What to do when you can't call a landlord.

By Jane Borden
February 04, 2020
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House Nightmare Opossums in the Attic
Credit: Zohar Lazar

Congrats! You're a homeowner. But now where do you turn when things go awry? Follow our advice for who to call and even how to prevent the issues from happening.

By the time you hear the opossums crawling around your attic, they have already burrowed deep into your insulation, contaminating it and creating a puzzle maze with no winning prize.

Who you gonna call? Try a humane wildlife-removal service or, if necessary, an exterminator. Then call a contractor to replace the insulation

The Fix: This issue originated when rain got into the eaves because your shingles didn’t fully cover the fascia boards. (So call a roofer too.) The water caused the wood to rot, which allowed opossums to gnaw their way in.

Prevention Tip: “Trim tree limbs back 5 or 6 feet from the roofline,” says Whitman Wesley, vice president of Athena Pest Control in Mountain Brook, Alabama. “Cover any holes in wood or in crawl space vents with hardware cloth or metal flashing. A mouse can get through a hole the size of a dime, and a rat can enter one the width of a quarter.”

Every time you turn on your grandmother’s lamp, half the lights in your house go out.

Who you gonna call? An electrician

The Fix: “When you move in, find out which rooms are on which circuits so you don’t overload one,” advises Michael Villanueva, assistant project manager at New Old in Charlotte. Avoid having overloaded circuits that blow fuses repeatedly by simply spreading the electrical burden to other lines in the house. Or the issue could be the lamp itself: Faulty cords on old appliances and fixtures trip circuits too.

Electrical Tip: “Before you call an electrician, check to see if the bulb is burned out,” advises Villanueva.

You returned home from vacation to find thousands of ants by the bathroom window and the tub.

Who you gonna call? An exterminator

The Fix: Guess what? They aren’t ants. Naturally, you thought they were because ants often invade homes to find water. These, however, are subterranean termite swarmers (which look like winged ants). The South is wet. It’s impossible to eliminate the threat of these bugs. “It’s so important to ensure the house has a termite bond, that it’s transferable to you when buying, and that it’s renewed annually,” says Wesley. The bond is a warranty but also includes treatment. “General sprays from pest companies don’t typically cover termites. It’s a different contract,” he says. Also covered? Annual inspections so you can catch them before they swarm. If you let your bond lapse, you can be out $1,000 to get a new termite contract.

Prevention Tip: Repair any cracked grout and water damage around windowsills and doorframes. Don’t allow mulch or leaves to build

up around your home’s perimeter. Keep the gutters clear of stagnant water.

You woke up to the smell of sewage, which is a big issue because you’re hosting the Junior League luncheon.

Who you gonna call? A plumber

The Fix: “It’s usually the vents on your roof. All plumbing drain lines in your house are vented to allow gases

to escape from your sewer system and regulate air pressure to let waste flow freely,” says Mary Ludemann, owner of New Old. “But sometimes a bird’s nest or beehive will clog the vent.” Water won’t flow easily, and the gases can come back into the house.

You’ve noticed your son’s toy cars roll much faster toward the kitchen windows than away from them.

Who you gonna call? A foundation-repair specialist

The Fix: “If one side of your house is settling faster than the other, get it checked out soon. That can cause a lot of other problems,” explains Ludemann. “The piers—they hold up the middle of the house within the foundation perimeter—could be crumbling. You can have studs inserted to brace the house where it’s lowering.” If not, you have an issue with soft soil. “They’ll have to hand dig until they reach firmer ground and then add more piers,” she says.

It’s 97 degrees outside, your air conditioner is blowing hot, and you have another Junior League luncheon.

Who you gonna call? An HVAC mechanical contractor

The Fix: You bought the wrong-size filter, which let in dust and contaminants, causing your coil to freeze. Once you get the right size, keep it clean. “Not only do dirty filters affect airflow, but they also put a lot of strain on your equipment,” explains Charlie Cooper, RNC supervisor at MTB Mechanical in Charlotte. “If that doesn’t solve it, there could be a leak. Don’t let someone come out and just refill it with refrigerant. They need to find and fix the leak.”

WATCH: How To Clean Gunky Brushes with Joanna Gaines

There’s a musty, moldy smell downstairs; the bottom of the outside of your house is stained red from splashing mud; and your landscaping is eroding.

Who you gonna call? A gutter professional

The Fix: “You do not want water soaking into your foundation,” Ludemann advises. “You will get moisture in your crawl space. Humidity in the house will rise, floors will buckle, and mold will grow. Concrete and brick foundations are like sponges.”

Gutter Tip: Ludemann suggests having a professional help you choose which rooflines to gutter. “They can tell how fast water runs down different parts of your roof,” she says.

House Nightmare Plumbing Issues
Credit: Zohar Lazar

When you flush your toilet, water comes up through the bathtub and sink.

Who you gonna call? A plumber

The Fix: “This is a mainline stoppage,” explains Eric Holzhauer, owner of Big E’s Plumbing in Birmingham. Either someone flushed something unflushable, or tree roots have impacted your pipes. “Roots always find a way to get to water,” he says. If you catch it early enough, you can have a plumber come to clear the roots twice a year for about $250 to $350 per service.

Plumbing Tip: “When buying a house, always get a sewer inspection,” Holzhauer says. “Paying $200 to $300 now is less than $3,000 later.”

Rusty water dripped through the ceiling of your finished basement and stained your college couch brown. Your wife is happy. You are not.

Who you gonna call? A plumber

The Fix: Over time, a water heater collects mineral deposits from your water, which corrode the tank. “I recommend having a professional flush your tank once a year,” says Holzhauer. “Removing the sediment will also make it more efficient.” Other options: Install a filter to minimize the introduction of minerals, or switch to a tankless heater.

Prevention tip: Never put a water heater with a tank on a second floor; you could have flooding.

Your date night called for a cozy fire. Then your house filled with smoke, so you had to wake your kids and go outside until it all cleared.

Who you gonna call? A chimney professional

The Fix: “If no smoke is rising, you have a clog in the chimney,” says Frank Craige, principal at Oxford & Company in the Nashville area. “It just needs to be cleaned. Too much soot has collected, or there might be a bird’s nest inside.”