News & Politics

Smart Fixes for Your Home

Five types of maintenance that many busy homeowners overlook and shouldn’t—because these small problems can turn into much larger repairs.

Photograph via Shutterstock.

1. Clogged gutters
If gutters fill up with
leaves and other debris, rainwater won’t flow through and out the
downspouts—instead it will slosh over the edge of the gutters and down the
sides of the house. “Nine times out of ten, the reason people have water
in their basement is because their gutters are full,” says Erik Major, an
exterior-remodeling specialist with HB Services in Fairfax.

2. Old caulking
“So many times I go into
people’s homes and see caulking that isn’t repaired and water that has
been leaking into the wood for years,” says Michael McDaniel of McDaniel
Construction Company in Falls Church. “Caulking is the cheapest
maintenance you can do. Caulking around a bathtub, around a toilet, around
the base of a sink can prevent thousands of dollars in damage.” How do you
know when caulk needs replacing? “If you clean the bathtub and the caulk
doesn’t clean to its original color, that’s an indication it is failing.
Or if mold has set in. Or if you see caulk that’s cracking or falling

3. Broken toilet valves
Besides building and
remodeling homes, McDaniel also does insurance repairs. “I can’t tell you
how many of the claims I get that are water damage from a toilet valve,”
he says. Shutoff valves can get rusty and start to leak. Over time,
mineral deposits can build up and cause valves to freeze—a problem if the
toilet overflows and you try to turn off the water only to have the valve
snap off. McDaniel advises: “Turn every valve underneath your toilet and
sink all the way off and then almost all the way back on. Do it twice
every six months. It flushes the valve out.”

4. Unsealed decks
Another “classic mistake”
McDaniel sees: people who power-wash wood decks but neglect to reseal
them. “You’ve opened up the surface and are allowing everything to
penetrate it. It’s going to rot that much quicker.”

5. Chipped exterior trim
“You think of paint
as making something look pretty, but paint is there to protect the natural
material,” says Bill Millholland, executive vice president at Case
Design/Remodeling. “If you’re not keeping up with painting, chances are
you’ll start to see issues.” He says paint and good caulking, along with
flashing and siding, can prevent water from leaking into trim around
windows and doors, especially at the joints. Don’t want the upkeep of
painted trim? Wrap it in PVC-covered aluminum—an option that costs 30 to
50 percent more than painting would but requires no future

Have projects around the house you’ve been meaning to do? Suddenly dealing with a leaking toilet or fallen tree? Check out our home repair database for good plumbers, electricians, roofers, handymen, and other home contractors you can trust.

This article appears in the August 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.

Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Top Doctors, and Great Small Towns. She lives in DC.