs to be properly aligned and completely closed to activate this switch. The purpose of the switch is to prevent the furnace from coming on when you change the filter. If that doesn’t solve the problem:

  • Make sure the thermostat is set to the temperature you desire and is set on automatic.
  • Check the circuit breaker
  • Contact the gas company to check out your unit or relight your pilot light. The gas company will do this for free.
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General Maintenance
  • Clean the interior shelves, shell and gaskets every three months.
  • Once a year, clean the coils on the back or underneath with a vacuum cleaner.
  • Check the temperature settings. 37°F is an ideal temperature for your refrigerator compartment and 0°F for the freezer.
  • If the door gasket is sealing properly, it should hold a dollar bill in place when closed.


Problem: The refrigerator is not running and the interior light is out.

  • Check for a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker.
  • Check the plug and replace the cord if damaged.

Problem: The refrigerator constantly cycles on and off.

  • Clean the coils with a vacuum cleaner only.
  • Call a qualified professional.

Problem: The refrigerator is not running and you hear an occasional clicking sound.

  • Check the fan and replace if necessary.
  • Test the thermostat and replace if necessary.

Problem: Frost forms rapidly or the unit does not defrost.

  • Adjust the door hinges to ensure a tight door seal.
  • Clean or replace the gasket. Leaks in the door seal will make it difficult to maintain the desired temperature.
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Garbage Disposal
General Maintenance
  • To clean the disposal, feed a full tray of ice cubes through it while running cold water.
  • To prevent stoppages, remember to run water during use and for at least five seconds after you finish.
  • Make sure the rubber splashguard is not damaged or missing.
  • Avoid using a garbage disposal if you are on a septic system.


Problem: Garbage disposal does not operate.

  • Check for a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker.
  • If the disposal is plugged into a wall outlet, ensure that the outlet has power.
  • On continuous-feed models, check the wall switch. On batch-feed models, check the stopper switch.
  • If the flywheel is jammed, free it using the supplied tool or a long wooden spoon handle.
  • Push the rest button.

Problem: Motor hums but unit does not grind.

Use an “Allen” wrench to un-jam the unit. This is a five sided tool (“L” shaped) that will fit into the bottom of the disposal ($2-$3 at a hardware store). With the unit turned off or unplugged, insert this into the bottom of the disposal. Move it clockwise and counter clockwise to loosen the jammed unit. Sometimes you can reach into the disposal and remove the item if it is large enough. Always Unplug The Garbage Disposal Before Reaching Into The Unit. Once you believe the unit to be clear of the jam, plug the unit back in and turn the disposal on to see if it rotates.

Problem: The disposal grinds things too slowly.

  • Run colder water when using the disposal.
  • Only dispose of materials allowed by the manual.

Problem: The disposal drains slowly.

Pour 1 cup each of baking soda and salt into the drain, immediately followed by 1 cup of vinegar. Let it sit for approximately 15-20 minutes. As you wait, boil a pot of water. After the 15-20 minutes, pour the boiling water down the drain to flush the pipes out.

Note: Do not use this remedy if you have already used a store-bought remedy in the same drain.

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Water Heater
General Maintenance
  • Drain and flush sediment from the tank twice a year.
  • Check the pressure-relief valve once a year to make sure this crucial safety device is not clogged.


Problem: There is no hot water.

  • Check the pilot light and carefully relight if out.
  • Make sure the gas controls are completely turned on. Then, check and be sure it is firmly connected to the gas control unit and positioned near the pilot flame.
  • Check the thermocouple and replace it if necessary.
  • Check the fuse box/circuit breaker. If the heater repeatedly blows fuses, call an electrician.
  • Push the reset button. Test the heating thermostats and elements.
  • Call a qualified professional.

Problem: There is not enough hot water.

  • Turn the thermostat to a higher temperature.
  • Insulate the hot water pipes.
  • Have a qualified professional install a larger heater.
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Electrical Wiring

General Maintenance
  • To help prevent power outages, make sure there are not too many appliances plugged into one circuit.
  • Regularly use the self-test button on the ground fault circuit interrupters/arc fault interrupters to ensure they’re in proper working order.
  • Before working with wires or electrical connections, check them with a voltage tester to be sure they are dead.
  • Use ground fault circuit interrupter outlets where damp conditions exist (basements, bathrooms, outdoors, etc.), as required by the National Electric Code.
  • Leave a warning message that you are working on the circuit at the service panel, and tape the circuit breaker in the off position. With a fuse box, take the fuse out.
  • Plumbing and gas pipes are often used to ground electrical systems. Never touch them while working with electricity.


Problem: No electricity to an outlet.

First try resetting your circuit breaker. If that isn’t effective, and a bathroom or kitchen outlet is affected, it could be a tripped GFI. The GFI is a “mini” breaker located inside an outlet within 10 feet of water (i.e., a sink). This GFI “button” tends to be red with test/reset noted on it, located directly on the outlet cover. This prevents electrocution by shutting off power immediately if an electrical current comes in contact with water.

A GFI is most likely located:

  • 1. In the bathroom.
  • 2. In the kitchen.
  • 3. In the garage.
  • 4. At the circuit breaker panel box.

Regardless of where it is located, it is likely that all the kitchen and bathroom circuits are hooked through this outlet. Builders generally install one GFI and then wire other outlets through it. Look in these areas for the GFI and be sure the reset button is depressed.

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General Maintenance:
  • To avoid damaging the burners/heating elements, do not use extra-large or heavy cooking pots or pans.
  • If you have a self cleaning oven, do not use any other method to clean it.
  • Mineral deposits on the electric heating element can be cleaned with vinegar.
  • Clean or change the range hood exhaust filters regularly.


Gas Range

Problem: A surface burner doesn’t light.

  • Ensure gas shut-off value is turned to the open position.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for relighting the pilot.
  • Repair or replace the spark igniter.

Problem: Pilot light doesn’t remain lit.

  • Use a small wire to clean the port.
  • Try to prevent drafts near the range.
  • Replace the thermocouple.

Electric Range

Problem: The range is not working at all.

  • Check for blown fuses or a tripped circuit breaker. If you don’t find a problem, call an electrician.

Problem: One of the elements doesn’t heat.

  • Check each part for continuity and replace if necessary.
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General Maintenance:
  • Toilet paper should be the only paper product flushed down a toilet.
  • Water filters and icemaker filters should be changed according to the manufacture’s recommendations.
  • Avoid using your garbage disposal if you’re on a septic system.
  • Drain sediment from the water heater tank according to manufacturer’s recommendations.


Problem: Little or no water from the faucet or shower head.

  • Check to ensure that the water shut-off valves are completely open.
  • Remove aerators and clean them.

Problem: Toilet runs constantly.

A leaking flapper is likely the cause. This is the round “seal” in the bottom of the tank connected to the chain for the handle. When you depress the handle, the flapper pops up to allow the water in the tank to rush into the bowl and cause the toilet to flush.

The flapper is easily removed and replaced. The flapper costs around $2-$5 at any hardware store and will likely fix the problem. Be sure to remove the old one and match it up to the new one to ensure a proper fit.

Once the flapper is replaced, adjust the toilet ball (ballcock) gently downward to lower the water level in the tank. Remove any toilet bowl cleaners from obstructing the flapper in the tank.

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General Maintenance:
  • The filter that is fitted near the bottom of the dishwasher should be cleaned regularly. The dishwasher owner’s manual gives instructions on removal and cleaning of filters. If there are holes in the filter, replace it to protect the pump and motor seals from particles that may be in the dishwasher.
  • Clean the small holes in the spray arms of the dishwasher occasionally as they may become clogged with dirt and debris from time to time. This will enable the dishwasher to work more efficiently.


Problem: The dishwasher will not drain.

1. Inside the dishwasher at the bottom of the unit, there is what looks like an upside down cup. This is the float or pressure switch that should move up and down freely. Gently attempt to move it; if any large food particles, glass, plastic, etc. have become lodged under this switch, remove them so the unit can function properly.

2. If the float switch is OK, there may be a clog in the air gap. This is the hose that runs under the sink from the dishwasher to the silver cap on top of the sink. There may be an obstruction in the line or in the air gap itself. Remove the silver or plastic cap that exposes the air gap. If you see an obstruction (i.e., food particles, etc.), remove them. If no obstruction is visible, the top of the air gap should pop or unscrew. Remove it to find out if you can see any other obstruction. If no obstruction is visible, invert a plastic cup over the air gap opening (making sure the cup is suctioned tightly to the sink) then advance the dishwasher timer to the drain cycle to start pumping water through the line. If the obstruction is in the line, it should be pressurized out of the air gap opening. Be sure to keep your hand on the cup to prevent the water pressure from pushing it out of place. If the water runs through the air gap, shut off the dishwasher and reassemble the air gap.

3. If the disposal was recently replaced, the installer may have failed to remove the plug on the side of the disposal where the drain hose connects, preventing the unit from draining. This plug normally requires a special tool and can be rather difficult to remove. To prevent damaging the unit, contact the installer directly to remove the plug.

Problem: The dishwasher is not cleaning dishes properly/ is leaving behind food particles or soap.

Food and soap properly dissolves if the water temperature is above 140 degrees. Try increasing the temperature on the water heater or run the faucet at the kitchen sink until it comes out hot prior to starting the dishwasher.

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Green Maintenance

Making the decision to green your home doesn’t mean you have to build a wind farm on your suburban lawn or replace your roof shingles with a vegetable garden and solar panels. In fact, most green initiatives cost you very little and save you a lot. Introducing a few of these simple techniques into your home is easy, and will even save you money.
  • Check the insulation in your attic and install more if needed.
  • Lower the temperature on your hot water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (55 degrees Celsius).
  • Toss a water heater blanket over your hot water heater.
  • Install ceiling fans in high traffic areas.
  • Wrap exposed water pipes with insulation.
  • Install a programmable thermostat and learn how to use it.
  • Hang a clothes rack in your laundry room (or, better yet, an outdoor clothesline).
  • Check all toilets, under-sink plumbing and faucets for leaks or constant running.
  • Replace your air filters regularly.
  • Make sure the vents in all rooms are clear of dust and obstructions.
  • Mark any cracks in the basement with dated masking tape.
  • Install CFL and LED light bulbs in some locations.
  • Choose energy efficient appliances, even if you have to pay more up front.
  • Set up your home electronics with a SmartStrip that can be turned off when not in use.
  • Air-seal your home.
  • Plant shade trees on the south and west facing sides of your home to provide shade in the summer and allow sunlight through in the winter. Plant evergreen trees on the north facing side of your home to protect against cold winds in the winter.
  • Take advantage of tax benefits for any improvements you make. There are many great incentives available for upgrading to energy efficient appliances and windows.
  • Set automatic sprinklers to run early in the morning, preferably before sunrise. Winds are generally calm and humidity is higher, so most of the water reaches your lawn. Delay watering after storms.
even more home maintenance tips…
Money Saving
  • More than 43% of your monthly utility bill comes from heating and cooling your home. During the heating season, keep the draperies and shades on your south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home and closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows. This can significantly lower your monthly heating/cooling costs.
  • Reduce the temperature in your home by just one degree in winter and increase it by just one degree in summer and reduce your energy bill by up to 10%. For additional savings, program your thermostat to adjust another degree while you sleep.
  • Use your bathroom fan as little as possible during winter. It sucks out shower steam, but also heat in nearby rooms.
  • Buy power strips for your home entertainment centers and turn the power strip off when not in use. You’ll save about $100 a year on your energy bill.
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