Confidence Building Inspections Limited 
Residential Property Inspections

Spring Maintenance Series

Part 1 – Cladding and Painting

As the weather starts improving, it’s time to consider those maintenance jobs around the home to keep it in good condition for another year – and no matter what your home is built of, there’s no such thing as a ‘maintenance-free’ home!

If your home is weatherboard or textured, or you have timber-framed windows, now is a good time to check your paint condition to make sure there are no cracks or flaking, ‘chalking’ paint, and there’s no build-up of algae. Leaving cracked or flaking paint long term can allow moisture to get in to the timber and cause it to rot. If the paint is starting to ‘chalk’, it means the paint is breaking down from UV damage, and will require repainting.

Whether your home needs painting or not, once a year it’s advisable to give your exterior walls a good clean. This is additionally important in geothermal or marine areas where minerals can cause faster break-down, and should ideally be cleaned every three months.

Cleaning should be done with a low-pressure hose, a gentle detergent, and a soft brush. Using power cleaners or water blasters may seem like a quick and easy way to get it done, but can lead to water being forced into gaps or into the framing around windows, as well as washing out important water-proofing sealants leading to issues down the track.

Once you home is clean, sand flaky paint, fill gaps, and renew sealants where required.

If you’re planning to ‘do it yourself’, speaking to a paint professional will ensure you get the right paint for the type of cladding and the amount of sunlight it gets on it. When it comes to exterior paint, you get what you pay for.

If your home has a textured surface, using a quality elastomeric paint, which is flexible and developed especially for use over textured surfaces, will mean its less likely to crack from general movement.

Your home is a large investment, and keeping its external envelope in good condition will keep your home structurally sound and weather proof, saving you money in the long run.

Part 2 – Smoke Alarms and Escape Plans

Spring is a great time to check the batteries on your smoke alarms and/or install new alarms. It’s no use having them if they don’t work!

A lot of homes have the older-style ‘ionisation’ alarms, which require the batteries changing regularly and annoyingly ‘bleep’ when they’re nearly flat. All alarm types should have the whole unit replaced after ten years of service. Alarms also have an expiry date on the back of the unit. If you’ve recently purchased a home and don’t know when the alarms were installed, the best bet is to replace them.

If you need new, or more alarms, the newer photoelectric alarms have a long-life battery which once installed, should be good for ten years. They can be pricy initially, but are well worth the extra money and won’t require regular battery replacement.

Alarms should be kept clean of dust and debris to ensure they continue to work properly.

For Tenants:
As of May 2016, all rental properties must be fitted with smoke alarms. It is the tenant’s responsibility to maintain smoke alarms, which includes replacing batteries. If the alarm is broken, there aren’t enough in the house, or they are more than ten years old, let your landlord know so they can install new units.

Placement of Alarms:
You might think you can get away with just one alarm in the main living area of your home, however even in a smaller home this isn’t ideal.

Smoke alarms can’t detect smoke through closed doors, so if bedroom doors are closed at night, a smoke alarm in the hallway or living room isn’t going to detect a bedroom fire until it’s too late. Installing a smoke alarm on the ceiling in each bedroom is a better option. At the minimum, a smoke alarm should be located in the hallway within three metres of bedrooms. Each main living area should also have an alarm. And if you have a sleepout, that too should have an alarm installed.

Smoke alarms should not be installed directly in your kitchen, as you may find it constantly being set off, and they can be affected by steam and grease from cooking. Better to locate the alarm within three metres of the kitchen area. It is a good idea however to have a small fire extinguisher in your kitchen for emergencies. Bathrooms and laundries should also have the alarm placed outside of the room.

Escape Plans:
Once a fire is in progress, it’s too late to think about how you might get out. An escape plan should be pre-thought out, and practised, by the whole family should the worst happen.
Go outside and decide on a safe spot away from the house which will be your meeting place. Then identify the primary route of escape from every room in the house – each room should have at least two ways of escape, with doors and windows which can be easily opened, and a person can fit through.

Doors with deadlocks should have the keys in them at all times when people are in the house. Ranch-sliders and patio doors with dead-bolts should also have keys in them or other ways of getting out. Security stays on windows, while good at keeping people out, can also trap you in if there’s a fire – make sure there is an alternative escape or the security stay can be quickly and easily removed.

Small hammers to break the glass may also be an option for quick escape – double-glazing in particular is very hard to break in an emergency.

Make sure that escape routes are always kept clear of clutter, and that doors aren’t blocked from opening easily in the event of a fire.

There is a house fire in New Zealand on average every 3-4 hours – having working alarms, and a pre-planned escape route will ensure your loved ones are protected.

Part 3 – Doors, Windows, and Security

Spring and summer are a good time to check over your exterior windows and doors for gaps, and to check for ease of operation.

If you’ve got timber windows and doors with glass, putty can dry out and come loose over time, leaving gaps where you lose valuable heat over the winter months, or let water into your house. This is also a good time to check for any broken glass. Professional glaziers can renew your glass and re-putty around windows. The putty should then be left for two weeks before painting, and when painting is done, it should cover all of the putty and 2mm of the glass to help the putty last longer.

Similarly, around aluminium frames rubber seals can fail and fall out. These too should be replaced as soon as possible to reduce draughts and stop any water from getting through gaps.

If you have older aluminium ranch-sliders, they can become bumpy and hard to open when the nylon rollers wear down. These should be replaced by a professional window maintenance company who can put the correct rollers on and make sure they are adjusted to move smoothly.

For security, ventilation, and water-tight purposes, catches and latches should be checked for functionality to ensure windows can open easily yet can’t be opened from the outside once they’re shut. They should also close tight so as not to let water or draughts in. A licenced builder will be able to adjust and re-attach your latches or window stays so they are secure and tight fitting.

For a healthy environment, kitchens, bathrooms, ensuites, and all bedrooms and living areas must have either an opening window for ventilation, or a functional mechanical vent. In kitchens particularly, if there is no rangehood over cooking areas, there must be an opening window no more than 2 metres away.

Where opening windows are less than 1.5m above the floor, and the window has a fall to the ground of 2m or more, the window must have a security stay fitted which restricts the opening to no more than 100mm. They should not be detachable unless the window is required for escape from fire. Having security stays on windows also means you can leave them open when you’re not there, or at night to improve passive ventilation.

Keeping windows and doors operational and in good condition will keep your family and property safe, as well as provide a healthy living environment.

Part 4 – Roofs, gutters, and grey water

The roof is your homes first defence against the elements, so it stands to reason that keeping it well maintained and in good condition will go a long way to protecting the rest of your home from weather damage. Yet a lot of us take it for granted and ignore it, because we can’t easily see it.

Over the winter months, dirt can collect on our roof which makes for a great place for lichen to take hold. Lichen is a combination of a fungi and an algae plant. Having lichen can be an indicator of a healthy environment. While it would take a long time for lichen to cause serious damage to your roof, if your roof is already in poor condition lichen can quickly take hold. A lot of people also find it unsightly. There are a number of professional services available for spaying lichen.

Now is also a good time to get your roof checked for any damage such as rust spots, popping or missing nails or lifting ridge flashing, and get them repaired. Flashings and sealants around roof penetrations such as TV aerials, chimneys, or pipes should be checked to make sure they are still in good condition and keeping water out.

If you have a painted roof and it looks faded or has a powdery dust on it, it is likely time it was repainted, and a professional painter will use a high-quality roof paint to keep your roof looking good for longer.

Gutters should be kept clear of debris to restrict grass from sprouting up in your gutter causing damage to the gutter. Blocked gutters can allow water up under your eaves and into your house, or to overflow and rot the fascia or the cladding. If you have lots of trees, or find you are regularly having to clear your gutters, it may be worth considering getting gutter guards installed.

Gutters should always flow towards the downpipe, with no sagging, otherwise water will pool and can cause the gutter to crack and leak. This may be remedied by removing the gutters and having them re-installed with an even fall, or in some cases by adding extra gutter brackets. Any cracks or damage to guttering should have the damaged sections replaced.

Another issue a lot of older houses have is the tendency to overload soak holes or storm-water drains by directing too-large of a catchment area of water into a single drain. If you have soak holes and you find they regularly overflow when it rains, they may need re-drilling or you may need additional downpipes and soak holes installed. Overflowing rain-water drains can lead to water pooling under your house causing damp if you have a sub-floor, or water can pond against a concrete slab floor with potential to seep in and rot framing timber or cladding.

Your gully trap (where grey-water from your house goes) should be regularly checked to make sure it is clear of debris or plants and has no blockages. Your gully trap should be 25mm above paved ground, or 100mm above unpaved ground to ensure surface rain water doesn’t get into the drainage system. They should also have grating on the top to stop debris or small animals falling in. If your gully trap is too low in the ground, a drainlayer may be able to add a riser. Gully traps should never have downpipes from your roof directed into them – these will need to be redirected by a drainlayer into the storm-water system.

Keeping rain water where it should be, and away from where it shouldn't, will go a long way towards protecting your home.

Part 5 – Gardens and Vegetation

Beautiful, luscious gardens – it’s what we all want around our home, but too close to our home is not always a good idea!

A lot of people like the look of thick plant growth against the side of their house, and it can also provide privacy, but unless the house has been built specifically with waterproofing in mind, doing so can cause unseen damage to your property.

Dense planting can block air vents around the foundation wall of your house, or the weep holes (the vertical gaps in mortar in the bottom course of brick walls), allowing damp and moisture to remain under the house or in the walls where it causes rot. Keep plants trimmed away from air vents and weep holes, to allow ventilation.

Alternatively, plant gardens a little away from the house to allow a gap in between plants and the house for the same overall look.

Having dense or rotting foliage near to your house can also be a great place for rodents and insects to make their home, and easily come and go from your house. Keeping gardens tidy and clear of debris will reduce the risk of critters making this their home.

Be careful of plant selection when planting close to your house – that small shrub you buy today, could end up being a large tree in a couple of years, and living in a warm climate means some plants may grow bigger than specified. Trees or shrubs with large roots can undermine the foundations of your house, or thick leafy branches up against cladding can cause it to rot. A lot of us have small house sites, and a landscaper will be able to assist with suitable sized plants for the space available.

Plants such as ivy, while they look beautiful and old-fashioned climbing up the side of your house, have little suckers which help them attach, pulling off paint or eroding the mortar in bricks, doing significant damage to your cladding.

Another error people make is building up garden beds against the house, bringing soil levels up to the cladding line, and in some cases, over the cladding. There are minimum heights cladding and floor levels should be from paved areas and garden beds – this is to ensure water and damp can’t easily get into your house, so building up garden beds against your house could be doing damage.

So remember, while thick vegetation can be beautiful and provide privacy, stay on the safe side by not planting directly against your house and be mindful of the final size the plants may grow to.