Purchasing a new home means a lot of added responsibility. We’ll steer you straight with some tasks new homeowners should do in the first year.
Make an Emergency Budget
Making the shift from renting to owning can be an exciting way to build long-term wealth, but it also carries certain financial burdens of its own. In addition to a mortgage, taxes and insurance, homeowners also need to set aside money for repairs and maintenance. Often called “carrying cost,” these ongoing expenses are simply part of home ownership. You can build these funds gradually, but if your home’s purchase price leaves you with nothing in the bank, you’ll be in trouble if an emergency occurs during your first months of ownership.
Avoid this issue by keeping an emergency fund (many experts suggest between $2,000 and $3,000). Another approach is to invest in a home warranty. And of course, DIYers can keep an emergency home toolkit ready to go.
Make a Prioritized List
The minute you walk in to 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 write down every action item you or your family thinks 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—such as 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-essentials, but improvements and projects you’d like to complete within the year—renovations, landscaping, and large purchases. Read this first-time homebuyer’s guide to home maintenance to get started.
Test Fire Alarms
Test all fire alarms, replace batteries and add additional alarms where needed. Purchase a carbon monoxide detector and fire extinguisher and establish a fire safety plan early with all family members. Do not rely on the previous owners to keep fire safety up to date. Try these other tips from our field editors to brush up on home fire safety.
Keep a Homeowner’s Journal
Buy a ring binder and keep insurance papers, repair receipts and all other 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. — Debora Emmert
Paying too much for your insurance? Learn how to save money on insurance here.
Clean Refrigerator Coils
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 tips on repairing your refrigerator (without a service call), check out our guide and how to clean each home in the house faster.
Clean the Lint Screen
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.
Electric dryers use about $85 of electricity annually. A dirty lint screen can cause the dryer to use up to 30 percent more electricity, according to the Consumer Energy Center. Lint buildup is also a common cause of fires.
Dry loads of laundry back-to-back so the dryer doesn’t cool down between loads (a warm dryer uses less energy). And only run the dryer until the clothes are dry. Overdrying damages your clothes and runs up your electric bill. If you’re in the market for a new dryer and already have a gas line in the house, go with a gas dryer. A gas dryer is more efficient.
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!
Clean Air Conditioner Condensers and Evaporators
A little sweat equity now will help both your wallet and your 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 will have plenty of time to make an appointment with an air conditioning contractor if there’s any unforeseen issues. After cutting off the electricity to the unit, vacuum the outdoor condenser’s exterior fins with a soft-bristled brush, and 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.
Map Out Your Home’s Main Water Shutoff Valve
Know where you main water shutoff valve is in case you need to shut off the water to your entire house as well as the gas shutoff.
Almost all homes have one main shutoff valve directly before the water meter and another directly after. Where the meter is located depends on the climate in your area. In cold climates, the meter and main shutoff valves are located 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 around 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.
Find out more about main water shutoff valves here.
Find the Electrical Panel
Find the electrical panel so you know where to shut of the power to you 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. 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 that indicates which outlets and receptacles are served by each circuit.
Learn more about circuit breakers here.
Check the Crawlspaces and the Attic
It’s good to familiarize yourself with the farthest corners of your home. Check for leaks, bugs, mold and other issues that you should address sooner rather than later. If your crawlspace doesn’t have a vapor barrier, learn how to install one here.
Check Your Sump Pump Before the Beginning of the Rainy Season
Pour water into it to make sure it works.
The most common time for a sump pump to fail is the first heavy rainfall after months of not being used. The submerged or partially submerged portions of cast iron pumps can rust and seize. And they’ll burn out when they switch on. Don’t get caught with your pump down and the water rising. After a long dry (unused) spell, pour a bucket or two of water into the sump to make sure the pump kicks on.
And do you have sump pump backup? A good sump pump installation should include a backup system for breakdowns and power outages. Learn the pros and cons of four pump backup methods here.
Hide a Key
If you don’t have keyless locks, be sure to hide a house key so you don’t get locked out. Consider a location other than under the welcome mat, like in a garden hose or under a flower pot.
For hiding valuables inside your home, check out these crazy places people have hid things.
Take a Look at Garage Door Springs
Coat the overhead torsion springs mounted above roller tracks with a garage door lubricant. All springs will eventually break because of metal fatigue and/or corrosion, but lubing them at least once a year will make them last longer. Spraying can be messy; it’s smart to protect the wall behind the spring with a piece of cardboard. Garage door lubricant is available at home centers. Lube the rollers, hinges and track while you’re at it. Learn more garage door maintenance tips.
Check Your Water Heater
A distraught homeowner called a plumber because her water heater wasn’t heating, and furthermore, it was leaking. Right away, the plumber asked if the homeowner had been draining some of the water from it every year. The puzzled homeowner said, ‘No. Why?’ It turns out that sediment will collect at the bottom of the tank. This creates hot spots on gas-powered heaters that can damage the tank and cause premature failure. On an electric water heater, sediment buildup can cause the lower heating element to fail. So, occasionally draining a water heater will lower energy bills and extend its life. We recommend draining water heaters at least once a year. Plus: 12 DIY Ways to Make Your Stuff Last Way Longer
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. What you initially think you want may change after you’ve lived there for a while. – Fran Carpentier
Get a Home Warranty
We had the seller throw in a home warranty. This saved us from a faulty dishwasher and got us a brand new furnace. — Larry Gusman