Being a homeowner means a lot of things. But one of those is that you are responsible for the health of your home. Here are 5 things that every homeowner should know how to do:
1-Turn off water to the house. Whether you are unfortunate enough to have some sort of water emergency, or just want to do some simple plumbing upgrades or repairs, it is a good idea to know how to shut off the water to your entire home. True, many fixtures (toilets, faucets and even water heaters) have their own valves located nearby, and it can be more efficient to just turn off water in the area where you are working. But if your water heater or washing machine is gushing water onto the floor, you may not be able to get to the controls. And those valves under sinks and behind toilets are notorious for being stuck after years of disuse.
In most areas, there is one valve tasked with shutting off water to your entire home. It is often located near the water meter itself, or where the service main enters your home. Your Home Inspector should include a picture of it in your Home Inspection report. If the valve is not easy to operate, contact a qualified plumber to repair or replace it. Even most condo complexes will have a main water shut-off, but the valve may serve multiple units, so only use that one in an emergency.
2-Change filters throughout your home. One of the most neglected maintenance issues that Home Inspectors commonly see is the changing of filters--most notably in a home’s heating & cooling systems. The replaceable filter for your furnace (and air conditioner) scrubs the air sent throughout your home, but its main function is actually to protect the furnace itself. Dust can accumulate inside the furnace and eventually cause premature failure of the blower or motor. Filters are easy and inexpensive to replace. Most manufacturers recommend a monthly replacement (when the HVAC system is in use). You may think that will add up quickly, but compare that to the cost of a new HVAC system and it is really a great value--with the added benefit that your indoor air quality will be improved!
**Pro-tip: Set a reminder in your phone for when to change your HVAC filter.
3-Find and turn off breakers. Breakers (or fuses, in older homes) control the flow of electricity to the circuits in your home. They can be helpful for shutting off power when doing some electrical work (like changing light bulbs or installing a dimmer switch), or when something goes wrong. For instance, in my own home, one day my wife was pre-heating the oven to do some baking, and the temperature just kept going up and up, instead of stopping at 350 degrees. We later found out the temperature control circuit had gone bad. But the only way to turn off the oven was to flip the breaker--the oven read 750 degrees at that point, I was not about to reach behind it to unplug it or shut the gas valve!
You should definitely know where your electrical panel is and how to operate the breakers inside. Also, if your breakers are not clearly and correctly labelled, get them labelled! It may not seem significant, but if you ever need to quickly shut off a breaker, it suddenly becomes very important. Your Home Inspector should let you know if your electrical panel is not clearly labelled.
**Pro-tip: You could pay an electrician to label your panel, or you can buy a $35 circuit finder and do it yourself. If you are just buying a home, this will be easier to do before all your furniture is moved in and your outlets are all in use.
4-Change a lightbulb. Okay, so this one may seem simple compared to the other items discussed here, but this is a big issue. Given the number of burnt-out bulbs a Home Inspector sees, you might think there is some sort of higher math involved. Granted, some fixtures make it more complicated to get to the bulb, but all are designed with the knowledge that eventually that bulb will need to be accessed. For ceiling-mount fixtures, be sure you have a sturdy ladder that allows you to comfortably reach the fixture. Ideally, you should turn off the breaker for the circuit before changing the bulb, to be sure there is no chance of a shock (see #3 above).
5-Use the phone. You do know how to use a phone, right? Good. As a homeowner, there will be times when repairs or maintenance issues are beyond your abilities to perform. And that’s okay. A home is meant to be a place you can enjoy--and sometimes that means handing off repairs to someone more qualified. If you have any concerns about your safety or the function of the home’s system(s), that is a good sign it is time to call in a professional. Your Home Inspector or your Realtor may have some trusted recommendations for you.
I hope these tips are helpful for you. Leave a comment and let us know what you think about our advice, or if you have a lesson to share with other homeowners, leave it below!