Budgeting For Home Repairs

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When purchasing a new home, it’s easy to focus only on the short-term financial requirements (down payment, closing costs, moving expenses), and overlook a long-term plan for home maintenance and upgrades.

It’s also easy to have tunnel vision about saving for that custom kitchen you’ve been dreaming of, and ignore the really not-so-exciting hot water tank in need of replacement…until it bursts on a Sunday morning and floods your laundry room.

Leaky hot water tank leaving my home

Leaky hot water tank leaving my home

There are a couple of different rules of thumb that people use to budget for unexpected repairs: one school of thought says you should be prepared to spend 1% of the home’s value annually, and another says to plan for costs equalling $1 per square foot of living space each year. What you can expect will vary widely, depending on factors such as: the age of your home, how well it’s been maintained, the age of the major components in the home, and what unique features you may have, such as a wood-burning fireplace or pool.

This is the home I purchased in midtown Toronto 7 years ago:


I always advise clients buying an older resale home to have a professional home inspection in place, and I was no exception. At the ripe old age of 73, my house was going to need a few repairs – although some of the warnings (like the a/c system assessed as “on its last legs”) have yet to need replacing. However, some of the costs of home maintenance took me by surprise. Big things like replacing the hot water heater, and little things like repointing brick (replacing old crumbling mortar). There is nothing sexy or exciting about spending money on this:


Or the front step that shifted and cracked off the porch:


Here is my house 6 years later:


Some of the changes are obvious, like the new roof (which needed replacing a little earlier than expected), the new tree (who would expect a 20-year-old tree to suddenly die and leave you with sticks?), and the stone retaining wall that finally stopped all the soil from washing out of our front yard and onto the street with every rainstorm.

The list of not-so-obvious changes is much longer, of course, and might contain a few items for other homeowners to keep in mind:

  • installing a wildlife cap on the chimney (because you can’t imagine the effort required to clean your home after a sooty squirrel has lapped it fifteen times)
  • replacing corroded galvanized pipes in the bathroom
  • replacing all knob and tube wiring (which worked fine for six years, so long as you didn’t want to use the kettle and microwave at the same time)
  • upgrading electrical panel
  • replacing all 3″ eavestroughs and downspouts with 5″ standard width
  • repairing fencing, installing gate, stabilizing interior railings
  • replacing hot water heater
  • repointing brick (replacing mortar)
  • repairing cracked chimney
  • repairing cracked steps
  • replacing broken appliances
  • installing gas line for stove/barbecue
  • replacing broken door
  • replacing old light fixtures
  • arborist services (ice storm repairs, ongoing care for multiple mature trees)

As a homeowner, it’s also very easy to fall down the “if this, then that” rabbit hole. For us, it started with a broken fridge. And the handle snapping off the microwave. We looked for a fridge the same size as our old one, and found there were minimal options, so we bought something bigger and better. This led to the decision to replace the cabinetry. And then to take down the wall that made our kitchen feel so cramped. And once you have the kitchen walls exposed, you might as well replace the wiring. And if you’re doing all of that, you have to do the floor…and the backsplash…and the sinks…and the faucets…


Things break. Tastes change. Even freshening up paint colours takes time and money. It’s important to realize that just like a car, your investment doesn’t stop with the initial purchase. The more care you put into regular maintenance, the fewer surprises you will typically have in the long run.

As an aside, we have had great success finding reputable tradespeople using the Homestars website. If you would like personal referrals for any of the services mentioned, give me a shout!


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