Please keep in mind that I’m not an expert on anything mechanical, plumbing, electrical, etc. I don’t have any training or skills in those areas. I’m just a homeowner (for 25 years) and Realtor®. If you have any specific questions on some of these things or are uncertain, I recommend talking to a professional in that area. Without further ado, here are some home maintenance recommendations:
1. Change air filters monthly
Yes, MONTHLY – that is important. I like to change them at the beginning of each month, so it is very easy to remember when to do it. I used to think I only had to change them every 3 months, because the packaging says it is good for “up to 3 months”. However, the air conditioning repair guy told me I was wrong. You need to replace them every month, even with the good air filters that say they are good for up to 3 months. Clean air filters help the air conditioning system run properly and more efficiently. Changing them monthly will help your system last longer, save on coolant, etc. It probably helps your health and that of your family members too by removing more allergens from the air in your home. I always put the old ones in a trash bag, seal it, and put it out in the trash can in the garage. I never leave them in the house, because I want to minimize any allergens transferring from the filter to the house.
2. Run disinfectant down the air conditioner condensation drain line biannually
Over time, mold, mildew, and algae can build up in the drain line and clog the line. That causes water to back up and overflow inside the air conditioner unit. To prevent a backup, pour a cup or two of disinfectant in the access opening in the drain line near the AC unit to kill the mold, mildew, and algae that has formed in the pipe. What disinfectant should you use? I’ll cover that soon.
First, it is important to TURN OFF the air / heat before you pour the disinfectant! DO NOT pour the disinfectant when your furnace or AC is running or about to run- that is, unless you want a face full of dangerous liquid.
What disinfectant should you use?
Some “experts” say to use bleach, some say to use distilled white vinegar, and some say to use just boiling water. The “experts” also disagree on the strength of the solution you use. Some say to use straight bleach or vinegar, while others say to make a 50/50 dilution. I’ve seen more dilute solutions suggested, but much less commonly. The benefit of bleach is that it disinfects and cleans; the negative is that it is corrosive. Vinegar is supposedly less corrosive, but it doesn’t clean. Boiling water isn’t corrosive, but it’s not as effective at killing the mold, etc. I’ve also seen a recommendation to follow vinegar or bleach with warm water. My guess is that ideally, you would run some warm water through about 20 minutes or after you ran the bleach or vinegar, so the disinfectant has time to kill all the organisms but doesn’t have much time to corrode the pipes. However, I don’t think many people will take the time to wait 20 minutes and go back in the attic; I confess that I don’t. Another idea is alternating them; you could run boiling water at the beginning of the year and bleach at the beginning of summer. Then, the next year run boiling water in January again, but vinegar in the Summer.
How much disinfectant should I use each time?
Recommendations most often range from 1 cup to 2 cups. My best compilation of the various recommendations from “experts” is to use 1 cup if you are using straight bleach or vinegar and 2 cups if you are using a diluted solution or just boiling water.
How often should I do it?
The recommendation I follow is biannually. I have seen some recommendations from “experts” online to do it as often as monthly, while others say to do it annually before you start using your air conditioner again for the year. It’s your call. With the weather we have here, I suspect the mold and mildew continue to grow throughout the year, including the winter; it probably doesn’t get to freezing temperatures in my attic. Better safe than sorry, so it’s a good idea to run the disinfectant a couple times a year. It’s much better to do preventative maintenance than having the drain line get clogged and mold growing in your system.
Of course, the best answer to all these questions is to follow the instructions in the manual for your HVAC system. Another option is to pay a professional maintain your HVAC system.
3. Drain water heater annually (applies to tank water heaters, not tankless).
Sediment from our hard water accumulates in your water heater, and over time the sediment corrodes the water heater, damaging it. Your water heater will last many years longer if you drain the sediment from it annually.
This is especially important in our Fort Bend area as well as the entire greater Houston metropolitan area. The water here has a lot of contaminants that are damaging to your water heater. Some people have water purification systems or water softeners installed in their home to help address this issue, but you should still drain the sediment from your water heater each year (unless it is tankless). Often water softeners work by adding salt to your water, and salt is corrosive. If you have any copper plumbing, the salt added by a water softener can increase electromechanical corrosion. A water softener may make your hair and skin a little nicer though. If you’re going to have a system installed, it makes much more sense to me to have a water purification system, especially reverse osmosis rather than a water softener. Regardless, still drain your water heater.
General instructions to drain your water heater are: turn off the heat to your water heater, close the water valve that runs water to your water heater, attach a hose to the water heater, put the other end of the hose in a tub, then open the valve that will let water run from the heater to the hose. (Make sure your tub drain is open first!) Usually, you can see the contaminants; they show up against the white of your tub. You can usually watch the water go from a brownish or greenish color to much clearer water. After the water turns clear, shut the valve above the hose and do everything else in reverse order. Depending on the location of your water heater, it may be easier to run the hose from your water heater to your driveway instead of to a tub.
The specifics of how to drain your water heater may depend on its age and how it was installed. Follow the instructions in your water heater’s manual. You can also do an internet search for the manual; many manuals are online these days. Other ideas for instructions are to ask your neighbors who have homes from the same builder or ask a friend who knows about plumbing. You could also pay a plumbing service to come drain your water heater for you instead.
4. Clean out your dryer vent and vent tube / vent pipe quarterly
This is important for your safety! Most people don’t realize how dangerous lint can be when trapped in their dryer vent and how prevalent this issue is. Thousands of home clothes dryer fires are reported each year and cause an estimated 5 deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million in property loss. Failure to clean the dryer is the leading cause of home clothes dryer fires.
Clean the lint out of the tube / pipe that attaches to the back of your dryer and out of the lint vent. Stores like Lowes, Home Depot, Ace, and Walmart sell an inexpensive tool to do this. I think we bought ours at Kroger, but I don’t remember for sure. For some houses, cleaning the vent may be very difficult; some dryer vents are on the roof of the house. Those situations make it even more likely to cause a fire, because it’s easier for the lint to get trapped. In these situations, it’s probably best to pay a professional to clean your vent and tube. Regardless of where the dryer vent is on your home, you should have a professional clean your vent if your dryer is taking longer than normal to dry or isn’t drying your clothing when it was before on the same settings.
If you are interested in more information on this, visit this website for the US Fire Administration: fema.gov
5. Appliance Maintenance.
January is the perfect time for appliance maintenance. Don’t you want to start the year with clean appliances?
A) Clothes Dryer – in addition to the vent cleaning discussed above, it is very important to empty the lint trap in your dryer before and after every load. Lint build up is a fire hazard and can cause unnecessary wear and tear on your machine. Also, I never leave my house with the dryer running because of the fire hazard it presents. If the dryer is running and I want to leave, I always turn the dryer off before I leave. It’s easy to just press “on” when I get home. (Plus, the clothes don’t get wrinkled.)
B) Clothes Washer – I throw an Affresh in and run my washer on the cycle designated “Clean Washer with Affresh”. Your machine may not have that setting, and there are instructions on the Affresh package in that case. There are also other products to clean your washing machine if you don’t choose Affresh. Clorox makes a washing machine cleaner for example. I run the Affresh cleaning quarterly and every time the washer starts smelling a little musty. The musty smell / mildew issue is one of the negatives of front-load / high-efficiency washers, and it makes regular cleaning of the machine very important. For that reason, I also leave the door of the washer open for a day after I run loads of laundry; so, the moisture can evaporate.
C) Dishwasher – Make sure the dishwasher is empty (no dishes). Pour a cup of plain white vinegar into a dishwasher-safe container. Place the container with vinegar face-up on the top rack of your dishwasher. Run the cleaning cycle with hot water. Do this quarterly and whenever your dishwasher gets residue build up.
D) Oven – if you have a self-cleaning oven, run the cleaning cycle. How often you should run it depends on how often you cook and how dirty your oven gets. Personally, I usually do this once a year; that tells you how often I use the oven. Make sure you are home throughout the cycle; don’t leave the house while the oven is on. One of these 2 “snow days” we had recently would have been the perfect day to run the oven’s self-cleaning cycle. I admit that I didn’t think of it then, but hopefully I’ll remember on a future snow day. For this year, no time like the present.
I hope this information was helpful for you, and applying it helps keep you and your family safe and minimizes your repair bills. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”; that applies to our homes and cars, not just our personal health. As we begin the new year, I wish you all a fabulous 2018!