Run your own home maintenance check

Failing to maintaining your property will not only devalue one of your largest assets, but may potentially void your home insurance. Here’s how to get your house in tip top shape.

How to maintain your home


The words “home maintenance” can conjure fears of weekends trapped in hardware stores, wobbling on a ladder and wondering if there aren’t 3,654 better things to do.

Regular maintenance not only ensures your house remains in top condition but prevents small problems becoming expensive, scary big ones. Maintenance is also vital to make sure any future claims you make against a home insurance policy don’t come unstuck.

In the event of a disaster like a fire or flood, insurers have been known to either not pay the claim or pay only a percentage if they deem that a lack of maintenance has contributed to the damage.

“We don’t want to scare people or put the cat among the pigeons, but people have an obligation to maintain their home in good working order,” says Paul Giles, general manager of communications at the Insurance Council of Australia.

In other words: if you ignore those leaking gutters or cracked roof tiles, you might not be insured if the ceiling caves in.

“There are no blanket rules and it’s always a case-by-case basis with the client, but the house should be maintained in the condition it was in when the insured first took out the policy or there can be problems,” Giles says.

As a general rule of thumb, it makes sense to dedicate between half to one per cent of your property’s capital value to annual maintenance. That also means that if you aren’t the DIY type, you should spend money paying others to do the hard work for you.

Not that maintenance is difficult – it’s just a chore. One more of those little things we know we should do, but rarely get around to.

So where do you start? At the top, of course.


Houspect managing director Mark Smith says one of the most common maintenance problems is cracked or broken ridge capping on the roof.

“Also, over time, concrete roof tiles can lose the seal and water can penetrate,” he says. “Most people don’t check the roof because it’s too hard to get the ladder out.”

An easier way to check whether water is penetrating through cracked or old tiles is to get access into the roof cavity internally and shine a torch around.

“If you see any cracks of light or smell mould, then you might have a problem,” Smith says.

Other roofing checks:

gutters need to be cleared of leafy debris and run water away from the roof easily to prevent water running under the eaves back into the house

– make sure an old asbestos roof is kept well-painted to seal the hazardous material

– check the ceiling beneath the roof is not bowing or coming away from the roof

– make sure insulation is firmly in place, especially in windy locations where it can blow to one end of the ceiling cavity and be ineffective

– check timbers for sign of decay or water damage

– if you don’t have ceiling insulation installed, take advantage of the federal government rebate of up to $1600 to install it

– look out for rat or possum droppings which indicate gaps in the roof need sealing.


Taking a stroll around the outside of the house is easy. Taking note of what is actually going on with the fabric of a building is not so easy.

The most obvious thing to check for is water damage: but you need to keep your eyes peeled. Allowing garden beds to creep up against external walls is asking for damp problems.

As the garden beds build up over time, they breach the damp course and the water from the garden will be absorbed through the walls, causing materials to fail and internal paint to blister.

Other exterior checks:

  • make sure there are no covered mud tubes on walls close to the ground, which could indicate termites are entering the building
  • check around window frames and door frames to make sure water is not penetrating and that flashings are working
  • ensure any exterior woodwork with flaking paint is sanded back and re-painted to make sure the timber underneath is protected from rot
  • are mature trees starting to cause a problem by interfering with fences, foundations or power lines? If you can’t prune them back yourself, call in a local tree surgeon
  • are the gutters attached properly and in good working order
  • are any drainpipes not connected to stormwater attached to soakwells at least two-metres from the house to ensure water drains away from the house
  • are the fences in reasonable condition or do they need attention.


It’s hard to see the faults in your own home, so it’s worth trying to be objective when inspecting the interior for maintenance needs.

Smith says leaking showers are the biggest problems in most homes, with any movement between the vertical wall and floor allowing water to permeate through the cracks which destroys the walls.

“It’s hard to see the damage until the tiles start falling off or you get a lot of mould and gunk on the tiles,” he says.

It can easily be fixed by digging out the old grout between the floor and wall and regrouting with a silicon-based grout which will flex with any movement.

You can also clean the tiles thoroughly and paint a clear sealant over the tiles to further waterproof old showers.

“The kitchen splashback is another problem area, especially when the grout between the bench and the tiled wall disintegrates and allows water runs to the back of the cabinets,” Smith says.

“Check your under-sink cabinets for any signs of rot.”

Other interior checks:

  • are all power points and light switches working correctly, with an electrical safety switch and smoke detectors installed
  • check for leaking taps and turn on taps to listen for sounds of “water hammer” which may imply plumbing problems
  • timber doors and windows can swell or shrink with the moisture in the air and sometimes need a quick sand or shave to close properly
  • take a look at the ceilings for any blistering paint or water damage that could indicate the roof is leaking
  • it’s common for fine cracks to appear in brick walls and can usually be repaired with filler, sanding and a new coat of paint
  • check the hot water service, heaters, air-conditioners and other appliances and make sure they are maintained in accordance with the manufacturers instructions to ensure you don’t void any warranties.