6 Ways You’re Destroying Your Home By Accident (and How To Fix It With DIY)

“From small things, Mama, big things one day come,” as the song goes. It’s especially true when it comes to your house. Left unchecked, seemingly minor things (a gutter pitched the wrong way, a bit of crumbly grout) can lead to bigger and expensive issues. The good news is that, in many cases, all it takes to head off catastrophe is a little preventive maintenance. “Don’t wait until it’s an emergency,” says This Old House master carpenter and King of All Awesomeness Norm Abram. “Spot-check areas around your house, preferably twice a year, in the fall and spring.” Here are some common issues and how you can save yourself big money (and headaches) by getting in front of problems NOW!

1. You’re allowing mildew to take over foundation walls

Potential problem: Overgrown foundation plantings can channel water down exterior walls, leading to mold and sill rot. What’s more, roots can work their way into foundation walls and pipes.

Fix it now: Trim shrubs yourself. Better yet, replace them with dwarf varieties that won’t be a perpetual pruning headache. In many parts of the country, planting in early fall gives shrubs a head start at establishing roots in the season’s cool, moist soil. Save money by shopping end-of-season sales at garden centers or hosting a neighborhood plant swap. “Just be sure that any new shrubs are at least 3 feet from the foundation,” says TOH landscape contractor Roger Cook. “Otherwise they’ll keep the siding from being able to breathe.”

What you’ll save: Between $400 and $2,500 to fix a water-damaged foundation and sill.

2. You’re wearing down your wood floors

Potential problem: Failing to maintain the boards’ protective top coat of polyurethane can lead to ground-in dirt and discoloration, and cause wood to dry out and splinter.

Fix it now: At the first sign of wear, sand only the floor’s surface and apply a fresh coat of polyurethane. Pros charge about $1.25 per square foot for this “screen and poly” job, or you can rent a floor-polishing machine and do it yourself for less. Just bring the machine back on time or the cost of additional days’ rental could whittle away at your savings.

What you’ll save: Up to $5 per square foot for a full-fledged refinishing, which requires sanding down to the bare wood. The overall cost depends on how old the floors are, the number of top coats needed, and if you are using stain. Replacing sections where dried-out wood has splintered or cracked starts at $125 and can go up substantially based on the scope of the damage and the floor type.

RELATED: How to Refinish Wood Floors…Without Having to Sand Down to Bare Wood (You Lazy Bum)

3. You’re letting the weather have its way with your deck

Potential problem: If not kept in check, soft boards and loose outer rails can lead to deck collapse. Probe cracks with a flathead screwdriver; if you can insert it more than ¼ inch or if the wood feels spongy or breaks off without splintering, you may have rot. See if the rails have any give by firmly wiggling them.

Fix it now: Pry off damaged boards. Cut replacements to length and secure them to the supporting joists below using stainless deck screws. Leave a 1/8-inch gap between any new boards for proper drainage. To hide the repairs, stain or preserve the boards to match the rest of the deck. Remedy loose rails and balusters by updating old fasteners with new screws, adding construction adhesive for extra strength. Tighten any loose bolts that secure the rails’ posts to the deck framing. Besides a few hours of your time with a saw, drill/driver, and wrench, expect to spend about 60 cents per linear foot for pressure-treated decking and $14 for a box of stainless screws, both available at home centers.

What you’ll save: From $500 to $10,000 for a professional to fix or replace the deck, depending on how widespread the damage is.

RELATED: How to Make Sure Your Deck Doesn’t Fall Out From Under You This Spring and How to Spruce Up a Worn Deck

4. Your gunked up gutters are making your house rot away

Potential problem: “A clogged, rusted, or tilted gutter can’t do its job of keeping water from splashing back on the roof or cascading down the sides of your house,” says TOH general contractor Tom Silva. This can lead to fascia and soffit rot, leaks inside the wall cavity, and framing damage.

Fix it now: Make gutter cleaning and repair part of your annual DIY fall maintenance routine. Scoop out debris. Secure any loose hanger straps, and use a level to ensure that gutters are properly slanted toward the downspouts, about ¼ inch for every 5- to 10-foot section. Then run water from a garden hose to check for leaks. Patch any holes or narrow gaps at the seams with gutter sealant; $5 for a 10-ounce tube at hardware stores.

TOH Tip: Don’t have a trowel handy? Make a gutter scoop out of a plastic milk jug. Just slice off the bottom at an angle.

What you’ll save: Easily $5,000 or more to repair rotted fascia and soffit boards, framing, and drywall. If gutters are left to rust, new seamless aluminum replacements will run you $750 to $1,000 for 150 to 200 linear feet, enough to outfit most homes.

5. You’re putting off a quick fix on a wobbly stair railing

Potential problem: A shaky newel, the vertical post that anchors the rail, is the likely culprit. One weak link like this can put undue stress on the entire balustrade and lead to an accident.

Fix it now: Insert a lag screw through the base of the post and into the staircase framing. One screw will steady most posts, but if it’s still a little wobbly, drive in a second screw. Countersink the fasteners and hide the heads with plugs cut from a 1-inch-diameter dowel. To make this repair, all you need are a few basic tools: a drill/driver, 1-inch spade bit, ratchet wrench, and handsaw.

What you’ll save: About $65 an hour for a carpenter to steady the newel and repair—or replace—snapped spindles. Then there’s what you’d save on hospital bills if anyone took a tumble.

6. Your cracked caulk means mold and mildew growth behind bath tiles

Potential problem: Puckered, missing, or shrunken caulk can allow water to seep into a wall cavity, leading to mold or even wall failure. Likewise, a chunk of missing grout in a tub surround can cause serious water damage behind the tiles.

Fix it now: Recaulking a bathtub is one of the simplest DIY projects. All you need is a $6 tube of mildew-resistant silicone. While you’re at it, touch up the grout using a premixed compound, which runs about $10 per quart. For bigger jobs, mix your own using a $12 bag of polymer-fortified grout powder. Follow the maker’s instructions to mix in just the right amount of water—too little makes grout crumbly, too much will make it cure improperly.

What you’ll save: Up to $2,500 to retile a small section, including partial demolition of the wall and new backer board. Long-neglected leaks could necessitate a $200 to $900 mold inspection, plus $2,000 to $6,000 for remediation if toxic mold is found.

RELATED: How to Throw Down Caulk Like a Boss

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