Our DIY expert – Don MacAlister, aka HandyMac – on countering common bad habits in the home
Every homeowner makes mistakes. The trouble starts when blunders become habits that cost a lot over time. Some behaviours also create safety issues.
If you’re guilty of these bad habits, break them, and pronto.
1 Inadvertently clogging pipes
Experts advise that you be mindful about what you put down your drains.
Krystal Rogers-Nelson, a home safety and maintenance expert, says: “Don’t flush anything down your toilet besides toilet paper, especially heavier materials like paper towels, nappies and cotton swabs, and paint, oil or harsh chemicals. Even flushable wipes aren’t recommended.”
If you notice warning signs of clogging – gurgling when you use the toilet, for instance, or low water pressure – immediately call a plumber.
Don says: “South Africans are pretty good about what we flush, although my family tends to use too much toilet paper.
“Obviously, anything that does not break down should not go down the drain.
“Due to the size of our sewers (about 100mm) there is a fair amount of space, but this disappears if there is a root or something similar causing blockage.
“In Cape Town we have to be careful because we are not putting much water into drains during the drought, so they are drier and things tend to not flow as quickly.”
2 Not cleaning gutters
Overflowing gutters can damage your roof, siding or foundation, says Eddie Zielinski, an overseas retail home improvement and appliance stores’ manager.
He recommends clearing gutters of debris at least twice a year. If you’re worried about falling, hire a professional gutter cleaner.
Don says: “One of my regular recommendations is to keep your gutters clean.
“It is a good idea to put some kind of mesh into the top of downpipes to stop balls or dead birds clogging them. The worst scenario is hidden gutters that we tend to forget.
“After cleaning gutters, reseal joints with mastic. “Equally important is to clean out the valleys on the roof. Before you start, make sure your ladder is safe and properly secured.”
3 Letting trees overgrow
Many homeowners forget to trim their trees, and that can create safety problems.
If you have trees near your house, prune them every two years to keep limbs and branches away from your home. For large or hard-to-reach trees, consider hiring a trimmer.
Don says: “The cost of having your trees trimmed is far less than the cost of the damage wayward branches can cause. Also, whatever comes off the tree is going to end up in your gutter (see previous tip).
“The cost of hiring a professional will depend on what needs to be done. The secret is to not let things get out of control, so trim every year. In older homes with large trees, ensure the trees are healthy.
“Check your insurance policies because sick trees are often excluded from cover.”
4 Slamming the front door
Repeated slamming can pull the door out of alignment and create gaps that allow outside air into your house.
Don says: “Over the years, hinges tend to sag and doors start to rattle, so regularly check that all the screws in all the hinges are properly fitted and tight.”
5 Cleaning fireplaces – problems and advice
Too much soot will eventually catch fire, so chimneys should be regularly cleaned.
Don says: “My company used to have a chimney sweep who was busy, but old-fashioned chimneys are quickly dying out. However, even modern fireplaces should be checked for blockages, and don’t forget braai chimneys because you will not believe the build-up of fat.
“It is a good idea to put a spark inhibitor in your chimney so your braai fire doesn’t burn down your neighbour’s house.”
6 Not changing batteries in smoke detectors
Smoke detectors only work when they’re juiced up. Unfortunately, home fire deaths can result from malfunctioning smoke alarms. With fires in which the smoke alarms were present but did not sound, almost half the devices were found to have missing or disconnected batteries.
Don says: “Start by installing a smoke detector. This is not something South Africans are good about. I have seen very few smoke detectors in homes, but hopefully one day it will become compulsory both in terms of council regulations and insurance policies.
“If you do have a detector it should be connected to your alarm system because if you are out, when many fires happen, no one will know there is a problem until the blaze is visible.
“Nine out of 10 people forget to regularly check the systems in their homes, whether it is a smoke alarm, burglar alarm or water main stop cock.”
7 Leaving lights on
It’s okay to leave a bathroom light on when you go to bed, and for safety reasons it’s good to keep a porch light on when you’re out of town. However, in general, it’s cost-effective to turn off the lights when you leave a room.
Don says: “I would think most people know that if you want to save money, you turn off things you are not using. At the moment we are all moving towards energy-saving light bulbs, washing machines and tumble dryers.
“What is more important is to turn everything off when you are out of the house, even things like television sets.
“It is common to experience a power surge after a power outage, and this rush of power can cause problems.