Repairs and maintenance

Key points

  • A regular maintenance schedule will help you to prevent or identify problems early.
  • Develop an annual schedule to check and maintain the inside and outside of your home.
  • Get expert advice and services where needed, especially for specific problems such as leaks, cracks and settlement, damp, salt, or termites.
  • If you have an older home, it may include hazardous materials, such as asbestos or lead paint. Do not try to remove hazardous materials yourself. Get expert advice. Sometimes the best course of action is to seal the material, rather than removing it.

General maintenance

Repairs and maintenance extend the life of your home, improve its liveability and reduce health risks. With advice from a builder or designer, create a repair and maintenance schedule that prioritises urgent concerns and prevents larger problems from developing. Some of the examples listed below may require advice and repairs by a suitably qualified professional.

Outside your home:

  • Check external painting and touch up as required.
  • Repair or seal broken glass and windows with air leaks to reduce draughts and heat loss. Repair windows that are jammed or ‘painted closed’ and make them operable to improve cross ventilation. A variety of sealing strips, tapes and seals are available from hardware outlets.
  • Protect and restore old windows and joinery.
  • Check subfloor areas for dampness. Divert groundwater and provide additional subfloor ventilation where existing ventilation is inadequate.
  • Check and replace corroded sacrificial anodes in hot water tanks, and check the pressure release valve for operation and leaks.
  • Install, repair or replace insect screens to encourage natural cooling and ‘night purging’ in hot weather.
  • Replace insulation that has been moved or damaged in ceilings and fill insulation gaps. Older insulation can settle and loses its insulating properties. Check the depth and ‘loft’ and replace as necessary.
  • Replace cracked roof tiles and repair roof ridging, if necessary.
  • Clean gutters regularly and check for leaks. Ensure adequate fall to drainage outlet.
  • Trim trees and shrubs away from the house.

Low-maintenance charred timber cladding extends the life of this home

Low-maintenance charred timber cladding extends the life of this home. See a case study of this home built for future recyclability.

Design: Quentin Irvine, Inquire Invent Pty. Ltd. Photo: © Nic Granleese

Inside your home:

  • Check fridge door seals and replace if necessary. If your fridge is not energy efficient, now might be the time to upgrade to one with a high energy star rating.
  • Install smoke detectors in correct locations and check the batteries in them.
  • Check for air leaks. Fit dampers to chimney flues (or insulate if unused), seal around windows and doors, and fill cracks and gaps to reduce draughts.
  • A thermal imaging camera can help to detect water leaks, shifted insulation and other issues. A qualified professional can assist.
  • Have your heating and cooling systems checked and maintained by a qualified professional.
  • Paint and repair walls and ceilings with low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints to improve amenity and air quality.
  • Consider replacing doors so you can ‘zone’ areas to control heat flow.
  • Remove worn carpets, which can be a source of dust mites and allergens.

Specific problems


Leaks can quickly lead to significant damage.

  • Roof leaks are often best detected when it is raining, because you can trace the water from the wet spot back to the source. Replace loose roof fixings and seal holes with silicone or bitumen-backed tape and a heat gun (do it yourself, or get a builder).
  • Cavity wall leaks are often caused by failed cavity capping or flashings and blocked weepholes along the base of the wall or over windows and door openings. Replace flashings (get a plumber and bricklayer), clear weepholes, and remove and replace bricks where necessary to get rid of debris and mortar droppings (do-it-yourself, or use a bricklayer).
  • Floor leaks can commonly be traced to leaking pipes or to moisture under concrete slabs being forced up through cracks and fissures by hydrostatic pressure. They can be rectified by repairing or replacing drainage (use a plumber) or installing adequate, up-slope groundwater drainage or diversion (get professional advice).
  • Shower recesses may be a source of leaking if waterproofing is inadequate or has been damaged. Check and repair if necessary (get a waterproofing expert or qualified tradesperson).
  • Check water supply and drainage pipes for signs of rust and/or leakage. Repair or replace as necessary and, while you are there, insulate exposed hot water pipes (get a plumber).

Cracks and settlement

Cracks and settlement can be cosmetic or an indication of more serious structural problems. Common causes are:

  • ‘heave’ (soil expanding and pushing the ground upwards) of reactive (clayey) soils
  • slip by unstable or disturbed soils
  • settlement (compression and sinking of the ground) under poorly prepared footings
  • variable soil moisture content causing uneven foundation swelling or heave due to drying by tree roots
  • poor drainage.

Seek professional advice from an engineer before repairing. Sometimes repairs can act as wedges and increase structural damage when foundations swell in the next wet or dry season.

Rectification can involve underpinning of footings to provide better support or piering to ensure that each section of the building is supported by material with similar bearing value (that is, it all moves by the same amount). Sometimes, underfloor drainage is required to ensure that internal walls bear on material with similar moisture content to the sun and wind-exposed external walls, to create even heave. Control joints that accommodate movement while remaining sealed may be required, if even heave is not achievable.

A window in a historic sandstone house has a large crack running through its window sill and down into the wall below. This is a result of changes in the soil beneath the foundations.

Reactive clay soils cause cracking in some areas

Photo: Kathie Stove


Damp in a home can cause poor indoor air quality as well as mould, mildew and rot. This can increase the risk of health problems and shorten the lifespan of your building. Damp can be caused by:

  • condensation, commonly due to inappropriate insulation, poor ventilation of bathroom and kitchen areas or use of inappropriate unflued heaters. Address this by installing insulation and building membranes correctly, improving ventilation levels and installing externally vented exhaust fans and appropriate heating.
  • underfloor and wall cavity moisture, caused by poor subfloor ventilation or ground clearance, excess moisture (leaking flashings, pipes or plumbing) or condensation build-up. Check subfloor and cavity wall vents to make sure they are not obstructed by previous additions, garden beds, mulch build-up, or nests of insects or other pests. Install additional vents as required. Repair leaking pipes and divert stormwater.
  • rising damp occurs in the absence or breakdown of damp-proof courses in masonry. If left untreated it will rot timbers that are in contact with the masonry and cause structural failures. Leaking shower recesses are a common problem in homes built from the mid-1970s, commonly because of movement in timber structures and failure of waterproofing membranes. Rising damp can be permanently removed by a specialist company, and do-it-yourself kits are also available, preferably for use at the outset of renovations.


Salt in brickwork is caused by high soil salinity levels and rising water tables. It usually occurs below the damp-proof course and can completely destroy brickwork, causing collapse if left untreated. In extreme cases, it can also rust poorly placed or protected reinforcing steel in footings and slabs. Seek professional advice on its cause and solutions.


Termite risk factors to look for include:

  • inadequate subfloor clearances and slab-on-ground
  • insufficient subfloor ventilation and light
  • abutment with susceptible construction or soil (for example, slabs, verandas, patios, steps, gardens)
  • inadequate site drainage, leaking water services
  • presence of subfloor attractants (for example, tree roots, buried timber, damp areas)
  • cracks and fissures in slabs
  • penetration of service connections.

To prevent termites, remove any risk factors in your home. Check for and fit adequate termite protection (if you’re repairing or renovating, do it while the existing structure is exposed) with:

  • continuous termite shield to cavities
  • ant-capping to piers and bearers
  • shields to service penetrations.

Termites have damaged this timber; it is riddled with holes, wood debris and termite nest material

Termite-damaged timber

Photo: Kathie Stove

To deal with existing termite damage, remove and repair or replace any termite-damaged timber and ensure that the pests are no longer active or able to access the building. Identify the access point for any previous damage and repair or install barriers.

Get a professional assessment and report by a suitably qualified pest control contractor, and implement all the preventive steps recommended in your termite report including:

  • checking all ant caps and barriers
  • restoring at least 400mm clearance under subfloor timber structures and making sure there is good ventilation and drainage
  • clearing garden beds and mulch build-up from walls and exposing at least 100mm of slab edges where possible.


Physical barriers, adequate clearance and yearly inspections are the best protection against termites.

Retrofitting using physical barriers is simplest for homes with raised timber floors and isolated piers, and more complex for perimeter masonry foundations or slab-on-ground. Retrofit barriers to protect wall cavities, such as mesh or graded stone, and termite-proof service penetrations using physical barriers.

Environmentally benign chemical barriers are the least preferred, but may be necessary in some situations. Use chemicals with minimum toxicity. Chemicals that require regular reapplication are usually the safest option. Ensure that they are reapplied according to the recommended schedule. Retrofit a reticulated system in cavities for chemical protection.

Schedule an annual termite inspection by a reputable, licensed inspector.

Dealing with hazardous materials

Be cautious before disturbing existing materials:

  • Many pre-1982 buildings have some asbestos including linings of eaves, roofing, wall linings in wet areas and cladding.
  • Most pre-1970 buildings have lead paint.
  • Other harmful substances can include PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) from old fluorescent light fittings, loose glass fibres or old asbestos pipe and duct insulation.

Removal is not necessarily the best option − sometimes it is better to seal and enclose.


Seek expert advice. Use specialists who can remove hazardous materials in accordance with approved methods and regulations (for example, Safe Work Australia, SafeWork NSW and SA, WorkSafe Tas, Vic, WA, NT and Qld).

References and additional reading

Learn more


Original author: Chris Reardon 2013