8 Simple Things Every Homeowner Should Know How to Do

Moving into a new home: it’s exciting!

Positioning furniture, hanging flat-screen TVs, painting your living room that “Agreeable Gray” you saw in Interior Design magazine — it feels great to make your new home yours.

But, while these to-dos are important, you can’t forget about “the basics.”

As a homeowner, there are safety features and maintenance tasks that you need to know about and take care of to ensure your home remains not only in good working order, but also safe!

(Plus, you’ll save a few bucks!)

Before you get out the levels and FrogTape, make sure you know how to do these eight tasks:

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1. Testing Carbon Monoxide Detectors

These lifesavers protect you against carbon monoxide poisoning: the silent killer.

Yet, it’s reported that 34% of homeowners don’t even know if they have a carbon monoxide detector, let alone test them regularly to ensure they’re working properly!

If you don’t have carbon monoxide detectors on every floor — especially close to where you sleep, stop reading this, go to your local hardware store, and buy them.

Going forward, test them monthly to make sure they’re operating and loud enough for you to hear them.

(Same goes for smoke detectors, by the way!)

2. Changing Furnace Filters

Filters, when working properly, take impurities, allergens — and all the other bad stuff you don’t want in your lungs — out of the air. 

But, when left for too long, they get clogged and restrict airflow to your furnace. This forces your furnace to work harder, which could lead to early repairs and replacement.

Keep your home’s air fresh and avoid early furnace burnout by changing your filter monthly.

It’s a routine task, but according to a 2019 survey, only 18% of Americans do this monthly — and 29% NEVER change their filter at all!

Don’t be one of them. 

3. Shutting Off the Water Supply

When a pipe springs a leak or a faucet breaks, you’ll want to shut off the water supply immediately. 

After all, given that a 1/2” pipe can flow at a rate of 50 gallons per minute, every second you waste trying to remember where the shut-off valve is located or how to turn it off can cost you thousands in water damage.

Typically, you’ll find shut-off valves under sinks, behind toilets — close to all water appliances. These can often be shut off by hand.

In a major plumbing emergency, however, you’ll likely need to turn off the main water supply. This may require a water key or a related tool to operate.

For the exact location of all shut-offs, refer to your home inspection report. Memorize the locations and, if needed, purchase a water key and keep it somewhere convenient.

4. Shutting Off the Gas Supply

Shutting off the water supply prevents damage; shutting off your gas could save your life.

Yet, according to a survey of homeowners in the UK, nearly 43% of homeowners wouldn’t know how to turn off their gas in an emergency. Scary stuff!

First, you’ll want to locate the shut-offs that control the flow of gas to individual appliances. They can be found near ovens, fireplaces, water heaters, etc.

Then, you’ll want to find the main shut-off, which is located outside the home and requires a wrench to turn off. In some cases, an additional valve may be located inside the home.

Even if you know where your main shut-off is located and have a wrench at the ready, you should only turn it off in an emergency, when it is safe to do so — and never turn it back on yourself.

If you smell gas but have no clue where it could be coming from, your priority is to get out of the house and call 911.

5. Using a Fire Extinguisher

If there’s a significant fire or a lot of smoke in your home, get out and call 911.

But, if there’s a small localized fire that can be safely and easily put out, you’ll want to have an extinguisher on hand.

First, make sure you have one. 25% of homes do not.

Second, keep it where fires are most likely to occur. Often, this is in the kitchen.

Finally, learn how to operate it. This video provides a quick demonstration:

6. Operating the Breaker Panel

At some point as a homeowner, you’ll need to either shut off or restore power in your home. The breaker panel is where the magic happens!

The good news is that you don’t need to be an electrician to operate the panel; you simply need to understand to which parts of the home each breaker is connected.

Panels typically consist of one big switch, which controls all power to your home, and many smaller switches that control power to specific rooms and appliances.

Typically, this is mapped out in the directory on the breaker panel door.  

If it isn’t, you and a friend can do it yourselves by testing each breaker individually and documenting what appliances and lights turn off.

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7. Cleaning Gutters

Gutters have an important job: they collect and direct water away from your home.

But, if they’re full of twigs, leaves, and other debris, water can pool and spill over into the home or around the foundation — a big no-no.

You should clean gutters twice a year, in the spring and fall. If you have pine trees near your home, you’ll want to take care of this quarterly.

If you can’t do this yourself, hire a pro. It’s worth it to avoid larger and potentially more costly problems.

8. Cleaning the Dryer

Let’s end with a simple but good habit that can prevent a potentially scary situation AND save you a few bucks: cleaning out your dryer’s lint trap.

If lint builds up in your dryer vent, it can not only impact your dryer’s performance (and increase your energy bill) — it can become a fire hazard.

In fact, 2,900 clothes dryer fires are reported per year in the US, 34% of which are caused by failure to clean the dryer.

While you can’t completely avoid lint, simply cleaning out the lint trap every few loads is often enough to avoid buildup and reduce fire risk.

Preserve Your Investment

It’s natural to focus on aesthetics when moving into a new home, but it’s more important to understand the systems that work continuously behind the scenes to keep your home healthy and safe — and know how to use them.

While the list above outlines several basic home operations you should know like the back of your hand, there will likely be more to-dos that are specific to your home.

As we’ve discussed, these action items will often be explained to you during your home inspection.

By mastering these home basics, you’ll have a home that, in addition to looking its best, will operate efficiently, remain safe, and maintain its value.