Household habits that cause permanent damage to your home

Bad household habits can cause permanent damage to your most valuable asset.

How you’re devaluing your home

Your house is probably your most valuable asset, yet there are things people do that can potentially cause it damage – the kind that results in expensive repairs or permanent ruin, such as …

Not airing out your house
Even though colder weather is upon us, it’s still important to open your windows every now and then to give it some air and prevent mould build up. Each time you shower or cook, you contribute to an ideal environment for mould spores which are especially harmful to older people, so airing out your house once a week will keep it drier and minimise nasty odours. Also, after you shower, open a window or leave your exhaust fans on until the glass and mirrors are free of fog.

Neglecting paintwork
If your weatherboards, windows sills or any other part of your house made of wood looks like it needs a coat of paint, don’t put it off. Allowing the weather to get to the wood is a first-class ticket to rot and mould. Applying a fresh coat of paint to wooden window frames and door architraves is a much cheaper option than replacing them entirely.

Not cleaning gutters
Ignoring your gutters can lead to a build-up of leaves which, when it rains, can cause backflow of water into the house’s eaves, windows and roofs. These leaks can easily make their way in between your walls, causing nasty bloating and damage to your plaster walls. Sure, it can be a hassle to drag out the ladder and clean out your gutters, but it’s way less hassle than having to repair the damage caused by ignoring them. If you can’t do it, you should ask an able-bodied friend or family member, or hire someone who can.

Letting gardens grow wild
Leaving your garden untended can cause serious damage to your home. Creeper plants are major culprits, with their tiny tendrils finding their way into small cracks between bricks and woodwork and into your roof. Not only can this harm your house, but it can also be a major fire hazard. Larger trees left unchecked can also rub against the exterior of your home, removing paint in the process and allowing the rain to get into the wood. Also, roots from these trees can damage pipes and brickwork.

Getting out into the garden once every few weeks will not only save you money in the long run, it’s also a great way to get some exercise and enjoy the benefits of being outdoors, so grab your secateurs and gloves, and get cracking (or find someone who can help you)!

Ignoring leaks
If you have a slight leak from your taps, pipes, roof, washing machine or anywhere in your bathroom, don’t just sop it up with a towel or place a bucket beneath it – get it fixed. Leaks, even minor ones, can do irreparable damage to your floors, ceiling and walls, to the point where, one day, you may need to replace them.

Washing food down the sink
Rinsing food scraps into your sink instead of scraping them into a bin is a common household habit that can lead to a call to a plumber. When you wash food down the sink, over time, it leaves a residue in your pipes, which can lead to clogging and an expensive call-out to a plumber.

Slamming doors
The heavy impact from slamming doors can weaken joinery, damage hinges and handles, and create cracks in your walls. So the next time you’re in a huff, don’t take it out on your door, or you may have to foot a bill for repairs.

Not checking smoke alarms
Smoke alarms are your first line of safety in the event of a fire, yet many Australians treat them as though they are merely a decoration. Ensure you replace your smoke alarm batteries every six months and, while you’re doing that, give them a quick wipe and test that the alarm actually works.


Do you know of any other common household habits that can cause damage to your home? Why not share your tips with our members?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    15th Jun 2018
    Yep. - and the reason old people don't do all these things is because the pot of gold is almost empty, their bones are weary, their eyes don't see the leaking roof and they lock up tight because they feel insecure.
    Old people's homes do smell, they are poorly cleaned and the garden does become overgrown. Even when they have money or people to help them their is a resistance to being helped and they can't smell their own home or see the dust filled air from pet fur and feathers in the shuttered dim light.
    Of all the people who help the elderly I would have to say Veterans Affairs and Defence Service Homes Insurance were the best I have ever had to communicate with. I can't praise them enough. If only we could get that sort of service.
    15th Jun 2018
    Rosert- Your spot on!

    As the person at Veteran's Affairs that was responsible for admitting all insurance claims from a technical viewpoint for many years (Chief Architect), let me add a few more major causes of damage, mainly through ignorance of technical factors. I will add such causes in later posts

    1. How you water plants and their location. This may seem strange as a cause, but I had numerous call outs for this reason. Usually the damage is serious. It's the situation where there are plants located within 2 meters of the house and only in a few spots, and no trees. If trees are in this zone then there is even far more damage caused. As you water these plants, and perhaps forget the hose or sprinkler, water dribbles down to the roots and worse, permeates the clay foundation about 450-600 mm below the surface. Now in parts of Werribee, Kilmore and Geelong, amongst others, these areas are renound for having expansive clays. I mean expansions of up to or more than 100 mm over the year. When such expansions occur, they push the foundations (usually strip footings) up and down each year depending on moisture. Where the strip footings or perimeter edge beams of slabs are heavily reinforced, these forces are virtually contained, and all that happens is that the clay foundation material is semi plastic and oozes up the outside of the footing.
    Where however the footings (The concrete section beneath the brickwork) are weak (too shallow, insufficient reinforcement, or too wide or not deep enough ie., found at 450 mm or less) then the upward movement physically raises that corner of the house by 10-20mm.

    This expansion and movement in the footings cannot be absorbed by the brick walls above and cracks appear. As the sub areas dry out in summer, the clays shrink, dropping the footings. The cracks get wider. After several years, the cracks are more than an eyesore, they actually affect the house structure, windows, doors bind, plaster cracks, floor tiles crack and so on. When a corner of your house sinks 50 mm in summer you will know it.

    The answer.

    If your house is in an expansive clay area (your local council can advise), do the following and no buts. Do it now! Delay will cost you dearly.

    1. Stop watering any plants in this 2.00 metre zone, and pull them out completely. Cut down any trees in this zone and remove the roots.

    2. Pour at least 1 metre of concrete around the whole house as a stabilizing medium.

    3. Allow 2-3 years for the house to finally settle and stabilize,

    4. Repair crack damage and make good (suggest renovate)

    5. If cracking is really bad, underpin footings, very costly but necessary and do items 1-4 above.

    By all means call an expert to determine the extent and rectification solution.

    These are essential and sequential. You do the basics first in a step by step fashion. Note selling the house without disclosing this damage, is illegal and a naive purchaser should always have a home inspection done if he sees obvious cracking in brickwork or plaster.

    Sorry, but there is no painless solution, unless you knew before you bought the house, the geography of the area. Places like Seaford or suburbs that have a high sand content in their soil, don't usually exhibit these problems, but then all houses in Seaford should be on concrete slabs, as you have rising and falling water tables with the sea tides, twice a day. This is where the slab can "float" over the whole house area and not cause differential cracking. If you push up and down only part of the house, serious stress to the structure will occur and keep occurring. Fixing this will be the most expensive exercise your house will suffer.

    I don't like bearing bad news, but please don't kill the messenger! Preventive action will reduce the risk of footing/foundation failure. To clear up these terms, foundations are the ground areas the house sits on. footings are the structural elements like the concrete strip footings or slab the house structure consists of. These two elements interact. You need to take steps to miniseries this interaction. Hope that helps.
    15th Jun 2018
    Doesn't apply to my home, but certainly good advice!
    15th Jun 2018
    mmm - That's a big fix. I think most of us are guilty of buying sweet little plants that grow into monsters.
    Thanks for the advice.

    15th Jun 2018
    Lots of reasons here, in addition to Council rates, home insurance, costs of trimming trees / bushes, etc, which add huge costs to homeowners which Renters do not have. Good reasons why there is no need for extra supplements for renters, simply increase the Age Pension for all and pay it as Universal Pension for all (Age 65 yrs, and residency say 15 yrs). Then, all will be clear to decide what they can afford (renting or homeownership), as any additional earnings are yours to do what you wish with it without impacting your pension.
    16th Jun 2018
    If I was to ask my real estate agent to fix all this my rent will go up! Even if they do agree to fix something it is always done by a 'handyman' which usually means a patch up job. Why would you flush food down the sink, just use a compost big, dig it straight into your garden or put it in the green waste bin.
    17th Jun 2018
    As promised, here is another reasonable important cause and effect that can lead to expensive repairs. Building on the side of a hill. Although this can give the house opportunities to have basements or underfloor garages, store rooms and so forth, plus generally good views even if the block slopes down from the street, the elevation means you should look over any immediate neighbour that's lower than your house on the same hill. So what can happen and why must it be a consideration?

    The answer is sub surface water. On most hills the simple hydraulics dictate that either rain, burst water mains, forgotten hoses further up the slope, even septic grey water, will slowly penetrate 300-600 mm before it reaches your property. As soon as the water meets a layer of stiff clay or rock, it stops penetrating but moves down the slope at this level.
    The problem lies where this under surface water is interrupted by your basement or garage wall, or if two storey, by your kitchen or bedroom wall that is built 600-2000 or more below ground level. If this water is not diverted around these walls (Agricultural drainage, and waterproofing of walls in contact withe the subsurface soil at the high end or biggest excavation of the house are critical, then water will flow through the walls and under considerable hydraulic pressure, will actually be visible on the inside of the house. Even if the walls are solid brick or concrete, water will still permeate through the wall, giving rise to rising damp and mould. The smell is unbelievable. Also, water will permeate and sit on the concrete floor on the inside, unless sump pits and pumps are installed. and guess what, this water attracts, you guessed it, subsurface roots of big trees you can't see, even if 5 metres or more away. They can easily play havoc with footings.
    Plus, these walls become in effect, retaining walls under considerable hydraulic pressure and need to be heavily reinforced during the construction phase, ruling out most brick walls. Probably the only safe solution, are two walls built about 300 mm apart. The wall nearest the soil will allow water to filter through the wall and trickle down the room side into a positive half round drain at the bottom between the two walls, so the inner wall to the room always stays dry to the touch. The drain must then discharge the water by gravity to a suitable storm water drain, or be pumped into a street drain or other means of disposal. If done properly, there is considerable"hidden" expense. If not, rising damp is an understatement. Also, take into consideration the possibility of a mud slide (as happened a number of years ago in the snowy mountains around Mt. Buller I think, simply because the subsurface water or snow melt provided a slippery blanket and the whole area slid down the hill. Your house will not stand such pressure, and aside from the repair cost, there is always the possibility of serious injury or loss of life. My recommendation is in such tricky areas, always have an expert such as a geologist or soil engineer check things out. He/she will soon discover any problems if not now, maybe something that could occur in the future. Understand too, that when clay gets wet, it expands, thus forming a seal. When bricks are fired in the kiln, this moisture is driven out, and they become very porous especially when fresh from the kiln. The clay inside, even after firing, will expand and brick walls can grow by several cm in only 10 metres of wall, so expansion joints are critical. More EJ's are needed with the softer brick, called "dough-boys" This will be the subject of my next cause and effect. Cheers!
    18th Jun 2018
    Thanks JoJozep for your advice! We are seeing several of these problems in a set of aged persons units I am involved with. Expensive to repair. You seem to be talking about Victoria but I am in Canberra, however we of course have similar problems, especially with extremes of seasons. I think a lot of us are living in older houses on fixed incomes and simply can't afford to have these problems fixed so we just live with them. Also getting the ladder out and getting on the roof is something we have been advised not to do!
    19th Jun 2018
    Here is another what could be a very serious problem - brickwork expansion.

    The science: After firing in the kiln, bricks (made from clay) expand, with 80-90% of the expansion occurring in the first 6 months and then progressively less over the next five years with eventual stabilization to minimal or zero impact on structure.
    The problem: While bricks Expand (depending on the firing temperature and type of clay), they normally sit on a concrete base or footing. This could be the house slab. Concrete shrinks over this period as it dries out completely. The differential movement in a brick wall sitting on concrete slabs could be (at upper storey level) up to 100 mm per 30-40 metres of wall with no expansion joint. Such a wall is dangerous and serious cracking will occur at corners where walls meet each other at right angles. Collapse over time of such corner brickwork is not uncommon. The least that can happen is for windows or doors to bind, and this is because no expansion joints were provided to absorb the expansion.

    Depending on age of the house, what can be done?. Ok Let's assume the following age range. Up to 6 months - Cut vertical expansion joints on BV wall measured horizontally every 3-4 metres length of wall about 12 mm wide. Fill with expanding flexible grout filler to water proof joints.
    If 6 months - 2 years, as above but a little more space can be allowed say every 4-5 meters. After 2 years, check for cracks and cut new expansion joints at crack points, replace cracked bricks and regrout as above.

    Experienced builders will locate expansion joints at window or door edges, thus minimizing the expansion joint appearance.. If it's a brand new home you can take steps to minimize the expansion as follows (Owner builders are especially advised to read up on the subject).

    1. Make sure the bricks have been allowed to settle in the brick yard for at least 6 months before laying in house walls.
    2. Choose well burnt, dark coloured bricks like "Clinker" bricks or "Manganese" infused bricks where possible.
    3. If possible choose bricks made from low salt content clay to avoid efflorescence where possible
    3. Always check the bricklayer is mixing the correct Sand:Cement:Lime:Water ratio
    4. Ensure the correct spacing of expansion joints are allowed for when bricks are being laid.
    5. Make sure all concrete on which brick walls are to be laid has been allowed to cure for at least 28 days. This means 80-90% shrinkage of concrete has been achieved.

    Remember, Brick walls are non structural, and the mortar layer is there to keep the bricks apart and act as a flexible movement barrier, which can tolerate some movement. The interior wooden frame is what holds the brick wall together, not the other way round, so make sure brick ties are at regulation spacing. Also make sure weep holes in the exterior walls are as open and clear required to remove any moisture accumulated in brick walls and that cavities are free of any mortar droppings.

    Rule of thumb: Light coloured bricks expand more than dark coloured bricks, so ensure precautions have been taken. Also, make sure mortar is just strong enough to stop the weather effect washing out the mortar. If too strong, cracks in wall will go right through the bricks, if too weak, mortar will wash out of the joints. It's not uncommon for the brickie, on finalizing the day's brick laying to run out of cement, and make the mortar mixture far too weak, after all, who's going to tell?

    What about the sand to use in the mix. Most use "brickie's sand" This sand comes from river beds, so has clay and low salt in the basic sand. This mix has a certain pliability and stickiness, so brickies find it easier and quicker to lay the course, plus it has a longer setting time allowing the brick to be tamped into correct level and alignment, plus the low salt means efflorescence is minimal. It also reduces the 'absorption' factor of dry bricks, wherein bricks greedily suck the moisture out of the joint before the brickie has a chance to align the bricks properly and prepare for the next course.

    Finally, Brick selection. Why is this a factor? Builders have a practice of underestimating the number of bricks required to ensure brickies don't purloin spare bricks at the end of the day and to use every last brick. (Bricks can cost more than a dollar each). The problem this causes is that the next day a different batch of coloured bricks arrive, and a careless brickie is not going to waste time selecting his bricks (especial if paid by the number of bricks laid per day). So he lays a patch of bricks of one colour alongside another batch of a different colour, and the end result is the whole wall is a mismatch of colour and looks so bad, the builder renders the wall to hide the hideous look of the wall. For all Victorians, wondering what this looks like have a look at the corner wall at the shopping centre cnr, Burwood highway and Blackburn Rds, Burwood.

    My next discourse on problems is to do with wall and roof framing.

    Cheers for now.

    You May Like