Before taking on more debt, head off these major home repairs

Consumer Reports News: March 01, 2013 03:38 PM

More shoppers are reaching for the credit cards--total consumer debt ticked up 0.3 percent in the final months of 2012, the first increase in four years, according to the New York Federal Reserve. That may be good news for the economy, but it could spell ruin for homeowners who get hit with an unexpected home repair. So before you rack up any more debt, read our checklist of problems not to be ignored.

Water infiltration: Runaway water can spell costly trouble in any home. Ahead of the rainy season, make sure gutters, downspouts, and leader pipes will do their job channeling rainwater away from the house. Reg flags include clogs, corrosion, broken fasteners, and separation between connections and where gutters meet the fascia board. Gutter guards can help keep out leaves and debris; see our Ratings for products that get the job done.

Damaged roof and siding:Roofs are most vulnerable to leaks. On a sunny day, use binoculars to spot cracked, curled, or missing shingles, which are signs that the roof is near its end of life. Also check flashing around chimneys, skylights, and roof valleys, and the rubber boots around vents for cracks.

Siding can also leak, especially where it meets windows and doors. In cold climates, water stains on the siding under the roof eaves could be a sign of ice damming. Adding attic insulation and sealing gaps around pipes, recessed lighting, and ducts into the attic might help prevent future damming and lower heating and cooling bills.

We've tested roofing and siding if you're ready for a replacement.

Pest infestations: Termites and carpenter ants gravitate to moist soil and rotting wood, another reason to make sure your gutters are in good shape and soil around your foundation is graded properly. Also keep mulch, firewood, and dense shrubbery away from your foundation.

Termites can bore through the structure in a few short years. To detect their presence, probe the sill plate that sits on top of the foundation with a screwdriver to check for rotted wood. To check for carpenter ants, look for piles of sawdust along baseboards. Regular termites also shed wings along windowsills, walls, and other entry points.

Rodents gravitate toward disorder and debris, such as leaf piles around the foundation. Plug holes in the siding and the foundation walls with expandable foam. Don't forget to look up for signs of birds, bees, or squirrels in soffits and attic vents.

Mold and mildew: Musty odors, dank air, and family members with chronic runny noses are warning signs. Check under carpets and around windows for visible mold or mildew. If indoor mold covers less than 10 square feet, treat it yourself with a homemade solution of 1 cup chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Be sure to don an N-95 disposable respirator, goggles, and heavy-duty gloves. Professional remediation is required for larger outbreaks, if the ventilation system is contaminated, or if an allergy sufferer lives in the home.

Foundation cracks:Walk around the house with a No. 2 pencil in hand. If the pencil can go into the crack up to the yellow paint on the pencil, that might be a sign of a major problem. Hairline cracks are probably the result of concrete curing or minor settling and can be filled with an epoxy-injection system.

A ruler is another handy tool: Cracks wider than 3/16 inch can be a problem. Mark smaller cracks with tape and monitor their progress over the coming months. Also be on the lookout for horizontal cracks or bulging or buckling. Along with expanding cracks, those conditions require the attention of a structural engineer.

Daniel DiClerico

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