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Home & Garden

(BPT) - Routine maintenance: two words that likely evoke eye rolls, exasperated sighs and dread for most homeowners who read, hear or even think about them. However, they're also a homeowner's best line of defense when it comes to protecting their most important investment - their home.

Home Maintenance
Taking care of your property now with these simple maintenance tips could save you time and money in the long run.

"Many homeowners insurance policyholders are choosing higher deductibles because it lowers their insurance costs," said Christopher O'Rourke, Mercury Insurance vice president of property claims. "This means, however, that if they need to make a claim then their out-of-pocket costs will be higher. So, the best claim is the one you don't have to make, because you've taken the time to ensure your property is properly maintained. And the good news is that it generally costs much less than paying a deductible."

So, with that in mind, here are three inexpensive projects that could save you a lot of money in the long run.

1. Inspect plumbing connections, appliance hoses and pipes for leaks.

Refrigerators with icemakers or water dispensers, dishwashers and washing machines all have hoses that connect to your water supply. If these hoses wear out, blister or crack, or the connections loosen, they can cause leaks that can cause a lot of damage to your home and appliances. Replace these hoses with steel-braided hoses because they are less likely to fail and can be purchased at your local hardware store for around $20. Consult your owner's manual for hose specifications and recommended replacement intervals.

Periodically inspect the pipes under your kitchen and bathroom sinks for leaks. Also, if there's a bathroom in your home that's seldom used, turn the faucets on and off, and flush the toilet once a week to ensure water continues flowing through the pipes properly.

"Oftentimes, people will notice a brown spot on the ceiling, bulge in the wall or swelling cabinets - all indicators of water build-up or leaks - and most homeowners policies don't cover long-term leaks," said O'Rourke. "It's important to address these things as soon as possible because they can create extensive damage if left untreated."

If you suspect you may have a leak, but the source isn't easily accessible, time is of the essence. The average cost to hire a plumber is about $300, which is less than the potential amount of damage an untreated leak might cause.

2. Clean dryer ducts and vents.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments responded to 15,050 home fires involving clothes dryers and washing machines in 2014, which is the most recent data available.

It's important to empty your dryer's lint filter after each use because lint is highly flammable. Combined with the high heat given off during a tumble cycle, this is a recipe for disaster. Lint also accumulates in dryer ducts and vents. While they take a bit more effort and know-how to clean, it's just as important to do this at least once a year.

Unfortunately, one Mercury policyholder learned this the hard way.

"Our insured's dryer was about 12 years old and its vents had never been cleaned," said O'Rourke. "The resulting fire caused $300,000 in damage to her home, which she was forced to leave for 10 months. Insurance helps cover material losses, but you can't put a price on lost memories or having your life turned upside down."

The average cost of a professional dryer vent cleaning is less than $200.

3. Visually inspect your home's exterior.

Make a point of walking the perimeter of your home to look for cracks, chips or holes in the façade and loose shingles on the roof. Imperfections like these can be access points for unwanted water to enter the home, which can cause rot, mold or structural damage.

If your exterior walls are coated with built-up dirt and debris, wash them first to make it easier to detect potential problem areas. You can do this by attaching a cleaning tool to your garden hose or renting a pressure washer. Costs will vary depending on which option you choose, but start as low as $20.

Windows are another potential danger zone for leaks, so be sure to check the condition of your weather stripping, as well as look for chips and cracks.

Consult a professional to determine next steps if you find damages to your home's exterior.

O'Rourke also recommends speaking with your insurance agent to learn more about where to clean, what to replace and when to consult a professional before it's too late. "Another suggestion is to consider hiring an inspector to help identify areas of risk. Most people only do this before buying or selling a home, but you don't want to wait until it's too late," said O'Rourke.

Taking care of your property now with these simple maintenance tips could save you time and money in the long run.

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