We fill our homes with gadgets and systems to make life easier and safer. Some are conveniences. Some are necessities. All add to our quality of life.
But they also need attention and maintenance so that they don’t become a pitfall of repair costs – or worse. Click here to go to Part 1 of this examination of things in your home that need periodic checks.
Here are three common home systems in place to improve our lives, and how you can keep them running the way they should:
The National Fire Protection Agency says if your smoke alarms work, you can reduce your chance of dying in a house fire by 50%. Almost two-thirds of home-fire deaths happen in houses without working fire alarms.
Danger: Almost every home has smoke alarms. But do they work? Have you disarmed your smoke alarm? Are its batteries dead? If your alarms chirp, it means the battery power is low. Don’t take out the battery (disabling the alarm) – replace it!
Insurance implications: Smoke alarms can help a little on home insurance. The Residential Fire Safety Institute says more than 92% of homes have at least one. Smoke alarms can help your family evacuate safely, and early detection of a fire can keep property loss down.
- Test alarms monthly. Have someone stand at the farthest part of the house from the alarm while someone else pushes the test button. The alarm should be loud enough for anyone throughout the house to hear.
- Replace alarms every decade. After 10 years, they’re subject to a failure rate of 30%, according to the NFPA.
- Replace your smoke alarm backup battery every year. Do it on a day you’ll remember, such as a birthday, holiday or the first day of spring.
It’s easy to forget about washing machines or dryers – they’re pretty dependable. Most consumer guides estimate each of these appliances to have a 14-year lifespan. But severe problems can hide behind that dependability, so it’s important to keep these home stalwarts in good operating order.
Danger: It’s like fire and rain in your house. The NFPA estimates 32% of washer/dryer fires – and not surprisingly, dryers caused most of them – happened because those units weren’t cleaned. There’s also flood danger: Your washer can leak if you over-stuff the unit, but leaks from hoses carry the most potential for flooding.
Insurance implications: You might not think twice about starting the washer or dryer and then leaving home, but you’re subject to flood and fire risks when you leave them unattended. A leak or the start of a lint or clothing fire could become catastrophic.
For the washer:
- Every six months, check hoses for loose connections or wear and tear. If you find blisters or cracks, replace the hose. You should install new stainless steel hoses every five years.
- When you check hoses, also make sure your washer is on level ground. Use a level and adjust the washer’s feet to even things out. An unbalanced washer is apt to flood.
For the dryer:
- Clear the lint filter every time you dry clothes. Every three months, vacuum the lint chute. Lint buildup happens before you know it and can cause dryer fires.
- Every six months, clean inside your dryer. The lint filter can’t catch everything. Consult your user’s manual. On most models, it’s easy to unfasten the top of the unit to access the drum with a vacuum cleaner extension.
About 25% of energy use in your home goes to heating water, according to plumbinghelptoday.com. A tank heater’s life expectancy is about 10-13 years. Tankless water heaters last almost twice that long.
Danger: Explosion, flooding and gas leaks are possible. Vent connections are crucial to ventilation. Trust the job your home builder has done, but an annual visual inspection is advisable. You can also hire a professional to inspect your water heater.
Insurance implications: Homeowners insurance won’t pay to replace an old water heater. But if you sustain damage to your home because of a leak, insurance might cover it. Don’t expect a payout if you haven’t maintained the unit and let rust set in to the point it compromises performance.
- New heaters likely are insulated. Check older tanks for insulation with an R-value of at least 24, which indicates thermal resistance. Insulation can reduce heat loss by as much as 45% and improve your unit’s performance.
- Every four months, hook up a garden hose to the drain valve to empty about 25% of the tank. This will eliminate debris and sediment. Drain until the water runs clear.
- Set the temperature to 115-120 degrees. You can find the temperature dial on the gas valve or thermostat behind the electric water heater panel. The lower temperature protects your tank from overheating and will help with energy efficiency.