55 Ways You're Ruining Your Home and Don't Even Know It
Meet the biggest culprit in your property's depreciation: You.
Floods, fires, and natural disasters tend to top homeowners' lists of concerns when it comes to home safety. But there's actually a more common culprit behind the most common types of household damage: human error. Even seemingly minor mistakes—like how you maintain your air conditioners, or even how you rinse your dishes—can lead to major (and often expensive) problems.
Before you cause costly damage to your property, read on to discover the surprising ways you may be damaging your home without realizing it.
Placing your grill too close to your house
Who doesn't love grilling in the warmer months? But if you're putting your grill right up against your house, you could be putting yourself at risk. According to the National Fire Protection Association, charcoal and gas grills are responsible for 9,800 home fires in the United States each year. Not only does putting a hot grill near your home increase your risk of a house fire, it can also melt and warp your siding.
Putting your satellite dish in the wrong place
Think the placement of your satellite dish doesn't matter? Think again. Perched in the wrong spot, your satellite dish can easily rip the shingles from your roof or cause damage to your gutters or fascia if it comes loose. In fact, an improperly-installed satellite dish may even void your roof's warranty.
Pouring grease down the drain
Before you rinse that greasy pan, make sure you've tossed any lingering oil or fat into the trash or another receptacle first. "Fat and grease can clog your drain badly," explains Mark Dawson, chief operating officer at Authority Brands, which owns Benjamin Franklin Plumbing and Mr. Sparky.
Putting away wet dishes
Not drying off those dishes before putting them in your cabinet can cause more damage than you might think. Wet dishes can stain and warp the inside of your cabinets over time, and stacking wet dishes may increase the risk of bacterial growth on those plates.
Not cleaning your dishwasher trap
Though many people see their dishwasher as a self-cleaning machine, even it could use a little help from time to time. At least once a month, you should be cleaning your dishwasher trap, which is generally located on the lower part of your dishwasher near its sprayer. The rubber gasket and soap holder also need a good wipe down, or else you could be shortening the life of your machine.
Not using your stove's exhaust hood
If you're not using your stove's vent hood, you could be compromising the quality of the air in your home. "Be sure to use a vented exhaust fan to remove cooking fumes and avoid moisture build up," says Richard Ciresi, a Louisville, Kentucky-based franchise owner of Aire Serv.
He also recommends opening your home's windows while you cook to allow for cross-ventilation, reducing moisture, smoke, and improving your indoor air quality.
Continuing to use malfunctioning appliances
That toaster that's always on the fritz or that microwave that cuts power halfway through heating your food aren't as innocuous as they might seem. In fact, ignoring them may mean you're inadvertently damaging your whole home's electrical system. "The resulting damage can range from a tiny bit of wear and tear on other appliances to a destructive electrical fire," says Dawson.
Cleaning granite counters with vinegar-based cleaners
Those household cleaners you make at home may be all-natural, but that doesn't mean they're good for everything. For example, if you're using vinegar-based cleaners on your porous granite countertops, you could be eroding their sealant and causing them to dull down the line.
Not having your chimneys and fireplaces routinely cleaned
If you don't have your chimney cleaned with some frequency, creosote can build up inside it, putting you at risk for a chimney fire, as well as causing you to have suboptimal indoor air quality.
"The routine annual cleaning and inspection of your fireplace and venting system is essential," explains Ciresi. "Dirty, blocked, cracked and leaking chimney, flues, and venting can result in the release of fireplace pollution in your home, as can improperly installed or incorrectly maintained components."
Keeping your blinds open all day
Keeping your blinds open may make your home look bright and cheery, but doing so can also cause serious damage to your flooring if you're not careful. "Harsh UV rays can cause premature fading and discoloration to floors, especially hardwood flooring," says flooring expert Paul Carter, executive vice president and chief purchasing officer at Empire Today.
That doesn't mean you have to live in the dark, though—Carter just recommends making sure you've closed your blinds when you head out for the day.
Forgetting to use furniture pads on hardwood floors
Those little furniture pads that cover the bottom of table and chair legs are a must-have if you have hardwood floors in your home. If you're not using them, every time you scoot back in a chair or move a piece of furniture an inch to the left, you're potentially scratching those floors in a way that only refinishing them can cover.
Letting rooms with hardwood floors stay humid
Want to keep your hardwood or laminate floors looking brand new? The answer isn't some expensive cleaning product—it's a dehumidifier. "If humidity hits above 55 percent, you might be opening up a chance for moisture to seep into the wood," says Carter, noting that this can cause your flooring to swell and warp over time.
Using too much water to clean your floors
Water may be effective at getting your floors clean, but use too much and you might find yourself in need of some replacement flooring before you know it. Using too much water on your hardwood or laminate floors can cause them to warp or stain, so when in doubt, use a conservative approach. "If you want to clean your wood floors, use the minimum amount [of water] possible," says Alberto Navarrete, general manager of cleaning service Frisco Maids.
Sweeping instead of vacuuming
What's wrong with breaking out the broom to clean up dirt on your hardwood floors? It can actually shorten their lifespan. "If you're going to mop or sweep, make sure you vacuum first to prevent moving those itty-bitty particles and abrasives (like sand) along the floor's surface, which can scratch or damage floors," says Carter.
Not drying off fully before you leave the shower or bath
It's reasonable to assume that drying off on a bath mat is the most effective way to rid your body of excess moisture after a shower. But doing so could actually be harming your house. "The damp shower rug will allow moisture to seep into the linoleum flooring, causing the flooring to stain and begin warping," says Shawn Breyer, owner of Sell My House Fast Atlanta.
Leaving wet towels on the floor
More than just a housekeeping mistake, leaving wet towels on your floor can actually damage your home. Much like standing water after a bath or shower, wet towels can trap moisture against your floor, causing the flooring beneath it to stain, buckle, or rot.
Not using an exhaust fan in the bathroom
If you don't have an exhaust fan in your bathroom, or if you don't run it for a bit when you get out of the shower, you could be causing serious damage to your space without even realizing it. "Most people turn off the exhaust fan and lights when they get done showering," says Breyer. And what's so bad about that? Well, "[if] someone only turns the fan on for the duration of their shower … the average exhaust fan for a bathroom won't remove enough of the moist air," he continues. "Moist air combined with complete darkness causes mold to start forming."
Using homemade cleaners on grout
Those homemade vinegar-based cleaners may have some antibacterial properties, but they're not a safe bet for every surface. In addition to not being great for granite, using them on grout can actually dissolve it over time.
Hiding your outdoor AC unit
The outdoor parts of your AC system may not be the most attractive elements in your backyard, but camouflaging them with hedges can cause major problems. "AC units need plenty of room for proper air flow to run efficiently," says Jeff Trucksa, co-founder of KJ Heating & Cooling, Inc. Dawson adds, "Surrounding [your AC unit] with plants or shrubs could block proper ventilation and clog the system."
Or letting debris build up on it
Sure, it may be impossible to keep every leaf and twig from falling on the outdoor components of your AC unit, but leaving them on there will compromise your HVAC system down the line. You see, that debris can attract bugs and rodents, who can build nests in the unit, which can cause costly and potentially irreparable damage to the entire system.
Adding additional filters to your HVAC system
If having one filter on your HVAC system is good, having more than one must be better, right? Well, not exactly. While your HVAC system should have a filter in the air handler, adding an additional one on the AC's vent "has the same result as having a dirty filter—more stress on the system," says Chris Forbus, owner of HVAC company Choice Air Care.
Letting wet leaves sit on your porch
That never-ending onslaught of leaves on your porch when fall arrives may seem like a harmless nuisance, but failing to remove them in a timely manner can do serious damage. Leaving wet leaves on a wood surface can increase the chance that the wood below it will rot.
Crowding the space under your deck
Similarly, when things in a damp environment are nestled too closely together, they can trap moisture under your deck, leaving it permanently damp and predisposing it to rot.
Not cleaning your gutters
Gutter-cleaning may be a thankless job, but it's a necessary one, too. If you're not cleaning your gutters frequently, you're putting your home at risk for serious damage. Soggy leaves in your gutter can cause it to pull away from your home, requiring an expensive repair, or may even rot pieces of your fascia. Full gutters also create a nesting spot for bugs and rodents, increasing the risk they'll take up residence in your home.
Removing your downspout extensions
While downspout extensions—the long piece of gutter that runs along the ground—may not be gorgeous, removing them can lead to much bigger problems down the line. Downspout extensions keep water away from your home's foundation, and by removing them, "you risk allowing water to pool directly at your foundation, increasing risk of water penetration into your basement," says Kate Ziegler, a realtor with Arborview Realty in Boston. This can compromise the integrity of your foundation and may even dampen the wood framing of your house, causing structural issues or attracting pests.
Leaving pipes exposed in the winter
Those exposed pipes in your freezing cold basement deserve some insulation—and if you don't cover them, you could be putting your home at risk for some serious damage. "Any plumbing that goes through unheated parts of your home or is exposed to outdoors is liable to freeze and possibly burst," says Dawson.
Joining the wrong piping materials
Think you can replace that leaky section of pipe with any old material? Think again. "Some types of plastic can't handle hot water and there are other materials you shouldn't match," Dawson says. For example, "copper connectors on galvanized metal pipes causes electrolysis," a common source of pipe corrosion, he notes. "This causes leaks and other damages."
Flushing trash down the toilet
If you're tossing anything other than human waste and toilet paper into your toilet, don't be surprised when you've got a pricey repair on your hands. Doing so "can clog your pipes in a hurry and potentially cause the toilet to overflow in a nasty and hazardous mess," says Dawson.
Or adding bleach tablets to your toilet tank
Keeping your toilet clean with bleach tablets is another poor choice. With repeated use, these tablets can corrode the flapper in your toilet tank, making it run.
Using adaptors on two-prong outlets
If you want a three-prong outlet where a two-prong one is currently, you don't need an adaptor—you need an electrician.
"You should resist the urge to use these so-called 'cheater plugs,'" says Dawson. "The ground wire is there for safety and simply bypassing it creates a potentially serious hazard." He notes that cheater plugs put you at risk for an overloaded socket or an electrical fire.
Not upgrading your electrical system
No matter the age of your home, if you have modern appliances, you need a modern electrical system. While many older homes have 100-amp service, if you're powering air conditioners, TVs, and other heavy-duty electronics, it's time to upgrade to at least 200-amp service—or risk a fire by overloading your system.
Using the wrong kind of extension cord outside
All extension cords are not created equal. "If an extension cord is not rated for outdoor use, it's at risk of overheating and potentially causing a fire," explains Dawson. So, how can you tell if your extension cord is actually right for outdoor use? The letter W printed on the cord jacket will let you know that it's safe to use outside.
Ignoring flickering lights
Those flickering lights aren't always just a quirk of your older home or the result of a faulty bulb—and letting them go unchecked can mean you're putting yourself at risk for serious danger. "A flickering light could also be an early warning sign of dangerous wiring problems," says Dawson. He recommends first checking that your bulb is screwed in correctly, and replacing it if the problem persists. If that doesn't seem to fix things, it's time to call an electrician.
Or using the wrong wattage light bulbs
Using the wrong wattage light bulb in a lamp may seem like a minor mistake, but it can cause major damage in no time. In fact, using the wrong wattage bulb, or using an LED bulb in an older device, can cause a short or increase your risk of a house fire.
Letting vines grow on your home's exterior
Sure, a vine-covered house looks beautiful. But those climbers are potentially doing more damage than they're worth. Vines can get under your siding, thus warping it, and can trap moisture against your home, causing potential rot and structural damage later on.
Allowing the ground around your home to dry out
While having too much water around your home's foundation can cause serious damage, that Sahara-like ground around your house isn't actually any better for the condition of your home.
"The ground is like a sponge and when it dries out, it shrinks, creating an unstable base for the entire foundation of the home," explains Betty Mooney, president of Brick Restoration, Inc., a Houston-based masonry repair and restoration company. Over time, this can lead to cracks in your home's foundation and may even allow water to seep inside. To keep this from happening, make sure to water the grass and dirt surrounding your home frequently—just not so often that water pools near your foundation.
Planting too close to your foundation
If you want to maintain the integrity of your home, make sure to leave some space between those pretty perennials and the building itself. Putting plants too close to your home can cause moisture damage to your foundation, or may even leave you dealing with root structures threatening to compromise it.
Using wood mulch near your foundation
Wood mulch looks attractive, and it is—for termites, that is. If you're putting wood mulch around your foundation, you're making it a hotbed for termite activity, as well as increasing your risk of water damage and rot.
Not trimming your trees
Neglecting to trim those old growth trees in your yard could lead to major damage to your home. If there's inclement weather, those branches can easily fall on your property or your home, leaving you with costly repairs to attend to.
Allowing your garden to get overgrown
An overgrown garden isn't just an eyesore: It's a danger, too. Those overgrown plants can start to advance on your home, increasing your risk of damage from mold and rot, as well as potentially growing onto wood surfaces and weakening them.
Hammering nails directly into plaster
If you're living in a home with plaster walls, hanging pictures may be a trickier task than you'd imagined. If you're nailing directly into your walls willy-nilly, you could be causing cracks that can lead to the plaster falling away from the lath behind it. Instead, make sure you're using a stud finder and drywall screws to protect your walls.
And not addressing cracks in plaster
What looks like a little crack today could be a major problem tomorrow. When you first see a crack in your plaster walls or ceiling, it's time to patch it and repaint—in fact, failing to do so can lead to worse damage, including a network of cracks that's next to impossible to repair.
Leaving your attic uninsulated
While your attic may be little more than storage space to you, if you're leaving it uninsulated, you're causing damage to your home (and wallet). According to Energy Star, 25 percent of a home's heat can be lost through uninsulated attics, meaning you're increasing your risk of burst pipes and other weather-related damage (not to mention increasing your electric bills) every year you fail to insulate.
Not insulating around windows
If your windows aren't properly insulated, or if the caulk around them has started to peel away, you're causing accidental harm to your home. Not only are windows the source of approximately 25 percent of a home's heat loss, insufficient caulk surrounding the window can allow moisture inside, potentially damaging the frame, sill, or even your walls.
Or not maintaining old windows
Old windows may be charming, but if you're not maintaining them properly with a fresh coat of paint and some new caulk from time to time, you could be damaging your space. In addition to being a major source of heat loss, old windows are a common source of lead paint, and opening and closing them can cause dust to spread through your house, putting you and your family at risk for everything from kidney problems to brain damage.
Not updating the flashing around your skylight
Leaving the old flashing on your skylight indefinitely could be the source of a major problem down the line. Flashing—the metal that typically connects a skylight to your roof—is constantly exposed to the elements, and, as such, can corrode over time. As this happens, your skylight becomes less securely-sealed, meaning you're risking a major leak that can cause serious structural damage.
Adding rooms to your home without consulting an architect
Though DIY-ing a framing and drywall job to create a new room may seem easy enough, it could cause damage later on. If you haven't consulted an architect prior to adding a room, you could be overburdening your foundation, putting you at risk for cracks that can cost an arm and a leg to fix.
Forgetting to bleed your radiators
Not bleeding your radiators on a regular basis? You could be damaging your home without knowing it. Bleeding your radiators (a process that involves removing some of the water inside the radiator) can help distribute heat more evenly throughout your home and reduce the risk that your radiator will shoot hot water at you.
Leaving wood siding unpainted
While unpainted wood siding may have some rustic charm, leaving it in its raw state can do more harm than good. Unpainted siding has less protection against the elements, potentially putting your home's exterior at risk for rot.
Painting over rust
Slapping a coat of paint over some rust may make it look better initially, but will only cause problems later on. If you haven't adequately dealt with the rust on those metal porch railings, for example, that paint will keep peeling up, leaving the metal exposed to the elements once again, and putting it at further risk for deterioration.
Or not scraping before painting your home's exterior
Leaving that weathered paint on your home's exterior before repainting may do more harm than good. Instead of giving you an attractive, weathered look, un-scraped paint will continue to curl and peel up, potentially exposing the siding underneath later on and leaving it vulnerable to damage.
Not changing your smoke detector batteries
If you're not changing your smoke detector batteries frequently—every six months, if possible—you're increasing the risk that no one will know if a fire breaks out in your home. And we don't have to tell you what kind of damage that can cause.
Slamming your doors
It may feel good to slam your door when you're frustrated, but try to refrain from doing so whenever possible. Slamming doors can cause damage to the frame around the door, as well as increase your risk of everything from plaster damage to cracked window panes.
Using doorknobs as clothing racks
If you want to dry your clothes at home, it's time to invest in a real drying rack. Unfortunately, drying your clothes on doorknobs can loosen them, wear away the paint on your door, or even make your door fit improperly in its frame down the line.
Wearing your shoes indoors
If you're wearing your shoes inside the house, you're not only damaging your home, you're damaging your health, too. In addition to those wet, muddy shoes potentially causing damage to your floors, research conducted at the University of Houston in 2014 revealed that outdoor shoes are teeming with C. difficile, a bacterium that can cause serious digestive issues if it makes its way inside your body. And to discover where else dirt germs are lurking, These Places in Your Home Are Dirtier Than Your Toilet.
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