Recognizing Home Maintenance Warning Signs


Many sensory clues give you early warning of home maintenance problems-if you can decode the symptoms. If lights are flickenng, try tightenIng the bulb in its socket. If it turns out you have an over1oaded circuit or loose wiring, call an electrician.


Your house sometimes acts as if it’s alive-making strange sounds, emitting odd odors, and giving visual cues that say something might be amiss . Often, these are signs of home maintenance issues that need to be addressed. and decoding these sometimes puzzling clues could prevent minor problems from turning into major home repairs. Here’s how to interpret what your house is trying to tell you , and how to recognize the early warnings of common home maintenance problems.



1. Peeling exterior paint

Cause: Moisture is probably getting underneath the paint, perhaps from a leaking gutter overhead or from a steamy bathroom on the other side of the wall.
Cure: If you catch the problem right away, you might just need to address the moisture issue and then scrape off the loose paint, prime bare spots, and repaint that wall, for a total of a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars. Delay too long and the siding might rot. Patching and repainting the whole house might cost $10,000. To prevent a chronically steamy bathroom, consider installing a new ventilation fan with a humidity-sensing switch that automatically exhausts moisture-laden air. Cost is about $250.

2. Flickering lights

Cause: If only a single bulb flickers, it might be loose in its socket or in need of replacement. If lights always dim when the refrigerator or other appliance turns on, the circuit might be overloaded . If groups of lights flicker, connections at the electrical panel or elsewhere might be loose, causing power to arc – or jump over – the gaps. Arcing is a serious problem; it starts fires.
Cure: Anyone can tighten a bulb. Handy homeowners can shut off circuits and tighten loose connections within switch boxes. If you’re not comfortable doing that, or if you suspect an overloaded circuit or loose connection at the panel box, call in a licensed electrician. You’ll pay $150 to $250 for a new circuit, and $500 to $700 for a new electrical panel- way less than what you would spend to recover from a fire.

3. Rustling in a wall

Cause: Sure, termites usually signal their presence by building pencil-thick mud tubes up from the ground or by swarming from pinholes in floors or walls. But did you know it’s also possible to detect them by sound? Tap on a wall and then press an ear against it. See if you hear rustling that matches recordings of Formosan or other termites. A sound like crinkling cellophane could mean carpenter ants.

Cure: Call a pest control professional. Cost is $65 to $100 for an inspection.

4. Loud knocking

Cause: If the knocking occurs when you tum off water, you have “water hammer”, caused when fast-moving water comes to a sudden stop and there is no air chamber (a short, specially designed piece of pipe) to cushion the shock wave. If knocking occurs when your furnace switches on or off, metal ducts are expanding or contracting as temperature changes.
Cure: If water pipes are the issue and there is an air chamber near the faucet. it may be filled with water and needs to be drained. You might be able to do this yourself. If you’re not confident of tackling that or if there is no chamber, call a plumber ($65 an hour) to add one. Those snapping ducts? Just get used to them.

5. A toilet tank that refills all on its own

Cause: Worn interior parts may be causing water to trickle through the toilet constantly, causing the water level in the tank to lower and eventually triggering the refill mechanism. A leaky toilet potentially wastes 1,500 gallons a month.
Cure: Untangle or loosen the chain – it may be too tight and preventing the flapper from seating fully, letting water leak out the flush valve. Or, try bending the tube connected to the float ball. If those don’t work, replace the valve and flapper inside the toilet tank (under $25 if you do it yourself, and a little more if you upgrade to a water-saving dual-flush valve).