Little Things That Hurt Your Home (and 9 That Help)
You Could Be Wrecking Your Home — And Not Know It (Yet)
First-time homeowners often make these 9 common — and avoidable — mistakes. Don’t be one of them.
You haven’t felt like this since you were a teenager. You have a crush on your new house. (You’re officially a home buyer — wait — owner!)
It’s soooooo great. You love its quirks. It’s your very first home, and you want to do everything right.
The feeling is fun, but also scary: You remember too well how badly you screwed up that first crush as a teenager (so embarrassing. Don’t ask).
Could you screw this up too?
No need to freak out. You can make this love a lasting one. For now, keep an eye out for these common no-nos that can result from good intentions.
#1 Using Bleach as a Cure-All
If bleach is your chicken soup for whatever ails your home, proceed with caution.
- Eat through the sealant on stone surfaces like granite
- Discolor laminate and colored grout
- Fade enamel and acrylic tubs
- Dissolve vinyl and linseed-based flooring like linoleum
- Corrode seals within the disposal
In addition, bleach kills mold on non-porous surfaces, but can feed future mold growth on absorbent and porous materials, like grout. Yep, whitening grout with bleach creates a mold feeding ground. Whoops.
Better options? Water and vinegar are all you need for most cleaning jobs. If you’ve got a heftier mold or mildew issue, apply a commercial anti-fungal product.
And to clean your disposal, just dump cold water and ice cubes down the hatch.
#2 Training Ivy to Climb Your House
You’ve dreamed of living in an ivy-covered English cottage since childhood. Well, sorry for this, then:
“Anything that climbs on the house will damage it,” says Marianne Binetti, a speaker and author who leads garden tours around the world.
The horticulture expert made the mistake herself.
“It looked cool for a while, but it dug into the siding so even when we pulled it off, it left damage. And it climbed up the drain pipe and tore the gutter off the house,” she says.
By sending roots beneath siding and shingles, ivy enlarges tiny cracks in brick and wood, introducing entrances for moisture and insects, says Jay Markanich, a certified home inspector based in Bristow, Va.
#3 Relying on Chemical Drain Cleaners
Clogged sink! Again! Pay a plumber more than $100, or grab a $10 product at the store? You can totally handle this one yourself, right?
Possibly. But the most common active ingredients in these solutions, hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid, can erode your pipes.
Even the old baking-soda-and-vinegar medley can result in cracked pipes, as the reaction causes a build-up of pressure.
Old-fashioned “mechanical” methods — your plunger, a drain snake, or a handy $2 gadget called the Zip-It — are safer and more effective, according to “Consumer Reports.”
And if that fails, that call to the plumber doesn’t sound so bad compared to an eroded or busted pipe, no?
#4 Using Glass Cleaners on Mirrors
Your newfound house crush has you scrubbing and spritzing everything. Look at you being so lovingly domestic!
But be cautious with your mirrors. Spraying can lead to what’s ominously called “black edge” — created when a liquid seeps beneath the reflective backing and lifts it.
Instead, clean mirrors with a lint-free microfiber cloth, dampened with warm water — especially mirrors in expensive, installed items like vanities and closet doors.
Avoid the edges and dry immediately with a second cloth.
#5 Planting Trees ThisClose to Anything
Kind of like adopting an adorable, tiny piglet on a whim, you’ve got to remember how a baby tree is going to grow, and what it’s going to require at maturity.
You probably don’t want a 70-pound pig digging up your daisies, and you definitely don’t want a tree root pushing through your driveway, sidewalk or — so much worse! — your foundation.
And watch out for evergreens. If planted too close to the house, they cast too much shade, encouraging mold growth, Binetti says.
Position trees according to its maximum height, crown size, and root spread. For perspective, even a small tree reaching less than 30 feet tall needs at least 6 feet of clearance from any exterior wall, according to the Arbor Day Foundation.
#6 Using the Wrong Caulk
As a dutiful homeowner, when you see failing caulk, you fix it. But the term “caulk” is as broad as the word “glue.”
There’s kitchen and bath caulk, concrete caulk, gutter caulk, mortar caulk — and that’s just the tip of the caulk-berg. And just like you’d never fix broken pottery with a glue stick, you don’t want to pick the wrong caulk either.
Markanich sees plenty of damage done when the wrong caulk is used. Such as using silicone caulk (totally great on non-porous surfaces like bathtubs) on concrete or brick or other porous surfaces. It won’t adhere, and moisture can seep in, compromising the bond and the structure.
Before heading to the store, check an online buying guide to find the right match for the project you’re doing. Odds are there’s a specific caulk just for it.
#7 Over-Sealing Countertops
Take care of your countertop, but don’t smother the darn thing.
Applying sealant too frequently can create a cloudy or streaky appearance on surfaces like natural stone, concrete, butcher block, and glass, which typically only require occasional resealing to resist stains. (Quartz, laminates, and solid surfaces like Corian are best left sans-sealer.)
How to know it’s time to reseal? Drip some water on a high-use area of the countertop. If the water doesn’t remain beaded after 15 minutes, consider resealing.
But always defer to your manufacturer’s recommendations. Different materials can have different needs.
Nothing feels closer to giving your home a hug than being elbow deep in a landscaping project. But when it comes to mulch (which is so great, for so many reasons), it turns out elbow deep is a little too much love.
A layer thicker than 3 inches can suffocate plants and prevent water from reaching roots, so spread thoughtfully.
#9 Piling Firewood Next to Your Exterior Wall
Your fireplace is the highlight of your home. You love it. That’s why you keep your firewood right outside the back door, for easy access.
Oops. Storing firewood against your home’s exterior walls is akin to opening a B&B for termites.
In fact, “anything that creates a dark, climate-controlled area near the house will invite termites” and other pests into your home, Markanich says.
In one of the worst termite cases he’s seen, he found an enormous termite colony on an exterior wall in a bathroom, which got its foothold in a pile of bricks outside.
Twenty feet is a safe distance from home for firewood — and still not too far to go to fuel your awesome fireplace.