Most people I know brush their teeth once a day, many do so twice a day. The reason we brush our teeth is to remove food debris and bacteria from our mouth that cause tooth decay. Brushing our teeth is a form of preventative maintenance. It is not just our mouths that can use preventative maintenance, structures such as homes and apartment buildings need annual maintenance. Some maintenance items are simply preventative, while others are deferred.

A good place to start looking for preventative maintenance items is in the kitchen. The first thing to check in the kitchen is all the appliances. The goal is to make sure all appliances are in working order. If the property has a dishwasher, make sure it is running and draining properly. Then move to the stove and check the stove top. Then make sure the oven turns on. This may seem absurd, but you would be amazed how many people never turn on their ovens. Nowadays microwaves are used regularly and some people do not have a need for an oven.

The next appliance to check is the refrigerator. Make sure the temperature is turned to the right setting. Some fridges have temperature settings that are positioned low, which means food can bump the knob turning the thermostat up or down. While you are at the refrigerator, check the freezer thermostat as well.

An easy item to overlook in the kitchen is the exhaust fan. I have seen exhaust fans with years of debris build up, so severe that the fan no longer pulls air through the filter. Depending on the age of the exhaust fan, a new filter may be needed or a new fan altogether.

It seems the items that are out of sight get neglected the most, case in point — the garbage disposal. A garbage disposal is for small food fragments to keep the drain from getting clogged. The garbage disposal is not a catchall device that makes miracles out of all food and kitchen items. A garbage disposal is not a trash can in the sink as many people believe.

Here is a list of items that should not go down the garbage disposal: Stringy vegetables such as asparagus and celery, banana peels, tea bags, onion skins, any type of metal utensil, potato peels, cooked rice, citrus peels, coffee filters, paper towels, napkins or plates.

I know the list seems obvious, but I have seen plumbers pull some interesting items out of sinks.

When done with the garbage disposal it is a good idea to get a plumber out to snake the main drainage line of the structure. This may be preemptive, but it is cheaper than having a plumber come out and replace the mainline because of years of debris buildup. Larger structures, such as apartment houses, should have the mainline preemptively drained annually because of heavier use.

After checking the kitchen, it is time to move onto the bathroom. The first items to check are the sink and tub for leaking. As I stated in a previous article, this can be a large expense in terms of water use. Check the toilet next. The toilet should not run in between flushes, if it does, replace the flap or have a plumber come out and take a look at the fixture.

Before you step out of the bathroom look at the lighting; any incandescent bulbs can be replaced with florescent bulbs. In major home centers you can buy florescent bulbs for a little more than incandescent bulbs, but the savings per year more than makes up for the cost of the bulbs. Nowadays companies are coming out with florescent bulbs that have a similar light spectrum to incandescent bulbs so the excuse of “not liking the light” does not hold water anymore. If you do not want to part with your incandescents, just place one florescent bulb in a fixture that has two or more bulbs. You will not notice the change in light and the trick will still save you some money on your energy bills. This can be done throughout your home or investment properties.

Once you have looked around the inside of the structure for preventative and deferred maintenance items, go outside and get on the roof. If you are not comfortable with climbing a ladder, hire a roof expert to inspect the roof for you. If a few shingles look weathered, get an expert out or see what the expert says about repairing the damaged shingles or if a new roof is needed. If you do not like what you hear, get a second opinion.

After the roof has been inspected, walk around the structure and see if any damage is noticeable. Many structures in Southern California are made with a stucco exterior, however, hiring someone to inspect the structure is a good idea as well. At the very least you will know what, if any, repairs need to be done to the exterior walls. Also, an expert can let you know what kinds of issues may exist behind the exterior walls.

Of course there are many more preventive measures that can be done, from bolting foundations to attaching gas shut off valves to older structures for earthquakes. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can’t afford to make these moves now and put them off. Most things can be done without hiring an expert. You just have to make the time to take a look. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Mike Heayn is a real estate investor and commercial loan consultant specializing in multi-family lending. He can be e-mailed at maheayn@yahoo.com.