11/30/2015 12:00 EST | Updated 07/16/2016 03:59 EDT

Ask An Expert: Home Care Tips And Tricks

blogged]" data-caption="The northwest corner of South Shore comes within feet of the lake, and is surrounded on two sides by the lushly-planted golf courses of Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center. Connected directly to the south end of Lake Shore Drive, and well-served by several CTA express buses and the Metra Electric South Chicago branch, this quadrant of the neighborhood is unsurprisingly among the most desirable, and has been for many years. The house at 6756 S. Paxton bears witness to this. It and its immediate neighbors are a throwback to the early development of the neighborhood (it was built in 1916). Not long after, demand was such that apartment buildings began to proliferate, and even high-rises along the edge of the park, where they afford commanding views. This foursquare house with craftsman details is a reminder of a suburban character that persists in patches throughout the neighborhood, but that was largely supplanted in the north and east as the neighborhood densified. [blogged]" data-credit="reallyboring/Flickr">

Talking home care with Enercare’s Dave Walton is like getting a commonsense course on how to be a homeowner. With over three decades of experience in the energy sector, Walton knows his stuff, but that stuff isn’t limited to furnaces, air conditioners, and insulation.

Case in point: while talking about common problems homeowners can avoid, we didn’t start at the furnace in the basement. We went all the way up to the roof.

"What I like to promote to people is to do a visual inspection of your home and ideally you want to do it every spring and every fall," he says. "With the visual in mind, I like to start at the top and work my way down into the basement."

This top-down approach is part of Walton’s strategy to see the home as a “building envelope” instead of a set of small, specific parts.

But why not bottom-up?

"Water is the single greatest enemy that your home will ever face, bar none. It can cause the most damage to your home, and it’s really quite easy to try to stay on top of."

Water is more likely to damage the home — in ways that homeowners might not think about — from the roof. Walton suggests looking for "anything that seems out of place, like a broken off shingle," and cleaning out your gutters at least twice a year.

He’s also quick to advise that homeowners should only do the things that they feel comfortable and safe doing. If ladders and rooftops are uncomfortable places to go, there are always go-arounds, like using binoculars to examine your roof, or hiring someone to clean your gutters.

Next stop is just below the roof, in a place you hardly think about as part of your home.

"What I always challenge homeowners with is, 'When was the last time you poked your head in the attic?'"

Walton explains that some homeowners don’t have any insulation in their attic, and that many of the ones that do have old, underperforming insulation. Considering the cost of energy and the relative inexpensiveness of insulation, this is a no-brainer.

"Insulation can be one of the more economical home improvements that you can undertake to help improve the overall comfort of your home. Not only can it help you save on heating bills, it can help save on cooling bills as well."

When it comes time to talk about the furnace, Walton doesn’t pull punches. He knows what you think and how this contributes to a lack of upkeep.

"The furnace remains a really good example for a lot of things, because it’s 'that ugly beige or green box-looking thing down in my basement that I have no idea what to do with, all I know is it keeps my house warm in the winter.'"

To Walton, it’s a matter of sex appeal.

"The furnace is just not very sexy," he says. "People don’t want to deal with it until they absolutely have to, so part of my whole existence [revolves] around things that people can do themselves, including around the furnace. The most important being things like changing the filter every three months all year long."

"Of course, especially in the case of a natural gas-burning furnace, we don’t want people fiddling with it because they think they know what they’re doing. You can call a licensed professional to come and make sure it’s operating properly for you."