I'm a New Homeowner, Now What?

new homeowner

6 tips to stay on top of appliance maintenance

Congratulations on buying your first home! As a new homeowner, you’re relieved to have that purchase process behind you. Now you’re ready to embark on making that new house a home.

But before you get too sidetracked with paint, patio furniture, and decorating, take time to deal with the plumbing and major appliances that came with the house.

Following our 6 tips now will save you money and headaches in the long haul.

New Homeowner Tip #1: Keep a binder and a journal

Don’t throw away those manuals, installation instructions, warranties, and replacement parts lists that come with every appliance. Collate them into a binder. If it’s a new appliance, staple your receipt to the first page of the user’s manual as well as write down the serial and model numbers so they are easily accessible. Create a subsection for appliance maintenance. Most appliances need some sort of periodic TLC. Now’s the time to review what you have and create a chart.

You may also want to have a separate binder for your mortgage and home insurance paperwork.

Use a journal to track the things you need to do seasonally as well as create a wish list of things you eventually want to accomplish. Some things will have higher priorities than others. And sometimes, new things pop up that must be dealt with ASAP. That’s okay. But keeping that list will help you stay on track and not get distracted. Don’t feel like you need to do everything all at once. I’ve been in my home for 20 years, and I’m still working on my list!

The journal is also a great place to write down names and phone numbers of reliable contractors, so you have that info readily at hand when you need it most. Until you compile your own list, ask neighbors to recommend companies.

New Homeowner Tip #2: Date your major appliances with a waterproof marker

Hopefully, the home inspector was able to discover when the important components that came with your home were installed. If not, check with the previous owners. Key ones include the hot water heater, central heat/air unit, dishwasher, roof, refrigerator, oven, and garbage disposer. Note this information in your binder. And, where feasible, write the installation date (or year) on the appliance itself with a marker. Do this with all new appliances, too, like your washer, dryer, and refrigerator. For those that are in the public eye, write the date on masking tape, then adhere the strip to the appliance.

All appliances have a lifespan. By knowing how old things are in your home allows you to chart when you’ll probably need to replace each component. This also provides repair professionals useful information if they are doing any troubleshooting or maintenance. Whether you choose to replace proactively or wait till failure forces the issue is to you.

New Homeowner Tip #3: Locate the water shutoff valve(s)

If there’s water running everywhere, you can’t wait on a plumber. You need to turn off the water immediately. This means knowing where the whole-house shutoff valve is and how to use it.

The main water shutoff should be where the water meter is located. Of course, opening up the cover then reaching way, way down to turn off the valve is tricky—and icky. It can’t easily be done by hand. If a water meter key didn’t come with your home, you’ll need to buy one. One end fits the cover to lift it off. The other end is used to turn the valve on and off. Unfortunately, water covers can have different cutout shapes for the key, so snap a pic of the lid and head to the local hardware store in order to pick the right one.

Before you practice turning your main water supply on and off, you might want to watch your plumber or a more knowledgeable neighbor. It can take some muscle, yet not too much—you sure don’t want to break that valve!

There’s also usually a cutoff located right by the front door or wherever the water initially enters the house. In older homes, however, the exposed handle may be rusted, buried, or even gone. Worse, the handle’s there, but the long pipe it is connected to is rusted and fragile. One turn and SNAP, you’ve created a bigger mess. This is definitely worth having a plumber check out before you attempt it.

If your home runs on well water, other procedures are needed. Here’s a guide on how to handle that situation.

Some homes have a shutoff valve inside, usually where the water pipe first pokes its head up through the slab. The handle would be behind a cabinet door set low to the floor. If there’s not an inside cutoff, get a quote from your plumber. That quote may not include a finished door, so be sure to ask.

Hot water tanks should also have a shutoff valve that stops the feed of hot water into the rest of the house. If there’s already a slow drip somewhere on the hot water side of a faucet, simply shutting off the water flow into the house doesn’t necessarily stop the flow of hot water leaving the tank. This can lead to draining the tank dry, with the heat source trying to warm an empty tank. Never a good thing.

Is all of this important? You bet. Been there, done that, learned my lesson. Know how to turn off the water.

New Homeowner Tip #4: Locate the electrical panel, then map your home

A lot of work around the home requires cutting power to one or more electrical outlets. Plus, storms and power surges can trip breakers or blow fuses. So, you need to become familiar with the electrical panel. Once you’ve found it, locate the master breaker switch on the panel. There’s also usually a master cutoff switch outside the house, too. Find it.

Also, you need to know if you have breaker switches or fuses. Are they marked 10 amp? 15 amp? 20 amp? A mixture? Is there room to grow? Learn what a tripped breaker looks like as opposed to one fully engaged. Throw a breaker switch to get a feel for the action required. If you have fuses, be sure to have spares on hand.

If you’re lucky, someone will have marked the panel door with info on which breakers go with which room. Even then, it may not be accurate. Mine certainly wasn’t. Take a portable radio or lamp and plug into each and every outlet. Then throw breakers. Patiently map out which breaker controls which outlet or outlets. Then, put one copy in your binder and hang the other by the electrical panel. You’ll find this incredibly useful. Everyone who does electrical work on your house will thank you—as will the next owner of the home. I did this and also discovered I have mystery breakers that don’t seem to control anything!

A final note about the electrical panel. If it is underpowered for your needs, consider replacing it. This is expensive. But replacement is preferable to overheating electrical circuits with appliances too beefy and causing a fire. Or, realizing you can’t have your microwave and dishwasher on the same circuit as your refrigerator.

On a parallel note, if your home has natural gas, learn how to turn off its main tooHowever, once the gas is off, a professional should turn it back on because all the gas appliances will need to be checked and relit.

New Homeowner Tip #5: Replace all interior water hoses and power cords

Just as appliances have lifespans, so do connectivity accessories. So, replace these now before you settle in.

Anything that carries water should be replaced every five years. This includes the water lines and hoses to the dishwasher, ice maker, and washer­—not to mention the lines under the sinks and the inlet hose to each toilet.

Why five years? A water line is in an area that’s hot, damp, and humid. All three factors take their toll on a hose’s exterior. Plus, chemicals and contaminants in the water itself such as lime and rust cause damaging buildup on the inside of the hose. Other chemicals can even cause corrosion. Buildup and residues also affect the performance of the round rubber or nylon washers found on the hose ends.

Also, hoses can jump, jolt, or vibrate when turned on and off. This weakens their integrity inside and out—as well as their connections to water pipes and appliances. Plus, with a washing machine, not only are there vibrations from the hot- and cold-water supply lines, there are the transferred vibrations from the machine itself.

Power cords also have a lifespan of five years. Like water lines, power cords to major appliances are subject to vibration, humidity, and heat with damage accumulating over time. Heat can be external due to the environment and internal from the electricity itself. Plus, there is the added component of power surges. Surges can be external, like from lightning or the power company. But they are also generated from inside the home anytime a household device with a motor turns on and off. Not only do surges damage devices, they also damage power cords. Even something with a surge protector will wear out over time. And let’s not forget about damage caused by mice, rodents, household pets, UV exposure, and general wear and tear.

You’re in a new home. Start it off right by ensuring all these key components are new, even if the devices they are hooked up to are not. Be sure to note in your journal’s maintenance schedule the year they should be changed out again.

New Homeowner Tip #6: Clean the refrigerator coils and dryer duct vent

Both the refrigerator and dryer need good air flow and a way to release heat. If you’ve saved some money by purchasing a used refrigerator or have inherited one that came with the house, cleaning the coils when you first move in is a must! Coils are magnets for dust, cobwebs, pet hair, and more. You can find them either at the bottom of the fridge or around back. It’s best to use a brush designed specifically for coil cleaning, although you can use a dry paint brush and your vacuum.

Dryer vent ducts also need a periodic cleaning as lint buildup creates a fire hazard and reduces dryer efficiency. There are inexpensive kits available that make this a great DIY project. You might also want to make sure the dryer is vented to the outside. While you’re at it, check to see if the bathroom vent fans are ducted to the exterior rather than into the attic. In older homes, a surprising number of vents exhaust into the attic, rather than outside.

Every six months is a good rule of thumb to clean both of these.

Anything else?

Of course! Now that you no longer have a landlord, there are additional new home owner responsibilities to shoulder. There are a number of useful articles about what to else you should do when it comes to overall home maintenance. In particular, check out these articles from www.familyman.com and incharge.org.

As a first time homeowner, you’re about to embark on a wonderful time in your life. Staying on top of periodic appliance maintenance will prolong the life of your high-dollar items as well as your smaller, more easily replaced ones. This makes your home a safer place to live. It also allows you to funnel more dollars toward other home improvement projects.

And remember this—odds are your first home will outlast you. So, in a sense, you’re the current caretaker. Appliance maintenance as well as whole-house maintenance keeps a home in great shape and makes it easier to sell.

Respect your home, and it will repay you—and those after you—with years of wonderful memories.