We have priorities with our home budget. Cosmetic expenses and then energy efficiency take precedence over normal maintenance.
There are times during home inspections where I end up speaking extensively to homeowners, and one theme weaves through practically every conversation: we spent time or money on improving the looks of our home. That is great. We all want to live in a nice home. However, I also know from experience that many updates that we do for looks, like a new floor, can be unpopular with home buyers. This is “eye of the beholder” reasoning. On occasion, a homeowner will mention upgrades to the structure or vital systems of the home. This talk does not happen often enough. This habit could be costing homeowner’s money.
Party conversations do not revolve around I just put in new plumbing; the conversation will develop about a new kitchen counter top. If you notice, you will hear people speak about energy efficiency and how that led to equipment upgrades. With energy prices increasing, a homeowner can easily see their electric bill going higher. They do not always tie it to the mechanical systems though. One person did realize that their older air conditioning system and water heater as culprits, and they researched efficient units, which they installed. This family then took the extra step of changing habits to reduce energy usage. The most interesting to me was turning off the power to their water heater for most of the day, because they only use the hot water in the morning. I am not sure that I would advocate this method, but it does work for them. When asked, the family did admit that they were not having their appliances serviced on a regular basis. Energy efficiency drove the upgrade, not awareness of the state of those appliances.
Before I move onto to my thesis, I want to point out a story form another person. This man is upset with his neighbor for making an unconventional update to his home. The homeowner was reacting to a situation that was developing with his home, but not necessary at this time. I do not want to go into the nature of the update, since I want to focus on the neighbor. He has worked on one energy efficiency issue, and he has worked on the look of the home, but I would not want to live in it. Walking around the exterior of the home, I see several issues with the structure that would lead to problems with many aspects of the home. The most disturbing finding is a dead tree in the front yard. We are in hurricane season, and this tree can damage the home. Here we have a typical homeowner. Possible damage is not current damage. The home is “working” in the fact that the building serves its purpose, therefore change is not needed. The concept is based upon reacting to situations, rather than being proactive.
Being proactive is the gist of my argument. I was asked to perform a roof inspection on this home. Other people who had seen the roof only walked on the roof. For me, you have to check in the attic to fully inspect the roof. In this home, a large duct was cut in half. Consider, if this homeowner was having a regular check of his HVAC system, this would have been caught sooner. What I frequently find on home inspections is a concern about new techniques that could be applied to a home that would help the life of the house. For example, my home built fifty years ago has its original duct work. These were insulated, but two concerns arise: insulation does need updating over time; and a greater R value can help. The original insulation was probably about an R3, where most technicians would suggest an R6 or R8. My R3 was greatly reduced over the years. Moreover, leaks occur with the failure of joints and tape. I updated my ductwork even though there was no problem. I knew that problems would develop. The system was working, but I did not want to wait. I controlled the expense by taking action early. This has saved me money on my electric bill, but it has also saved me dealing with a problem when I am not prepared for it.
I am all in favor of maintaining equipment. I think it is better to not have more equipment thrown into a junkyard. However, there comes a point in time that updating equipment to a newer style could improve safety or efficiency. I know that my service panel is afire hazard. I have never had a problem with it though. By replacing it, I can do more than eliminate a fire hazard; I can add other safety features, like AFCI breakers. By planning for this upgrade, I can prevent a possible expense from a fire or with upgrades to my electrical system that may be needed with new equipment. This is a major expense. Paying a technician $50 or $75 to check on my air conditioning or roof or whatever may really save me much more down the line. If you are not checking up on the condition of your home, you would be wise to be proactive to hire someone to do it for you.