During my first year of homeownership, I was covered by a home warranty. As a first-time home buyer, this was a nice security blanket. If there was an issue with any of the mechanicals (e.g., furnace or hot water heater), I would contact the home warranty company and they would call the appropriate approved company to come out and deal with the issue. There was a $100 deductible I had to pay but if the item would need to be replaced, that would be all I needed to pay. While the furnace in my home was new, most of the other large items were not.
One of the first items I had an issue with was my water softener. The nice gentleman came out, diagnosed the issue and replaced the mechanism that sets up the softener to run. Being the thorough person I am, I contacted the warranty company and asked who they usually send out for plumbing and heating and cooling issues. With these names in hand, I set up appointments to have my major mechanicals inspected.
My water heater was pushing ten years, but unlike most energy conservation recommendations, the plumber did not advocate putting a blanket on the gas water heater. However, he advised me it was getting to the end of its lifetime and when prompted, said it would cost $800 (including installation) to replace the heater. Not really what I wanted to hear, but I did know what a replacement was going to be.
I also had my air conditioning unit checked out. The home inspector said it was around 12 years old and the service technician agreed. He looked it over, made sure it worked correctly and that coolant was present. When asked about the cost of a new central air unit, he said installation plus the unit would run $2,500. I was hoping that it would break during the warranty coverage, but the unit is a trooper and it ran just fine.
Other than the inspection visits and the water softener repair, the only home maintenance I performed during the first year I lived in my home was painting the sun-damaged south side of the house. The paint was peeling and I worked a three-day weekend to scrape the loose paint from the house, prime it and paint two coats of color-matched paint on the house. This way, I protected the wood and extended the paint job until I could get the exterior professionally done. Since I own a half of a duplex, I need to have agreement with my neighbor before such a job can occur.
Lots of people seem to have grand plans as soon as they purchase a new home. I found something sound that worked well for me and worked up to the major improvements. During my second year of homeownership, I replaced the front window, the largest one in the house, as well as the exterior door on the garage. Since light was visible through the wood of the latter, this was a great improvement. I also patched up some peeling parts of the house's exterior with plans to finish off the rest of my portion of the building this year. The window, the door and the paint were all paid for using money from savings. I also had an exterior outlet put on my home since it would make it easier for me to mow using my electric mower.
Plans this year include replacing two more windows and some electrical work in the basement. I am replacing all my single-pane windows with double-paned ones on a three-year plan so 2009 will see the last of the window replacements with the possible painting of the exterior in 2009 or 2010, pending my neighbor's agreement. Otherwise, I am planning on refurbishing the bathroom, hopefully on a small budget (<$3,000) and considering what I would like a kitchen remodel to look like. Again, all these projects I intend to pay for using cash rather than a home improvement loan. If financial circumstances change, it is easy enough to keep the cash and live with outdated but functional cabinets and vanity.
Knowing my mechanicals are sound if aging with cost of replacement in mind, I feel better about my home, extend the life of the mechanicals I have with regular maintenance and slowly but surely improve the home by updating windows and planning for future projects.