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24 Things You Need to Do When You Move Into Your New Home

Take care of these vital tasks right away to avoid headaches later.

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homeowner-check-list-water-heater

Make a Prioritized List

The minute you walk into your new home, your mind will be racing with to-dos. Keep this overwhelming task list at bay by keeping a notebook in a central location and writing down every action item you or your family think of throughout the day. After 24 hours cut the list off, and prioritize each item with a 1, 2, or 3.

First priority should be items completed that week — safety concerns, cleaning, unpacking essentials, etc. Priority Two should be tasks completed within the next two months, related to organization, maintenance and remaining unpacking. Priority Three tasks should be non-essential improvements and projects you’d like to complete within the year — renovations, landscaping and large purchases.

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refinish hardwood floorsFamily Handyman

You Can Refinish Your Hardwood

Intimidated by this seemingly daunting project? Don’t be. If you have the will and a whole day (or two) to yourself, you can refinish the hardwood floors in the major areas of your home. You don’t necessarily need to sand, but if the floor is damaged enough to warrant buffing, check out your local hardware store and rent the equipment for anywhere from four to 48 hours.

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clean-refrigerator coils

Clean Refrigerator Coils to Avoid Unnecessary Repair Bills

Refrigerator condenser coils are located on the back of the fridge or across the bottom. When coils are clogged with dust, pet hair and cobwebs, they can’t efficiently release heat. The result is your compressor works harder and longer than it was designed to, using more energy and shortening the life of your fridge.

Clean the coils with a coil-cleaning brush and vacuum. A coil-cleaning brush, which is bendable to fit in tight areas, does a thorough job. Look for one online or at appliance stores. For more tips on repairing your refrigerator without a service call, check out our guide. And here’s how to pick the best refrigerator out there.

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clean-dryer-vent-lint

Clean Out the Lint for Dryer Efficiency and Save up to $25 a Year

A clogged lint screen or dryer duct drastically reduces the efficiency of your dryer, whether it’s gas or electric. Clean the lint screen after each load and clean the exhaust duct once a year. The Linteater (shown) has an auger brush that attaches to a drill to clean out the ducts.

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Get-to-know-your-house

Get to Know Your House Before Making Big Changes

Live in your home for 12 to 18 months before undertaking any major renovations such as additions or knocking down walls. Your thoughts may change after you’ve lived there awhile.

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Family Handyman

Renew Wood with Mineral Spirits

If the finish on your furniture or woodwork is dull and murky, it may need refinishing. But before you take on that project, take a tip from furniture restorers and clean it with mineral spirits. Mineral spirits, sometimes labeled “paint thinner,” is a gentle solvent that dissolves years of grime and residue from cleaners or polishes without harming wood finishes. Just soak a soft cloth and wipe down the furniture until the cloth no longer picks up grime. Work in a well-ventilated area, and remember the fumes are flammable. Hang the cloth outdoors to dry before throwing it in the trash.

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Clean and dirty furnace filters, changing furnace filterFamily Handyman

Replace the Furnace Filter

One of the fastest ways to create problems with a forced-air heating and cooling system is to forget to replace the filter. Locate the furnace filter and buy replacements if the previous owners didn’t leave you a stash. Replace the filter and get in the habit of doing it every month. Here’s how!

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clean air conditionerFamily Handyman

Clean Air Conditioner Condensers and Evaporators

A little sweat equity now will help your wallet and comfort level later when summer’s heat sets in. Most of the job can be done without the help of a professional. And by servicing and testing out your cooling system now, you’ll have plenty of time to call an air conditioning contractor if there are unforeseen issues.

After cutting off the electricity to the unit, vacuum the outdoor condenser’s exterior fins with a soft-bristled brush, then clear away bushes, weeds and overgrown grass within two feet of the unit. Indoors, replace the furnace filter on the evaporator unit, vacuum the blower compartment and clean the condensation drain.

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water-main-shutoff

Locate Your Home’s Main Water Shutoff Valve

Almost all homes have one main shutoff valve directly before the water meter and another directly after. The location depends on the climate in your area. In cold climates, the meter and main shutoff valves are inside, usually in a basement or other warm area to prevent freezing. In milder climates, the meter and its two shutoff valves may be attached to an exterior wall or nestled in an underground box with a removable lid.

Between the water main in the street and the meter, there’s also usually a buried curb stop valve (accessible only by city workers wielding special long-handled wrenches) and a corporation stop, where your house water line hooks up to the water main. Your city absolutely doesn’t want you messing with these valves. Turn your water off or on using the main valve on the house side of the meter. This valve will normally be a gate-type valve, with a round knurled handle, requiring several full clockwise rotations to turn off. In newer homes, it could be a ball valve.

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electrical-panel

Locate the Electrical Panel

Find the electrical panel so you know where to shut off the power to your whole house or an individual circuit.

You’ll usually find the main circuit breaker panel — a gray, metal box — in a utility room, garage or basement. Don’t worry about opening the panel’s door, as all the dangerous stuff is behind another steel cover. Behind the door is the main breaker for the entire house (usually at the top of the panel) and two rows of other breakers below it, each controlling individual circuits. If you’re lucky, there will be a guide indicating which outlets and receptacles each circuit controls.

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crawlspace

Inspect Crawlspaces and the Attic

Familiarize yourself with the farthest corners of your home. Check for leaks, bugs, mold and other issues you should address sooner rather than later. If your crawlspace lacks a vapor barrier, learn how to install one here.

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Bedroom

Make One Room a Sanctuary

You won’t be able to make all the home improvements you want right away and it’s best to live in your home for at least a couple of months before starting any major projects. Something that seems like a must-do when you move in may quickly fall to the bottom of the wishlist after you’ve actually lived in your home for awhile.

So choose one room that doesn’t require much work and make that space your new-home getaway. You’ll have a place in your colors and style where you can relax and dream about the day when every room in your home is just the way you want it.

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Clean Everything

If you already keep a clean house, simply keep up the good work, checking to make sure you don’t overlook little-used closets and other nooks and crannies that aren’t part of your weekly routine. This needs to be a deep cleaning.

For the rest of us, it’s time to get serious. Start at the top (the attic or second-story rooms) and work your way down. Clean ceiling light fixtures first, scrub walls and woodwork and finish with floors. As you work your way from top to bottom, stay in one area until it is completely clean. Then move on. Don’t drag dirt from one area back into the place you just cleaned. Here are some easy ideas on cleaning.

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meet-the-neighbors-brick-exteriorThe Family Handyman

Meet the Neighbors

It’s wise to reach out and extend a friendly gesture to your neighbors as soon as possible. You want to know those around you so that everyone can look out for each other. It’s hard to know if a situation is suspicious if you don’t know the people involved. Establishing yourself in your neighborhood can also give you access to inside information, like who’s the best plumber in the area and which roofing company to avoid. Even if you’re an introvert, you’ll be happiest if you’re in good standing with your neighbors.

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smoke detector with smoke

Check Smoke and CO Detector Dates and Replace, as Needed

It’s important to know where your smoke and CO detectors are located and that they’re working. Smoke alarms may be the cheapest, easiest and most effective means for protecting your family and your home from a fire — as long as they’re functioning. If they work, install fresh batteries.

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sump-pump-check

If You Have a Sump Pump, Does it Work?

It’s easy to forget about your sump pump, but it’s important to make sure it’s in good working order. If you don’t, you could end up returning from a weekend trip to discover your entire basement floor covered in 1/2-in. of water. To avoid this kind of disaster, be sure your pump has a vertical float switch. Also, check your pump at least a couple of times a year by dumping water into the basin to make sure everything is working properly.

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plastic-laminate-samples

Start a Sample File

It’s tempting to keep all your home-related information stored in the cloud. However, for samples of paint, fabric, tile, plastic laminate, etc., it’s better to keep an actual physical sample. Trying to work with colors rendered on your phone can lead to costly mistakes. All you need is a simple accordion file or even a small box with a lid. When you’re heading out to shop for accent pillows and a throw, grab your sample and go! Check out our tips on selecting laminate countertops, carpet, paint colors and a faucet.

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hide-a-key

If You Don’t Have Keyless Entry, Hide a Key

If you lack keyless locks, be sure to hide a house key so you can’t be locked out. Consider a location other than under the welcome mat, like in a garden hose or under a flower pot. Protect your house against burglars by knowing the best hiding spots.

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window-door-safety-alarm

Add Inexpensive Door and Window Alarms

Keeping doors and windows locked is your first line of defense. Make wireless alarms your second. Burglars hate noises, so even a small alarm usually sends them running.  Check out door and window alarms. These alarms don’t provide the same security as pro-installed monitored systems, since the wireless devices are activated by doors or windows opening, not glass breaking. Use the alarms for doors and windows in “hidden” areas of the house where you don’t normally gather and that are often dark.

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Accordion folderFamily Handyman

Make a Homeowner’s Journal

Buy a ring binder and keep insurance papers, repair receipts and all paperwork pertaining to the house in it. Storing all your house information in one handy place makes life easier for the homeowner and can be a sales “plus” when selling the house later.

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electrical-panel-set-up-utilities

Set Up Utilities

If possible, transition utility accounts to your new address and set up all installation appointments as close to move-in day as you can. Use apps like Nextdoor.com and social media to ask future neighbors for vendors they’d recommend. Also be sure to file for a change of address with the post office, the IRS and your bank.

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Change-the-locks

Change the Locks

It’s a small price for piece of mind. Even if the previous homeowner handed over their set of keys, there’s no telling who else might still have one. A dog walker, a cleaning lady, a babysitter or family member? It’s easy to imagine someone still having access into your new home, so changing the locks soon after move in will give you security and piece of mind. The same goes for garage door codes. Learn how to rekey a door lock here.

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laundry-room-organizationFamily Handyman

Start Small

You’ve likely got a long list of projects you’d like to complete in your new home. But if you haven’t taken on a large home project before, it’s best to start small and work your way up so you can learn from mistakes in less important places. Try updating the laundry room or installing a closet system before moving onto something like a bathroom remodel.

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Within the First Six Months

Here are additional things you don’t need to do immediately, but completing them keeps you ahead of potential problems:

Install a whole house surge protector to prevent your plug-in electronics from voltage surges.

Replace traditional rubber washing machine hoses with no-burst hoses to prevent a costly flood.

Flush the water heater to remove sediment that reduces efficiency.