General Home Maintenance Tips Q&A

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Dear NH,

I need some simple maintenance ideas to keep from having repairs around the house, do you have some suggestions?


A "simple" yet difficult question. There are so many ways to proceed with this answer, but sometimes the little things are the ones that make the most impact… in both "real life" and home maintenance. So my choices for the most important actions you can take to minimize your maintenance and repair chores are… in no particular order:

1) PURCHASE THE BEST QUALITY ITEMS YOU CAN AFFORD. Sometimes, spending an extra few dollars NOW for an item that will potentially last for many years can be the "frugal" decision. I am guilty of this myself. I installed a medium quality exhaust hood... vented to the outside, of course... ten years ago when I moved into a new home. I regret the decision every time I turn it on! For another $50.00, I could have had a hood that would have made my ears pop! So figure useful life, divide by the difference in dollars, and that is your actual annual cost.

Similarly there is a wide range of quality in do-it-yourself furniture kits. The cheaper stuff uses 1/2" melamine-covered particleboard that should almost be illegal... within a month the shelves begin to sag! Save a few dollars now... replace it in a year or two. False economy to be sure!

2) TAKE IT EASY! Treated with respect, most stuff will last many more years than if treated with disregard. Sure, it sounds like common sense, but it is easy to get overwhelmed with the larger life issues, and to ignore small chores and repairs that eventually lead to big repairs. The two most obvious repairs that tend to get ignored are sticking doors and dripping faucets. A door that sticks will eventually either cause cracks in the adjacent wall or, worse, damage the body of the door beyond repair. A dripping faucet can waste a tremendous amount of water... remember that the drip continues 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Even worse, this Chinese-water-torture-drip may also cause permanent mineral staining on porcelain and faux marble surfaces over time.

3) LUBRICATE!! A little grease or spray lubricant (such as silicone) on drawer tracks and rollers, for example, can virtually eliminate wear and add years to their life. The same goes for any mechanism that you use frequently AND is under stress... room and cabinet door hinges, garage door rollers and pulleys, sliding and bifolding door rollers, etc. A little lubrication on outside stuff, such as wheelbarrow wheels and garden tools, can also help inhibit rust. I personally like WD-40 for outside lubrication and protection, but limit inside use due to the objectionable odor (my opinion, of course… some of you might think it smells like roses!).

Another little-used lubricant is wax, be it auto wax, furniture wax, or spray wax (Pledge, Endust, etc.). These products are non-greasy, yet perform well when applied to rubbing parts on wood and metal. I find them particularly useful in file cabinets… wax the tracks that your Pentaflex folders ride on, and voila… no more sticking!! If you use the spray wax, you can spray it on a cloth and rub it in if the overspray will be a problem. Guitar necks and bodies can benefit from waxing, also… just keep the wax off any electronics!!

When using wax, do not overapply it… a small amount should be rubbed on and buffed to a shine if possible. If the surface is dirty, clean it first or you may cause scratches in the finish. Too heavy an application on fine mechanisms can cause them to jam… use a liquid oil or silicone instead.

4) CLEAN!!! Wipe off the seals on your refrigerator doors as part of your regular cleaning. It will both lengthen their life and maintain their seal (rubbing a tiny bit of silicone spray on them will also make future cleaning easier). Clean spills from carpets and floors immediately before they cause permanent damage. Vacuum the dust from under the covers of your bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans. Leave your shoes at the door... tracking dirt and sand into your home will act like sandpaper, scratching and aging all your floors and carpets prematurely. Get the picture?

5) PRESERVE!!! Besides being a lubricant, wax is a marvelous preservative. It works by both adding a water resistant, chemical resistant coating, and by sealing the pores in the finish. This is why wax is necessary for interior wood furniture and your car! Waxing is in fact one of the most important things you can do to keep your exterior metal from rusting. One little known use for wax is the metal posts used for basketball hoops. They usually become very unsightly in a few years, but an annual application of auto wax will keep surface rust away!

Use an exterior deck preservative on your wooden garden carts, especially if they are stored outside all year. Cover your air conditioned during long periods of nonuse. Spray your metal garden tools periodically with WD-40 to keep rust away and moving parts moving! I'm sure you can easily add many items to this list… great! The concept is to think about how to protect your possessions so that they will be there for you when you need them… in working condition!

Now the preaching… accept the fact that the only sure fire way to totally avoid having to do repairs around the house is to hire someone to do them for you! But by buying the best products you can afford, respecting what you have by treating it with the kindness you would extend to a friend, along with regular lubrication and cleaning, you can minimize many future repair tasks.