Spot Subtle Signs of Serious Trouble
Adam Voorhes for Reader's Digest20. Mold could mean a leak
If you see this fungus near water pipes, waste lines, ice-maker lines, or plumbing fixtures, chances are it’s feeding off a nearby leak. Let the water run while you check the pipes and surrounding area for damp spots. If you see mold on or near ceilings, suspect roof leaks. Water can travel in any direction—down, sideways, even up, if it wicks into absorbent material like drywall—so the source of the leak may be some distance from the mold.
21. A puddle near the water heater could become a lake
Water heaters sometimes leak from the drain or relief valves, which are easy to replace. But if a leak is coming from the tank, watch out. The tank is lined with a thin coat of glass. Over the years, that glass could crack, causing the steel to rust away and a puddle to appear. Left alone, a damaged tank will eventually rupture, causing an instant flood. It might take months or only days for a leak to become a flood—but it will happen. Don’t gamble; replace that time bomb now.
22. A circuit breaker that keeps tripping could indicate a short-circuited wire
Take load off the circuit by plugging appliances into outlets on other circuits. Items that draw a lot of power are usually the overload culprits (space heaters, window-unit air conditioners, etc.). If you can’t prevent breaker trips this way, you may have a more serious problem. Call an electrician.
23. Soft wood could spell termites
The critters can feed on a house for years undetected because they often eat wood from the inside and leave the outside intact. Check accessible wood in a crawl space or an unfinished basement for damage. Stab it firmly with a screwdriver every six inches to check for a spongy texture.
Adam Voorhes for Reader's DigestKnow When It Pays
24. Should you fix or replace a water heater?
A water heater’s life expectancy is ten to 15 years. A small repair will cost at least 10 percent of the cost of replacement; 20 to 30 percent is more likely. If yours is ten years old, replacement is usually smarter. Even if it’s just eight years old, consider a new one.
25. Should you file a claim with your insurance company?
Don’t file if it’s worth less than $1,000 over your deductible. Paying for a smaller loss yourself will almost always cost less than the premium increases you’ll face later.
26. Will new windows help cut heating costs?
Replacing your old leakers will lower your heating bills. But in most homes, the energy savings alone won’t justify the high up-front costs. Other factors—draft stopping, appearance, easy operation—are usually better reasons to swap windows.
27. Is new insulation a good investment?
It can be—or it can be an expensive mistake. First contact your utility company about an energy audit. It can recommend an auditor and may pay part of the cost. (Audits take two to three hours and cost $250 to $400.) The auditor will visit your home, perform some tests, and give advice on saving energy, including replacing insulation if needed.
Prep For Vacation Wisely
28. To prevent flooding, turn off the main water valveAdam Voorhes for Reader's Digest
Every insurance adjuster has a hundred stories like this: The homeowners left town Friday and returned Sunday evening to find thousands of dollars in water damage. The moral is simple: Before going on vacation, turn off that main valve. In less than a minute, you can eliminate the most common cause of home damage.
29. For better security, lock the garage door
Some people “lock” the garage door by unplugging the opener. But physically locking the door is even better. An unplugged opener won’t stop, say, a burglar who has entered through the house from opening the garage door from the inside, backing in a van, and using the garage as a loading dock for his plunder. Make a burglar’s job more difficult by locking the garage door itself. If your door doesn’t have a lockable latch, drill a hole in the track just above one of the rollers and slip in a padlock.