Despite the recession, judging by the variety of television programmes devoted to the subject, there’s still huge interest in property and home design, but maintenance is still very much a ‘Cinderella’ issue.
Along with being daunted by the thought of maintenance, many householders put off this vital work seeing it as uninspiring or perhaps uninteresting. However, property owners can potentially save hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pounds each year just by tackling a few simple tasks – and, in very real terms, that’s money to spend on interiors and accessories.
Each November, information about good home maintenance is at the heart of SPAB’s annual awareness campaign. The aim is to give anyone who cares for a property, especially homeowners, access to simple, practical, easy-to-follow advice to help them look after their building.
Phil Spencer not only knows how to find the ideal home, he is also keenly aware of the importance of continuing to maintain and look after it once the excitement of moving in, decorating and furnishing has worn off. His ten top tips on winter property maintenance can be found at the end of this feature and at SPAB’s dedicated website: www.maintainyourbuilding.org.uk
Phil believes that looking after a house is a bit like looking after your body. He explains: “The plain fact of the matter is that maintaining your property makes good sense and saves money. However, the sad truth of the matter is that many people put property maintenance way down their list of priorities. It’s like dealing with your health – try to remember that prevention is always better than cure. In the long-run regular maintenance of your home is far less intrusive and expensive than letting it fall into disrepair and then having to fix it up again.”
SPAB is Britain’s oldest heritage body. When it was set up in 1877, founder William Morris spoke of the need to “stave off decay by daily care, to prop a perilous wall or mend a leaky roof”. Taking a lead from this sound advice, SPAB is now the force behind National Maintenance Week, encouraging anyone who cares for a building to be aware of a the simple steps they can take at the beginning of winter to stave off the necessity of making costly and intrusive repairs at a later date.
Water damage is a particular concern – especially as the winter rains approach. Even something as basic as clearing leaves and other debris from areas like gutters and drains to ensure water flow can make a difference and help property owners save their money!
Older buildings can be particularly vulnerable to blockages caused by twigs and moss because their guttering systems can be quite complex, especially if a house has developed over many years, with sections added or altered to reflect the styles and needs of successive centuries.
But regular maintenance can be equally important for new buildings too.
For most people, their home is their prime asset, so it makes sense to take good care of it and, of course, in a difficult property market, a cared for home will retain its optimum value.
Many people are a bit wary when it comes to maintenance, wondering just what they should be looking for and doing.
Phil Spencer says “One of the reasons SPAB’s annual National Maintenance Week is so helpful is because it provides homeowners with simple, practical advice that can really make a difference.”
• Water damage is the prime concern when it comes to maintenance. November is the time to start trouble shooting because that’s when drains and gutters could become blocked by autumn leaf fall and debris like twigs and old bird nests. If any of these obstruct the easy flow of water away from a building – damp and other serious problems can follow. It’s relatively easy to check and clear accessible sections of drain and guttering yourself.
• Checking the roof for damaged or slipped tiles is another important task. Even a relatively small gap can let in damaging amounts of water. It’s much easier and cheaper to have a tile fixed than replace trusses rotted through years of neglect. Roofs can be checked from the inside – look for chinks of daylight in the attic. Outside, using a pair of binoculars can help homeowners get a good clear view of any potential problem points.
• Windows are another important area. If you really want to protect your investment then looking after your wood windows is vital. Every year wash down the paintwork. This not only prolongs the life of the finish, it gives me a good opportunity to check for decay.
• Vegetation growing on or near a house needs monitoring. It’s quite easy to check all growth against the building especially trees bushes and ivy. This should be removed, cut back or prune carefully where necessary as these items growing on a wall can also cause dampness and structural damage.
Even if you only tackle these simple areas you’ll be making a good start.
Phil Spencer’s Maintenance Top 10
As he says: “It’s not rocket science. It’s the simple stuff that really makes the difference.”
• Every autumn, clear any plants, leaves and silt from gutters, hopperheads, flat roofs and drainage channels. It’s a good idea to do this in spring too to deal with anything that might have found its way into the wrong place
• Look for blocked downpipes (best done during heavy rain to see water coming from any leaky joints – in dry weather look for stained brickwork)
• Keep gullies and drains at ground level clear of debris like leaves, twigs and even things like balls and toys – and have them cleaned out if necessary
• Remove potentially damaging vegetation from behind downpipes by cutting back or removing the plant altogether
• Use a hand mirror to look behind rainwater pipes as splits and cracks in old cast iron and aluminium often occur here and are not easily noticed
• Fit bird/leaf guards to the tops of soil pipes and rainwater outlets to prevent blockages
• Have gutters refixed if they are sloping the wrong way or discharging water onto the wall
• If sections are beyond repair, make sure that replacements are made of the same material as the originals (on older houses, this is sometimes lead, but more usually cast iron)
• Regular painting of cast iron is essential to prevent rust – and keeps your property looking good!
• Don’t – undertake routine maintenance work at high level unless you are accompanied and have suitable equipment. If in doubt always seek help from a professional
And here’s a very important extra tip – remember to take care at all times, wear protective gloves when necessary and never work at heights or use ladders if you are alone.
Details of SPAB’s National Maintenance Week, including further advice, top tips and useful dos and don’ts can be found at www.maintainyourbuilding.org.uk