What should you consider when putting together a home maintenance budget?
There are few things more gratifying than owning your own home—especially if you’ve been a renter for a number of years. You have the power to do whatever you want, whenever you want! However, that freedom comes with a caveat: unlike when you were renting, you’re now in charge of maintaining your home. There’s no landlord to call when the sink is leaking or when the air conditioner doesn’t turn on, and the cost of any repair or replacement is coming out of your pocket.
There are both expected and unexpected upkeep costs that come with being a homeowner. To cover these costs and to save for big projects, we recommend establishing a home maintenance budget tied to your home’s value.
Budgeting for home maintenance
Ideally, homeowners should plan on spending at least 1% of their home’s value on home maintenance every year. For a $200,000 home, that’s $2,000.
This value-to-maintenance savings guideline is a general rule of thumb: technically, there is no relationship between the two. Given the similarities in climate, a 30-year-old home in Des Moines and a 30-year-old home in Chicago will likely have similar maintenance needs. Using the home value as a savings guideline, however, could lead the Omaha homeowner to under-budget for annual maintenance due to the lower costs of homes in their metro area.
Establishing a savings pool
Our recommendation is to set aside more than 1% if possible and—by doing so—establish a rolling savings account for your home. By putting 1.5% or even 2% of your home’s value annually into a separate savings account, homeowners can grow a large pool of money for future home maintenance needs and “big ticket” items.
For many families—especially those with children—saving 1% of their home’s value can be difficult due to their tight month-to-month budget. There’s not much room to spare or to save. However, when you do have additional money on-hand, such as that from a bonus or tax return, you should set it aside in a home maintenance and savings account. You’ll be glad to have that extra money when you need it.
Your home’s context matters
A home maintenance budget isn’t a one-size-fits-all exercise. The amount you set aside in each paycheck for ongoing maintenance around the home may vary based on your home’s:
Age: All homes require some degree of care and upkeep, but an older home will typically require more frequent work than a newly constructed one.
Location: Homes located in coastal California have different maintenance needs than those in North Dakota. Snow, sunshine, rain, and humidity can all have an impact on what homeowners need to do to take care of their property.
History: If your home has had a past history of termite infestations, you may need to reserve at least a portion of your home maintenance budget for ongoing termite inspections and treatments.
If you are new to the area or homeownership, talk to your Realtor and your neighbors about what you should be on the lookout for when it comes to home maintenance.
Where to spend your maintenance dollar
Now that you have some money set aside for ongoing maintenance and upkeep, here’s how you should prioritize the things you use it for:
Fix what’s broken
This is an obvious place to start, and when most homeowners dip into their home maintenance savings. The dishwasher has finally kicked the bucket, the air conditioner has stopped working, or the showerhead is leaking. Prioritize any glaring needs first before moving on to maintenance or upgrades.
Tune-ups and preventative maintenance
There’s an old saying that remains as true today as it’s ever been: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Take care of your home and your appliances, and you’ll get more years and better performance out of them—not to mention, fewer (expensive) problems to deal with, both now and in the future.
One aspect of their home that tends to get overlooked and taken for granted are the HVAC systems. No matter where you live, your home relies on a properly functioning air conditioner, heat pump, or furnace to keep things comfortable in the summer and winter. When the system isn’t working right, you’ll know: not only will your home be incredibly uncomfortable, but you’ll also pay for it through higher energy bills and—eventually—having to replace the unit.
By scheduling preventative maintenance with a certified and experienced HVAC technician in your area, you can avoid breakdowns, boost your energy-efficiency, and even extend the lifespan of your system.
Making energy-efficiency improvements to your home can yield long-term savings and reduce the wear-and-tear on both your air conditioner and furnace. These upgrades can range from simple DIY projects like adding weatherstripping around doors to those that require hiring a professional, such as having your home’s air ducts sealed.
By investing your maintenance dollar into this type of upgrade, you will be setting yourself up for savings in the months down the road. In this way, home energy-efficiency upgrades have a great return-on-investment and—depending on the project—even will pay for themselves at some point. If you have a surplus in your home maintenance budget at year’s end, we recommend targeting one or two of these upgrades at a time:
- Installing a programmable / smart thermostat
- Replacing your lights with energy-saving LED bulbs
- Having your air ducts sealed
- Adding weatherstripping around doors
- Re-caulking around your windows
- Upgrading home appliances, one-by-one, to ENERGY STAR approved models
- Installing additional attic insulation
If you’re unsure where to start, talk to a locally trusted HVAC contractor that offers a whole-home energy audit. This process can help you put together a customized checklist of ways you can make your home more efficient and drastically cut down on high electric or gas bills.
Start by building your own home maintenance budget
Owning a home is a journey. Ask any longtime homeowner, and they’ll tell you: they learned a lot along the way about what works and what doesn’t. Eventually, you will find the right balance of saving for your home maintenance. You’ll be able to cover the repair needs that come up annually, the replacement needs that come up every few years, and the money needed for quality-of-life upgrades along the way.
Want to learn more about home maintenance and how you can save energy through home upgrades? Be sure to check out this infographic below.
Lisa Davis is the HVAC senior content creator at ABC Cooling, Heating and Plumbing, a professional HVAC, Home Energy and Plumbing service company located in Hayward, CA. Lisa has a Bachelor’s degree in Construction Management and has been working within the home services industry for more than 10 years.