Homeownership is part of the American dream. You work hard to make this dream a reality and are proud of your independence and success. But you didn't realize it was going to be an endless litany of chores, projects and surprise repairs reaching into your wallet.

Home maintenance and repairs are inevitable. Some of them will give you advance warning, while others will be an unpleasant surprise, probably on a weekend when you have guests. One thing is for certain: House problems do not get better with age.

It is up to you to maintain and repair things around the house before they become costly problems. Even if you don't consider yourself handy, there are a few things you can do yourself to save money in the long run.

Change Filters

Check your furnace air filter. It should be white or clear metal. A furnace filter removes particles from the air so that they do not enter the body of the furnace. When filters get clogged, your furnace won't be able to get the amount of air it needs to operate.

Blocked filters can result in inefficient operation, as well as breakdown and failure. Even just having a furnace repair person to your home can be expensive, let alone the repairs. Change your furnace filter and humidifier filter twice a year - or more, if you live in a particularly dry or dusty climate.

Clean Gutters

Gutters drain water from your roof and direct it away from your house's foundation. If they get clogged with leaves or other debris, the water cannot drain. Clogged gutters can lead to roof rot and damage, as well as water dams in the winter. Check your gutters every season and remove anything clogging them. You might find a bird's nest or two also.

Fix Leaks

Dripping faucets waste water, much more than you might realize. It's often possible to fix a dripping faucet just by changing out the rubber washers. If you are going to attempt this repair yourself, make sure to shut off the water before you start. There is usually a shutoff valve under each sink.

Leaking pipes will cause water damage to flooring and carpeting. A wet basement can get moldy and unhealthy for occupants. Unless you have plumbing skills, limit your job to identifying the leaks and call a professional for help.

Caulk Bathrooms and Kitchens

Wherever you use water, you want to make sure you have adequate caulking around seals and cracks. If water gets under a sink or behind a wall, you can have wood rot in your framing or compromise and electrical outlet.

Seal around sinks, tubs and toilets. Replace old caulk after it becomes cracked and dried out. It may look OK, but it won't keep water from penetrating when it's dried out.

Check Laundry Room

Inspect the hoses to your washer and make sure there are no cracks and leaks. Imagine all that water bursting through and flooding your home. You can avoid this mess by inspecting and replacing the hoses when needed.

Change the lint filter on your dryer after each use. Lint can build up in your dryer and exhaust pipes and can catch on fire. It would be a shame to lose your house because of such an avoidable issue.

Check for Bugs

No house is immune to insects. They always seem to find a way to get in. An occasional ant or two is no big deal, but remove them before they call their friends over. Make sure there are no ant colonies in your house. If you see termites, call a professional, as these insects eat away at the wood in your house and can end up costing you thousands of dollars in repairs.

Do not let bees and wasps make nests in your house or your attic. They will get bigger and become dangerous to your family. Take precautions when removing, spraying or knocking down the nests yourself, and don't hesitate to call a professional service if the task seems too dangerous or if the nest is too high to reach.

Paint Regularly

Water seems to be the common culprit in many home damages. Your exterior paint's primary responsibility is to protect the materials that make up your house. If paint is cracking and peeling off, it cannot do its job.

Make sure your paint is in good condition and that there aren't bare or rotten areas on the wood of your house. Consider repainting your house approximately every 10 years. This time frame may vary depending on weather conditions and visual inspection.

Check the Deck

Don't forget your deck when inspecting your paint. Decks are usually sealed, but sometimes also painted. A sealant will keep water from penetrating the wood of your deck and will prevent the wood from rotting. If water is no longer beading on your deck, you should plan on refinishing your deck soon. Start in the spring before it gets too hot.

We don't like to spend money unnecessarily, but we want to make sure our homes are safe and in good shape. With most house projects and repairs, it is a matter of paying a little bit now versus paying a lot more later. You don't have to be a pro, just a good observer. Check all the rooms and inner workings of your home, and address anything that may need attention. It will cost you a lot less now than it will later.

Scott Huntington is a writer from central Pennsylvania. He enjoys working on his home and garden with his wife and 2 kids. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington