4 Urgent Home Fixes Before You Retire

A leaking roof, a burst pipe or a skyrocketing electric bill are headaches no matter when they happen, but when you’re on a fixed income and unprepared, they can become a financial crisis.

Most people 45 and older want to stay in their home as they age, says AARP. If you’re among them, plan for and make your repairs now while you can still increase your income or make spending choices that allow you to pay for the repairs comfortably.

“If you wait until a critical thing happens to you, it’s going to be more of a financial burden on you and your family,” says Esther Greenhouse, an environmental gerontologist. “Secondly, you don’t want to deal with these issues in a crisis. The more control you have over your environment, the more control you will have over your life when you plan for it.”

Make a Plan

If you plan to stay in your home, look for a licensed and insured contractor who is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist, or CAPS, who is certified by the National Association of Home Builders. Draw up a schedule for repairs and how you’ll pay for them, Greenhouse says.

Get a quote now, save up for the repair and stash the money in a certificate of deposit or money market fund — anything unaffected by the stock market’s volatility and that’s likely to grow with the rate of inflation.

Here are four things to take care of before you retire.

1. Insulate

Cost: Between 49 cents per square foot and $1.50 per square foot.

Advantage: Saves on electric bills and means you won’t use your furnace or air conditioning as often.

Most homes have little troublesome cracks and holes that let hot and cool air escape. Prime examples: gaps around doors, holes cut through walls for pipes and electrical wiring, and deteriorating window frames.

These tiny, tedious problems can make a big difference in your home’s energy efficiency. Unlike home repairs, energy costs are volatile and can skyrocket with the cost of oil. So the more tightly sealed your house, the better off you’ll be when you’re on a fixed income, says John Barrows, a New York-based builder, consultant and co-author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Building and Remodeling.”

Also, consider the age of your house: If it was built before the 1960s, it probably wasn’t well-insulated, says Ben Spofford, a Cleveland-based contractor and owner of Housecalls Home Services. Before the 1960s, energy was cheaper and people weren’t much worried about conserving energy.

If your CAPS contractor agrees, spring for insulating your walls, and even parts of your basement and your attic. It can seem extravagant to insulate spaces you don’t live in, but doing so will help maintain the temperature in your living area by keeping hot and cool air from escaping.

2. Replace Your Furnace

Cost: Anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 for an energy-efficient model.

Advantage: 85 percent to 95 percent efficient; tax rebate of up to 15 percent of the cost of the furnace if it’s Energy-Star rated.

“Insulation pays you back every time your furnace doesn’t come on,” says Barrows. “Getting a highly energy-efficient furnace pays you back every time it does come on.”

A traditional furnace can lose up to half its heat through leaks in its pipes, says Spofford. The same is true for leaking air-conditioning ducts. If your furnace or AC unit is decades old, the loss likely is greater.

An energy-efficient furnace, by contrast, only loses 5 percent to 12 percent of the heat it generates. And if you insulate your house well, you can buy a smaller one, says Barrows. Have your contractor run a Manual-J assessment. It’s the most widely used software program among building professionals and calculates how much heat your house will need. That, in turn, will allow you to buy a furnace just large enough for your needs.

You’ll also find that an energy-efficient furnace or air-conditioning unit will pay for itself in four to seven years, says Barrows — not bad if you plan to be there for 20.

3. Replace Your Roof

Cost: $50 to $1,000 per 100 square feet, depending on materials.

Advantage: Better heat retention, avoidance of crises, such as water damaged walls and mold infestations.

A leaky roof can infest the walls with mold and hurt your health. And it can be a bear of an expense to deal with when you’re on a fixed income.

Once you’ve made a plan and set aside funds, consider adding a reflective membrane under the shingles so that it will reflect heat and cold. Your furnace won’t have to work so hard. When choosing shingles, consider a light-colored shingle instead of the typical gray or black. The light shingles won’t cost much more — shingles are at the bottom of the price range anyway.

If you’re looking for a green solution and are willing to pay up to three times the cost of shingles, consider a metal roof, says Barrows. You can purchase it made from recycled materials, and it’s simple to install.

4. Renovate Your Plumbing

Cost: Varies by home and repair needed.

Advantage: Stops leaks that cost in utility bills and repairs to damaged walls and floors.

A leaky roof can infest the walls with mold and hurt your health. And it can be a bear of an expense to deal with when you’re on a fixed income.

This will save you money in the long run by cutting your water bill and avoiding costly repairs that leaks can cause, let alone the concern about mold in the walls caused by leaks.

“Anything to do with plumbing should be taken care of first,” says Courtney Cachet , a licensed general contractor and designer in South Florida. “If you have a flood in your home, you could get huge damages that aren’t covered by your insurance.”

If you live in an area where the pipes freeze, check to make sure none need to be replaced. Check drain pipes to make sure roots aren’t growing in them — that can cause backups.

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