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Home Improvement

The house is new — but don’t forget care, maintenance

3/13/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Tom Kelly

Gimme Shelter

New vs. used: There are a variety of reasons why consumers dream about a new home, and one of them is the comfort of knowing appointments, furnishings and appliances will actually work — or be replaced by a competent builder — for a specific period of time.

If you are out driving with your family during the traditional spring housing season and checking the new homes offered by builders in the area, don’t let shiny new furnishings cover the need for consistent maintenance and care.

Unfortunately, every house requires maintenance, even a new one. You won’t have to replace big ticket items like a furnace or a roof anytime soon, but to keep your new house looking new, you’ll still have the regular chores like cleaning and caulking.

For example, it’s best to catch spills on your gorgeous new counters right away. Some counters can stain easily, and depending on the substance, sometimes permanently. If you spill something on your new carpeting, it’s also best to respond quickly. Though the carpet fibers might be treated with a stain-resisting chemical, they won’t be stain-proof. If you let the spill dry, it will be more difficult to get out.

Home maintenance specialists say the best and simplest way to remove a spill is to soak out as much of it as you can with rags. Then flush the spot with clean water, going from the outer edge to the center to keep the stain from spreading. Finally, soak the water out with several clean rags. To remove the remaining moisture, put a clean towel over the spot, weigh it down and leave it overnight. If you still have spots left after this treatment, you should contact a professional carpet cleaner because different staining agents require different treatments. If you apply an over-the-counter chemical solution to get rid of the spot, it might not do the job.

To keep the new sheen on your carpets, you’ll have to vacuum with a good machine two times a week in heavy traffic areas and clean them regularly. Otherwise, the dirt and sand tracked in on shoes and paws will be ground in, making thousands of microscopic scratches that will eventually make the carpet look worn.

The nifty new equipment that you find in your new home might also require maintenance. For example, whirlpool jets for a soaking tub require regular attention so they don’t become a health hazard. The pipes that recirculate the water from the tub through the jets need to be cleaned out every few months. Many companies suggest that you have the tub cleaned annually by a professional tub vacuuming company.

The tilt-out windows that make cleaning a breeze should be tilted out at least once a year, even if you never wash them, to vacuum out the tracks and make sure the holes that drain rainwater are not clogged. You also need to make sure the rollers in the tracks move freely, applying a silicone lubricant, if necessary.

Hopefully the location of the filter for your furnace and air conditioner will be in a place that is easily accessible and not up in the attic. How often you need to change the filter depends on the type that you get. But, the first four to five months that you live in the house, you should change it every three or four weeks because the house might still contain construction dust. An electronic air cleaner will be more effective in removing particulate matter from the air than a filter, but the electronic air cleaner still needs periodic cleaning.

Be aware that some caulking might still be needed in your new house during the first year because of settlement, shrinkage of wood framing and trim, and natural stress cracks. In many areas, the recaulking is a cosmetic issue, but not in the kitchen and baths. These rooms should be checked on a regular basis to prevent water from getting into the walls, where it can cause structural damage.

With a bathtub, the initial caulking can be affected by the shrinkage of the stud wall behind it and by the combined weight of the water and an occupant (as much as 700 pounds when a large soaking tub is full). Besides the tub area, pay attention to the shower and sink areas where the back splash meets the wall. In the kitchen, you might need to recaulk where the back splash meets the wall and around the sink.

And, don’t forget the exterior of your house. When in doubt about the materials in your house, ask your builder. You’ll find most will be happy to help you.


Tom Kelly, former real estate editor for The Seattle Times, is a syndicated columnist and talk-show host.

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