It was a Sunday night, the house felt cold. The only way for the Doloski family to keep their Illinois house warm and cozy in December is to have a working furnace. One look at the thermostat told them that clearly, theirs was not.

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Within minutes of arriving, the service technician diagnosed the problem. They  needed a new igniter. At least, they concluded, the problem was one they could not have resolved themselves.

Then the technician opened the side panel of the furnace. Filthy. Neglected. The technician said the igniter failed because the furnace filter hadn’t been cleaned. What would have taken five minutes to vacuum, cost hundreds in “after hours” fees, parts and labor. They knew the furnace filter needed to be vacuumed and they do at the start of every winter, if not more often. But this year they simply forgot.

The Doloski’s are not alone when it comes to forgetting about routine maintenance issues. Take automobiles, for example. A National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) survey showed that while 48 percent of its certified technicians always tell customers about the importance of routine vehicle maintenance, only 2 percent routinely follow that advice.

If you own a home, a car or simply a human body, the words routine maintenance should be part of your vocabulary. Safety and good health are, of course, the most important reasons to keep what we’ve got in good working order. But the financial benefits are significant, too.

AUTOMOBILES. A regularly scheduled $21.95 oil change could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in engine work. Find the recommended timetable for oil changes and the inspection and maintenance of other systems in the owners’ manual. Note: This is not always the same schedule recommended by retailers who provide these services. Have your tires rotated and balanced regularly to extend their useful life and to comply with terms of the warranty. Read the manual and figure out what you’re supposed to be doing. If you’re responsible enough to drive a vehicle you can also be responsible enough to maintain it properly.

FURNACE AND AIR CONDITIONER. First and foremost, vacuum or replace those furnace filters! Most manufacturers suggest cleaning or replacing filters at least every other month. And at the very least, for safety’s sake, your home should have both working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.

ELECTRONICS. Computers require maintenance inside and out to perform at their peak. Since many of us rely on computers for our livelihood, we stand to lose more in a computer crash than just the cost of repairs when we factor in lost wages and data. And while it may seem like a waste of money a can of compressed air can safely blow dust and dirt out of your keyboard and away from all the nooks and crannies in your printer and CPU unit/tower. Learn about these in the machine’s instruction manual or from the manufacturer’s technical support department or website.

The most important word in computer maintenance: backup. Research your options to decide which method of backing up data suits your needs. Take a look at Carbonite. The service is cheap for the peace of mind it offers.  

HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES.  Don’t ignore seemingly minor issues, as they may be indicative of a larger problem. Two weeks before my washing machine warranty expiration date I called to complain about a minor squeak during spin cycles. The technician replaced the motor, which was covered under the warranty. Had I waited until the squeak gave way to full motor failure, as it likely would have done the day after my warranty expired of course, the cost of replacing that part would have sent me shopping for a new machine.

SELF. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the leading cause of death in the United States of persons between the ages of 18 and 70 is malignant neoplasms. In short, cancerous tumors. Routine maintenance for women should include monthly self-examination for any suspicious breast lumps, an annual physical that includes a breast exam, and mammograms as recommended. The cost of these exams and procedures should be seen as life insurance.

Jennifer Doloski says that by the time the hot and humid days of summer roll around, the pain of spending $246 to fix their filthy furnace will be a much less painful memory than it is today. Next fall, though, when the winds turn chilly, she’ll remember that lesson well since she has already flipped ahead in her calendar and penciled a reminder to change the furnace filter in October.

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