Owning a home comes with some significant responsibilities … and possibly a few headaches and wallet hits, Undoubtedly, there are plenty of projects that call for a professional, even if DIY seems tempting. Nevertheless, some basic home maintenance skills can save you oodles of stress and strain on your finances. We asked the experts to share the top 10 things every homeowner should know to keep their home in tip-top shape and cut down on maintenance calls.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We consulted the experts, but our niche isn’t construction or home repair, so when in doubt, consider enlisting the help of a professional if you have any questions or concerns.
10 Things Every Homeowner Should Know (WE ASKED THE EXPERTS!)
1. How to reset a tripped circuit breaker
Have you ever tried to plug in your hairdryer while simultaneously microwaving a breakfast burrito and managed to overload or short the circuit? (Is that just us?) If a section of lights in your home suddenly stops working, chances are, you’ve tripped the circuit breaker — in other words, your circuit is trying to carry a heavier electrical load than it’s meant to support. “If something in your house doesn’t seem to be working because it doesn’t have power, check the breaker panel,” suggests CJ Sabia, owner of Sabia Construction. “Do this before calling in any service people; it can save you a lot of time and money!”
What to do: “Find the breaker for that circuit, turn it off and then back on, and then recheck it,” says CJ. The trick is finding the tripped circuit, which is typically easily located by a red or orange marker. If there’s no indicator window, you can spot the culprit by looking for the switch that has shifted entirely to “off” or is mid-way between “off” and “on.” As an additional word of advice, CJ says, “Now, if the issue persists, please call a professional to look into it.”
2. How and why to change the direction of your ceiling fan
Did you know that ceiling fans run in both directions to help your HVAC system run more efficiently? Learning when and how to run your ceiling fan can lower your energy bills. It’s a seasonal thing — in the summer, ceiling fans should run counterclockwise to push the airflow throughout the room. While you’re running your heater in the winter, ceiling fans should run clockwise to create an updraft. Reversing the direction allows warm air that’s near the ceiling to move down toward the floor, which better heats your home.
What to do: Changing the direction of the blades is simple. If you have a remote control feature, you should have a built-in reverse button. If not, turn off your fan as a safety precaution. Next, locate the switch near the base of your fan fixture. Flip it, and you’re good to go!
3. How and why to replace your air filters monthly
It’s easy to forget about changing the air filters in your home until they get completely clogged or start making odd whistling noises, but Kirk White, HVAC Service Manager at Roscoe Brown, says the best practice is to change them monthly. This is particularly true if you have pets or allergies. Hilson Merrill, President of Merrill Construction Group, adds that it’s best to use an inexpensive pleated air filter, which is generally made from higher quality materials.
What to do: Most air filters are labeled with an arrow, so you know which way to install them. You should always face the arrow toward the unit — in other words, toward the ceiling or wall into which you’re putting the filter.
4. How and when to replace the toilet flapper
If your toilet is constantly running, don’t call a plumber until you’ve spent 30 seconds inspecting the tank. While it may not sound like a super exciting prospect, you’ll be much happier if it saves you from a hefty bill! A corroded toilet flapper is often the cause for a running toilet, so it’s worth taking a peek before calling a plumber.
What to do: Carefully remove the lid from the back of your tank. Put a few drops of food coloring into the tank water and wait about half an hour without flushing. If the colored water makes its way to the toilet bowl, your flapper isn’t sealing properly and needs to be replaced. The replacement process is inexpensive and straightforward, as long as you know what size flapper to get. Often, a universal toilet flapper will do the trick. Once you have the replacement flapper, locate the water shut-off for the toilet, which is typically at the wall behind your tank. Turn the knob to the right (“righty tighty, lefty loosey!”). Next, flush the toilet to drain the tank, then unhook the old rubber flapper and chain. Attach the new flapper by hooking the sides onto the stem and reattaching the chain (make sure there’s enough slack in the chain). Turn the water back on and flush to test your work.
5. How and when to test your electrical outlets
When it comes to most electrical matters, we defer to the professionals. However, knowing how to test your ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) is a basic necessity. GFCIs protect us from electrocution by discontinuing power if they experience a disruption. You’ll find many (or perhaps most) of your GFCI outlets in areas with running water such as bathrooms, the kitchen, the laundry room, or the exterior of your home. They’re easy to recognize by the “test” and “reset” buttons, and it’s a good idea to test them once a month. Fortunately, the process is an easy one.
What to do: Plug a small lamp into the GFCI outlet, then press the test button. You should hear the button click, your lamp should turn off, and the “reset” button should pop up. Next, press “reset,” and the light should come back on. If it doesn’t, your outlet likely has a malfunction or incorrect wiring, and it’s time to call the electrician.
6. How to unclog a sink
Sink clogs are a common household issue that can potentially be remedied by a little bit of plumbing 101. Not to mention, if you ever drop an earring down the sink or find that there’s a leak, it’s not a bad idea to have a few “next steps” up your sleeve. Hilson Merrill recommends learning how to remove and replace p-traps. What is a p-trap you ask? It’s the u(-ish)-shaped pipe beneath your sink where things are likely to get stuck, and where build-up occurs that can prevent the water from flowing properly into the rest of the pipe system.
What to do: First, Hilson suggests getting a Zip-It drain cleaner. It’s an inexpensive plastic tool that you can insert down the drain, wiggle around, then remove to help clear debris. If your clog is due to copious amounts of hair, for example (hello, bathroom sink!), the tool is a simple way to clear some or all of the problem. If you have a leak or clog in the-p-trap area of your pipe, it’s not difficult to remove it to flush out build-up or replace a corroded plastic washer that’s no longer keeping the site sealed.
First, lay down towels beneath the pipe and use Tupperware or a bowl to catch excess water. Next, untwist the three plastic nuts that hold the line together (you may need to use a pair of channel locks, which adjust to fit the size of the pipe and help loosen stubborn components). The nut closest to the wall will have a plastic washer ring, which helps it seal — check this piece for corrosion if you have a leak, as it may need replacement. If you have a clog, or you’re attempting to recover something you’ve dropped down the sink, carefully remove the curved portion of the pipe and dump the standing (and likely stinky) water. With any luck, you’ll be able to locate the missing item or flush out any debris that’s preventing water flow.
7. How to find (and turn off) your water main
8. How and why to disconnect the hose during freezing temperatures
“Be sure to disconnect outdoor hoses from the spouts before winter and freezing temperatures set in,” says Andrew Foster, the plumbing manager at Roscoe Brown. If you live in an area that hits freezing temperatures in the winter, you likely know to drip your faucets as a precautionary measure. But did you know that you should also detach your grade hoses once the warm season is over? Even “frost-free” hoses can be subject to overexpansion, which can lead to a burst pipe.
What to do: When temps drop to 32 degrees Fahrenheit and below, double-check that you’ve removed all outdoor hoses from their spigots. You should also drain or drip exterior spouts, as a burst pipe is no joke!
9. How and when to pressure wash the house
Generally speaking, professionals recommend pressure or power washing your house at least once a year to remove dirt, grime, mold, cobwebs, and other fun elements that nature deposits throughout the year. The best time, we hear, is between March and November, before the cold weather sets in and freezing temperatures cause your home to resemble a post-pressure washed igloo. Though it may seem like a daunting project, it’s a DIY contender if you’re up for it.
What to do: If you don’t own a pressure washer, you can rent one at any number of home improvement supply chains or local hardware stores. Fair warning, pressure washing can lead to holes in your siding, so it requires some finessing. Since each pressure washer is slightly different, various cleaners are available (including plant-safe options), and it’s a multi-step process, we recommend asking for instructions when you rent the machinery. A staff member should be able to explain how to add cleaning fluid, turn on the fuel control and ignition, swap the low-pressure “soap tip” for the pressure-washing tip, and how to properly move back and forth to avoid damaging the exterior of your home. When in doubt, there are also some great online tutorials with step-by-step instructions.
10. How to clean your gutters
Is the rain cascading down your gutters and threatening to flood your home? Consider giving your gutters some much-needed TLC. “Keeping one’s gutters (and gutter guards, if you have them) cleaned can prevent future, expensive damage to your home,” says Ridley Wills, founder of The Wills Company and Wills Handyman. “If you are physically able, and you have a one-story house or otherwise easily accessible gutters, clean them out. Most homes with trees around them need to have their gutters cleaned at least twice in the fall and once in the spring. Water is the culprit for much damage to many of the houses we see.”
What to do: Safety first! Make sure you are using a stable, extendable ladder, and consider enlisting someone to hold the bottom of it for you. Don a pair of rubber gloves and find a plastic scoop of some sort — even a kitchen spatula will do. Next, put a tarp down to protect any landscaping you might have beneath your gutters, as you should expect a lot of debris. Scoop out all of the leaves and grime, then flush out the gutter with a garden hose to ensure it’s clear.
Good luck with all of your DIY endeavors — but don’t hesitate to reach out to the professionals with projects that are beyond your comfort level!
Keep up with the best parts of life in the South. Subscribe to StyleBlueprint!