Stay on top of common repairs around the house to save time and money down the track
Spot common home maintenance issues before they become huge, costly problems
Every home needs maintaining to keep it in good repair, but often we don’t notice small problems until they turn into big ones. If a fault is overlooked, it may lead to major structural damage that costs thousands to fix, with huge disruptions while the work is carried out.
Inspect your home once a year as though you were a potential buyer, using our guide to identify telltale signs. Building basics The majority of homes are made primarily of timber and brick.
TIMBER can be damaged by sunlight, which causes it to dry and shrink, or water, which causes it to rot. Untreated timber shouldn’t be installed in contact with the ground or left in direct sun.
BRICK is more weather-resistant, but it’s permeable and can leach water from the ground if not properly dampcoursed. This will cause damp inside the home.
1. Rising Damp
Soft brickwork and mortar, bubbling paint, and damp and mouldy internal walls are signs of rising damp. A musty, dank odour may also be present.
CAUSE Rising damp occurs if there is a damaged or inadequate dampcourse. This is the impermeable layer of metal or plastic that is installed below the floor level of an external brick wall.
Renovated concrete patios are often built above the dampcourse line and can contribute to rising damp. It is quite difficult to fix andthe dampcourse will need replacing.
SOLUTION Use an anti-fungal spray on visible mould and increase ventilation to the affected rooms until the work’s done. Boost subfloor ventilation to reduce the chance of a recurrence.
If left unchecked, toxic black mould will bloom, and interior lime render can crumble and fall off. In the long term, it may damage the wall’s structure.
In concrete walls, steel reinforcing within may rust and expand, causing cracks.
2. Wet and dry rot
Timber that has black mould is a sign of wet rot, while white or orange mould indicates dry rot. Both will cause timber to be soft to the touch and crumbly when dry.
CAUSE Wet and dry rot are caused by moisture and are generally a result of an inadequate paint layer or incorrect timber selection.
Dry rot spreads more rapidly than wet rot and is more destructive, but both are easy to treat if caught early.
SOLUTION First, seal any source of moisture penetration and then increase subfloor ventilation using a fan and air vents.
Scrape away surface fungus and spray the timber with a fungicide two or three times over
Once dry, treat the timber with wood hardener. For dry rot, replace any affected joists.
If the timber seems soft or the spread is significant, there will probably be structural damage and a building surveyor should be called in for advice.
Timber boards that feel soft or sound hollow, and cracks in ceiling sheet joints, are signs of termites. Opening up an internal cavity to reveal ‘mudding’ is evidence of them tunnelling.
CAUSE They don’t like exposure to the elements, so they enter by tunnelling, and a leak provides a path for them.
Lacking or damaged ant capping also allows easy access, and in homes with a concrete slab floor, they can get in where pipes and drains penetrate.
So check external taps and hot-water heaters for leaks and drips.
SOLUTION Where timber touches brickwork in the subfloor, a barrier is needed. If you can access under your floor, inspect the ant caps or hire a pest control company.
Termites build tunnels to breach an ant cap, so if you catch them early you can prevent timber infestation.
Concrete slab floors should have a sealed termite mat installed.
It can cost up to about $70,000 to treat a major infestation, so if you find evidence of termites, call a pest controller immediately.
4. Defective wiring
Wiring systems that constantly blow fuses and light bulbs that blow before the end of their expected lifetime are signs of faulty wiring.
CAUSE Old houses are most likely to have outdated wiring if the fuse box hasn’t been replaced in recent years. Old fuse boxes with ceramic fuses and no trip switch don’t comply with current safety standards.
Wires protruding from a ceramic fuse holder are a significant shock hazard and very dangerous. Loose electrical terminals create heat and pose a serious fire threat.
SOLUTION Fuse boxes should have a Residual Current Device (RCD) present, which detects any change in
the electricity flow and disconnects the circuit if there’s an imbalance.
RCDs are compulsory in all new homes and renovations. Check yours is in working order by pressing the button that says ‘test’. This will power off the entire house.
If you don’t have an RCD, then your wiring is likely to be out of date and dangerous, so consult an electrician for a quote.
5. Roofs and gutters
Water dripping into the home during heavy rain usually signifies a leaking roof or an overflowing gutter.
CAUSE Poorly maintained gutters and downpipes are the main cause of all kinds of water damage in the home.
If a gutter is blocked, water will simply flow over the top into the eaves during a downpour, then run down the exterior walls, finding easy access points to the interior.
SOLUTION Look at your roof from a distance, checking for loose tiles or anything that appears broken.
Using the right equipment, climb onto the roof to check that the flashing around chimneys, ventilation pipes and skylights isn’t loose or missing.
On a tiled roof, look for broken or slipped tiles and ensure the pointing is intact. On a corrugated iron roof, look for corrosion on screw heads or sheets.
Clear unguarded gutters every three months and inspect those with steel mesh guards occasionally.
Direct water collected on the roof away from the structure and don’t let it pool on the ground around the house.
Cracks in walls are a sign of shifting foundations, and are commonly related to the type of subsoil on which they’re laid.
CAUSE Reactive soil like clay expands when wet and contracts when dry. So in a drought, the soil may shrink, undermining the stability of the foundations.
Tree roots also suck moisture from the soil, worsening the problem.
Leaking subterranean pipes cause soil to expand too much or lead to erosion, which opens up voids in the foundations.
SOLUTION Concrete blocks the soil from rain and evaporation, so on clay, replace paths and patios with garden beds. Watering the plants during dry spells will help the subsoil maintain a stable amount of moisture.
Ensure patios, paving and roofs have good drainage and there are no dripping outdoor taps. Have a plumber repair any leaking underground pipes.
All properties will settle to some extent, so small cracks aren’t a big deal, but big ones might indicate that the house requires underpinning. Call in a builder for a full assessment.
Tackling outdoor jobs
Outside structures are exposed to the elements and need inspecting and maintaining to prevent deterioration.
IVY ON WALLS can look lovely but may damage the brickwork and mortar. If left unchecked, it will put strong roots into the masonry, reducing its stability.
Take care when removing it and test a section to see how much damage there is. Cut off the leaves and let the rootlets wither. It may be best to leave the ivy if removing it will cause more problems.
TIMBER such as fascias, weatherboard panels, windows and doors should be repainted or refinished every five years, especially if it isn’t under the eaves and is exposed to direct light and rain.
If timber isn’t properly treated, water will penetrate and cause it to rot. A five-yearly paint job is much less expensive than new windows.
DECK SUPPORTS need to be checked to see if they’re spongy to the touch. They may not get a chance to dry out for months at a time, so long-term degradation is inevitable.
To ensure a long-lasting deck, the timber shouldn’t be in contact with soil unless it is treated to an H4 level. Use steel brackets to support posts so they don’t suck up moisture.
Soil, leaves and other vegetation tend to build up underneath a deck, and must be cleared regularly.