First off, Congratulations! You should be commended because it’s not easy buying a home in today’s economy so this is a testament to your character, financial diligence and resolve. So you’ve just moved into your nice new home. You’ve unloaded the boxes and started to unpack your life. Right now is the perfect time to walk through a checklist of safety first, maintenance tips and ways to save money on your home for years to come.
Starting on these things as early as possible will allow you to avoid costly mistakes, reduce the potential for insurance claims and start saving money sooner rather than later. Plus, some of them will be easier to accomplish before you hang pictures or get too settled in — and lose your move-in momentum. So without anymore delay…
Here are the 16 things to check or don’t do immediately that will reduce the potential for injury and reduce energy and maintenance costs of your home over the long haul and for better resale value.
1. Change the locks and make spare keys.
One of the first things many homeowners do is change the locks on their new home. You don’t need to be particularly handy to install new door hardware and a set of basic doorknobs and locks for your front and back door will only set you back $20-$80 or so. It may seem unnecessary, but there’s no way to know whether there are copies of your old key floating around, and who might have them if so. Investing a bit of money and time today can protect you from burglary down the road. While you’re at it, get an extra copy of your key made and leave it with someone you trust, so you don’t have to shell out $100 to a locksmith when you inevitably lock yourself out.
2. Install Carbon Monoxide Detector
CO alarms are needed for any home with fuel-burning appliances such as a furnace, water heater, range, cooktop or grill. Even those living in all-electric homes should install CO alarms, because CO can seep into the house from an attached garage or if a backup generator is used too close to your living quarters in the event of a power outage. Here’s where to install them.
3. Install Smoke Alarms and Fire Extinguishers
There should be at least one set on each level of your home, including the basement and attic. Be sure to place a detector in every bedroom and outside each sleeping area. Make sure you’re using the new 10 year lithium smoke alarms and replace your them about every 10 years or so. In addition, make sure that there are fire extinguishers in rooms that pose a risk of fire, such as the kitchen (grease fire type) and laundry room
4. Find out where your shut-off valves are for Gas & Electric
One of your first lines of defense when it comes to common homeowner emergencies — burst water pipes, for instance — are shut-off valves. Turning off the water (or gas or electricity) is like being able to slam on the brakes when you’re driving.
First, there are shut-off valves for small, localized problems: If the toilet is overflowing, look for the valve coming out of the floor or the wall behind the toilet and turn that to the right to stop the water flow. If your sink or faucet is leaking uncontrollably, the shut-offs will usually be under the sink (one for cold and one for hot).
Likewise, there should be a gas shut-off valve near your stove or dryer if either one uses natural gas. Find and familiarize yourself with all of these local shut-offs.
Then — and most importantly — find your main shut-offs, which control the gas and water coming into your house from the street. They’re usually found in the basement, toward the front of your house, but not always. Learn where these are ahead of time so you’re not clumsily searching for them in a panic as a geyser of a busted pipe is gushing water all over your kitchen.
Your circuit breaker acts as a shut-off for your home’s electricity. Individual circuits will control the electric flow to certain rooms or appliances — one breaker switch might shut off all the overhead lights, while another might control the refrigerator and the microwave outlets. Get familiar with the circuit breaker and note where the main shut-off switch is to turn off all power in an emergency (if water is leaking into a live light fixture, for instance).
5. Clean out your dryer vent
Your lint screen may be full of fuzzies each cycle, but a lot of it is still getting into that space-age silver tube. Clean it out with a vacuum or a long, bendy brush once a year to improve your dryer’s efficiency (and so it doesn’t catch fire).
6. Check all toilets and under-sink plumbing for leaks or constant running – and check faucets, too.
Do a survey of the plumbing in your home before you settle in. If you find a toilet is running constantly, it’s going to cost you money – here’s how to easily fix that constantly-running toilet.
You should also peek under the basin of all the sinks in your home, just to make sure there aren’t any leaks. Got a leaky faucet? You should repair or replace any of those, because the drip-drip-drip of water is also a drip-drip-drip of money; not to mention the terrible interplay between mold and home insurance.
7. Develop A Home Fire Escape Plan – It Can Save Your Life
Every household should develop a fire escape plan and practice several times a year – it could be the difference between a lifetime of regrets or happy memories. Planning includes purchasing ‘escape ladders’ for 2 story homes and practicing a few times a year.
8. Not Calling 811 Before Digging a Hole
Ah, spring! You’re so ready to dig into your new yard and plant bushes and build that fence. But don’t — not until you’ve dialed 811, the national dig-safely hotline. The hotline will contact all your local utilities who will then come to your property — often within a day — to mark the location of underground pipes, cables and wires.
This free service keeps you safe and helps avoid costly repairs. In many states, calling 811 is the law, so you’ll also avoid fines.
9. Fireplace & Chimney Cleaning
Hire a chimney sweep. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that chimneys be swept at least once a year at the beginning of the winter to remove soot and debris. Find a certified sweep in your area via the Chimney Safety Institute of America.
Before you spark up the log this winter, check out the the seven tips to keep your home safe.
10. Child Proofing Your Home
Every year, five million infants and children are injured, sometimes even fatally, in their own homes. Find out how to best childproof your house and make it safe for your children.
11. Install a programmable thermostat – and learn how to use it.
A programmable thermostat allows you to schedule automatic increases and decreases in your home’s temperature, saving money on cooling in the summer and heating in the winter.
They’re easy to install and easy to use, especially if you keep a fairly routine schedule. Just program the thermostat to drop a few degrees at night while you’re sleeping or off at work during the day, and set it to return to your preferred temperature just before you wake up or return home from work. You won’t notice the difference — until you see your lower utility bill.
12. Replace your air filters – especially a newly constructed home
When you first move in, you almost always need to replace the air handling filter or the filter on your furnace or AC unit. This includes a newly built home because of your risks from indoor air pollutants. Inhaling toxins in your indoor air that outgas can be from household items like carpeting, VOCs from paints, aerosol sprays and household cleaners, pesticides, phthalates from vinyl flooring and personal care products, pollutants from pressure-treated wood products, radon gas and more (see tips below). These are among the primary sources of toxin exposure.
An outdated filter not only doesn’t filter air as well, it also has a negative impact on air flow, meaning your air handling system or HVAC unit has to work harder — and use more energy — to pump out lower quality air.
13. Have your Air Ducts Cleaned to Reduce Allergens
- Indoor Air Quality – Through normal occupation in a home, we generate a great deal of contaminants and air pollutants, such as dander, dust and chemicals. These contaminants are pulled into the HVAC system and re-circulated 5 to 7 times per day, on average. Over time, this re-circulation causes a build-up of contaminants in the duct work.
- Energy Savings – According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 25 to 40 percent of the energy used for heating or cooling a home is wasted. Contaminants in the heating and cooling system cause it to work harder and shorten the life of your system. Although filters are used, the heating and cooling system still gets dirty through normal use.When an HVAC system is clean, it doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain the temperature you desire. As a result, less energy is used, leading to improved cost-effectiveness. Here are some more benefits of keeping air ducts cleaned.
14. Air-seal your home.
This isn’t such a problem in new homes, some of which are built tight as drums, but in older homes, it’s important to look for any places where air may be leaking directly into or out of your home. Common trouble spots are around doorways, windows and even electric outlets.
These aren’t just air leaks – they’re money leaks. Thankfully, fixing small air leaks is pretty easy. This includes caulking and weatherstripping, which will keep such air leaks from sucking the heat – and money – out of your home.
15. Take advantage of tax benefits and other incentives.
The energy tax credit, which was set to expire in 2014, was renewed at the last minute in December. That means homeowners who made energy-based improvements to their homes last year were eligible to receive a tax credit for 10% of the cost, up to $500 lifetime. Whether this popular credit is renewed for another year, however, is anyone’s guess. A whopping 30% tax credit toward the cost of solar energy systems, residential wind turbines and geothermal heat pumps is in effect through 2016.
Your state or city may offer even more benefits, from no-interest loans to rebates, so do some research when you invest money improving the efficiency of your home — you may save even more money than you expected.
Many states and local utility companies also provide home energy audits for free or at a discount. Someone will thoroughly inspect your home to find where you are wasting energy. They’ll look for air leaks and uninsulated pipes, test the efficiency of your heating and cooling equipment and even replace any older incandescent light bulbs for free.
16. Develop a home maintenance checklist and run through it for the first time.
One final tip: Create a home maintenance checklist. This list should include regular home maintenance tasks that you’d want to do on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis. Then, make it a habit to run through the items on this list every so often. Doing so will extend the life of almost everything in your home, saving you buckets of money over time.