You may think you have all the time in the world to make repairs to your home, but your property has other ideas.
After my wife and I bought our first house five years ago, we began building a subconscious triage list of issues and potential repairs and started addressing them as best we could. We honestly thought that portions of our house and surrounding property would sit around in suspended animation as we dithered with garden beds, insulation, and myriad other projects that now seem incidental at best.
During the next five years, we’d learn the merits of preemptive planning. When a wind storm felled a 110-year-old pignut hickory tree, we became quickly acquainted with arborists, preventative maintenance, and tools like pruning poles and wood chippers. When a a firewood rack nearly fell through our front porch, we learned the value of selecting the right wood and framing for the job. When our water pump seized not once, but three times, we learned that asking for a professional opinion during a small job (like winterization) is better than asking for it before a big job (like a complete pump replacement).
The biggest takeaway from all of these misadventures is that it isn’t just cheaper to address small problems before they become big ones, it’s often inexpensive to address small problems period. I looked back on my own checklist and came up with a few projects where the bill was not only lower than I thought it would’ve been, but low enough to make me wish I’d called someone in sooner.
When we first moved to our house, we inherited two legacy trees. One was a 110-year-old pignut hickory and the other was a 125-year-old black walnut. When a windstorm took down the first, we avoided a nearly $900 removal fee, but spent days with chainsaws, hacksaws, a wood chipper and a log splitter cutting apart a gnarled, knotted, dense mass of a tree.
My father-in-law had much of the equipment that we didn’t, but rental charges would’ve brought us to at least half the removal price. We did have to spring for a $230 excavator rental to get rid of the stump, but sprung for $200 tree pruning for the remaining black walnut tree in the years that followed. With each tree right near our garage, and the hickory fortunate enough to fall away from that building, we likely should have addressed pruning far earlier than we did.
We have a two-story home that dates back to the early 1850s, which means it has an extremely steep roof on its second story and questionable roofs over some of its entrances. I can get the lower gutters and about 20% of the high gutters fairly easily. It’s the 80% of those highest gutters that have irked me for years.
As the folks at HomeAdvisor point out, the average cost of gutter cleaning nationwide is $150, but that can range from $70 for a smaller job to $335 for a mansion-sized property. Ours was slightly less than the average, but well worth it after a series of unusually snowy and icy Oregon winters threatened to pull gutters clean off of the house.
We have a gravel driveway that wasn’t in peak condition when we arrived and was replete with ruts and pits before we finally addressed it. Installing a new driveway would’ve cost us thousands, but repairing a gravel driveway costs roughly $40 a ton for 3/4-inch minus — thick gravel with loose fill that settles into gaps left by potholes.
Combined with the $60 rental of a plate compactor, the entire job will cost us less than $400, which is significantly less than the nearly $1,500 cost of having it completely redone. An asphalt driveway, meanwhile, costs about $2 to 2.50 per square foot to repair but $3 to $4 per square foot to replace.
If your house uses well water or you have an irrigation system that runs on well water, it helps to have a float and cutoff switch installed for the months when the well gets low. It also pays to blow out your lines and winterize your pump before things get too cold.
Before we learned any of this, we overheated two well pumps and had a third crack after its remaining water froze. Each replacement was roughly $250 apiece, while winterization cost nothing (just removing bolts and draining the pump) and the float and switch installation cost roughly $180.
As soon as we were told that we were moving into a house with a septic tank, we made plans to have it emptied. We didn’t mind the previous owners leaving behind items like curtains, furniture, and appliances, but having their remnants in our septic tank just made me uneasy. We had a crew come in during the spring and empty it for about $275. While that isn’t insignificant, it’s a cost you incur every 10 years and is far less than the $1,551 average cost of repairing a septic system that’s been pushed beyond its limits.
In our house’s more than 150 years of existence, insulation seems to have been a nominal concern. There was some old yellow batting in the floor of the attic, but not much beyond that. The first winter’s natural gas bills for heat were substantial, with even the 12-month flat rate exceeding $190 a month.
The following spring, we rented an AttiCat insulation blower for $53 for four hours and blew in 10 bags of R30 insulation at a cost of roughly $340. This year, our flat-rate bill sat at $147 a month: A 22-percent decrease that came in even above EnergyStar’s estimate for our Western Oregon climate zone.
We have laurel bushes and invasive blackberry ringing our property, but the laurel bushes on one side of the house had grown halfway across the yard. We realized in other parts of the yard and in our garden that, if left unchecked, hedges and blackberry would simply consume everything in their path. That said, these laurel bushes and blackberry were about to consume and outbuilding an reach their way toward the house.
We called in a landscaping crew and, $500 later, we had reclaimed much of the yard and given the goats a bunch of laurel and blackberry to munch on. If the previous owners had simply pruned a bit each year, however, that same hedge could’ve been either pruned by professionals for far less or trimmed by the owners for free.
The DIY Dilemma: Knowing When It’s Time to Call in the Pros
Seven Reasons to Love the House You Have
What Common Home Repairs Cost and How to Budget for Them