Long-term home ownership (scheduling things never thought of)

So we’ve been in our house for about six years now. It’s fantastic, finally being settled—but there are things to do that we never considered as apartment/city dwellers.

I just found out that carbon monoxide detectors need to be replaced every seven years, which brings to mind a plethora of questions. A lot of things are related to inspections we had to do during the purchase.

[li]Do smoke detectors need to be changed every once in a while?[/li][li]Do fire extinguishers need to be replaced—even if the charge gauge reads fine?[/li][li]Do we need to periodically test our well for anything?[/li][li]Speaking of water, I put in drinking water-safe hoses outside (mmm, delicious, no more vinyl taste!). Do I need to find lead-less couplers for the spigot?[/li][li]With 2.04 people living here, how often do we need to pump our septic system? [/li][li]How do we find our septic tank?![/li][li]What about radon—it passed the initial inspection, do I need to re-inspect? Just gas or gas and water?[/li][li]Repeat the termite test?[/li][/ul]

What else is there? I don’t want to go overboard in unnecessary tests and items, but just because I survived childhood playing Jarts and not wearing a bike helmet means I want the Dudeling to do so. And if I can eliminate, say, lead in his summer drinking water for fifteen bucks, why not?

So what else should be done and how often?

Oh, and thank you Google Calendar for making keeping track of these things easy.

  1. Smoke detectors should be replaced every 8-10 years (no later than 10 years from date of manufacture). Carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced 5 years from date of manufacture.

  2. Private groundwater wells are not required to be tested (though mortgage lenders may require it). If there is no change to the neighborhood (i.e. no new development, etc.), there is really no need to test your well, other than for your own peace of mind.

  3. Modern septic systems are sized for the number of bedrooms in a house. If you only have 2 people in the house, and the system is sized for a 3- or 4-bedroom house, you may only need to pump it every 5 years or so. It sounds like you are overdue. I would pump it now. (Personally, I would have pumped it at 3 years and asked the pumper how full it was.)

  4. The septic tank should be shown on the site plans for your house, which should be filed with your local government (courthouse or town hall.) Alternatively, look where the septic pipe exits the house in basement (assuming you have a basement), and go out from the house 15-20 feet, then poke into the ground with a thin metal rod. The top of the tank will be 1-2 feet below grade. Any septic pumper will likely also be experienced in locating septic tanks.

  5. If you already tested for radon, the results are not likely to change.

  6. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to check for termites every few years. Again, it’s for your own peace of mind.

We test our well water every couple of years or so. We get a testing kit from a semi-local university, fill it with water, send it to them, and a week later we get a report.

Septic tank: the septic tank companies say every couple years. We’ve let ours go for 5 or 6 years without a problem. If you don’t know where the tank is, you can ask the local government (our township office had a map, for example.) But it’s not good enough to just find the tank, you have to find the opening. We ended up paying a little extra to the tank-draining company and they took care of the whole thing.

Another thing that crept up on us: maintaining our wooden deck. It was built about 15 years ago and we hadn’t been good about power washing it every year. We ended up having the whole thing sanded and re-sealed this year. It’s gorgeous now, but wasn’t cheap. Part of that is that we have a huuuuuge deck.

Smoke detectors: Every time that you have to reset your clocks Spring forward/Fall back for Daylight Savings Time, you should either push the test button or replace the batteries. Batteries are cheap insurance, just replace them twice a year.

Fire extinguishers: As long as they read in the green the charge is OK, but once a year you should turn them upside down and whack the bottom with a rubber mallet to keep the powder inside from caking up.

Do not know about wells, termites or radon.

Septic tank: should only need pumping when you begin to have problems, mine has gone up to 10 years in a household of 4 people. The enzymes and bacteria in a properly operating system break down the solids and the water goes into the drain field. Every 3 months or so and a product like Rid-X to keep things alive. Over use of soap and bleach can really mess this up by killing the bugs that are eating the stuff in the tank. A high efficiency front loadwasher that uses little soap helps keep things healthy and adds less water to you system. I wouldn’t just go out and buy one, but the next time you have to replace your washing machine remember that your septic system will benefit from less water and soap.

To find the septic tank: Where is the grass green in the Summer when everything else is brown? This is the drain field where the water comes out. There is a slight mound over mine because it either moved up a little out of the ground or the area around it fell. There may also be an access pipe of some kind coming out of the ground.

Happy home ownership!

If you have even an approximate idea where the septic tank is, or if you can get an approximate idea by looking at the plumbing as suggested here, you might be able to follow the underground drain pipe simply by putting your ear to the ground. When there is drainage flowing through the pipe, you can actually hear it through the ground. I had occasion to do that once.

It is my understanding (perhaps incorrect) that the radon test made on your initial home inspection is not necessarily accurate. It can be fooled simply by opening all the windows and running a fan. Since you did not have access to the house during that time, you don’t know what the owner might have done. I think it is worthwhile having the test done again. I did. It did not change, but at least I was confident in the result.
As far as termites are concerned, you should know what termite tubes look like (you can find pictures online) and keep an eye out for them. Every year you should walk your property, look for damage and take notes.
One thing you should do is make sure your gutters are clean and working properly. It is amazing how fast your house can be damaged by misguided water. If you have a sump pump, make sure it is working properly and consider some kind of backup (battery or water pressure). Power often goes out in storms and that is exactly when you need a sump pump.

Your roof will eventually need to be replaced and it will be kick-in-the-balls expensive. Expect it around every 30 years. Your inspection should have told you about how old it is. Be smart and financially plan for that. (Guess who just had to replace her roof IN THE MIDDLE OF A KITCHEN REMODEL?)

Termite inspections are an … interesting business. We used to have an “annual” inspection. The guy was in and out in a couple of minutes, clearly didn’t really look around. So we checked the fine print. There was effectively no guarantee at all. If there were actually termites eating half the house, tough. And this was from a major national chain.

Check to see what the guarantee was on the last inspection. If it’s not strong, find someone who will do a proper one and back it up.

Septic tank emptying varies by type, soil conditions, usage, etc. Find out how the more responsible neighbors are taking care of theirs and follow their schedule for a while. I’ve known places where they have to be cleaned out every year or two. We go 15+ years on ours. (We also don’t flush anything down that doesn’t go there. No kitchen scraps/oils in particular. If there’s a disposal on the kitchen sink, that’s not good.)

I wouldn’t worry about lead from connections near outlets. The water has to sit for a while to pick up lead and once the hose runs for a second, all that’s gone. It’s the connectors farther back in the system you need to worry about.

You forgot to mention gutters. Take care of your gutters and downspouts. Water causes more damage to homes than anything else.

Repeat a termite inspection? Not unless you want to be told you have termites, bag up all your food, leave your house for several days, and have your house gassed and wallet drained of excess money. Unless you yourself see the telltale sign of termite activity looking in your attic, and other locations with exposed wood, I would not invite someone in who has an incentive to ‘find’ termites. Just like every car that goes to the ‘free brake inspection’ place needs brakes, so goes the free termite inspections. Unless you have reason to believe there is an issue, or you are selling the house and will inevitably be hit up for it anyway as part of the scam that is part of the inspection process, I would not recommend it.

Check and clean the gutters every year.

Check the furnance and have the vents cleaned every ??? years

Clean your dryer vent hose every year or so.

Replace your hot water tank every 15 years or so. (I think)

Do you have a fireplace and chimney? Creosote can build up and create a risk of fires. Many people say an inspection should be done annually. I think that’s overkill, but after six years is worth it. Here’s Wikipedia’s take on it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creosote#Build-up_in_chimneys

I was told by a fire equipment service store that my 1980s extinguisher could no longer be re-certified, because their maximum lifespan is 25 years. The manufacture date is punched into the base. The label on my replacement extinguisher lays out its service intervals. Monthly they want you to look at it carefully, once a year they want you to weigh it, and every 12 years they want it to be emptied, pressure tested, and recharged. If the label on your extinguisher is illegible, it supports a case for buying a new one.

Change the inlet hoses that go to your washing machine periodically, every 5 years is the number I’ve heard and read. Even better, get one of those valves installed that lets you easily toggle the water off when you’re done doing laundry: http://www.cashacme.com/prod_general_plumb_wm.php