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As I write this article, there is a man named Bob hammering large holes into the plaster ceiling in my entryway. If you were here, you’d smell what I’m smelling — the acrid odor of wet plaster, rusty pipes and the decades of black goo that has clogged them to a standstill. Bob is breaking up the ceiling to remove a few feet of 85-year-old cast-iron plumbing that’s leaking tub water from the upstairs bathroom. With every strike of his hammer, I see dollar signs.

As a homeowner, your greatest fear is that some unnoticed issue — a clogged gutter, a cracked foundation or a leaky roof — will snowball into a catastrophic fail that costs you thousands of dollars. Lucky for us, we invested in a home warranty that covers most of the major homeowning headaches, but not all of them. The ceiling leak is paid for, but if something goes wrong with the sewer line or air conditioner unit outside, that’s our problem. Our big, expensive problem.

Maintenance is the best way to avoid the most costly home repairs. A few hours on the ladder cleaning out the gutters could save you thousands in foundation repairs. A quick application of sealant on the driveway could buy a few more years before you have to repave the whole thing. We’ve assembled a list of the 10 most expensive types of home repairs and the best do-it-yourself maintenance tips to avoid breaking the bank.

Fixing a Foundation

Water is a killer. It seeps through concrete, settles in basements, sprouts mold and empties wallets. The very worst thing that water can do is weaken your foundation, causing the foundation walls to crack, settle and spread havoc to the rest of the house. The cost of repairing and sealing a busted foundation can start at $10,000 and can go as high as $40,000.

The best way to avoid this extremely costly repair is to keep water far away from the foundation. When a home is constructed, the ground around the foundation should slope slightly away from the house. If not, rainwater will pool around the foundation and exploit any structural weakness to seep its way into the house. If you see standing water where the house meets the ground, consider applying soil to create the right slope.

Clogged gutters and downspouts are also trouble spots. Make sure that rainwater can flow easily from the roof into the gutters, down the downspouts and away from the house. A simple solution is to add downspout extensions that discharge water 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3 meters) from the foundation.

Roof Repairs

While you’re busy defending your foundation against water damage, don’t forget about the roof. Just like the foundation, it is highly susceptible to leaks, rotting or worse. Lost shingles and spot leaks are easy enough to fix for a few hundred dollars, but if the damage is too extensive — or dangerous — you might have to replace the entire roof. That could run you between $3,000 and $12,000, plus the cost of removing the old roofing materials and fixing any damage to the interior of the home.

Again, prevention and regular maintenance are key to avoiding costly roof repairs. Make a careful review of your roof at least twice a year, perhaps while you’re up there cleaning the gutters. Look for missing shingles, tears and other damage. Also pay close attention to the flashing around the chimney and exhaust vents. Flashing is a metal or plastic sheeting that provides a watertight seal over the cracks between the chimney and the roof surface. If sections of flashing are missing or damaged, they need to be replaced immediately.

If you have an unfinished attic, carefully inspect the wood panels directly under the roof for signs of moisture, mold, algae or active leaks. If you have a finished attic, look for signs of water seepage like bubbled paint on the walls or stains on the ceiling. It’s better to pay for a quick repair than to let a slow leak turn into a total nightmare.

Replace Siding

Sometimes I wonder if it would be cheaper to install a giant retractable umbrella over the entire house rather than deal with the incessant threat of water damage. If your home is partially or fully covered in wood, aluminum or vinyl siding, water can sneak past damaged sections, leading to rot, insect invasions and interior damage. Spot repairs to individual panels of siding usually won’t cost more than a couple of hundred dollars, but a full-on replacement of your entire square footage can run on average $10,000.

To protect yourself, do a thorough walk-around of your house every six months, looking for cracks or holes in the siding, plus missing or damaged caulking around windows and doors. Also ensure that all tree branches are a few feet away from the side of the home. Nothing can rip off a piece of siding like a storm-tossed branch. Wood siding is much more susceptible to rot and insect damage than aluminum or vinyl, so look closely for pealed paint and pockmarked sections. When you replace a section of siding, first lay down some waterproof polyethylene paper like Tyvek to prevent future leaks.

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