11 Simple but Vital Home and Auto Maintenance Tasks That People Often Forget

About once a month, I spend part of a Saturday simply catching up on home and auto maintenance tasks that have fallen through the cracks. It is really easy for that to happen, so I keep up a long list of things that I like to check on, which you can see in part right here.

Even with that handy checklist, I can’t help but notice that some things crop up more often than others, and some things really are more important than others, too. Here are eleven tasks that I consider absolutely key when it comes to maintaining my home and car during those maintenance periods. You can actually do all of these things yourself in a couple of hours and it’s worth going through and doing all of these things about once every three months.

I’m focusing primarily on very simple tasks that almost anyone can do. These tasks don’t require special tools, don’t require climbing up on a ladder (or, if it does, doesn’t require much climbing), and can be done without much risk of actually damaging anything.

Why Maintenance?

The first question many will ask is why bother? Why should a person spend part of a Saturday doing these things?

Some maintenance tasks improve your personal security. Doing things like checking your smoke alarms and replacing their batteries (or doing the same with carbon monoxide detectors) or checking fire extinguishers for pressure are simply ways to make sure that you and your family are safe should a disaster happen. A functional smoke alarm can make the difference between life and death and a functional fire extinguisher can mean the difference between a minor kitchen problem and the potential loss of your home.

Some home maintenance tasks reduce your heating and cooling costs. Many home maintenance tasks trim some of the expense from your energy bills, whether it’s making your refrigerator run more efficiently or your furnace run a little less than before. The small amount of time you invest in maintenance is recovered by having a lower energy bill after that.

Some home maintenance tasks improve the lifespan of expensive appliances and structural elements of your home. Many maintenance tasks have the sole purpose of extending the lifespan of items in your home, items that would be very expensive to replace. If a ten minute task once every other month can extend the life of a $1,000 piece of equipment by a few years or extend the life of your roof by five years, then it’s well worth it.

Most home maintenance tasks are pretty simple and require minimal and inexpensive materials (if any). The best part – with all of these benefits, most home maintenance tasks are pretty easy to complete. Almost anyone can do them. The eleven items I’m sharing on this list are great examples of that, as they require very little equipment and not a whole lot of effort and time to complete.

Adding those factors together makes it clear that home and auto maintenance is well worth your time and energy. Let’s dig in.

Task #1 – Change Your Smoke Alarm Batteries

It’s a good idea to test all of your smoke alarms once a month and to replace the batteries twice a year. Checking the alarms is a part of my maintenance schedule each month – I just go from room to room and hit the “test” button on the smoke alarm.

I also have a little sticker on each alarm that says two months on it – “January” and “July” on most of them. If the month matches what it says on the sticker, I replace the batteries, which takes maybe two minutes per alarm. If you don’t have such stickers, buy a small pack and go around the house replacing your batteries and applying the stickers, identifying the current month and the month on the opposite end of the annual calendar.

This simple task ensures that your smoke alarms are in working order, so that if there is a fire in the middle of the night, your family is kept safe. It’s a safety thing, but also a property protection thing because if a fire alarm wakes you in the night, you may have enough time to save at least some of your property.

Task #2 – Flip the Mattress on Your Bed

Depending on the mattress, this is a task that’s recommended once every few months. I usually flip it if I can’t remember having done it last month, but more than that, I look for a body impression. If I even think I can see the impression of where my body normally sleeps, I flip the mattress.

It’s really easy to do. Just strip off all of the sheets and the mattress pad and flip the thing over, putting it right back in place where it was. You can also rotate the mattress as well. This provides four different possible mattress orientations for your bed – the position it’s in now, flipped, rotated, and flipped and rotated.

Doing this extends the life of your mattress greatly. It also helps with potential back problems that can result from a sagging mattress. Both of these make the minute spent rotating the mattress quite worth it.

Task #3 – Air Up Your Car Tires

The tires on your car slowly leak air over time, even if they’re perfectly sealed. The leaking is slow, though, so you can usually drive from oil change to oil change without doing anything about it. This is when most people get their tires re-inflated.

However, just having whoever changes your oil also add air to your tires doesn’t mean that you’re not running below the recommended pressure most of the time – and far below it as you start to reach the point of needing another oil change.

Why is that bad? The less pressure that’s in your tires, the more of your tire is in contact with the road when you’re driving. The more of your tire that’s in contact with the road while you’re driving, the more energy it takes to move your car forward – and thus the more fuel that your car eats up. Not only that, the more of your tire that’s in contact with the road, the more wear and tear it receives and the more likely it is that tire damage will occur.

Airing up your tire is really simple. Most gas stations offer free air for just this purpose, enabling you to add air to each of your tires. You’ll want a simple $1 gauge for measuring your tire pressure, too; most gas stations sell them. The procedure’s really easy – just look for the little spigot on each of your tires, remove the cap, check the pressure with the gauge by pushing it onto the spigot, add air to the tire with the air hose, then check the pressure again until the pressure matches what is recommended in your car’s manual and replace the cap. That’s it.

Doing this will increase the life span of your tires. It will also improve the fuel efficiency of your car and decrease the chances of having a flat tire or a blowout along the side of the road.

Task #4 – Clean Your Garbage Disposal

This is such a simple and smart task that I actually do it every month.

We have a garbage disposal on the bottom of one of our two kitchen sink basins. It catches a lot of small food scraps, grinds them up, and eliminates them from our home.

After a while, though, the disposal can start to smell. It can also start not running as smoothly, taking a lot more time to get rid of the food that we put in there.

You can actually solve both things at once by simply dropping a few vinegar ice cubes into the disposal. Just take some ordinary white vinegar, pour it into a few slots in an ice cube tray, and freeze it up. Then, once the cubes are solid, drop a few into your garbage disposal and run it.

The vinegar will eliminate any bad smells. The frozen nature of the cubes will help sharpen the blades and extend the functional life of your garbage disposal. It’s a great little maintenance task that just takes a few seconds and helps out in multiple ways.

Task #5 – Change Your AC/Furnace Filter

If you have a forced air heating and cooling system, as many homes do, then the air is constantly being filtered, removing dust and other particles from the air. Naturally, that makes your home air cleaner, but it also helps keep your air vents from getting clogged with dust bunnies, too.

Of course, for this filtering to occur, there has to be a filter in place. In many home heating and cooling units, replacing this filter is really easy – it involves opening a small door, pulling out a rectangular filter, dropping in a clean rectangular filter to replace it, and closing the door.

Different filters have different lifespans. Before replacing, you should make sure you know what size the filter is and, when shopping for one, you should note the life span of the filter. When replacing, I usually put a piece of masking tape on the door that indicates what month I should replace it. I generally buy the long lifespan filters as they usually provide a better deal per month of use.

Task #6 – Check and Replace Your Windshield Wipers

The windshield wipers on your car can make the difference between being able to see clearly on a rainy day or night while driving or being unable to see what’s happening around you, creating a safety issue and likely delaying you.

Checking your windshield wipers is easy. Just head out to your car, turn on the wipers, spray a bit of windshield cleaner on your windshield, and see if the blades leave any streaks behind. If they do, then it’s time to replace them.

Replacing blades is also quite easy. It’s usually just a matter of opening a snap or two on the blade, sliding the old one off, sliding the new one on, and closing those snaps. It takes about twenty seconds. Some cars are a bit different – if you’re unsure, check your owner’s manual.

Doing this also saves some money. If you get your blades changed when you go somewhere to get your oil changed, you’re usually paying more for the blades (and getting a lower quality blade) than if you bought your own at a hardware store or auto supply store.

Task #7 – Clean the Coils on Your Refrigerator

Your refrigerator is one of the biggest energy users in your home. In some homes, they account for 20% of the home energy used.

The thing is, over time, the coils on the back – which actually provide the cooling power for your fridge – become clogged with dust. That seriously reduces the efficiency of your refrigerator and can also reduce the lifespan of your fridge, as the dust makes it work a lot harder and can gradually wear out the parts that keep your fridge going. Those coils need to be gently cleaned with a vacuum and a dust rag to ensure that they’re working as efficiently as possible.

It’s easy to do – the only tricky part is gaining access to the back of your refrigerator. That’s why I usually do this as an annual task, as it often requires quite a bit of effort to move the fridge so that I have access to it. Still, with a couple of strong people around, this task can be handled quite quickly and easily.

Task #8 – Change Your Water Filters

In many areas – my own area included – the water that comes from the faucet might be perfectly clean, but it’s not very palatable. It might come with a strong sulfur taste or a strong chlorine taste or something else entirely. In some rural areas, the water might not be treated at all, which means that you definitely need a filter to keep all kinds of things at bay.

The thing is, most water filters are a “replace and forget it” kind of thing. A filter gets replaced, we keep using the faucet, and we don’t even think to replace it again until the water gets egregiously bad flavor once again. Ideally, you should have replaced your filter before then.

The best solution is to do it on a regular schedule. Again, I do this with a small piece of masking tape, which I keep on our actual water filter device under the sink. Once a month, I peek under there and check the months I have written on the tape – I think ours says “April, August, December” if I remember right. If it’s that month, I replace the filter, which is usually just a matter of flipping a lever, twisting out the old filter, twisting on the new filter, and flipping the lever back.

This ensures your tap water is always clean and fresh and free from things you don’t want to be drinking.

Task #9 – Clean Your Range Hood Filters

This is a task that many people overlook, but it’s so important, especially if you use your range hood fan regularly to keep steam and smoke at bay while you’re cooking. You see, there’s a filter up near that fan that keeps the pipe above your range hood from filling with and clogging with some of the particle matter that the fan is sucking up out of your kitchen. When that filter clogs, your range hood fan gets much, much less efficient at pulling the smoke and steam out of your kitchen.

Cleaning the filter is really easy, but if you haven’t ever done it, it’s going to be pretty gross the first time you do it. All you have to do is remove the filter (many are removed by just looking under there and pushing up gently on the filter and slightly turning it, as it often just rests in place) and then clean it in the sink. I suggest filling a basin full of soapy water, preferably with a soap that’s going to work well on grease. Take your filter and put it straight into that hot water basin and let it soak for about ten minutes, then start cleaning it thoroughly with a non-abrasive brush, rinsing it as well. Dry it gently, then let it air dry for a while so that there’s no moisture left, then pop it back into place.

You’ll be surprised at how much more efficient your exhaust fan works after cleaning out the filter. Plus, you can be sure that this will extend the life of that fan and also keep the exhaust from clogging up with grease and other things you’d rather not think about.

Task #10 – Inspect Your Attic

For many people, the attic is a forgotten place in their home. It might serve as long term storage for some home, but for others, it’s basically a place that’s left empty and rarely thought about.

However, the attic is probably the best place in your home to quickly identify problems with the roof as well as major heating and cooling issues. It doesn’t take much to see them, either.

Go up into your attic. Look at the ceiling for any sign of water issues. If you see anything, it’s a sign that there may be issues with your roof and that those may lead to serious damage to your home over time.

Then, see if you can feel any kind of a draft. Is there cool air coming from somewhere up there? If you can find spaces where cool air (in the winter) is coming into your home, you’ve identified something that’s eating your dollars by the handful and should be sealed quickly.

It only takes a minute and a climb up a short ladder to do this kind of simple inspection, and that kind of inspection will catch a lot of problems early on before they become big problems.

Task #11 – Clean Your Window Wells

If you have exterior windows in your basement, you probably have window wells around your home. And if you have trees nearby, those wells often fill with twigs and leaves. They can also build up ice in the winter months and they absolutely love to collect items that are being blown around on a windy day.

Once a month, just walk around the exterior of your house and look for anything unusual. While you’re doing that, get down in the window wells and clear them out. Remove any leaves, sticks, or other debris that might be down there. I usually clear some snow and ice out during the winter months, too.

It’s a simple task that helps keep water away from your foundation. It also helps sunlight to flow into your basement windows, which can help with heating and cooling, especially in the winter months.

Final Thoughts

These tasks can fill up a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon, but they’ll save you a ton of time, energy, and heartache. They’re also just simple examples of the wide variety of home and auto maintenance tasks that you should take on.

If you want to take the next step and do more, including a few tasks that might be a bit more difficult, check out this home and auto maintenance checklist. Each item on it will either help save on your energy bill (or some other bill) or will extend the life span of some expensive item around your home (or your home itself). Almost all of those tasks are relatively simple, too.

Maintenance is easy, it saves money, it extends the lifespan of things that might be difficult to replace, and it increases your personal safety, too. That’s well worth a couple of hours on a lazy weekend afternoon once a month.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

Loading Disqus Comments ...