The Complete First-Time Homeowner’s Guide

A First-Time Homeowners Guide on Everything You Should Know

Homeownership is on the rise.

In our 2020 American Migration Report, we found that 54% of people who were moving (or planning to move soon) were moving from a rented home into one they owned themselves.

Even amid that tumultuous year, people were becoming first-time homebuyers. And that report showed that even more Americans plan to move this year than in 2021. Does that mean another jump in homeownership numbers? Only time will tell.

For now, we want to lend a neighborly hand to all those new homeowners, and help them learn everything they need to know about their new homes.

Things Every Homeowner Should Know Where to Find

Things Every Homeowner Should Know How to Do

Fun Facts Most Homeowners Don’t Know About Their House

Related: The 25 Most Neighborly Cities in America

Things Every Homeowner Should Know Where to Find

First things first: The essential parts of your home that you need to be able to find. Whether it’s for routine maintenance or in case of an emergency, know where all these things are.

Things Every Homeowner Should Know Where to Find

Water Shut-Offs

In the event of a leaking appliance, knowing where your water shut-offs are can save your home from expensive water damage. But this is also good to know if you’re planning on leaving town for a while (and want to shut off water as a precaution) or if you’re doing any plumbing work in your home.

Each water source in your home (toilets, sinks, washers, etc.) should have its own shut-off valve, though it may be in a strange or difficult-to-access place. You should also have a main shut-off that cuts water to the entire house. This may be in a basement, laundry room, utility closet, or even outdoors.

Water Shut-Offs

Sewer Access

Every home should have a sewer access point called a clean-out, which allows plumbers to access your line for repairs and inspection. This could be in the basement, or outside, and it might be covered by grass. Sometimes, you can find an “S” marked on your curb, which marks a straight line toward your house where you’ll find the sewer clean-out.

Some older homes may not have one, particularly if they were built before modern plumbing codes. If you’re having trouble finding it, call a plumber to help you so you know whether your home has one and where it is, in case of an emergency.

Hot Water Heater

Hot Water Heater

If your hot water ever goes out, you’ll want to know right away where the water heater is. This is also important in case you need to adjust the temperature of your home’s hot water — many older homes have their water heaters set over 120 degrees, which can be dangerous if you have children.

Electrical Panels

Electrical Panels

All homes should have at least one electrical panel, and some homes will have multiple. You can usually find it somewhere that’s sort of hidden away — in a closet, the basement, or the garage, for example.

You’ll want to know the location of all your electrical panels for two reasons: In case you ever trip a breaker and need to reset it to restore power to part of your home, and in case you’re ever having electrical work done and need to cut power to an area for safety reasons.

Gas Meter and Shut-Offs

Gas Meter and Shut-Offs 

Like water appliances, anything that uses gas (ovens, water heaters, dryers, etc.) should have an individual shut-off valve.

There should also be a master shut-off, which is usually located outside on your gas meter. You’ll likely need a wrench to turn it off. However, in a situation where you would need to shut off the master gas valve, like if you detect a gas leak, you should get away from the house and call 911.

Attic Access

Attic Access 

Having access to your attic is important for certain repairs and maintenance, like adding insulation or mending a leak in the roof. Check places like bedrooms and closets, and look up — the attic access will likely be a small entryway on a ceiling somewhere. You may have multiple uses for accessing different parts of the attic, especially if your home is larger, or if it’s had an addition built.

Your Property Line

Your Property Line

There are a lot of reasons to know where your exact property line is: For building on or fencing your property, yard maintenance, disputes with neighbors, tax assessment, and more. If you aren’t sure, check the deed to your home or contact your county assessor’s office. If there’s any dispute over where the property line lies, you may want to hire a surveyor to mark your property line for sure.

Related: Affordable Home Improvement Projects

Things Every Homeowner Should Know How to Do

Found all those important spots in your home? Great! Now it’s time to learn some of the essential skills homeowners need to keep their houses and properties clean and in good repair.

Installing Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Installing Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Ideally, your home should have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level and near all bedrooms when you move in. But in case it doesn’t, every homeowner should know how to install them. Online guides and instructions that come with these devices can help you learn.

Locating Wall Studs

When hanging anything on your walls, it’s important to know where the studs are, since you’ll be able to mount things more securely in those spots. The old fashioned way is to knock on the wall — if it sounds solid, you may have found a stud. There are also many kinds of stud finders available in hardware stores and online.

Mounting Shelves, Art, and Mirrors

Bare walls aren’t a great aesthetic, but hanging things properly involves some know-how. Make sure you have the right tools — a drill, a tape measure, and a level — and use drywall anchors rated for the weight they’ll need to support, if you aren’t able to mount to a stud.

Repairing Drywall Holes 

If you incorrectly mount something to the wall (or any kind of accident happens), you might damage your drywall and cause holes. Luckily, this is pretty simple to repair with fillers and patch kits you can find at any hardware store.

Cleaning Your Gutters and Downspouts

Clogged gutters can cause rainwater to run into your eaves, which can result in costly rot. Twice a year, every homeowner should clean out their gutters, which you can do by hand, or using a hose or a wet-dry vac.

Pressure Washing

Pressure Washing

Over time, the outside of your home will get dirty. Keep it looking its best by knowing how to pressure wash it as needed — usually every few years. You can rent a pressure washer instead of buying your own for a job that only needs to be done occasionally.

Washing the Windows

Just like the outside of your home will build up grime over time, so will the windows. Preserve your views by washing them a few times a year. Smaller windows can be tackled with a bottle of cleaner and some paper towels, but larger windows and those on upper floors may take special tools like squeegees and extendable scrubbers.

Caulking

Weatherproofing and waterproofing are easier jobs if you know how to caulk. Luckily, it’s simple enough for even a beginner to learn in a day or two. You’ll need a tube of caulk and a moist sponge. There are many videos online with tips and tricks for getting a smooth bead and cleaning up as you go so your finished job looks clean and smooth.

Repairing Window Screens

Window screens can easily get snags and tears that can allow insects to get into your home. Repairing screens is easy, though — you can get a repair kit for cheap at any hardware store. Or, if the screen is extensively damaged, you can cut it out of the frame and replace it entirely.

painting

Painting

Whether you want a new wall color, or you need to repair damaged paint, knowing how to properly paint a wall is an important skill for any homeowner. Start by cleaning the wall, then place drop clothes and tape to prevent paint from getting anywhere you don’t want it. Use thin, even coats, and keep the room well-ventilated while the paint is drying.

Changing Your Furnace Filter

You can maximize your furnace’s efficiency and extend its life by changing your furnace filter every two months. Every furnace is different, so consult your service manual. But swapping out the filter is a quick, straightforward job that any homeowner can learn to do themselves.

Installing a New Thermostat

One of the best things you can do to maximize energy efficiency in your home is have a programmable thermostat. In most cases, they’re easier to install than you might think. You just need to turn off the breaker to the furnace, remove the old thermostat, and see whether you have two or four wires. Then, buy a thermostat that’s compatible, and follow the instructions that come with it.

Cleaning the AC Drain Line

If your home has central AC, you’ll need to periodically clean out its drain line to prevent it from clogging. This is another quick and simple job that can be done with a pipe cleaning brush or a wet-dry vac, but refer to your air conditioner’s manual or manufacturer’s website, and make sure you shut off power and water to the unit before you start.

Inspecting the Fireplace

Periodically inspecting your fireplace not only keeps it in good working order — it keeps your family safe. Every year before you use the fireplace for the first time, clear away any ash and clean out the fire box. Carefully check the chimney for cracks and make sure the damper opens and closes properly.

Resetting a Circuit Breaker

If you suddenly lose power to one part of your home, you probably tripped a breaker. Go to your home’s electrical box and find the switch that controls the area where you’re missing power. Switch it off and then back on to reset it.

Taking Care of Hardwood Floors 

If you have hardwood in your home, preserve it by learning to take care of it the right way. For example, know and avoid cleaners that can damage hardwood. And regularly polish and preserve your hardwood to keep it looking its best.

Stopping Drippy Faucets

Stopping Drippy Faucets

A leaky faucet is usually a job a homeowner can handle on their own, without the help of a plumber. A compression faucet will need a new rubber washer, while a washerless faucet can be stopped up with a new o-ring. YouTube videos are great for showing how to do the job.

Changing a Showerhead

Changing a showerhead is a quick and straightforward job that can hugely improve your bathroom. Most new showerheads come with instructions, but it’s usually as simple as removing the old showerhead, laying thread seal tape on the base pipe, and then screwing in the new model.

Changing a Faucet

Sink faucets are similarly easy to replace. For the easiest job, you’ll want to choose a new faucet that has the same number of holes as the old one, and measure the size and distance between the holes in your sink to ensure it’s the right fit. Before you unscrew anything under the sink, snap a picture so you know how it should look when it’s put back together. Then, shut off the sink’s water valve and follow the instructions that came with the new faucet.

Basic Toilet Repairs 

Many toilet problems don’t require a plumber, but can be done with simple tools like a plunger, an auger, a bucket, and some rubber gloves. Shut off the water valve behind the toilet before you start any projects, to ensure it doesn’t overflow. Clogs are usually easily solved with a plunger or auger, and a running toilet can be fixed with a little tank maintenance.

Unclogging a Sink

When a sink backs up, many of us reach for Drain-o. But it can actually damage your pipes, so the better option is to grab a bucket, shut off your sink’s water valve, and remove the P-trap to check for blockages. If that doesn’t work, try snaking the drain to remove a clog.

Cleaning Grout

If you have any tile in your home, you’ll likely soon learn that grout seems to attract dirt and mildew. With a hard scrubber brush and some elbow grease, you can get rid of any existing mold and keep it looking its best.

Basic Landscaping

Basic Landscaping 

Now that you’re a homeowner, an important part of your job is keeping up your home’s appearance. For that, you may consider some basic landscaping outside, like shrubs or flowerbeds. Knowing how to plant greenery outside is an important skills — and easy to master in a weekend.

Sealing a Deck or Driveway

Decks and driveways can be kept looking their best if they’re properly sealed every year. Since they’re made of different materials, you’ll seal each in a different way. Find out what material your driveway or deck is made from, and then find the proper sealant or stain for that material and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to apply it.

Fun Facts Most Homeowners Don’t Know About Their House

Now that you know everything a homeowner needs, ready for some fun? These are facts about houses that many homeowners don’t know — but you will.

Your House Doesn’t Creak Because It’s Old

It’s not because you have ghosts, either! Creaking in a house usually happens because of temperature and humidity changes inside it, and you’re more likely to hear creaks if the relative humidity in your home is low.

Brass Doorknobs Can Help You Stay Healthy

We all know doorknobs are a huge source of germs. But if you have brass or copper knobs in your house, they can naturally disinfect themselves every few hours! This is because metal ions in brass and copper are toxic to mold and viruses.

You Have a First Lady to Thank For Your Pastel Pink Bathroom 

Many older homes contain a trend that’s a little jarring in modern times: Bright pink bathroom fixtures. That trend was started by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, who loved the color pink and decorated an entire bathroom in shades of it. She was a popular trendsetter, so builders and designers started embracing pink bathrooms, too.

Colors Can Affect the Cost of Your Home

According to trends pointed out by Zillow, colors used in your home can affect its selling price. Homes that have black or gray front doors tend to sell for higher amounts. The same goes for homes that have different colored top and bottom cabinets in the kitchen, or a mismatched island. And on the other hand, homes tend to sell for less if they’re painted yellow.

Textured Plaster May Have Gotten Its Pattern From Flowers

If you have older textured plaster in your home, its “rose pattern” could be literal — plasterers created that effect by pressing real roses into the walls.

Your Victorian Home May Have Come from a Box 

If you own a stately Victorian that was built between 1908 and 1940, it might have been assembled from a kit the homeowner ordered from Sears. The retailer sold build-your-own-home kits during that time for as little as $6,700 each.

Congratulations on Owning Your First Home!

Homeownership comes with a lot of work, but it’s also rewarding. Keep your new home looking its best with our complete guide to home organization.

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