Homes should come with a warning label announcing “maintenance required.” Like it or not, houses need upkeep, and unless you’re fine shelling out tons of money to the plumbers and contractors you’ll have on speed dial, it pays to master a few home maintenance skills yourself.
Here are the basic, rock-bottom tasks every homeowner should master.
1. Hanging pictures
You’ve got to hang things on bare walls to make a house a home. And even though installing picture hooks or fanning out a kimono on a wall is not rocket science, getting things to hang straight and keeping them aloft can be tricky.
These days you can easily turn your smartphone into a level to determine if a frame is crooked. You can also buy a stud finder, or tap on the wall until you hear a deeper thud, to locate wood studs that will grab your picture hooks or nails more securely than drywall. Below is a great life hack that uses a dab of toothpaste to help you position pictures easily.
2. Cleaning gutters
Cleaning gutters in the fall and spring is a dirty, gunky job. It’s no wonder a recent survey found that 24% of homeowners polled “never” clean their gutters, says Joe Vahey, vice president and product manager of Erie Insurance. Yet these homeowners may be in for an unpleasant surprise soon enough.
When gutters and downspouts aren’t cleared of leaves and debris, water can get trapped and end up seeping into your house, costing you thousands of dollars to repair. So get up there and start clearing them! It’s worth investing in a gutter gizmo (like the as-seen-on-TV Gutter Rake) that extends your reach, so you don’t have to constantly move your ladder a few steps down.
3. Resetting a circuit breaker
If your house was built after 1960, your electrical panel most likely is filled with circuit breakers, which supply power to appliances and lighting in every room. When a circuit becomes overloaded, the designated breaker “trips,” shutting off juice to that area.
When this happens, you’ll need to reset the breaker: Just open the panel cover and look for the breaker that’s sitting in the “off” position; then push it to “on.” If you can’t find the errant breaker, you’ll have to turn each breaker off, then on.
4. Unclogging drains
The day your sink, shower, or bath stops draining is a major hassle that must be dealt with pronto—but if you’re reluctant to hire a plumber, it’s entirely possible to clear drains yourself.
A chemical drain cleaner like Drano can often do the trick, but if you’re reluctant to use harsh chemicals or need something stronger, keep a drain snake in your arsenal of tools. The snake can be wound down into the drain and mechanically remove what’s blocking it.
There are also preventive measures you can take: If you fish out stray hair every couple of weeks with a tool like the Drain Weasel, you’ll prevent plugs from forming at all.
5. Cutting the water supply
If a pipe bursts or you’re repairing plumbing, you’ll have to shut off the water supply to the house, so it’s a good idea to locate the main water valve as soon as you move in. The shut-off valve mostly likely is located in your basement or crawl space where the water enters the house. When you find it, tag it so you won’t lose it again.
6. Changing filters
HVAC systems use filters to trap dust and pollen and prevent the furnace or AC compressor from spreading debris throughout the house. Each system has a different filtration system, but most require cleaning or replacing filters monthly or quarterly, an easy task that will keep your system running smoothly and cut energy bills. The only tough part is remembering it’s time to clean the filters. Luckily, there are severalsmartphone apps on the market that can remind you of periodic maintenance tasks.
7. Fixing dings in walls
No wall stays perfect forever. Nails pop, and furniture and broom handles cause dents, making your once-flawless walls look all banged up. Luckily, it’s easy to repair drywallyourself; all you need is some putty and a spackling knife.
Caulking, which prevents water from seeping between walls and your tub or tile, is an easy maintenance task to do, but tough to do right. Squeeze too little out of the caulk tube and you won’t have enough; squeeze too much, and you’ve got a mess. The solution: Snip the tube’s tip about ¼ inch from the end, which will produce the perfect-size bead to spread and smooth with your finger.
Lisa Kaplan Gordon is an award-winning freelancer who's written about real estate and home improvement for realtor.com, Yahoo, AOL, Popular Mechanics, and HouseLogic. When she’s not writing, Lisa's fly-fishing for trout on catch-and-release streams.