111 Elfreth's Alley.

Show Your Row House Some Love: Semi-Annual Maintenance

18th Century row house on Elfreth's Alley, Philadelphia.
18th Century row house on Elfreth’s Alley, Philadelphia.

Originally posted Fall 2008.

Unless you live in a condo and pay a maintenance fee, chances are, you are responsible for the up-keep of your own house. Maintenance is very important for any home owner but doubly so for row house owners who need to think about how their house’s integrity affects the row and their direct neighbors.

Fall is the perfect time to take care of some basic home maintenance and make any needed repairs because you don’t want to find out that something is falling apart during a blizzard in January. We started with a list from Bob Villa, adapted it for row house dwellers and added a few more things we think are important.

Check Your Roof

The best thing to do is to go on your roof right after a good rainstorm. Look for any loose materials. Inspect vents, skylights and chimneys. If you have a flat roof, look for pools of water. Inspect your drainage spouts to make sure they aren’t blocked. Look out for our upcoming article on roof maintenance for more ideas.


Thoroughly clean and vacuum the space as much as you can. If possible, keep vents open to allow for air circulation.


Make sure your gutters are clean and water runs off your house properly. The best time to do this is after most of the leaves have fallen off the trees. Periodically check, weather permitting. It is very important that water doesn’t collect or pool and then freeze since the expansion can cause a lot of damage. Make sure the water is draining away from your property.

Garden Gear

After your last gardening, clean all your tools. Make sure hoses and outside faucets are drained and properly dried. Store hoses in a dry place.


If you use your fireplace a lot, more than 30 times in a season, get the chimney’s swept. If you only use it occasionally, you can probably clean alternating seasons/years. In either case, before the winter season, check flues for evidence of damaged mortar and resident creatures. Make sure your damper opens and closes.


Change the filters in your heating and air conditioning systems. Check and clean dryer vent. Have your duct work professionally cleaned. Clean filters in appliances like air conditioners and stove hoods. Vacuum your room vents, floor heaters and radiators well.

Alarms & Safety Equipment

Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and replace batteries. Inspect fire extinguishers, checking the expiration date.

Air Conditioners

Remove window air-conditioners, if you can, or put weatherproof covers on them. In a pinch, you can make a nice cover out of a heavy duty contractor garbage bag, foam and some duct tape.


Test your refrigerator door seals by closing the door over a dollar bill. If the bill pulls out, adjust the latch or replace the seal. Move the refrigerator and vacuum the coils, if you have, and the space since it tends to collect a lot of dust.

Windows and Doors

Clean your windows and doors. Inspect areas where windows and doors meet your masonry and look for cracks. Check for drafts and inspect for damage. Replace weather striping if needed. Make sure window panes are not cracked or broken. As the months get colder, you might want to use shrink-wrap to seal the windows.

If you own an older or historic home, you may have to deal with single
pane windows. You can use heavy curtains to block drafts effectively. Make sure to launder your curtains before hanging. Inspect for damage. Clean your summer curtains thoroughly and store. If you want to reduce wrinkles, instead of folding, roll curtains on a large mailing tube.

Storm Windows

If you have screens and storm windows that you can swap, remove the screens and replace with storm windows. Before storing the screens, inspect for damage and repair. Use this time to clean your storm windows and look for any wear on the window.

Exterior Finishes

Make sure there is no exposed wood on your house. Paint or stain as needed. Replace worn away sealants and caulk. Inspect siding for holes and damage and repair. Replace and paint any rotting wood. Inspect masonry for loose mortar and bricks. Get these things repaired before the bad weather comes.


Make sure there is no moisture and dampness in your basement. Inspect foundation for signs of loose material or water. Use a dehumidifier to keep things nice and dry. If you already have one, now is a good time to clean the filter.

Heating System

Make an appointment for seasonal maintenance. Most reputable companies have a yearly plan you can sign up for. It’s well worth the fee since they call you to remind you to have your system looked at and usually have a comprehensive check list they follow.

Hot Water Heater

If you have the kind with a tank, drain it and remove sediment from the bottom. If you have a tank-less, use a manufacture-recommended product to de-scale and clean it.

Finally, if you still have energy after doing all that, take time to purge things that have collected in the house over the previous six months. Before you store your Summer things away ask yourself if you used it. Especially when switching wardrobes, ask if you wore it. If not, donate or toss.

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