Spot Trouble Before It Happens in Your Home

Physician's Money Digest, August31 2003, Volume 10, Issue 16

Doctors in general have a reputation,deserved or not, ofbeing all thumbs in homerepairs. But when it comes to yourhome, ignorance cancost you big money,especially if you live in anolder house.

Mr. Fix-It Introduces Youto Your Home:

Knowing where tolook for trouble can protectthe value of yourhome, which is often thebiggest asset you own. Ifyou live in a house that'smore than 10years old, here are somebasics you should beaware of, courtesy ofLou Manfredini,author of

• Roof. It allstarts at the top. A roof should lastabout 15 years. If you don't knowwhen the roof on your house waslast replaced or repaired, look forsigns of age. Leaks arethe most obvious, butyou should also check forcracked shingles or shinglesthat get blown off inhigh winds. To protectthe roof, cut back anytree branches that hangover it. Remove anymoss, which can causemoisture buildup, with ahalf-bleach, half-water solution.

• Electrical. If you live in a housethat was built in the 1960s or1970s, there's a chance that it'swired with aluminum rather thancopper. That was a common costcuttingtactic back then, but manyexperts believe that aluminum wiringposes a greater fire hazard thancopper because it heats up moreeasily. Also, older houses, especiallythose built before 1950, may have60-amp service, rather than the100- or 200-amp service that mostmodern homes have. Rewiring yourentire home may be an expensivesolution, so be sure to ask an experiencedelectrical contractor aboutyour options.

• Heating. An older home usuallycomes with an older furnace,which may be ready for replacement.If the unit is more than 15years old, you can save on your fuelbills by installing a new furnacethat's 90% efficient, compared with60% efficiency in older models. Ifyou save $500 a year on heatingcosts, a $3500 furnace will pay foritself in 7 years. Another way to cutheating costs is good insulation. Rvalues(ie, the measurement of thermalresistance) should be a minimumof R-30—most older homesare rated R-15 or less. In colder climates,R-40 or even R-50 insulationis recommended for homes.

• Septic tank and sewers. If yourhouse is connected to a septic tank,it needs to be pumped out periodically,usually every 3 or 4 years. Asewer makes life easier, but treeroots and other clogs in sewer linescan cause all your drains to back up.A plumber can pinpoint problemsusing a camera that's fed throughthe sewer line. Make sure you'rethere when it is done, though, soyou can see any problems via a liveshot, not a videotape.

• Plumbing. Older homes mayhave lead pipes instead of copper.Although not dangerous, lead pipesaren't as durable as copper, and aremore likely to fail. Replacing themcan be a big job, however, and manyhomeowners choose to leave themin place. Ask a plumbing contractorabout your options. If you're nothandy with tools, most plumbingproblems are best left to the pros,but minor problems like runningtoilets are usually easy to fix. Forhelp on these chores and hundredsof other do-it-yourself repairs, goto Not only canyou get advice on small repair jobsthere, you can also find informationto get in touch with a contractorfor those big jobs.