The John Moore 25-Year Home Improvement Calendar

Staff MgmtHome Tips

When to Service or Replace Your HVAC, Roof, and Other Home Components

A lot of people set New Year’s resolutions about looking better, such as wanting to fit into a smaller size dress by summer, but the most important step towards looking good is making healthy choices such as improving your diet or exercise regimen. It’s the same with home resolutions: a new shower may look good, but first you need to make sure your home has pipes that aren’t rusting from the inside out and that your home’s water is softened so that it won’t damage your new shower. From Memorial to the Heights to West University, home renovations are the happening thing in Houston. Here’s how to make sure your home is healthy before making those cosmetic upgrades.

Start the New Year with a Practical Home Improvement Plan

Home improvement should always start with home health and safety. Projects like replacing your HVAC system and repairing your roof aren’t as exciting to talk about or show off to your friends, but they will make a major difference in the structural integrity of your home as well as your family’s comfort and safety.

Structural facets and major appliances in your home don’t come with a true expiration date, but they do have estimated lifespans, a certain age where they begin to break down. If you know how long your water heater, HVAC system, or roof is generally supposed to last, you can avoid frustration and costly damage by planning your home maintenance and replacement goals far in advance.

As part of your New Year’s to-do list, establish your 25-year home improvement calendar and start budgeting. Planning ahead will prevent you from being caught off guard with several high-dollar projects at the same time.


Routine Maintenance Calendar for Your Home:

Monthly Home Maintenance

1. Test Smoke Detectors and Fire Extinguishers

This is a no-cost, high priority maintenance routine that can potentially save lives. Test all of your smoke alarms and check the sensors at least once a month. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning to keep smoke alarms working well. Instructions should have been included in the package. If you did not keep the packaging, you can also find instructions on the internet by searching for the manufacturer of your smoke detector and the model of your alarm.

For starters, simply press the test button to make sure the alarm works. If it does not work, replace the batteries. If your alarm still doesn’t sound off after replacing the batteries, you should replace your smoke detector as soon as possible. Make sure to test every detector in your home.

2. Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers should also be inspected every month to ensure that the pressure is within range, its safety seals are intact, and there are no leaks, damages, corrosion, or clogs in the nozzle. If there is irreparable damage, purchase a new extinguisher. For more information on how to test your home’s fire extinguishers, read our Ultimate Guide to Holiday Hosting’s section on fire safety.

3. Check and Change Your Air Filters

You may not need to change your air filters every month, but at a minimum, you should be checking them every month, especially if you have pets or allergies. If your home only uses a single one inch air filter, then you should probably change it once a month. To check your air filter, open up your AC return grill and take out the filter. If the entire surface is covered in clumps of dust and hair, then it’s time to put in a new filter. Changing out your filters regularly will not only improve your indoor air quality but can also help your HVAC system run more efficiently. For even better air quality, consider a whole-home air filter for your home. Whole-home air filters remove more dust particles and allergens from the air in your home. They also require less maintenance and only need to be changed every 6 months to a year.

Quarterly Home Maintenance

1. Add Salt to your Water Softeners

Water softeners typically don’t need any routine maintenance except adding salt to the system as it’s needed. You can plan to do this yourself on a quarterly basis or enlist the help of a water treatment specialist who is qualified to work on the water softener model you have. Most importantly, be sure to follow the specifications provided by the product manufacturer.

2. Treat Your Drain Lines with Plumbers Formula 4, 5, and 6

Regular drain maintenance can help reduce and prevent build ups in your sink drains, tub and shower drains, sewer, and A/C drain line. Plumbers Formula is specially formulated to maintain your lines by breaking down soap, scum, and other gunk in your drain. It’s good to treat your drain lines once every season because although these treatments continue working long after you pour them down your drains, regular maintenance is required to keep them working as effectively as possible.

3. Pest Control Treatment

Once you eliminate any pests from your home, you should continue treating your home to keep them out for good. Most safe pesticides typically last about two months, so your best bet is to spray once a quarter. But pesticides are only one part of any integrated pest management plan. Call a professional for advanced preventative pest control that treats the home mostly from the exterior so you don’t have to be as concerned with how pest control products will impact your indoor air quality.

Annual Home Maintenance

1. Perform Water Heater Maintenance

You can double your water heater’s lifespan by flushing it out once a year. Drain your tank using the recommended schedule and procedures in your owner’s manual. It’s recommended that you drain your water heater once a year. By doing so, you can remove sediment that slows down heat transfer and lowers efficiency. This can be quite a tedious job, especially if you need to drain the entire tank. If the job is more than you can handle on your own, find a licensed plumber who can provide ongoing maintenance according to the model of your water heater. Quarterly maintenance may be recommended for particular models.

2. Perform HVAC System Maintenance

Angie’s List recommends an annual check up of your HVAC that includes inspection of your thermostat settings, air filters, electrical connections, system components, condensate drain, and start-up and shut-down controls. You should also lubricate moving parts and replace your air filters as part of your routine maintenance program. Regular service of your HVAC system not only safeguards you against a breakdown during hot Houston summers or cold winters, but can also increase the lifespan of your AC unit, improve your home’s energy efficiency and air quality, and save you money on your energy bill.

3. Inspect Your Roof

Plan for an annual roof inspection. A roofing expert who will check for missing, lifted or loose shingles as well as moss, mold, or worn spots marked by missing granules, cracks, peeling and curling. They can also check your attic and ceilings for stains that may indicate water leaks from roof damage. Tackling roof repairs as needed is important in preventing leaks and damage to your home’s interior.

4. Perform Breaker Panel Testing

Your breaker panel should be tested, inspected for moisture and rust, and checked for short circuits at least once a year. To ensure your electrical system is working as it should be- and to prevent corrosion from settling into the circuits- trip and reset the circuit breakers. Breakers that don’t trip can lead to fires, so if a breaker fails to trip, it may need to be replaced. For safety reasons, enlist the help of a licensed electrician for electrical panel repairs or upgrades for any part of your electrical system.

4. Perform Backup Generator Testing

Whole-house standby generators keep your home or business running when the power companies can’t. A powerful, whole-home generator from Generac and Kohler that is tied into your home’s electrical panel to provide you with power. These generators should be regularly inspected and properly maintained.

5. Perform Furnace Maintenance

By performing annual furnace maintenance and cleaning, you can prevent your system from wearing out, dying, or pumping deadly carbon monoxide into your home. Like all mechanical systems, your furnace needs a tune up and an inspection to check for soot buildup or combustion residue. Also check to ensure you have a steady, blue flame- not a flickering yellow or orange flame.

Lastly, clean your furnace by getting rid of any dust on the blades of the blower fan or any other areas. Also, if your blower fan has oil cups at the ends of the central shaft, put a few drops of oil inside of the oil cups with a dropper. If you notice any warning signs or need help with the tune-up, cleaning, or repair of your furnace, calling a licensed HVAC technician may be the best way to go.

6. Pest Control Inspection

How often your home should be inspected for pests depends on the location, age, and condition of your home. Do you live in a wooded area? Is your home conducive to harboring pests? In Houston where spiders, ants, roaches, and termites are prevalent, you may need an annual inspection. Having your home inspected for pests once a year can prevent any minor infestations from getting out of hand, saving you the time and the hassle of repairing costly damages. The sooner you catch a pest problem, the better off you’ll be.

7. Sewer Inspection

Drain clogs are often caused by tree roots that penetrate or crush sewage pipes and lead to raw-sewage back-up. Throughout the year, take note of slow-flowing drains in your home or toilets that consistently make gurgling sounds; these are the first signs that your sewage line has been damaged, and you should call a plumbing expert immediately if you notice any of these signs.

3-5 Year Home Maintenance

1. Clean Your Air Ducts

The National Air Duct Cleaners Association recommends cleaning your air ducts every three to five years to improve your home’s indoor air quality and extend the lifetime of your air ducts. Air duct inspection and cleaning will rid your home of any indoor air quality issues caused by rodent and pest infestation, dust, or mold. Air duct cleaning also makes it easier for people who suffer from allergies to breathe in your home, and in some cases, reduces the chances of an asthma attack for asthmatics that live in or visit your home.

2. Jet or Clean Drain Lines

We mentioned quarterly maintenance of your drain lines earlier, but if your home is now well past its five-year mark- and you’ve only treated your toilets and drains with chemical cleaners- you may want to consider preventative maintenance like drain jetting. After years of food, grease, soap scum, hair, sewage and other residues going down your drains, high pressure water jets are the best way to safely and effectively clean your drain lines.


8-10 Year Home Improvements:

Replace Water Heaters, Smoke Detectors, and Carpet

1. Replace Your Water Heater

The most common tank types- like storage tanks and electrical water heaters- last anywhere from 8 to 10 years. Gas water heaters may have a slightly shorter lifespan of 6 to 8 years. If your water heater is approaching the 10-year mark, there’s a good chance it’s time to replace your unit. If you fail to maintain or replace your water heater before it’s too late, leaks and rust can develop and destroy your water heater from the inside out.

Hard water induced sediment can cause the bottom of the heater to overheat and melt away the protective glass lining in a gas water heater, which can cause your heater to “bottom out” and flood your home. High water pressure above 80 psi can also damage water heaters. If high water pressure is being caused by a back flow prevention valve in the water supply line, you may need an expansion tank to give extra water a place to go.

2. Replace Smoke Detectors

The National Fire Protection Association recommends that you replace a detector when it’s 10 years old because over time, sensors in the alarm become desensitized from dust. However, you may need to replace it earlier if it isn’t sounding off like it’s supposed to or chirps even after you change the battery.

For an average size home with 3-5 detectors, you can hire an electrician to ensure all of your smoke detectors are installed properly. Professional installation can run anywhere from $300 to $700, but because you only have to replace your detectors once every ten years, it’s worth the investment to have it done professionally to protect your home and your family from the risk of a house fire.

3. Replace Carpet

Carpet replacement is essential for good hygiene, indoor air quality, and family health because of possible exposure to allergens and contaminants over time. The typical lifespan of carpet is about 15 years, but many factors will determine if you’ll need to replace it sooner than later. Exactly when you should replace your carpet all depends on what your carpet is exposed to (pets, kids, heavy traffic, dirt, spills), how you take care of the carpet, and what type of material it’s made from.

Polyester, olefin fibers, and berber are susceptible to matting over time, especially if they are placed in high traffic areas. Even carpet padding may wear down over time which may cause your carpet to feel lumpy and wear out more quickly, particularly if the padding is of low quality.

Aside from the sight of icky stains, here are other telltale signs that it’s time to replace your carpet:

  • Horizontal threads of the backing material through the top of the carpeting in some areas
  • Fraying along the edges of the carpet
  • Thinning areas of the carpet
  • Significantly lighter shade in one area or discoloration of the entire carpet
  • Odors: If the carpet is giving off unpleasant odors or if it smells like a wet dog when you clean it, it’s time to change both the carpet and possibly even the padding

4. Inspect Light Fixtures and Electrical Devices

Overheated wiring from leaving your lights on for long periods of time can be the source of many light problems and create a safety hazard in your home. Excessive heat causes wire insulation to disintegrate leaving the copper wire exposed. If two exposed wires with electrical currents going through them touch, they can spark or short-circuit creating a fire hazard in your home. A licensed electrician will be able to ensure your fixture wires meet National Electric Code (NEC) standards and that your home is safe from electrical fires.

The ground-fault circuit-interrupters (GFCIs) in your home are designed to protect people from shock that could arise from your electrical system, so you should test all the GFCIs in your home at least once a month and have a professional inspection performed at least every eight years. A licensed electrician will be able to tell if GFCI devices were not properly installed, aren’t positioned safely, or aren’t operating properly. Regular inspection could potentially save a life or prevent injury.


10-15 Year Home Improvements:

Replace HVAC System, Plumbing Fixtures, and Electrical Outlets

1. Upgrade your HVAC System

According to ENERGY STAR®, if your heat pump or air conditioner is more than 10 years old, or your furnace or boiler is more than 15 years old, they should be upgraded for energy efficiency purposes. Newer units can result in 20 percent savings on heating and cooling costs. There are certain telltale signs that may indicate you may need to replace your HVAC system earlier:

  • Frequent need for repairs
  • A rise in the cost of your energy bill
  • Rooms that are too hot or too cold
  • Humidity problems in your home
  • Malfunctioning equipment
  • Excessive dust
  • Noise when running your system
  • Your energy score at home is less than a 5 per the Home Energy Yardstick.

It’s also important to stay on top of the latest developments in the industry. For instance, if your system runs on R-22, the coolant commonly known as Freon™, you will need to replace your system by 2020. The manufacturing and distribution of R-22 coolant will be outlawed in 2020 due to implications for the ozone. Read here on the dangers of R-22 substitutes.

2. Upgrade Your Dishwasher, Faucets, and Toilets

If you recently renovated your kitchen and cannot imagine having to do it all over again in the future, at least set aside room in your budget for small improvements like replacing your dishwasher and toilets in ten years, then kitchen faucets in 15 years. Replacement time frames of appliances depend on whether or not you have a water treatment system in your home and how frequently you use your appliances. If your home uses a whole home water filter and/or a water softener, your appliances may still be in good condition after 15 years. Conversely, if your home’s water is full of hard minerals that damage appliances like limescale, you may need to have your sinks and tubs replaced sooner and should consider installing a water treatment system in your home.

3. Replace High-use Electrical Outlets

Six percent of home electrical fires involve outlets or receptacles. By having them inspected or replaced every 10 years, you may prevent injury or death from shock or fire. For example, outlets that are hanging loose from a wall or have a cracked or broken face may lead to a potential short-circuit or shock hazard. Burnt outlets may indicate a prior short circuit or loose connection. You may also need to replace a receptacle if it can no longer hold onto a plug (the plug just falls out when you insert it into the outlet). Remember, safety first. If you’re unsure of how to replace an outlet or receptacle, a licensed electrician can safely identify and replace them for you.

4. Replace or repair Damaged Drain Lines

Although plastic pipes (PVC) are claimed to have a life expectancy of over 100 years, metal pipes don’t last quite as long. So, if you own an older home, you may want to have your drain pipe checked for damage. Because the drain line transports all the wastewater from your home to the sewer system, it can wreak havoc on your home if it breaks. Flooding and contamination can destroy parts of your home and leave a foul smelling odor that’s extremely difficult to remove. Routine inspection and early detection can prevent a major headache and save you thousands of dollars in repair work and odor treatment


20+ Years Home Improvements:

Replace Roof, Attic Insulation, and Electrical Panel

1. Add to or Replace Attic Insulation

Fiberglass insulation typically loses its effectiveness after 15 to 20 years, which can lead to a home that’s difficult to heat or cool down and a more expensive energy bill. Without adequate attic insulation, heat can more easily enter your living spaces and force your air conditioner to work continuously to get to your target temperature. Poor insulation can also cause your home to lose heat during the winter.

You can tell if your insulation is thin if it is just level with or below your floor joists. But an HVAC specialist can determine for certain by assessing your R-Value, the insulation level requirement according to Energy Star’s standards. Unless you have a pest control problem, old attic insulation doesn’t have to be removed; more can be added on top of the old insulation. The good news is that there are more advanced insulation products on the market that last longer and aren’t as harmful as the traditional fiberglass insulation.

2. Repair or Replace your Roof

Most roofing experts agree that a typical roof will last between 20 and 25 years, but this can vary depending on whether it was properly ventilated and if your old roof was removed or not. You will likely need a roof replacement if your roof has two or more layers of shingles and is 20 years old or older. A roofing expert will be the best person to determine if it’s time for a replacement, but here are some of the signs to watch for:

  • Missing shingles
  • Shingles that are curling or buckling
  • Shingle granules in the gutter
  • Roof feels bouncy when you walk on it

Because roofs are a high dollar replacement cost in homes, they are just as important as kitchens and baths for resale. Even if the roof has no issues, the age of your roof can be a dealbreaker and send a potential homebuyer to purchase another home with a newer roof.

3. Replace Your Electrical Panel

Circuit breaker panels have a life expectancy of about 25-40 years. You’ll generally know it’s time to replace your electrical panel if it appears to be in poor condition, if it has only a few circuits, or if your breakers do not trip. Also, if you plan on treating yourself to a new hot tub or HVAC system in the new year, ask a licensed electrician to assess if your electrical system can handle the load.

The most important reason to update your home’s electrical system is for safety.

Most older homes were built with just a few circuits that can only handle 30, 50 or 60 amps for the entire home. If you have too much electricity running at once, your circuit breakers should trip and turn off to prevent wires from overheating and catching fire. In older systems, circuit breakers stop tripping, even when the circuit is overloaded. If your electrical panel is more than 25 years old and you want to minimize the risk of a fire, you should have your electrical panel inspected and possibly replaced right away.

A Healthier Home Makes for a Happy New Year

If you plan it out smartly, you can give your home the care and attention it needs to be the safe and comfortable oasis it was meant to be. Working on cosmetic improvements may help with your home’s resale value, but taking care of some of the more functional components of your home can make an immediate difference in your family’s comfort and safety. In the new year, just remember that health and function are just as important as good looks when it comes to both you and your home.

John Moore Techs