The official first day of spring is less than two months away, and February is a great time to give your home a basic examination for needed repairs and upgrades that can be done when warm weather returns.
On Thursday, Josh Schofield with Moran Construction in Marietta pointed out a thin vertical crack that had developed in the wall above an interior doorway in a Norwood area home.
"That's always a good indication that there's been some movement of the house," he said, noting older homes often "settle" over the years.
Schofield placed a leveling tool along the top of the door frame which confirmed his suspicion.
More structural problems were evident from cracks that had developed in the home's basement walls.
Home inspector Jim Arnold, owner of JA Construction Services LLC in Lowell, said the first thing he examines is the structure and foundation of a house.
"Basically watch for cracking in the basement walls or drywall cracking, which can indicate movement of the structure," he said. "Doors that stick when opened or shut are also an indication."
Arnold said all homes will have some movement or settling, especially within the first three to five years after a new home is built. And after years of settling older homes may develop cracks in basement walls that allow moisture to enter from the soil packed around the outside of the basement walls.
Checking for such damage and having it repaired quickly can save homeowners a lot of money.
"Foundation repairs are the most expensive for your home," Arnold said. "But you also have to pay attention to the roof. Most people want to get the most years they can out of a roof, but if leaks develop they can ruin insulation, ceilings and drywall inside the house-then you have more than a roof repair to take care of."
There are also some things to watch for in a home's living space between the roof and foundation.
"I see a lot of amateur electrical work-splices of open wiring or tying too many circuits into one fuse box or breaker," Arnold said, adding that overloaded circuit boxes are a common source of electrical fires.
Pay attention to dimming lights when appliances are turned on, fuses that keep blowing, or circuit breakers that frequently trip. When those problems are evident, Arnold recommends contacting a licensed electrician to do any required work.
Leaks in plumbing fixtures should be addressed immediately, he said, noting moisture from even the smallest leak can lead to mold problems in cabinets under bathroom or kitchen sinks.
"You can usually see mold growth in areas like poorly ventilated attics or wet basements," Arnold said. "But you have to stop the source of the moisture, then clean up the mold. Just cleaning up the mold won't fix the problem-it will grow back."
Furnaces should also be checked on a regular basis.
"They should be cleaned and inspected regularly," Arnold said. "And older furnaces will not be as energy efficient as those being built today."
While addressing a home's structural issues may be a priority, maintaining a comfortable living environment is also important, according to Pam Holschuh, owner of Copper Leaf Interior Design Studio on Lancaster Street in Marietta.
"The idea is to make a home comfortable as well as beautiful," Holschuh said, noting items as simple as window blinds and drapes can make a difference in a home's comfort zone.
"Are you covering your windows properly?" she asked. "In winter, if windows are covered during the day, you're not allowing the sun to help heat the home. Window shades should work in partnership with the HVAC system."
Holschuh said during summer months leaving shades up during the day can impact the efficiency of a home's air conditioning system.
"If the shades are down you'll cut the use of the A/C unit," she said. "And there are new window shades available that can be programmed to automatically open or close during the day."
In addition to window treatments, Holschuh said a home's lighting is important.
"Do you have enough lighting? People often suffer from depression during this time of year because their homes are too dark," she said. "Adding a lamp or different kind of light shade can help boost your mood."
Even the color of paint on the walls of a room can make a big difference.
"Color can have a psychological effect on people," Holschuh said. "Analyze the rooms you spend the most time in at home, and ask yourself, 'Do I feel cold or sad in this room?'"
She said every room has a "feeling," and bright colors on the walls, for example, can help brighten that room's feeling.
Space for relaxing or working at home is another important consideration.
"If you live and work in a confined space, you'll feel more stressed," Holschuh said. "Proper placement of fixtures for easy access in the kitchen and bathroom can help to maximize space. And you want to maximize storage space, too."
Furniture pieces, like ottomans, end tables, and platform beds often contain built-in storage space that helps eliminate clutter in a home, she added.