New Home Owner To-Do List

New Home Owner To-Do List

This write-up was written for people who have already had their home inspected by a quality inspector, so it doesn't address significant issues, like leaks or anything substantial. The items listed below are extra "minor' projects that are likely to be overlooked.

Security

  • Change locks: This is super simple and you never know who else was given a key before you took possession. What amounts to a trip to McDonald’s and ten minutes with a screwdriver will go a long way toward securing your home. It’s just nice to know you’re the only one with the keys to the kingdom. You can also re-key existing locks, which is a cost effective way of retaining higher quality locks while meeting the intent.
  • Replace door screws with longer ones: Door frame screws (hinges, jamb, strike plate, whatever else you have going on) are typically an inch long, if that. A couple minutes with a drill/screwdriver and a handful of three-inch screws means that you have more than a half-inch of wood keeping the boogey man out. It’s remarkable what a difference this makes when you watch someone try to break a door in. Be sure to pre-drill the holes before putting the longer screws in there to avoid cracking the wood because that would defeat the purpose of what you're trying to accomplish here.
  • Door reinforcement locks: In addition to beefing up your existing locks, the addition of a door reinforcement lock is another great option. These are locks that you secure from inside the home and they offer another great, cheap layer of protection that can't be picked from the outside. They come in a wide variety of form factors, including versions that allow you to partially open the door, but prevent someone from barging in. Some are better than others, so do shop around. The same rule about big screws also applies here, just be wary of the width of your door if the lock you choose requires mounting there.
  • Clear stored remotes from garage door opener and change opener code: You’ll have to reference your garage door opener manual for this. If you don’t have one, they can usually be found online; the process is pretty simple.
  • Get window blocks for each window: Placing some sort of block in your window rail will add to the security of your home. Standard window locks can by overcome and a one-inch dowel cut to length adds another layer of security. It’s important to cut these blocks as long as possible, while still being able to lay them down flat in the rail. The idea is to prevent the window from opening even slightly when the block is in place. There are other security devices that can be installed, but these seem to be the cheapest.


Safety

  • Change Smoke Alarm batteries: You have no idea when the batteries were last replaced, but they should be swapped out every year. Grab a step ladder, stool, or chair and pop the battery cover. Super simple and totally worth doing in exchange for avoiding burning to death.
  • Replace smoke alarms/detectors: All smoke alarms (wired or otherwise) should be replaced every five to ten years. Most modern alarms can be replaced by simply rotating the alarm counter-clockwise and pulling down; the opposite is true for installation. Battery-powered smoke detectors will obviously require a new battery and wired detectors will need to be plugged in before twisting the detector back in place. Older wired detectors may not be plug and play and could require wiring work, which you may want to pay someone to handle. Some have reported that their local fire departments have programs that provide residents with free batter powered fire detectors, so that may be worth looking into.
  • Clean dryer vent: While this one seems like it would fall under the “Preventative Maintenance” section below, I chose to put it under “Safety” because vents that haven’t been cleaned in a long time can cause fires. A simple set-up will have a few feet of exhaust tubing that anyone could clean out with a stick. More complicated set-ups could require far more effort and/or a professional. In addition to the threat of laundry fires, this sort of buildup can cause your dryer to be less effective and that means money wasted.
  • Fire extinguisher: Everyone should at least have one extinguisher in their home so they have a chance to turn a tragic story into an interesting piece of dinner conversation. Ideally, you’d have at least one extinguisher in your kitchen and one per area of elevated risk (e.g. garage, near a fireplace, etc.). It’s better to be the cool guy/girl that averted disaster than to watch your hard work and money smolder, trust me. Extinguishers should be inspected every month (look at the gauge to make sure it’s good and look for obvious defects on the rest of the extinguisher).
  • Clean chimney: Like the previously covered dryer vents, this could fall under either “Safety” or “Preventative Maintenance,” depending on the severity of the situation. Chimneys can be blocked/partially blocked by animals or debris, which can take you from a Nora Roberts scene to campfire smelling dumbass real quick. Additionally, build-up from regular use can cause a fire and, as we all know, fire safety/prevention is cool. The tools required for getting this done, and getting up on the roof, is likely beyond the average home owner and will likely require you to hire someone to handle this. 

Preventative Maintenance
  • Change HVAC filter: This is a simple home maintenance chore that must be done regularly (anywhere from bi-annually all the way down to monthly, depending on who you talk to). The ideal schedule for your home will depend on a variety of variables that include: occupant allergies, pet shedding, system use, what’s in the air (dust), etc. These are typically easily accessible (they’re exposed on the side of your HVAC unit) and you literally just slide the filter in/out, it’s about as intensive as changing a toilet paper roll.
  • Clean HVAC ducts: As with the HVAC filter, dirty ducts can cause issues (allergy issues, sickness, inefficiency, etc.). This sort of thing typically requires a professional though because it’s difficult to reach all the nooks and crannies without specialty tools. This isn’t necessarily something that should rank high up on your list of priorities. A lot of people believe using a filter makes this a redundant effort. HVAC duct cleaning can also be a pretty shady industry that can charge absurd amounts, so use your best judgment.
  • Lubricate all the things: Lubrication can go a long way toward making moving things move in a way that isn't obnoxious or infuriating. Things like hinges and locks can need a little help when they get older, so if you have a lock or door that sticks, try some lubricant. A dry graphite powder lubricant is generally preferable because their liquid counterparts can turn sort of muddy with time because of dust, which can ultimately make things worse.
  • Check dishwasher filter: A lot of washers have filters that can cause quite a stink. Cost, time, and maintenance schedules depend on your specific washer. A self-cleaning filter essentially has a garbage disposal that doesn’t need a whole lot of attention, but manual filters are more or less garbage nets. As you might suspect, a garbage net isn’t something you want to let fester. In addition to smelling, a full filter can also hamper draining.
  • Clean the back of your fridge: You never see the back of your fridge, but that’s where a lot of important bits and pieces are. Dust buildup can reduce the efficiency of the fridge, which can increase electrical bills and force a premature repair/replacement as the system works to overcome your laziness. You should also take this time to replace any water filters and clean your ice maker, if applicable.
  • Clean your oven/stove vent: This vent is great for the evacuation of stank, but not all of that stank goes outside. Instead, some stank can buildup in the vent system over use. In addition to propagating its own stank agenda, buildup can result in an overall diminished stank displacement capacity and a sub-optimal net stank disposition and that stinks.
  • Drain/flush hot water heater: Sediment collects in your water heater during regular use. This can cause inefficiencies in heating and flow and even clog your drain valve. Some people believe this is unnecessary, or even counter-productive, so you’ll have to decide for yourself.
  • Clear drains with a drain snake: This one isn’t necessary if the drain is functioning properly, but who knows when, or if, this was ever done. The idea of being ankle deep in shower water isn’t bothersome, but the idea of some shedding wookie’s leavings acting as a teabag is disconcerting as hell. Simple hair clogs can be cured with a cheap “zip strip” ($15), but a drain snake ($30) may be a worthwhile investment for you.Alternative methods should be avoided because you risk severely damaging the system. For instance, Drano can erode seals that weren’t meant to handle caustic material and tools that use air pressure can actually break pipes because they weren’t meant to handle pressure.
  • Clean shower & faucet aerators & heads: Some light disassembly and the cleaning product of your choice can go a long way toward improving the flow of water in your home. Be sure to rinse thoroughly after you're done.
  • Clear gutters: Gutters, even those not around trees, can get clogged with debris and should be checked/cleaned at least annually, depending on the environment. A normal person could do this with a ladder, but accessibility may prove daunting enough to warrant hiring a professional. Ridiculous looking tools also exist that are supposed to enable you to clear gutters from the ground, but it doesn’t seem like the best idea because you can’t actually see/verify your gutters are clear and in good condition. Clogged, or even partially clogged, gutters can prevent rain from draining through the down-spout, which is bad juju. These systems are designed to collect rain from your roof and send it on its way, far away from your house. A poorly performing system serves as a funnel and deliver pain and suffering directly to your doorstep.
  • Check window caulk: Windows are holes in walls. The frame and glass of the window fills most of that hole, but there’s still empty space around the edge. Water and cold are can seep through that empty space, which means damage and/or inefficiency. Caulk around the windows prevents this from happening and you get the added benefit of bandying about big, hot caulk-oriented puns. This suggestion is meant more for modern sliding windows as I'm not sure of the needs of older form factors.
  • Interior silicone check: Go around to all the places like your kitchen or bathroom sinks, shower, etc. and check the condition of the silicone seals. These wear over time and could become ineffective as your house settles. Inspect for gaps, breaks, or wear and replace as necessary. The process for silicone is very similar to the process outlined above for window caulk. You should also check the grout between tiles, but that's a little more involved.
  • Bathroom vents/exhaust: A lot of people seem to think that bathroom fans are a stank-reducing, sound-masking, comfort-enhancing luxury; however, they’re functionally critical to the health of your home. They remove humidity from a closed environment, which would otherwise serve as fuel for anguish in the long-run. In addition to cleaning the easily accessible area, cleaning the actual vent shaft can also be helpful.
  • Clean jetted bathtubs: Fancy-pants jetted tubs can be found in every other damn listing, but I don’t really know anyone that uses theirs regularly. This can result in bathwater sitting in the jet plumbing for extended periods of time, which can be a very nasty way to ruin a rather nice bath.
  • Test your outlets: You can pick up a socket tester for a few bucks from a hardware store. Then you just have to walk around plugging it into all your sockets. This allows you to easily identify any abnormalities, which may indicate an underlying issue that could become a problem.
  • Electrical bits and baubles: For whatever reason, people choose to neglect their electrical systems. I’m of the opinion that having lightning course through the walls around you is kind of scary and that it’s down right stupid not to be wary of it. That being said, it may be in your best interest to hire an electrician to handle a lot of issues in this area. Simple things like covers can be installed by anyone with a screwdriver for next to nothing and you don’t have to worry about something/someone getting a jolt. Converting your three-prong outlets to GFCI outlets is also something that’s manageable for many; however, I won’t go into detail on it because it’s far more involved. Additionally, many electrical companies will provide “check-ups” for a small fee. This can be very enlightening and a comfortable middle-ground between doing nothing and hiring an electrician.
  • Veggie check: Hire an arborist to come look at trees, if you have any, to prevent a gust of wind, some rain, or snow from sending an angry ent crashing through your life. You never know how close a giant hunk of wood is to making things inconvenient and it’s nice to have piece of mind with something so potentially expensive. This is also a nice time to survey your property to see if there’s any areas that could benefit from some added plants (e.g. a bush in front of your window for security, a shade tree, or something to fight erosion).
  • Insulation: A lot of people are installing hard foam installation (sort of like Styrofoam) instead of the cotton candy stuff we used to see. This isn't a problem in and of itself, but the edges should be sealed with spray foam to get the maximum benefit and maximize heating/cooling efficiency.

Others
  • Change toilet seats: Having a fresh, new toilet seat isn’t necessary to some, but I prefer not to think of the horrors a veteran seat has seen. A little money and a few minutes with a screwdriver can spare you from your more neurotic tendencies.
  • Pre-move-in preparations: The best time to paint walls and re-do floors is before you put a bunch of junk in the way. If you can afford it, knocking that stuff out today saves a lot of time and inconvenience tomorrow. The same goes for fumigation, even if it’s only a preventative bug bombing.
  • Wiring map: This may be beyond some people, but having an idea of where your wires are can be really helpful in avoiding problems during a project and diagnosing problems. As someone in the comments said, it may also be worth identifying which breaker switch controls each specific outlet so that you can label the inside of the outlet to reflect that information. This can make it much easier to ensure you disable the right circuit. You should also use this time to label your breaker box switches, if not already done and/or verify that they're labeled accurately and in a way that makes sense.
  • Record keeping: Have a centralized repository where you keep all your manuals, receipts, diagrams, and other home-related documents. You should also consider storing you design stuff here, like paint swatches and small examples of materials (e.g. tiles) so that you can take them to the store when you’re shopping for your next project.
  • Utilities shutoffs: Familiarize yourself with your water, gas, and electrical shut-off valves/switches. There's usually one inside your home (mine are in the utility room with the washer/dryer, HVAC, and water heater) and one outside, somewhere. This isn't just something you need to be aware of for home improvement projects. Gas and water leaks happen all the time and knowing how to stop them ASAP can save you a lot of suffering.
  • Sump pit: Sump pits are holes under your home meant to collect water before it can get into your home. The pit also has a pump that's responsible for moving the water from the pit back outside, where it belongs. A compromised pump will allow your sump pit to fill with water, which may eventually result in flooding inside your home. These are typically found in homes with a basement/below surface level; however, your mileage may vary. See the link below for a quick overview on ways that may help you find out if you have one.