You pay the bills, but do you have the skills?
Owning a home is hard. The list of skills (and tools) you need to maintain a home is as long and knotty as that clump of hair in your shower drain. And it’s not like they teach drywall or basic electrical in high school. (Too bad you can’t trigonometry the leaves out of your rain gutter.)
Even if you’re renting and the landlord is obligated to take care of the major stuff, he or she might not be available as quickly as you need. Better to take a little initiative — at least on basic fixes.
There’s bound to be a little trial and error (and trial and error and YouTube and trial and error and three trips to the hardware store), but here are a few essential skills that can save you time and money and property.
Water, water everywhere
It usually happens at 2 a.m., but really, there’s no good time for water to start issuing forth unbidden from a pipe. Before any diagnosing or fixing can occur, you gotta stem the tide. Know where your water shut-off valves are — probably in the basement, if you have one — and remember that, depending on your valve, righty equals tighty or turning the handle perpendicular to the pipe equals off. From there, you can start mopping up and either fix it yourself or call a qualified plumber.
Allergies suddenly acting up indoors? Utility bills spiking unprovoked by the weather? We wouldn’t suggest cracking open the Freon alternator pistons in your AC unit (which aren’t real things), but there’s one HVAC (aka heating, ventilation & air conditioning) fix that just might save you an expensive service call: change the air filter in your furnace. You’re actually supposed to do that every one to six months depending on the time of year and your type of furnace. No dice? Time to make the call. Hopefully you have a certified HVAC professional you trust.
Take the plunge
There are lots of ways to clog a toilet, but let’s just say your firstborn flushed his favorite fire truck. First, turn off the water behind your toilet. Then grab a plunger, form a seal and plunge, young apprentice, plunge! No luck? Snake the drainpipe with an auger—another one of those $15 purchases that could save you a $150 plumber bill. The idea is to feed it down the drain until you meet resistance and then crank until you snag the interloper. Still stuck? Well, there’s a reason plumbers charge the same hourly rate as lawyers. Find one with good reviews.
Or your bedroom, at least. Have you ever locked yourself out of an internal door, or discovered your daughter is posting your personal information to Facebook from her locked bedroom (how does she know your social security number?!)? Just slide a flathead screwdriver into the slot on the doorknob until you feel a spring compress, turn, and voilà! For external keyed doors, hide a key in your yard (today would be good) or get your skinny neighbor to slip through the cat door. Or, you know, call a locksmith.
Whether you’re installing a ceiling fan or experiencing an electrical emergency, it’s important to know which breaker goes to each region of the house. Label them very clearly to avoid having to do that trick where you tap an exposed wire with your finger real quick to see if it’s hot. Future homeowners will thank you, too. Keep in mind that electrical work isn’t as forgiving as, say, gardening. If you don’t know what you’re doing, consult a licensed electrician.
Ladders are like koalas: You need to be more careful around them than you think. Even if you’ve been up a hundred times—pruning trees, washing windows, hanging Christmas lights—the one time you get casual can bite you. Basic ladder safety:
- Make sure the rung locks are anchored in place.
- Use levelers on the feet if you’re on uneven ground.
- Put a stabilizer on top if you can’t lean on a steady surface.
- To measure a safe pitch (1' horizontal : 4' vertical), you should be able to grab a rung with your arms out straight and your toes touching the feet of the ladder.
- Face the ladder when going up or down.
- Never go higher than the third rung from the top.
These are the basics, the very first things you should know as a homeowner. For the jobs that are above your pay grade, hire a handyman. Watch them work, ask questions and look things up and you’ll pick up DIY expertise along the way. Find service providers you can trust at KSL Classifieds.
Most importantly, be safe!