1. Read your homeowners insurance policy carefully.
Don't wait until disaster strikes to discover what's in your policy — get familiar with it now. Make sure you have "replacement coverage" for your contents instead of "actual cash value." The latter means that your insurance company will deduct depreciation from the overall value of your contents.
2. Save your home improvement receipts.
Home improvements that add to the value of your home, prolong its useful life, or adapt it to new uses — such as building a deck or adding central air — can pay off when it comes time to sell. The federal government allows a single homeowner $250,000 in tax-free home-sale profit (double that amount for married couples), but money spent on capital improvements is subtracted from your profit, reducing the amount you may have to pay. For more information, visit the IRS website.
3. Know where the main valve shutoffs are located.
Keep your house and its inhabitants safe by learning where your main electrical, water, and gas shutoffs are located. Check at the main breaker panel or outside near a service entrance for your main electrical switch. Your main water shutoff is likely located near your furnace or water heater. The gas shutoff is located near the gas meter, which may be inside or outside the house.
4. Inspect your roof regularly.
Experts recommend getting your roof professionally inspected if it's more than 12 years old. In the meantime, you can use binoculars to check for deteriorated flashings or broken shingles. If your roof is basically in good shape, it may be necessary to only replace the damaged or missing shingles. Make sure to keep leaves and other debris off the roof — water can get in through your shingles and ultimately to your ceilings.
5. Look for leaks.
Check periodically for water leaks and repair them as soon as possible. The longer you ignore a leak, the more expensive it can become to fix. One way to tell if you have a leak is to turn off all faucets and water-using appliances. Remove the water meter box and see if the flow indicator is moving. If it is, you may have a leak.
6. Don't neglect your gutters.
Plugged up gutters are disasters waiting to happen. Gutters and downspouts need to be debris-free so they can function properly, diverting water away from the house and basement. Most experts recommend cleaning your gutters no less than twice a year. If you don't feel comfortable doing this yourself, hire a professional.
7. Know your neighbors.
They're good for more than an occasional cup of sugar. Neighbors can keep an eye on your house, hold onto a spare key or even help you out in an emergency. And chances are their homes were built around the same time as yours. Pay attention to their house repairs and issues, and you'll be better prepared for what you might soon encounter.
8. Weatherproof your house.
A drafty house can be uncomfortable and expensive. Take the time to seal air leaks by caulking and weather stripping your doors and caulking around your windows. Not only will it save you money in reduced utilities bills, it will make you aware of any potential door and window repairs or replacements.
9. When it comes to finding the right contractor, take your time.
Save yourself a possible headache and do your homework. Ask friends, neighbors, and colleagues for recommendations. Reading anonymous online reviews is a good start, but also check out www.angieslist.com (membership starts at about $15 per month) or call the Better Business Bureau. Get three estimates in writing, and make sure to include a three-day cancellation clause in the contract. Avoid advance payments — you should pay only for work that has been completed.
10. Be careful where you store hazardous products.
Don't store flammables near a furnace, water heater or boiler. Instead, store them in a cool, dry place, preferably on a different shelf from non-hazardous chemicals. Remember to never remove product labels, as they identify the substance and contain important emergency treatment information.