Once you are a homeowner, you might be surprised at the number of little things you have to learn. Many are the little snippets of knowledge that can help keep your home well maintained, safe, secure, and save you money at the same time.
The things every homeowner needs to know can be:
- Practical – such as how to ensure your sump pump is working.
- Eco-Friendly – for example, how to reduce energy use while you are on vacation
- Security Focused – i.e., how to minimize your homes appeal to a burglar
- Economical – such as basic troubleshooting skills to prevent you from calling out, and paying for a professional to fix a problem.
- And much, much, more.
So, without further ado, let’s jump straight into the things every homeowner, not just a first-time homeowner, needs to know.
# 1 The Location Of Your Shut-Offs
A surprising number of people do not think about where the main shut-off valves for their gas or water are located until they need to shut them off. Another common situation is for a homeowner to assume that the valve is in the same place as your last home, or that the valve under the kitchen sink will stop water flow in the entire house.
The time to discover that you do not, in fact, know the location of the main shut-off is not when a pipe has burst in your attic space, and you have an unwanted indoor water feature cascading from the ceiling of your bedroom.
Instead, take the time to locate the primary emergency shut off valves for your water and gas and find out if you need any tools with which to turn them off. If you do need a particular size wrench or a similar item, buy one specifically for this purpose, place it in a plastic bag and tape it to the pipe next to the valve.
Now, in an emergency, you can go straight to the valve, and have everything you need to hand.
# 2 The Ins And Outs Of Your Electrical Panel
The older a home is, the more likely it is to have had renovations. This, in turn, increases the possibility that the labels on the electrical panel do not accurately reflect what each switch covers.
For example. A friend of ours moved into their new home and wanted to replace the outlet covers in the kitchen. This is a fairly basic job, and she was somewhat experienced, so she knew to go and turn off the circuits for the kitchen. Fortunately for her, because of her experience, she also knew not to trust the labels on the electrical panel and tested each outlet with a voltage tester before beginning work. Sure enough, two of the outlets were still live, and she avoided a nasty shock.
Take your time to thoroughly check out and test your electrical panel. You can then work out which switches cover which items in your home and then you can clearly label any that need changing.
# 3 How And When To Reset A GFI
GFI stands for Ground Fault Interuptor, and they are in place on some electrical outlets to help prevent electrocution. You might also see them referred to as GFCI’s or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters, but they are both exactly the same thing.
Usually found in bathrooms and kitchens, these are the outlets that have the two buttons between the sockets. One button is for testing, and the other button is for resetting.
A GFI is tripped when there is a surge in the current and the first you will know about it is when an electrical item which is plugged in stops working.
Additional sockets may be protected “downstream” from the GFI, so it is not always the appliance connected to the outlet itself that has tripped the switch. For this reason, whenever a plug socket appears to stop working for no reason, check the GFI outlet. If the red button is raised the GFI has tripped, and you can reset it by pressing the switch back in.
# 4 Basic Electrical Trouble Shooting Steps
A local electrician told me that approximately 30% of the calls he receives could be fixed over the phone. Obviously, not all electricians are thoughtful enough to give you a two-minute quiz so you can fix things yourself without paying for a call-out, so one of the things every homeowner needs to know is how to troubleshoot simple electrical problems.
- When outlets fail, always check all of the GFIs in the house, as well as the electrical panel. The outlet may be part of a GFI protected circuit so resetting them may solve your problem.
- Replaced a fuse and still no luck? Check to ensure the new fuse is the same amperage as the one you are replacing and that you have screwed the fuse in tightly. If this does not fix the problem, try swapping it with a fuse of the same amperage from another circuit you know is working. In the event that the fuse still doesn’t work, you know it is not a fuse issue. If it does work your fuse may be a dud, or, and you’d be surprised how often this happens, it may be that you have put the old fuse back into the panel by mistake.
- Plenty of homeowners have called an electrician because they believe a wall outlet their lamp is plugged into is broken. If you replace a bulb and it doesn’t work, do not assume it is the outlet, try another bulb you know to be working first. Sometimes new bulbs do not work at all, and you may have bought a lemon.
# 5 The Location Of Your Property Lines
Even if you have no intention of installing or replacing a fence or other boundary between you and your neighbors, it is essential to know precisely where your property line is.
Not only does it help ensure you do not accidentally impinge on the neighbor’s property, but it also allows you to be sure that your own property has not been infringed upon.
This may not bother you, or your current neighbors but homeowners in the future may take exception to “loosing” a 6-inch strip of their land along the boundary or having a new neighbor demolish their fence because it crosses the line.
Promote harmonious neighbor relations, find your property lines, and come to an agreement on any encroachments now rather have problems in the future.
# 6 How And When To Check Your Sump Pump
At least once a year, preferably towards the end of the dryer, summer months, you should check to ensure your sump pump is still working correctly.
The best way to do this is to pour water into the sump. You will have to pour in enough to raise the float high enough for the pump to kick in. Now, wait to see that the pump itself kicks in and then watch to ensure the water is all pumped away effectively.
Now you will know if the pump itself requires any attention and can be assured that it is actually pumping water out effectively.
# 7 How To Flush With A Bucket
If you have a temporary problem with the plumbing in your home, or if there is a broader neighborhood issue which is affecting water flow, it is possible to flush the toilet without water in the toilet tank.
You do still need a bucket of water, though!
Take a bucket full of water and dump it, as quickly as possible, all at once into the toilet bowl. The force of the sudden influx of water will act as a flush. Be sure not to pour the water in slowly though, as this will just fill the bowl.
# 8 Where To Store Instructions And Spares
If you have installation manuals and spare parts for bathroom and kitchen fixtures it can be easy to throw away the instructions and spares once your installation is complete, or dump them in a junk drawer to gather dust.
Instead, place each manual and the accompanying parts, in a Ziploc bag and hang them on a hook at the back of the closet cabinet. This way, if something does go wrong, you have the parts and the instructions on hand immediately to deal with the problem.
# 9 How To Eliminate Drain Odor
If you have a drain which is not used very often, it will dry out which can, in turn, cause sewer gasses back into the home causing smells and potentially being hazardous to your health.
To avoid this problem pour about a quart of water, topped off with three tablespoons of cooking oil, into the drain. The water will then sit in the trap, and the oil will seal it, minimizing any issues with evaporation and odors.
# 10 The Best Way To Clean A Drain Trap
If the water in your sink is not draining as fast as it used to, it may be partially blocked. Hair, soap, dirt, and anything else that gets washed down the drain can build up over time in the drain trap, making less space available for water, resulting in slow drainage.
Instead of calling a plumber or using expensive, environmentally damaging chemicals, you can clean the drain trap yourself.
The drain trap is the U or J shaped piece of pipe that connects the pipe from the sink to the pipe going into the wall. Slip a bucket or plastic bowl under the drain trap to catch any drips. Unscrew the slip joint nut, which is the raised ring at each end of the trap.
Remove the J or U shaped piece and take it to another sink to wash out, and then replace.
# 11 Switch Your Ceiling Fan Direction
Your ceiling fan should spin anti-clockwise during the warmer months so that it draws cooler air upwards and that you should reverse the direction in the colder months so that it will push warmer air down.
# 12 Simple Ways To Cut Down On Drafts
Many electrical outlets have gaps around them, which let cold air in and warm air out. Spend the afternoon removing the covers of your switches and outlets and filling the holes with expanding foam. Be sure to work safely and switch off the electricity while you do this.
Foam can also be used to fill the gaps around pipes where they go through walls.
# 13 Refridgerator Maintenance Saves You $$$
By vacuuming out the vents and the fans on your fridges and freezers, you can save a significant amount of energy, and as a result, save money on your fuel bills. The build-up of dust and dirt makes it more difficult for your appliance to get rid of the warm air and this, in turn, causes the compressor to work harder and for longer
Do this once a year, and you will also extend the life of your appliance.
# 14 Burglars Rarely Pick Locks
While most of us imagine burglars trying to furtively pick a lock in order to gain access to a home, in reality, they usually use brute force and gain access when either the door itself or the area of the frame where the lock is affixed gives way.
To avoid this, you can install an edge guard which is a strip of metal that runs down the edge of the door, distributing the force and reducing the risk of the door splitting and allowing burglars into your home.
# 15 Windows Are Vulnerable But Cost Effective To Secure
In a similar vein, the basic latches on the average window are quickly forced with a crow-bar, but a cheap and easy to install pin lock will make it much harder, making it more likely any potential thief will go elsewhere.
# 16 Smoke Alarms Need Attention
When you move into a new home, don’t assume that the smoke alarms work or that they will emit that annoying beeping noise when the batteries need replacing.
Instead, take off the cover, give the inside a good vacuum, and test that the alarm is working. Now replace the batteries and write the date on a small sticker inside the cover.
The same process should be used for CO2 alarms
# 17 Cleaning The Lint Is Not Enough
Removing the lint trap and rubbing off the dust is not sufficient to keep your dryer in good working order or your home safe from fire.
Instead, once a year, pull out your dryer, remove the hose from the back and give the dryer itself a thorough clean. Then vacuum out the flexible tube which connects the dryer to the vent. Replace the tube if it is damaged or has extensive lint build up. Finally, clean the vent from inside then go outside and give it a thorough vacuum.
If you use your dryer a great deal, you should do this twice a year.
Not only will this minimize the risk of a lint fire, but it will also allow your dryer to work more efficiently, and save you money.
# 18 Hit The Gutters Before The Snow Hits Your Roof
Don’t wait until the first snows arrive before you think of cleaning out your gutters. By checking them regularly once leaves begin to fall you will avoid the build-up of debris and consequently any issues with overflows. This, in turn, reduces the likelihood of water damage from overflowing gutters.
# 19 How To Loosen A Screw
If you are having trouble loosening a Phillips head screw, don’t force it to the point where you begin to damage the recess. Instead, place the screwdriver into the screw head and give it one quick firm hit with a hammer.
This should break the initial friction holding the nail in place while also embedding the screw tip tightly into the slot. This combination gives the screw a better bite and makes it easier to remove.
# 20 How To Fix A Loose Screw
If you have drilled a hole for a screw and find it is slightly too big, or if you are replacing a screw and discover the gap has widened, there is a quick, easy fix.
Wrap a little wire wool around the screw before you screw it in.
Wrapping the screw in wire wool gives just enough bulk and friction to hold the screw tightly in place and is much quicker and simple than trying to fill a hole and redrill the hole.
Additional Information From Real Estate Experts
Problems To Look For When Buying An Old House – Bill Gassett
4 Reasons You May Not Want To Buy A House – Paul Sian
Costly Mistakes Home Buyers Make – Eileen Anderson
About The Author
Geoff Southworth is the creator of RealEstateInfoGuide.com, the site that helps new homeowners, investors, and homeowners-to-be successfully navigate the complex world of property ownership. Geoff is a real estate investor of 8 years has had experience as a manager of a debt-free, private real estate equity fund, as well as a Registered Nurse in Emergency Trauma and Cardiac Cath Lab Care. As a result, he has developed a unique “people first, business second” approach to real estate.