10 Key Skills and Tips for First-Time Homeowners

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What You Need to Know as a First-Time Homeowner

By Ryan Horvath

  *Before getting into the “nuts and bolts” of this blog, we highly recommend that you, as a first-time homeowner, invest the time and money into having your home professionally inspected – especially if you have no experience with home operating systems. We hope that this whole home inspection is completed as a part of your home negotiations process; but if not, don’t worry. You can still benefit by having this assessment completed after you have purchased your new home. Becoming acclimated to your home and the condition of all of its operating systems will save you time, money, and headaches in the future.

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Being a first-time homeowner is one of the most exciting and most stressful times in your life. You’re no longer living in an apartment or condominium where, if something goes wrong, you can just call maintenance. As a new homeowner, you are maintenance. In order to help alleviate some of these new stresses, we have compiled a list of ten key skills and tips for the first-time homeowner that will also help you navigate some of the most common household headaches/issues/repairs.

 Fixing a Leaky Faucet

Many of us have spent sleepless nights listening to the annoying drip of a leaky faucet. The irony of the proverbial “leaky faucet” is that it is one of the easiest repairs for a homeowner to make. Follow these simple steps to eradicate this noisy and costly nuisance:

  1. Turn off the water supply valve(s). You will find the valve handle(s) under the sink.
  2. Plug the drain with the sink plug or a rag; this helps prevent parts from, literally, going down the drain.
  3. Your hot and cold water handles have removable caps that can be pried off with a flat head screw driver. Remove these caps. Unscrew and remove each handle. You now have an exposed “stem.”
  4. The stem has an O-ring (thin), a seat washer (thick), and a brass screw. Use a wrench to disassemble these pieces from the stem. Make sure that you keep the parts lined up in the order in which you took them off.
  5. Inspect the rubber parts for wear and tear. Take any damaged piece(s) to the hardware store so that you can purchase the exact replacement.
  6. Reassemble each handle starting with the last piece you removed.
  7. Remove the plug from the drain.
  8. Turn on the water supply.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Following these easy steps should eradicate the leak, save you money on costly water bills, and help you get a good night’s sleep.

Shutting Off Your Main Water

Do you know where your main water shut off valve is? If not, you could be looking at thousands of dollars in damages should you have a pipe burst, and you are unable to shut off the water. If you are unsure of where your main water shut off is and you are having a home inspection, you can have the home inspector show you where it is located.

Turning Off the Gas

If you notice a gas smell in your home, get outside immediately. Next, call the gas company to report the smell. Finally, locate the shut off valve on the outside of the house (should be near the gas meter) and shut it off if you can safely get to it.

Fixing a Running Toilet

A running toilet is a nuisance; it can also be quite costly if left unrepaired. There is no need to contact a plumber just yet, as this repair is a quick, easy fix. The most common problem involves the flapper, fill valve, chain, and/or the float. Do the following to inspect and repair your toilet:

  1. Test the flapper by pressing down on it. If the water stops running, the flapper is not sealing properly. Replace the flapper following the manufacturer’s directions.
  2. Check the fill valve for a leak by flushing the toilet. Lift up on the float arm when the tank is filling to see if the water stops. Bend or adjust the float arm so that the tank stops filling when the water level is half an inch to an inch below the top of the overflow pipe. If the fill valve still leaks, replace it by following these instructions:
  3. Replace the old fill valve by turning off the water supply, flushing the toilet, and removing the remaining water in the tank. Disconnect the water supply line, unscrew the fill valve lugnut (locknut?), and lift out the old fill valve.
  4. Insert the new fill valve and tighten the lugnut a half turn past hand tight. If the fill valve is at its maximum height, but the overflow pipe is higher than the critical level mark, shorten the overflow pipe with a hacksaw. Make sure that it is cut one inch lower than the critical level mark on the fill valve.
  5. Connect the fill tube by attaching one end of the new fill tube to the fill valve nipple and by attaching the other to the enclosed angle adapter. Clip the angle adapter onto the overflow pipe.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Unclogging a Sink

Simply pouring chemicals down the drain does not really work. The chemicals will only create a small hole for the water to flow through, so it does not alleviate the problem. To do the job properly, remove the stopper and block off the overflow holes. With water still in the bowl, plunge the water using a flat-faced plunger. Should the clog persist, crawl under the sink and take off the trap. You should be able to locate the clog within the trap. Should the clog be further down, you will have to rent a hand snake. When using the snake, slowly push the coil down the drain. Slowly twist, pull, and push the snake when you begin to hit the blockage. If the clog is even further down the drain, it is time to call in the pros.

Maintaining your appliances

If you properly maintain your appliances, you can save money down the road. Run the self-clean function on your oven. Change the water dispenser filter on the refrigerator. Clean out the lint trap in your dryer by cleaning in and behind the lint trap as well as the duct that leads to the outside. Clean the dishwasher filter / trap should your model have one and run an empty cycle on “hot” with a cup of vinegar. This will help remove any grease and grim on the walls of the dishwasher. Also, unclog your garbage disposal on a regular basis. By doing these easy maintenance tasks, you will increase the life span of your appliances and get more “bang for your buck”!

Change Your Air Filters

Changing your air filters can help improve air quality as well as reduce dust in your home. For a newly constructed home, change out the filters every two to three weeks as the dust begins to settle. If you do not have allergies and/or pets, switch out the filters every three to six months. If you have allergies and/or pets, change the filters every thirty to ninety days.

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Replacing a Broken Bulb

If the broken bulb is in a ceiling light fixture, be sure to turn off the power at the circuit breaker. If it is in a lamp, simply unplug the lamp to avoid being electrocuted. Cut a raw potato in half and press the cut end onto the jagged ends. Slowly twist the potato until the bulb is freed.

Catalog Your Home Contents for Insurance

Cataloging is a great way to keep track of your belongings. Should something happen to your home, filing an insurance claim will be faster and easier if you have compiled a record of your contents ahead of time. What should you catalog? Furniture, heirlooms, art, china, crystal, rugs, power tools, appliances, collections…basically, anything not nailed down. Keep all your receipts for major purchases and place them in a fire-proof safe. Also, photograph or make a video of every room in your home. Be sure to make multiple copies, keeping one in your fireproof safe, one in a safety deposit box at your bank, and one with a trusted family member. Here’s a catalog of our kitchen cabinets.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Hardware Store Staff

Become a regular at your local hardware store. You will be able to get free advice from the experts as well as more dedicated time when the employees are busy on a Saturday. In addition, should you come across a project that is outside of your skill set, your hardware store staff should be able to recommend qualified professionals from their customer base.

The Wrap-Up

By mastering these skills and following these tips, you will be able to save yourself time and money over the years. Knowing that you have done the work yourself also helps to instill a sense of pride and accomplishment, especially as you navigate your way through the difficulties of being a first-time homeowner.

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