Is Your Home Harming Your Computer?

For many of us, computers are a bigger part of our lives than we ever imagined they would be. Digital immigrants — those whose lives began before computers and digital technology were a widely available part of life — and digital natives who were born into a computer-filled world are both using computers daily, either directly or indirectly. Around three-quarters of all Americans own a computer. And we are integrating computers into our homes, our professional lives, and our mobile lives in new ways every moment. Keeping up with new technology, computer repair, interconnectivity, smart home capability, and other advances of the digital age is enough to drive you to bankruptcy. And the more integrated our devices become, the more the inverse is true: The more our computers impact our lives, the more our lives can impact our computers.

Computers for Our Homes, Or Homes for Our Computers?

Computers, whether in the form of old desktop monoliths, sleek laptops, or the tablets and smartphones that coordinate with our cars, places of business, appliances, and homes, can be very demanding. They require some physical space, regular updating, occasional computer repair, power, networks, and, when they become obsolete, replacement. The home office can be the most expensive room in your home, and likely among the lowest priorities. But fixing up your home office doesn’t have to put you into bankruptcy. Computer repairs can be prevented. Read on for some things you can tend to in your home today that will keep your computing devices running and stable for years to come.

Humidity and Water Damage

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One of the issues most commonly reported by computer repair professionals is damage from water or humidity. Computers used in damp or humid environments, or where they are likely to come into contact with moisture or humidity, are vulnerable to damage. For many of us, our recreation rooms or home offices are relegated to damp basements or even leaky attics. But even minor or occasional leaks anywhere in your home can result in subtle changes to the overall humidity level in the property and put your devices in jeopardy and result in inconvenient computer repairs. Other issues, such as malfunctioning appliances, worn seals or hardware in windows and their frames, and cracked foundations or other foundation repair needs can lead to humidity issues and the need for computer repairs. In most cases, humidity issues are not caused by serious and costly problems like these.

What You Can Do

To create the best environment for your digital life and prevent intrusive computer repairs, get your home checked for potential issues like foundation repair by contractors, roofers, or certified inspectors regularly. Steps you can take without using a contractor include installing some inexpensive monitoring devices:

Dehumidifiers filter moisture out of the air in your home, leaving it dry and healthy. They are standalone machines that are simply plugged in and turned on. Some dehumidifiers draw moisture into a reservoir that requires regular emptying, while others can be drained via an attached line.

Temperature Controllers

Temperature controllers are simple digital monitoring devices that alert you to changes in the temperature of a space. They are designed to be a great deal more accurate than thermostats, and many of them are integrated with your home’s heating system and can adjust the temperature automatically.

Digital Hygrometers

Digital hygrometers monitor the humidity or moisture level of your space and display it. They are frequently used in museums, art galleries, musical instrument stores, or wherever art or musical instruments or other sensitive items are being stored. As computers can be as vulnerable to variations in humidity as some art and musical instruments, hygrometers are a valuable tool for keeping your home a fit environment for you, your networks, and your devices.

Extreme Temperatures

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Extremes of heat and cold can both be very damaging to your computers and devices. Many devices power off automatically at certain temperatures, and many desktop computers fail when their cooling system is faulty. Insecure windows and doors, malfunctioning thermostats, air conditioning systems, and appliances, as well as improper venting of electric and gas dryers, ranges, ovens, and fireplaces can all cause hazardous temperatures for you and your computers.

What You Can Do

Good maintenance of your home and monitoring for potential problems is the best way to control temperature issues. But there are some other things you can do as well: using smart thermostats that integrate with assistive devices makes it easier to control temperatures, as well as energy costs. Have ventilation systems for dryers, ranges, and ovens serviced regularly, and if you have a fireplace, have the chimney swept once per year, preferably before the season in which you will use it.

Rodents

There are dozens of reasons to take potential rodent infestations seriously, but few of us ever consider the damage that rodents can do to our devices and networks. To maintain their teeth and to create egresses from one space to another, rodents such as rats and mice gnaw and chew. They are indiscriminate in their targets: drywall, plaster, wood, and other materials are vulnerable to intrusive mice and rats. Wires and cables are a frequent target. While chargers and USB cables are easily replaced – for a price – it’s easy to overlook the more significant ways that rodents can damage devices and networks. Compromised electric lines can short out and even destroy a home computer. Accumulating fur and dander can be drawn invisibly into desktop housings by their exhaust fans and cause machines to overheat, resulting in a necessary computer repair. And long hours working on a computer in a room whose air is compromised by rodents can be a peril to your health.

What You Can Do

If you suspect a rodent infestation of any size, contact an exterminator. Many exterminators offer inspections without upselling to costly treatments and can direct your attention to potential problem areas in your home. If you don’t have any reason to suspect an infestation of rodents or mice, it is good practice to keep your home well-maintained and secure from mice and rats. Regularly clean any parts of your home that are potentially accessible to rodents, including your basement, any crawlspaces and attics, and other spaces you may not regularly maintain: any part of your home that you don’t occupy is a potential nest for rodents. Keeping regular with maintenance and cleaning of these spaces will also give you the best opportunity to spot early signs of a potential infestation. Inspect your property and repair or seal any extant cracks or holes, or have a contractor repair them. Be sure there is limited access to roofs, eaves, and exterior-facing stairways and stairwells. Branches and abutting structures in contact with your roofs and eaves can be a welcome mat to swift-climbing rodents. (This is a smart course for your home or office security in general.) Store waste as securely as possible, avoiding biodegradable options. Trash receptacles both inside and outside should be sealed very well at all times.

Location, Location, Location

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This refers not only to where you store your computer in your home, but where your home is in the world. Whether you occupy space in a luxury private community or a small apartment in an urban center, your geographic location can have an impact on your devices. Urban centers, apartment buildings and complexes, and other common city dwellings can have poorer air quality than areas outside of the city. That air penetrates your home and your computer. It’s filtered in by your computer’s exhaust and cooling system, leaving sediment and film that inhibits your computer’s ability to cool, leading to crashes, loss of data, and other computer repair issues. Communities outside of cities, whether in rural areas or suburban areas, can have much more limited access to networks, wifi, and the internet. When your computer is working to find and connect to networks, the constant use of power can seriously limit battery life. Even if you may be in an area with low air quality or poor internet connectivity, there’s no reason to go seeking real estate services just yet.

What You Can Do

If the problem in your area is limited connectivity, try finding a library, cafe, or coworking space near you and using their network when you require the internet. In the case of the library, your visit will be free. Cafes, of course, require “table rent:” inexpensive beverages or other goods purchased at regular intervals. If you find that your cellular network is stronger than the network provided by your internet service provider, try connecting your laptop or desktop to a wifi hotspot from your phone or tablet. If your problem is coarse air causing buildup in your computer’s housing, it’s easy enough to take it apart and clean it out regularly yourself, or have it professionally cleaned and maintained.

A Little Common Sense: The “Idiot Check”

There are some significant hazards to the stability and functionality of your computers and devices that have nothing to do with where the computer is located or its environment. Here are some common mistakes that users make that impact the condition of their computers and can result in costly repairs.

Navigating to Every Link, Downloading Every Attachment

Unless you’re very certain about the origin and destination of a link, avoid malicious programs and sites by being very judicious about which links you follow and which attachments your download.

Ignoring Updates

Of course, we can’t always install important updates the very moment we know they’re available. But letting your device linger too long without those vital updates can have bad results for your computer. Updates frequently include bug fixes and anti-virus programming and can be time-sensitive. Update your computer or device regularly and you won’t have to pay a computer professional to do it for you when it’s too late.

Being Careless During Storms

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Many believe it’s an urban myth that a lightning storm can reach your computer and cause serious damage, but it’s not. Lightning strikes around your home can absolutely lead to dangerous voltage surges and serious damage to your computer. Unplug computers and devices when you’re aware of a lightning storm.

Plugging In Without a Surge Protector

A close parallel to the previous entry: it’s not only lightning storms that can cause damage to your computer. Interruptions in electrical circuits – even the briefest and most innocuous interruptions, such as someone activating and then deactivating a high-power device on the same circuit – can cause a voltage surge in your device. That’s exactly what surge protectors were made for. And remember: surge protectors and power strips are not the same thing.

Failing to Run Routine Maintenance Software

Regularly cleaning and defragmenting your drives is as important as installing updates. Most of our computers go through a lot of programs. Every time one is installed or uninstalled, new data stored on the disk can be inefficiently distributed, causing your computer to take a great deal longer to access it, resulting in a slower computer. There are a number of programs available for cleaning your desktop or laptop, as well as native disk defragmentation tools.

Failing to Backup Your Data

Last but not least: your computer prompts you to back it up regularly for a reason. And while this issue may not necessarily impact the condition of your device, it can certainly have an impact on you if you lose vital data because you didn’t back up your device and then it failed. And backing up your data doesn’t have to be intimidating: it’s no longer necessary to connect USB devices, external hard drives, or even other computers or devices in order to backup your information. Services such as Cloud storage, iTunes, Google Drive, and others are convenient and intuitive ways to make sure you don’t lose anything important to you during a failure or when porting to a new device.

The goal of regular and preventative device maintenance is to avoid costly computer repairs. For better or for worse, and most people agree it’s for the better, computers and devices are big parts of our lives whether we engage with them directly or not. As with anything else, some precautions, a little education, and some common maintenance can make computers a less costly and more intuitive asset and convenience and make time-consuming computer repairs a thing of the past. With all of the tips above, common sense and regular attention prevail over expenses such as computer repairs. You will get out of your computers and devices that you put into them. And the goal is not working for them, it’s working with them.

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