Ah, the joys of homeownership -- you can paint the walls any color you choose, let Fido run free in your backyard, and finally leave your bike outside your side door, without getting a citation from your property-management company.
There are many perks of having a place to call your own, but the honeymoon can come to a sudden end as soon as something goes awry. Suddenly, there's no one to call when your toilet just won't stop running, a leak appears below your bedroom window, or your garbage disposal gets clogged. You've got to figure out how to fix the problem yourself -- or hire someone to do it.
But with a little patience (and some smart internet research), it's possible to take on many common home maintenance tasks yourself. Who knows: You may even start to take pride in your newfound handyman (or handywoman) skills! Whether you're moving into a new home in San Diego, CA, or Wilmington, DE, these 10 skills are essential techniques that new homeowners across the country should know how to do.
1. How to change your air filters
Chances are, if you're moving from a rental, your landlord took care of this task for you. Changing your air filters regularly is important to maintain air quality. "We get calls from homeowners who can't figure out why their homes are so dusty," says Bailey Neal, CEO of Nestive, a Nashville, TN-based home maintenance, repair, and cleaning service. "Come to find out: They've never changed their air filters."
Neal says for new construction, consider changing your filters every two to three weeks at first, because of the initial drywall dust. Every three to six months is recommended for people without pets or allergies; if you have pets or allergies, every 30 to 90 days is best. Once you determine the size of your filters (it will be printed on the old one, for example 10x20x1), such services as Amazon or EZFilter can automatically deliver new filters at a determined frequency.
2. How to shut off your water
Ask someone, whether it's your home inspector, a friend with construction experience, or a plumber, to locate and show you where the main water valve is in your home. "Water is one of the leading causes of damage in homes," says Neal. "If you can shut off your water quickly, you can prevent thousands in damage." Neal notes that if you're going to be away for longer than one or two days, you should turn off the water to your washing machine -- it's as simple as turning the water-valve handle behind the machine to the right. "If there's a leak while you're gone, that water is going to run continuously," he says.
3. How to change the temperature on your water heater
Many manufacturers set water-heater thermostats to reach 140 degrees, but most houses need only a maximum of 120. Setting the thermostat to a lower temperature prevents the potential of scalding, slows mineral buildup and corrosion in your heater and pipes, and can save you $10 to $30 per each 10-degree reduction on your annual energy bill. Plus, it's as easy as turning a dial.
4. How to turn off your gas
If you smell gas or suspect there's a gas problem, your first step should be calling your gas company. But it's important to know how to turn off the gas yourself just in case you need to. The shut-off valve is usually located outside at the meter and will require an adjustable pipe or crescent-type wrench to operate.
5. How to fix a running toilet
A running toilet might sound like the start of a joke, but it can be very annoying -- not to mention become a waste of water that could amp up your next water bill. Toilets run for several reasons: problems with the flapper, chain, or float are the most common. A diagnosis and repair is quick and easy. And remember, the water inside the toilet tank is clean, so don't worry about putting your hands in there.
6. How to turn off power to different parts of your house
"We had a customer who bought a new house, and the first week she was there, her hair blow-dryer suddenly stopped working," says Neal. "Our electrician went in, hit the 'reset' button on the outlet, and the dryer started working again." The lesson? Look to see if your outlet has a reset button (common for grounded outlets, which are typically located in kitchens and bathrooms, since they are close to water); and while you're at it, familiarize yourself with the circuit-breaker box. Neal says it's common for power to die in one room of the house and people then think there's a power outage. "They don't even think to go to the breaker box to see if it has tripped," he says. "Especially if you have (an) older house, the wiring was not built to handle the same capacity of modern electrical systems. Older homes will get overloaded quicker." When you move into your new home, take some time to flip your circuit-breaker switches and figure out what controls what room -- and that the switches are properly marked.
7. How to find a wall stud
It's important to locate wall studs, which are vertical wood boards behind your drywall, when you're hanging heavy wall adornments in your new home -- including TV wall mounts, shelves that will support significant weight, or even a heavy mirror. Luckily, technology has made it pretty simple to do this -- for around $10 at a hardware or home improvement store, you can purchase a stud finder that will help you locate the boards. Pro tip: Studs are almost always spaced either 16 or 24 inches apart.
8. How to clean your gutters
Clogged gutters are no joke. They can cause water to flow onto the wood trim and siding of your house, which can eventually lead to rot -- and replacement, notes Neal. Gutters should be cleaned every year, or twice a year if you have overhanging trees. If you feel confident on a ladder, you can clear the gutters yourself by suiting up (wear long sleeves, gloves, even goggles and a mask) and using a small garden shovel to clear the muck, followed by a high-pressure water rinse from your hose. Focus on clog-prone areas: mainly where the downspouts join the gutter system.
9. How to caulk
Caulking is a simple task but delivers big impact -- not to mention, it keeps air and water at bay. First, pick the right caulk. For a long-lasting seal, choose permanently waterproof, flexible, shrinkproof, crackproof silicone caulk. (Skip acrylic caulk, which can shrink and crack over time.)
Next, remove old caulk with a utility knife and make sure your surface is clean and dry. Cut the nozzle of the caulk tube to your desired bead size and run a line of caulk -- make sure to use even pressure when applying with a caulking gun. Finally, smooth the line with a wet finger. Need more instruction? Do a little research about proper caulk protocol, and you'll be sealed up in no time.
10. How to maintain your appliances
This doesn't exactly seem like a skill, right? But you'd be surprised: Knowing how to properly clean and maintain your appliances is key to extending their life span. For one resource, locate your oven's instruction manual (or look it up on ManualsOnline.com) and run the self-clean feature -- no need to bake your cookies with lasagna leftovers from the previous homeowner.
If your refrigerator is equipped with a water dispenser (i.e., it makes its own ice), we're betting it has been awhile since the filter was replaced. Again, use the manual to determine the correct filter model and how to replace it. Next, clean your dryer vent of lint buildup -- in the lint trap, behind the lint trap, and in the duct that leads to the outside of your home. Then clean your dishwasher filter or trap (depending on your dishwasher model) and run an empty cycle on "hot" with a cup of white vinegar: This will remove all grease and grime. And finally, know how to unclog the garbage disposal -- a clean toilet plunger can work or, in more extreme cases, an auger, which is sold at home improvement stores.
What home maintenance tasks do you think new homeowners should be able to do? Share in the comments below!