While it might be easy to control the climate inside your home and weekly cleanings are the norm, the exterior is a completely different story. Without any control over the weather, your house is vulnerable to damage from rain water, wind, excessive heat, and cold temperatures. Or course, there’s also bugs, pests and numerous other reasons the outside of your house is more vulnerable to repairs and upkeep.
Smart homeowners know it’s important to keep up routine exterior inspections and make any necessary repairs right away. Making minor repairs twice a year is much better than waiting for something to fail, causing expensive damage.
How I Approach a Basic Home Inspection
I find the best way to inspect my own home is to start from the street or sidewalk, work my way up the driveway or walkway, around the house itself checking for tree and landscaping issues, while inspecting the exterior condition of windows, doors and siding, etc. The final step of my exterior home checklist is to get up onto the roof and look for issues that could allow rain water into the home, or areas that might cause rot to wood or other surfaces.
Tip – Envision how the sun passes over your home during the day. The west side of your home will have higher exposure to the sun during the hottest parts of the day, and that side will usually require more care and maintenance than the other sides.
Getting Started with Your Exterior Inspection
Keep a notepad with you and take liberal notes so you don’t forget anything as you check for needed repairs around your house.
Mailbox and Post
I know it’s just the place to gather bills and advertising mailers… but the Postal Service can actually refuse to deliver your mail if the box is in need of repair, the post is offending to them, or the door does not open and close properly.
- Wiggle it lightly back and forth a time or two, and make sure the post is still solidly in the ground.
- Inspect the post itself. If wooden, make sure there is no rot or broken pieces. If steel or aluminum, assure the paint is solid and no rust is showing up.
- Check the mailbox door and flag for proper operation. If needed, spray a shot or two of WD-40 onto the hinges.
- This is also a good time to give a thorough cleaning to the inside of the box. Spiders like to nest inside mailboxes due to the darkness and cleaning it once or twice a year will assure no surprises when you reach in to get your mail.
Note: If you get a lot of packages and have a box that opens on both ends, screw the backside door shut. Otherwise, they’ll cram as many packages as they can into the box and force the back door to open. Even if it’s raining.
Driveway and Walkways
Cracks in sidewalks and driveways are easily sealed, as long as they aren’t allowed to grow too large. Ignoring cracks allows water to get underneath and degrade the soil below. Additionally, in winter months the water can freeze and expand, causing raised trip hazards and further damaging the surfaces.
- Keep an eye on nearby trees and watch for roots to start lifting the driveway or walkways. If you have old stumps or trees, consider removing them before further damage is done.
- Check for cracks in the surface, especially around the edges, corners and where the driveway meets the road.
- Check for weeds growing up through the expansion cracks and remove them as soon as possible.
Jeff, over at the Home Repair Tutor has a great set of instructions that help you with DIY driveway or sidewalk repair.
Trees, Plants and Lawn Areas
The trees and grass that grow in your yard can serve many purposes other than just a visual appeal. If your home is shaded by trees they key the house a bit cooler and help your central AC unit work more efficiently. The grass planted on slopes needs to be kept in good condition to avoid erosion and flooding or standing water in your yard.
- Look up into your trees for loose or dead branches, as well as branches that may hang over your roof. Nothing is worse than walking outside and finding a limb on top of your car, or worse, a branch that goes through your roof in a storm. Remove as needed.
- Examine the overall condition of the trees to assure they aren’t dying or already dead. If so, remove them promptly, to avoid an accidental fall which results in other damage.
- If you have old stumps in the yard, consider having them removed so they don’t create an insect problem or rot out, leaving behind holes in the ground.
- Check the landscaping for signs of erosion and correct as needed.
- Plant new grass in areas that are thinning, to avoid the ground turning to mud and allowing rainwater to wash out the soil.
- If you still have dead or fallen leaves on the ground, make a plan to rake them or clean up. They’ll prevent grass from getting water and sunlight, resulting in dead spots.
Tree Related Costimates
- With the door closed, inspect the seal where the door meets the garage floor. Make sure it fits square against the ground, to prevent water from leaking into your garage.
- Also check to see that the door is closing completely, with no gaps around any of the sides, or top of the door. If the door is in need of repair, weigh the repair cost against the cost of replacing the garage door.
- Open and close the door from the inside and watch the springs to assure they are tightly secured and not in danger of coming loose.
- If you have a garage door opener, watch and listen as the door is moving. If it is not securely held in place, check the mounting hardware to assure it’s not going to drop onto the hood of your car the next time you open the door.
Foundation and Basement
It is crucial to inspect your foundation as often as you perform any other home exterior maintenance. If you start to see awkward signs around the house such as slanted floors, doors and windows that do not properly fit, sagging roofs, or buckling walls, you just may have an issue with your foundation. Without a solid foundation, your home may as well have been built on quicksand.
As you walk around the exterior of your house:
- Look for cracks or signs of stress in the walls as well as your actual foundation. You should check this annually before it becomes a real problem, because sometimes it can be too late for any minor interventions. Small cracks, such as hairline fractures, however, are easily repaired, especially in cinder block foundations. Simply wet the area with a cloth to remove the dust. Using epoxy glue or instant concrete repair mix, fill in the gap and smooth it over. Remember to keep an eye on the area so the crack doesn’t lengthen or widen without your knowledge.
- If your home has a brick facade, look at the mortar joints for small cracks that may mean larger problems exist.
- Check to be sure all downspouts and grading are set to direct running water away from your home. After all, concrete is porous and water can seep through into your basement or crawlspace. This can also lead to structural damage in the foundation itself.
Learn more about inspecting your foundation from this inspection guide at Olshan Foundation.
Decks, Stairs and Porches
Maintaining porches, exterior stairs, and decks is completely dependent on the type of material they we’re built with. That said, the inspection process is similar for all types, only the maintenance needs will vary.
- For steps and stairways – Check to be sure there are no nails or screws sticking up. If so, tighten them back into place.
- On wooden stairways, look for warped boards and replace as needed.
- On handrails, grab them firmly and try to move around. If the railing is loose or the posts move, you should repair them before someone gets hurt.
- Early spring is the best time of year to pressure wash wooden decks and stain or seal them as needed. If you wait until summer, humidity will make the job longer than needed.
Learn more about caring for your deck, cleaning, and various costs at RenoCompare.
Fences and Retaining Walls
If you have pets or any other reason to have a fence around your yard, you should inspect it regularly.
- Check gates to assure they close and lock properly.
- Try to rock several of the posts back and forth lightly. If they move easily, you may find the base of the post is rotting and needs to be replaced.
- Check the bottom edge of fences to assure no pets can get out and nothing you don’t want there, can get in.
- Metal and chain link fences should be checked for corrosion, then cleaned and repaired as needed to prevent a complete failure.
- If you have a wooden fence or retaining wall, check it for mold buildup or any other surface grime that should be pressure washed to clean.
- If you have a retaining wall out, look to see if any of the beams or stones are out of place. Repair as needed.
- If you notice dirt or silt running between the joints, the drainage may be stopped up and should be repaired to avoid a retaining wall failure.
Fence and Retaining Wall Costimates
AC Unit, Pool Filter or Other Mechanical Components
If you have central air conditioning, a pool, whole house generator, or any other mechanical component installed around your home, you should make it point to inspect the condition of the unit monthly. This will prevent breakdowns and assure it stays running at peak efficiency.
- Is the unit sitting level on its foundation pad? If not, take a few minutes to correct it. Compressors fail regularly due to non-level AC condenser units.
- Are there bushes growing close to the system? If so, remove them to at least 2 feet away. Most units need adequate air flow around the system to operate properly.
- Avoid aiming the discharge of your lawnmower at any outdoor units. A stone or other object could penetrate the coil or other exterior surface and leave it broken.
- If you have a whole house generator installed, make sure you follow the manufacturers suggested clearances for keeping bushes and plants away from the sides.
Windows and Doors
Doors and windows are one of the weakest points on the exterior of your home. They should be inspected regularly to assure they don’t leak, they lock tightly and much more.
- Visually inspect each window to assure there are no cracks in the glass.
- If you have double-pane windows or door glass, make sure there is no fog or discoloration around the edges. This would indicate a leak in the seal between the panes and the window should be replaced. In many cases, these newer style windows will be covered under the manufacturer warranty.
- Check the tightness of each window when closed and locked. They should be tight fitting, with no movement at all.
- Check the outer edges of the window frames, where they meet the exterior of your home for gaps that could allow rain water, ants, or other insects to get between the frame and the structure of your home. These should be caulked or sealed if found.
- On your doors, make sure the door closes properly and the locks catch appropriately and firmly. Adjust as needed.
- If you have a screen or storm door in place, assure it closes fully and latches when closed without having to pull it shut. The closer can be adjusted to pull tightly if needed.
Siding and Trim
The type of exterior siding on your home will determine the maintenance needs, but most of these siding inspection items can apply to all.
- Check for fit and tightness on all seams, corners and trim. Seal cracks if needed.
- Look for holes and cracks in the siding along every surface. Small holes can mean ants and bugs, larger holes might mean Woodpeckers, snakes, or mice. Seal holes according to the type of siding on your home.
- Search for signs of insect activity. Spider webs, hornet nests, termite tubes, mud daubers, etc. Remove immediately.
Gutters and Downspouts
Though it is not the most pleasant job on your home inspection checklist, most responsible homeowners must contend with the fact that their gutters will be in need of a good cleaning by the time spring rolls around. Once trees start to bloom and become green, there is inevitably going to be a build-up of debris in your system.
- From the ground, check to make sure all splash diverters are set properly to move the runoff away from your foundation.
- Visually inspect the downspouts to assure they are properly mounted to the house. Fix any loose sections as needed.
- Step back and look to see if the gutter is sagging at any point across the roof line, or any obvious signs of water running over the edges has occurred. If water has run over the gutter, take a small screwdriver and poke it softly into the facia board beneath the gutter to check for rotted wood.
- Later, when you get onto the roof, you’ll want to grab the edge of the rain gutter in various places and just give it a slight tug to assure it’s securely mounted. Don’t pull hard, you only want to be sure it’s fastened to solid wood still.
If the gutters are in need of a cleaning, follow the steps below. If you hire someone to clean your gutters, consider adding it to our gutter cleaning costs page. If you’ve replaced your old gutters, add the details to our seamless gutter page.
For cleaning, grab a pair of long-armed plastic gloves and a cheap plastic shovel to remove the sludge. While you can purchase a specially-made tool from the hardware store, you can also use a child’s sandbox shovel which will cost you mere pocket change. Have a pail ready to dispose the gunk into rather than throwing it onto your lawn (you don’t want to create another chore for later). Once the blockages are cleared, flush the gutters with a quick spray from your garden hose. Don’t forget to check for leaks!
Gutter Related Costimates
Roof, Eaves and Shingles
Take a quick look around your roof and examine each shingle.
- Are there any missing? Are any of them loose, damaged, or misaligned? Roof shingles have been known to take a beating from severe winds in some areas. As your home’s first line of defense against leaks, properly placed shingles are a must.
- Check any areas in which two different materials overlap. Some of the worst roof issues occur in such areas that contain a flimsy seam, so make sure the seal is water tight.
- If you are still unsure of how secure your roof’s seal is, try looking in your unfinished attic (if applicable). If you have a sagging black line on the ceiling and walls, this is a tell-tale sign that water has gotten inside your home via the roof. If you can’t find the source of the issue, you should call a roofing professional to get to the bottom of it immediately.
- Check the flashing and rubber boots around everything that extends out of the roof itself. These are installed around vent pipes, the sides of your chimney, attic vent fans, plumbing vent stacks, bathroom fans, skylights, dormers and much more.
Note About Flashing and Boots
Flashing is the metallic boundary that helps to re-direct the water-flow around various openings in your roof. Without flashing, there would be a deluge of water coming into the interior of the home creating moisture and mold issues, as well as the possibility of structural damage. Flashing must be installed properly in order to prevent such problems and should be checked annually for any repairs that must be made. If you do not have adequate flashing around every structure that protrudes from your roof, you should rectify this right away.
A good home exterior inspection and home maintenance checklist will save you a lot of time and money in the end. You will be aware of minor issues before they become more serious problems. You can also apply preventative maintenance before an issue even arises, which will save you from future headaches. Apply these tips wisely and you shouldn’t have anything to worry about when it comes to your home’s exterior.