• Carla Bruni

20 Home Maintenance Issues (and How to Address Them)

To show appreciation for the 20,000+ dedicated homeowners who have joined as members of CBA in 20 years, we are posting one blog each month in 2020 listing 20 things of interest to bungalow and vintage home owners. #Bungalow2020!

Illustrations by Jay Ramirez, jaydrawsthings.com

1. Working on projects when lead paint may be involved

Before doing any kind of work that will disturb paint in your home:

  • Choose work methods that create the least amount of dust.

  • Keep non-workers out of the area.

  • Cover floors and furniture with plastic.

  • Use a vacuum with HEPA filters and wet-clean thoroughly.

  • Or, hire a certified lead contractor to remove lead paint in your home. The directory on LeadSafeList.com is a great resource.

2. Insufficient Carbon Monoxide detection

This poisonous gas is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, so it’s incredibly important to have a detector in your home. If you are installing only one Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends it be located near the bedroom, where it can wake you from sleep. Additional detectors on every level and in every bedroom of a home provides extra protection.


3. Mold 😬

First of all, always identify and address the source of the moisture! Simply removing the visible mold won't solve the issue, and it will keep coming back. After addressing the source of moisture, here are some tips for cleaning the mold:

  • Use soap and water to scrub mold off of hard surfaces—you do not need to use harsh chemicals, which can contribute to asthma, among other dangers.

  • Carpet and furniture may have to be thrown out if they contain mold (never fun, but sometimes necessary).

  • At minimum, wear non-vented goggles, rubber gloves, a partial face paper respirator (EPA recommends an N-95). Also, wear old clothes you can toss out when you've finished cleaning, or at least wash these clothes separately from your normal laundry.

  • If the mold covers more than 10 square feet of space, contact a professional mold remediator.


4. Curling roof shingles

This is generally caused by a heat buildup in your attic, so make sure your attic is properly vented with soffits and a ridge vent (or other roof vent). If the problem is severe and water is getting into your roof, you may need to replace your shingles. Hire a licensed and recommended roofer from our Trusted Referrals Directory.


5. Leaks in the attic

You may need to replace or properly install flashing, which is a thin layer of waterproof material that keeps water from getting into places it doesn’t belong. Sheet metal flashing is the most durable. Plastic flashing, usually PVC-based, is a less expensive alternative to metal, but will degrade if exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Tar should never be used as a substitute for flashing! Flashing should be installed:

  • Where dormers intersect with the roof

  • Wherever there are roof transitions

  • Around any features in the roof structure, such as vents and chimneys


6. Moisture or biological growth at the base of your exterior walls

There may be a few reasons for this:

  • Make sure your gutter downspouts drain several feet away from the house.

  • If your gangway is pitched towards your home, storm water is running directly towards your foundation.

  • Your landscaping should also pitch away from your home. Soil will erode over time and create a kind of mote against your exterior wall, so build that back up so that the soil slopes away from your wall.

  • You may need to clean your gutters!


7. Clogged gutters

Gutters are specifically designed to channel water away from the foundation of your home, so it’s critical to keep them properly pitched and free of blockages by doing the following:

  • Make sure the downspout drains several feet away from the house.

  • Stand on a ladder and clean out as much gunk as you can. (Be sure your ladder isn’t pressing against your gutter and denting it!).

  • Make sure the hangers are secured and in good condition.

  • Look for holes/cracks at the gutter seams.

  • Look for excessive rusting. Replace portions if needed, but don’t mix metals or deterioration will actually worsen.

  • Make sure gutters are pitched towards the downspouts.

  • Flush the remaining gunk down the gutters. If using a pressure washer, don’t let the blast of water hit your roof shingles because this will damage them.

Be careful up there!

8. Ice dams

This is a common with bungalows in the wintertime and can cause a lot of damage if not addressed. Here's how it happens:

  • If there is a buildup of heat in your attic and improper ventilation, snow on your roof can melt and slide down to the end of your eaves.

  • Bungalows have eaves that extend beyond the boundary of the attic space, so the ends of your eaves, which are not receiving heat from the attic, are as cold as the air outside.

  • Once the melted snow reaches the ends of these eaves, the water freezes due to the temperature change.

  • Ice formed at the end of the eave can expand and damage your shingles in this area, create issues with your gutters, and allow water to enter your attic and walls.

To prevent this, properly air seal and insulate your attic, then be sure to have proper ventilation with soffit and ridge vents to circulate air.

9. Cracks in your foundation walls

Watch our video on how to assess foundation cracks in your basement, and what to do about them:

10. White powdery substance on brick 🤔

This white substance found on the face of your brick is called efflorescence. It's made of salts and minerals that have migrated to the surface, usually due to repointing (aka tuckpointing) a wall with a mortar that is too hard for soft, historic brick. Water must be allowed to evaporate through the mortar, which is the sacrificial element of a wall. If the mortar is too hard, water is forced into the brick and as it evaporates, salts and minerals from the clay are brought to the surface of the brick. Unfortunately, this means the improper mortar should be removed, and the wall should be repointed with proper mortar. Be sure to ask your mason or mortar supplier for a lime-based mortar or "Type O" mortar and save your masonry from efflorescence and numerous other deterioration issues. Watch our video about how to choose the right mortar:

11. Exterior brick walls that need repointing

Your original mortar has lasted a century (go, historic mortar!) but because it was made to be the sacrificial element of your masonry wall, it may be time to repoint your walls. We have a video series explaining how to repoint your own walls. Even if you plan to hire a professional to do the work, we recommend watching these videos anyway so you know what questions to ask a contractor and how to judge their work!


11. Zigzagging cracks at the corners of door or window openings

Cause: Your steel lintel has rusted after decades of taking on moisture. When steel rusts, it expands, causing cracks to form. Remedy: Replace your lintel (it’s not as bad as it sounds!):

  • Carefully remove brick above window.

  • Remove old lintel (look at all that rust!).

  • Prime new steel lintel with rust inhibitor and paint.

  • Install continuous flashing with drip edge and end dams.

  • Replace brick.

12. Painted brick or limestone

Painting over any vintage masonry causes unnecessary harm to your home. Paint will trap moisture, leading to bubbling and peeling paint, dampness, and often, the eventual deterioration of the stone or brick itself. Use our how-to guide on how to remove paint from your limestone or vintage brick.


13. Wood windows that need to be repainted (exterior)

Thanks to sun, wind, and other weather, exterior paint needs a refresh every 5-8 years to keep the elements from harming the wood:

  • Paint on a dry, cloudy day with mild temperatures

  • Scrape surface

  • Lightly sand

  • Clean with mineral spirits

  • Treat raw wood with: 2 parts boiled linseed oil, 1 part turpentine

  • Prime with alkyd primer

  • Use an oil-based, or alkyd finish paint


14. Low water pressure

Likely, your culprits are:

  • Corroded galvanized pipes expand and block or slow the flow of water.

  • Debris, sediment, hair, and calcification that can build up and narrow the diameter of the pipes.

  • A broken or partially blocked main sewer line in the yard. Older drain pipes may have separated over time or have tree roots growing into them. To determine your problem, hire a licensed plumber to snake the line to find the issue underground.

15. Slowly draining bathtub or sink

Drain pipes need gravity to properly bring water towards the sewer source, so your drain pipes may need to be re-pitched or replaced:

  • They should have a 1/4" -per-foot pitch, although 1/3"- per-foot is allowed if the drain pipe is 3" in diameter or larger.

  • Drain pipes should also have a smooth interior wall. Corrugated drain pipes are sold at many hardware stores and used under kitchen or bathroom sinks, but a licensed plumber would never use these. Plumbing standards forbid corrugated pipes due to their tendency to clog and because they are difficult to clean.

16. Sewer gas smell!

All plumbing fixtures (other than toilets) require a trap in their drain pipe. A P-trap helps prevent sewer gases (and vermin) from entering the home through the drain pipes. If there is a leak in the trap or if you haven’t used the faucet for a long time, these traps can dry out—this is the most common cause of a sewer gas smell. You can fill a dry P-trap by flushing (if the trap is part of a toilet), pouring water in a floor drain, or running water down the sink. Other causes of sewer smells can be holes in the pipes caused by corrosion or cracks, a clogged drain, loose-fitting pipe connections, a stopped-up or too-short vent pipe, or a worn-out wax toilet ring.


17. Banging noises coming from the radiator

Banging noises are usually caused by incorrectly pitched pipes. The pitch of your pipes will make a huge difference in how well the steam is able to reach your radiators, and these pipes are often moved around over time. Ideally, have a professional inspect your system each fall (and book them early because they’ll be busy that time of year!).

18. Not knowing where, and where not, to caulk the exterior of your home

Here's how to air seal your home from the outside-in:

19. Drafty home (and high energy bills!)

Vintage homes, while built with high quality, sustainable materials, are a bit, well, leaky. The first part of the solution is to determine your thermal boundary. The thermal boundary of your home is a continuous boundary that separates living space from unconditioned areas. This boundary is determined by which spaces you wish to heat and cool in your home.

  • First and foremost, air seal and insulate your attic, but how and what you insulate is determined by whether you plan to live in the space, use it for storage, or leave it empty. Your thermal boundary will be impacted by these decisions, as will the cost to insulate your attic, so think ahead!

  • NEVER insulate both the floor joists and the attic ceiling. This will trap hazardous gases in your attic space.

Watch our How-To Home videos about how to insulate your finished or unfinished attic, and be sure to check if you're eligible for our free Energy Savers home insulation program!


20. Lack of a sustainable maintenance plan

Overwhelmed with where to start and how to stay on top of everything? It’s time to put together a maintenance plan. There are some excellent examples and guides online, which will give ideas on how to structure your personal guide, how often to check or replace items, and how to budget to get the most bang for your buck. Keep it reasonable—you won’t get 300 things done in a single weekend!




For more information on how to address other common maintenance issues found in vintage homes, download our Bungalow Maintenance 101 booklet.


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