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Living and sleeping

Regular preventative maintenance inside your home will extend the life of materials and appliances and could improve the health of your household.

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Moisture

One of the major problems in New Zealand homes is the amount of moisture that collects and stays around indoors. High moisture levels encourage mould growth and that’s bad for your health.

Moist homes are also harder to heat. Visible moisture – stains or puddles – could be a sign of more serious problems such as a leaky home or rotting timbers and framing.

You should treat the cause of excessive moisture at the same time as addressing its effects. See our article on moisture in the home for information on ways to reduce moisture in your home.

Mould, musty smells and other signs of moisture

Look out for:

  • Mould or mildew on cupboards, ceilings, walls or curtains.
  • Buckled or disintegrating hardboard, softboard or particleboard.
  • A musty smell.
  • Water stains on walls.
  • Crumbling paint or failing varnish.

Find and address the cause of the moisture. Do not leave it - it could be leaking pipes or cladding and could be an early indication of far more serious problems that, if left, could involve very expensive repairs.

First determine the cause of the dampness and solve the problem, then:

  • Remove any surface mould and mildew from hard surfaces with a 1:4 bleach/water solution.
  • Replace any buckled or disintegrating hardboard, softboard or particleboard sheets.
  • Allow damaged paint or varnish to dry out before sanding and recoating.
  • Keep curtains closed at night to reduce condensation on windows.
  • If possible, open windows during the day and/or at night to maintain sufficient ventilation.

Draughts

Use a strip of tissue paper or a lighted candle to trace the draughts. Also look for curtain movement. Seal around openable wooden windows and exterior doors with self-adhesive PVC foam draught strip (available from hardware stores from about $6 for 5m). Clean the paint surface or the strip won't stick.

Block any open fireplace with a loose-fitting removable panel when not in use. The loose fit allows any rain that gets in to evaporate away. On extractor fans and rangehoods, check that the shutters are working properly.

Damaged/cracked plasterboard linings

This can be due to timber shrinkage or building movement. It can also be due to the joints not being properly taped before stopping.

If the building is new, contact the builder to make the repair. Otherwise, remove the old jointing material and re-stop the joints with tape and plasterboard stopping compound, then redecorate.

Dented/punctured plasterboard

This is from general wear and tear. Fill dents with plasterboard stopping compound, sand and re-decorate. Repair holes by cutting out the area and inserting a new plasterboard section.

Care needs to be taken not to damage the face paper on the plasterboard when doing this. You may be better off filling holes with a high build acrylic product instead, before sanding and redecorating.

Nails popping through the plasterboard

Nails pop if the framing timber shrinks after the lining has been applied or plasterboard has not been fixed hard against the frame.

If the building is new, the builder should be called to remedy this problem. If not, put in new fixings at least 50mm away from existing ones. Ensure the plasterboard is hard against the frame. Drive in the original fixings, re-stop and decorate.

Borer

Borer loves damp or untreated timber. See our article on borer for more information.

Black staining on timber

This is due to mould growth and can occur under the coating or varnish.

Address the cause of the mould, check for leaks behind the board or high moisture levels. See our article on moisture in the home. Treat the mould and allow the board to dry before recoating.

Safety in the living and sleeping areas

To improve safety in living areas you can:

  • Secure rugs and mats with double-sided tape or velcro strips so they remain unwrinkled.
  • Use lockable castors on moveable furniture.
  • Replace or relocate sharp edged furniture.
  • Reposition furniture to create quiet/active areas and to avoid through traffic.
  • Fit restrictors to low-level windows to prevent falls from an open window.
  • Ensure floors are tidied at the end of each play session – objects such as toys or glossy magazines left on floors cause many slips and falls.
  • Replace worn carpet.
  • Provide readily accessible storage for frequently used items such as vacuum cleaners.
  • Consider installing hard-wired data, telephone and power outlets for computers.

Balconies, mezzanines and changes of level within the home should be provided with a barrier to prevent occupants simply walking off the edge. Where there is a fall distance of more than 1m, the Building Code requires that you install a barrier. Even if the fall distance is less than 1m, providing a barrier will remove the risk of a fall.

Do not place low furniture, chairs or climbable objects alongside a barrier.

Speak to your local council to find out the exact rules for barriers on balconies or mezzanine levels.

In bedrooms you can improve safety by:

  • Installing low-power night lights close to floor level.
  • Securing rugs to the floor to avoid wrinkles or installing fitted carpet.

In children's bedrooms try to:

  • Put beds close to the floor – the risk of a fall is greater with bunks.
  • Avoid creating climbing routes over furniture.

Stairs are safer where:

  • Large floor level windows are not placed on the downward side of a landing
  • Loose rugs are not placed at the top or bottom of stairs or on landings.
  • Doors opening off landings do not obstruct stair travel.

To make stairs safer:

  • Install non-slip nosing trims.
  • Add a second handrail for stairs wider than 900 mm.
  • Increase lighting levels – having a minimum of two lights over stairs is recommended – even if one bulb blows there should still be one working.
  • Avoid very thick deep pile carpet or thick underlays on the treads.
  • Avoid heavily patterned carpet as it makes the front edge of the stair difficult to see.
  • Install a light sensor – to automatically switch lights on.
  • If you have small children, place stair gates at the top and bottom of stairs.
  • Keep stair surfaces in good condition – worn carpet on a stair creates a tripping hazard.

In corridors and hallways you can improve safety by:

  • Installing low power night lights close to floor level to show the way to toilets and identify other hazards like steps.
  • Removing obstructions.
  • Increasing lighting over stairs.

Annual pre-winter checks

These tips will help keep healthy and safe for winter:

  • Every season before you use your electric blanket:
    • Replace a blanket with kinks in it.
    • Replace a blanket that's had anything spilt on it.
    • Check the controls and the cord for damage or exposed wires.
    • Test for hot spots by running your hand over the entire surface of the warmed-up blanket. If there are hot spots, replace the blanket.
    • At the end of the season: Store your electric blanket rolled up, not folded.
  • Clean the filter and grille of your heat pump, ducted gas heater system and/or ventilation system. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for doing this.
  • Test or replace your smoke alarm batteries. It's a good idea to do this at daylight saving changeover time.
  • Lubricate any sticking locks with graphite powder. Unlike oil-based lubricants, graphite powder will not attract dust.
  • Check for plugs and sockets that are hot to touch or have scorch marks, fuses that glow, circuit breakers that pop for no reason, or flickering lights. Some electrical repairs you can do yourself, but for others you must use the services of a licensed electrician.

Money savers

These home maintenance tips will help you save on your power bill:

  • Install compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or light emitting diode (LED) lamps in the most-used light fittings in your home. They provide good background lighting and, over the life of each bulb, have been estimated to save about $70 in electricity costs.
  • Check out the energy rating of any new appliance you buy.
  • Turn appliances off at the wall when you're not using them. The LED displays cost money to run.
  • Check you're on the best rate for your electricity: visit Consumer Powerswitch.
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