As a first-time homeowner, there are a lot of things going on in the house that were basically a mystery to me. Being the curious sort, I’ve wanted to understand why things are happening, how things work, and how I can keep them working well. This has resulted in a few interesting lessons that are well worth repeating here to help out any potential new homeowner who might be curious.
Get to know the people at your local hardware store. I’m serious – this has been invaluable. My town has a small hardware store in it and over the last month or so, I’ve probably stopped in there about twenty times. I told them right off the bat that I was a new homeowner and I was trying to figure things out, so now I have a good relationship with them. The prices for things are a bit high, but I usually buy stuff there because the advice is well worth the markup. Do this as soon as possible – I’m as serious as can be.
Drain your hot water heater at least every few months. About two weeks after we moved in, our hot water heater started making a percolating sound – that’s really the only word that described it. It sounded like large ping pong balls inside the heater. Now, I didn’t know the first thing about hot water heaters, but that sound was ominous, so I stopped by the local hardware store and asked about it. It turns out that one should drain their hot water heater every three months or so to prevent sediment buildup, which causes the noise and can lead to a heater breakdown over time. All you have to do is find the faucet at the bottom of the heater, attach a hose to it, run the other end of the hose to the floor drain (or another place where hot water can go), and run it. I used a five gallon bucket the first time. The water ran a lot of nasty looking colors (reds and browns and a bit of green) before eventually turning clear after filling up two buckets worth. I then closed the faucet and the heater’s noise is now nonexistent.
Check your furnace filter immediately – and probably change it. I knew that furnace filters needed to be checked monthly (and often replaced), but it didn’t occur to me to do this immediately. When I finally did it (about two weeks after moving in), the filter was beyond foul, as if they hadn’t changed it in the last several months before moving out. If you’re freshly into a house, check out the furnace filter as soon as possible. Don’t know what to get? All you have to do is mark down the dimensions of the filter (find the filter and look at the side of it) and get one of the same dimensions at the store.
Change all the lightbulbs (preferably to CFLs). This seems strange, but it was very worthwhile for me. Some of the bulbs had not been changed since the original homeowners moved in. Being neurotic about CFLs and energy conservation (and thus a cheaper energy bill). So, one afternoon I went around and changed every bulb in the house. Two of them were almost fused into the socket because they’d been in place for seven years or so – in one case, the bulb itself came off in my hand and it took extensive effort to get the metal piece of the bulb out of the socket. I recommend getting all new bulbs installed in a new house ASAP – and while you’re at it, just put in CFLs because they save a lot of energy and make for cheaper electric bills, both in terms of the lights themselves and the cooling as a result of the heat that incandescent bulbs put out.
Settle into maintenance routines. A lot of people feel overwhelmed by the amount of maintenance that needs to be done with a house. I’ve found myself that scheduling these home maintenance tasks really helps out with remembering to do them. Whenever I find something that needs to be done regularly (like draining the water heater), I just plan it in my scheduling program in perpetuity, then I just open the program every day. I use it to schedule every significant event in my life (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.), so it works well.
Define a cleaning plan. With two adults working full time and a toddler running amok, it’s easy to get the house messy and feel like there’s not enough time to clean it. What I did is define a cleaning schedule – one room a day, with two rooms on weekend days. That basically gives each room a thorough cleaning at least every two weeks. I usually schedule our high-use rooms weekly (living room, kitchen, family room, main floor bathroom) with the other rooms every other week and only doing the guest room before and after guest arrival. Doing this (and scheduling it) helps me keep the house clean.