A new home is one of the most important financial investments made in a lifetime and a regular home maintenance program will help to ensure it is kept in optimal condition.
Who is responsible for maintenance?
Once you have moved into your home, it is important to understand your obligations to perform maintenance, and your builder’s obligations to fix up any building defects (not caused by lack of maintenance).
The building of your new home or remodelling project is covered by a statutory warranty. Under this warranty your builder is responsible for fixing structural building defects for a period of six years starting from the completion of the work or no later than when the date of the Certificate of Occupancy was issued, or two years for defective non-structural work.
However, your builder is not responsible for maintenance work, or problems that occur as a result of a lack of maintenance.
Maintenance may take the form of cleaning, preventative maintenance, corrective maintenance or replacement. Here are some tips to ensure proper building maintenance:
This is the simplest form of maintenance. Besides giving a bright appearance, cleaning can prevent build-up of moulds and can stop moisture being trapped which can cause rust or rot, check such things as:
- clean guttering as necessary to remove leaves, mud and other foreign matters,
- remove rubbish accumulating close to walls,
- check that petrol and other flammable liquids are stored in a well ventilated area as far from the main portion of the house as possible, out of reach of children and pets and away from electric motors,
- clean aluminium window and door frames,
- clean insect screens, check for damage and replace mesh if necessary, and
- check for any increase in bushfire hazard through growth or accumulation of rubbish and remove the hazard.
Regular repainting of timber, sealing of joints, keeping vents and pipes clear, etc. can prevent damage occurring. For example:
- make sure that exterior underfloor vents are not covered or clogged up,
- check underfloor ventilation and for pests in the underfloor spaces,
- check that water drains and sumps are clear at regular intervals and after heavy rain, and
- check and repair air-conditioning and heating equipment.
Early attention to repairs can prevent more serious damage. These items should be fixed early: repair and/or paint outdoor timber and structures,
- check for leaking taps and replace washers immediately,
- have inside painting and decorating undertaken when required,
- in bushfire hazard areas check that your garden hose is sound and remains connected to the tap nearest the most obvious hazard — in hazardous areas you should keep a few buckets of sand and water handy,
- check underfloor ventilation and for pests in the underfloor spaces and check for leaking plumbing, and
- check roof tiling and pointing to ridge tiles are intact.
When an item has reached the end of its economic life span or it has not been maintained it must be replaced. This can be expensive.
- for exterior paint work — repainting is likely every 4 to 6 years for example, and
- rotten timbers that are structural members because of moisture problems will need to be replaced by a licensed builder.
Common problem areas
The following lists some of the common problem areas experienced in both new and older homes which may require some maintenance or attention.
Condensation is at its maximum in new homes. When homes are built many gallons of water go into materials such as concrete, plaster, wallpaper, tile work and even some types of paint. This water evaporates, which explains the reason for a higher moisture content than usual in new homes. Occupant behaviour is also a factor and humans also expel moisture when exhaling although the use of clothes dryers and long hot showers will also increase moisture in the dwelling.
To aid the drying out process it is important to ensure that adequate ventilation is provided during the initial occupancy of the house. Do not try to speed up the process by excessive heating in winter as this will only tend to create uneven drying which will exaggerate normal shrinkage. Here are some tips for controlling condensation:
- open windows in laundry area while washing and drying clothes;
- provide an exhaust fan in kitchen, bath and laundry areas, or open windows after baths or showers if no exhaust fan is provided;
- maintain proper drainage around the house to keep moisture from rising in the house;
- provide a vent for equipment such as clothes dryers.
In an older home, due to insufficient air circulation, the original flooring may have deteriorated or become damaged by “dry rot”. This will mean that the floor will have to be replaced and precautions taken to ensure that such damage does not recur.
Termites and Pest Control
At the same time as you regularly inspect the underfloor space of your house, look for any signs of termites or other insect or rodent pests. Look at the sides of footings and walls for the earthen tubes which termites build or for signs of winged insects.
In some areas spiders may multiply rapidly in underfloor locations if there is adequate food supply, and rats and mice may seek dry shelter here too, if they can readily gain access.
The ACT building laws require termite protection for all houses constructed in the ACT. The protection measures are designed to enable any termite activity to be easily seen by the owner without the termites coming in contact with internal structural timber. Regular inspections post-occupation should be made of the perimeter of the building to ensure termites do not enter up the face of the slab into weep holes or other openings close to the ground and every 6 months in timber sub-floor areas.
Moisture Penetration of Walls
Dampness on internal walls may be caused by:.
- condensation (kitchen, laundry, bathroom — improve ventilation by opening external doors or windows);
- water ingress from above;
- penetration across the wall cavity (accidental bridging of the cavity by mortar droppings or by an incorrectly installed wall tie or inadequate flashing around a window or door — difficult to rectify without skilled assistance, so consult a builder);
- rising damp (absence of a dampcourse in masonry houses or bridging of a dampcourse by a water absorbent material, build-up of a path or garden adjacent to the wall — visually check at least once a year, preferably when the moisture is visible on the internal wall).
In bathrooms where plaster linings have been used as fixing surfaces for tiles, check to ensure that a breakdown in the sheet is not occurring due to moisture penetration adjacent to the bath or shower recess.
Where a shower screen is adjacent to a door frame check that the joint between the screen and the wall adjacent to the architrave is remaining waterproof, as the moisture can cause dry rot in the timber, even under paintwork.
Efflorescence on Masonry
The leaching of white deposits on the surfaces of brickwork, blockwork, paving and tiling is called efflorescence and it is a common problem particularly in high rainfall areas.
Efflorescence is caused by the presence of water-soluble salts which occur naturally in masonry (such as clay bricks), but most predominantly it is caused by free lime within cement. The salts are carried by water to the surface as hydroxides. Once on the surface, the hydroxides react with carbon dioxide in the air and carbonate salts are formed (i.e. Limestone).
If water is prevented from penetrating masonry, then efflorescence cannot occur. With minimalist trends in contemporary architecture, keeping water out can be very difficult, but with smart design and careful product selection efflorescence can be avoided. Stopping efflorescence retrospectively can be more difficult.
If tackled before carbonation occurs, its removal is relatively simple, often just scrubbing with a stiff dry brush over the surface. If the deposit proves hard to remove, scraping away the bulk of the deposit is the first step. The surface should then be watered down thoroughly (to prevent the penetration of acid into the masonry) and a solution of Hydrochloric acid, Phosphoric acid or Sulfamic acid may be used on the efflorescence. Certain surfaces such as (but not limited to) stone, can be damaged with acid cleaning. Research and a small site test is always recommended. Upon completion, acid should be thoroughly rinsed and neutralised. Once clean, the use of a hydrophobic sealer can prevent reoccurrence.
Upon completion, acid should be thoroughly rinsed and neutralised. Certain surfaces such as (but not limited to) stone, can be damaged with acid cleaning. For sensitive surfaces pH neutral cleaners are available. Research, professional advice and a small site test is always recommended. Once clean, the use of a hydrophobic sealer on porous masonry can prevent reoccurrence.