As new homeowners, you’ve had a lot of information thrown at you over the course of your home-buying journey. You’ve learned about the mortgage process, inspections, and appraisals. You’ve got budgeting down to a science. But one thing they don’t teach you as you go through the home buying process is how to take care of your home before you are in it!

After move-in, you may be contemplating how you want to personalize your home, planning projects from painting to kitchen or bath remodels. If you are new to home maintenance, you definitely want to start small, or you may find yourself having to hire a specialist to repair the damage – and it will cost you more in the end. So, before you start tearing down walls or pulling up floors, you should know a few basics.

Some maintenance is preventative – steps you have to take in order to protect your home and keep it looking nice. Other maintenance is reactive – something you have to deal with when it happens. If you have been renting, you may have grown accustomed to calling your landlord for such repairs. Now it’s all on you! So make sure you are able to tackle this list, before you go on to more complicated projects!

Know How to Shut Off Your Water

It’s important to know how to shut your water off at the main valve. This can help you prevent a flood caused by frozen water pipes in the winter, and it is also a necessary step in some other home maintenance tasks, such as replacing water heaters, faucets, or toilets. You will waste precious time in an emergency if you can’t locate or don’t know how to shut off the water at the main valve – which can translate to thousands of dollars’ worth of damage. As a matter of fact, non-weather-related water damage is a very common insurance claim.

The shut-off valve is commonly located where the water main comes into the house, and may be located near a street or alley. Once you find the shut-off valve, make sure you know how to close it. If you are still building your collection of household tools, you may need to purchase a crescent wrench or a “curb stop key”, which is needed to turn the valve.

Locate the Breaker Box

The circuit breaker box is usually located on a wall in a utility room, closet, or in the garage. It will look like a metal door flush with the wall. Each electrical circuit in your home will be wired to a breaker, and some major appliances, such as the air conditioning and furnace, oven, and dryer, will have their own breaker.

When a circuit becomes overloaded, like if you have too many things plugged into a circuit or during an electrical surge, the breaker will “trip”, and shut off the current to that circuit. You will need to flip the switch all the way off, then turn it back on in order to reset the breaker and restore power. You may also need to use the breaker box to turn off the power before you work with anything electrical in your home, such as replacing a light fixture or an electrical outlet. Flipping the breaker off will prevent you from accidental injury while preforming these maintenance tasks.

Once you locate your breaker box, make sure all the breakers are labeled and you know which breaker operates which circuit. If they aren’t labeled, you may need to flip the breakers off one at a time to figure out which areas of the house are controlled by each breaker, then label them for future reference.

Know What’s Underground Before You Dig

Many utility lines could be buried in your yard, including electrical supply, cable, and water/sewer lines. Some may not be buried very deeply.

Any time you are going to be digging in your yard, whether it’s to plant a tree or to install a fence or deck, it’s imperative that you know where these buried utilities are located. Not only is your own safety at stake, but you could potentially cause neighborhood-wide cable or electrical outages, which you will get the bill for repairing (and it won’t make you very popular with your new neighbors).

Before you dig, call 811. This will connect you to the National Dig-Safety Hotline. Give them your address, and they will arrange to have the various utility companies come to your home and mark the location of the lines. It may take 2-3 days for all the utilities to arrive, but it will save you a lot of headaches in the end.

Care for Your Foundation

Your inspection report should turn up any major problems with your foundation, but once you move in, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your foundation remains in good repair. You should inspect your foundations regularly and repair any cracks quickly before they cause major damage to your home.

You also need to perform preventive maintenance to keep water from putting pressure on your foundation and causing leaks. Make sure your yard is sloping away from the foundation and not towards it (the drop should be about 6 inches for every 10 feet. This will help ensure that rain and melting snow are draining away from your foundation. You also need to make sure that your gutters and downspouts are clear, and that all downspouts are routed away from your foundation.

Ensure You Have Adequate Attic Insulation

Major energy loss happens through the attic. Insufficient insulation will make your home less energy efficient and will raise your heating and cooling costs.

As a rule of thumb, you should not be able to see the tops of your joists when you look at the floor of your attic. There should be 10-14 inches of insulation, depending on the type you use. It’s much easier (and less expensive) to add insulation to your attic than blow it into walls. Properly insulating your attic can save you up to 30% on your energy bills, and will keep you feeling more comfortable year round.

Use Caution When Drilling

You may not realize it, but your walls are for more than just decoration and room division. The important inner workings if your home are also safely protected between the walls, from electrical wires to ductwork and plumbing. When you drill into a wall, you run the risk of injury, as well as severing or damaging these important hidden features.

To avoid this, you can use a “stud finder” which is a sensor that detects metal behind your walls. The studs are vertical wood supports that the drywall is screwed or nailed to. Most studs are evenly spaced, from 12-16 inches apart. When hanging something heavy, like a mirror or a TV, you may want to try to drill into the stud itself for extra support. Otherwise, you may want to aim to drill in a void and use wall anchors to hold lightweight pictures or other decorations.

Stud finders are not always the most accurate of instruments, and their accuracy is also impacted by operator error. So just to be on the safe-side, drill into the wall just enough to go through the drywall (about 1 1/4 inch). 

Leave Tree-Trimming to the Pros

It’s important to remove dead branches and limbs from your trees, since these could fall on your roof or power lines and cause considerable damage. Low-hanging limbs that are not near power lines and do not require a ladder are okay to DIY. However, very large limbs, or limbs high up in the tree and/or near power lines should be left to the pros. These are dangerous, and it’s difficult to anticipate exactly how they will fall. 

You can do this! Homeownership is rewarding, and it’s worth learning how to protect your investment. If you are ready to buy or sell a home, please do not hesitate to contact us at or phone us at 202.800.0800.