The First Things to Do After You Move Into Your First Home
Moving into your first home can be both exhilerating and terrifying. Get off to a good start with this list of must-dos from veteran homeoweners.
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Locate Your Home's Main Water Shutoff Valve
Know where you main water shutoff valve is in case you need to shut off the water to your entire house. Almost all homes have one main shutoff valve directly before the water meter and another directly after. Where the meter is located depends on the climate in your area. In cold climates, the meter and main shutoff valves are located inside, usually in a basement or other warm area to prevent freezing. In milder climates, the meter and its two shutoff valves may be attached to an exterior wall or nestled in an underground box with a removable lid. Between the water main in the street and the meter, there's also usually a buried curb stop valve (accessible only by city workers wielding special long-handled wrenches) and a corporation stop, where your house water line hooks up to the water main. Your city absolutely doesn't want you messing around with these valves. Turn your water off or on using the main valve on the house side of the meter. This valve will normally be a gate-type valve, with a round knurled handle, requiring several full clockwise rotations to turn off. In newer homes, it could be a ball valve. Find out more about main water shutoff valves here.
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Locate the Electrical Panel
Find the electrical panel so you know where to shut of the power to you whole house or an individual circuit. You'll usually find the main circuit breaker panel—a gray, metal box—in a utility room, garage or basement. Don't worry about opening the panel's door. All the dangerous stuff is behind another steel cover. Behind the door is the main breaker for the entire house (usually at the top of the panel) and two rows of other breakers below it, each controlling individual circuits. If you're lucky, there will be a guide that indicates which outlets and receptacles are served by each circuit. Learn more about circuit breakers here.
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Replace the Furnace Filter
One of the fastest ways to create problems with a forced-air heating and cooling system is to forget to replace the filter. Locate the furnace filter and buy replacements if the previous owners didn't leave you a stash. Replace the filter (and get in the habit of doing it every month). Here's how!
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Inspect Crawlspaces and the Attic
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This may be the most important step you take toward getting your home ready to sell. For a home to live up to the "move-in condition" description, it has to be clean. If you already keep a clean house, simply keep up the good work, checking to make sure you don't overlook little-used closets and other nooks and crannies that aren't part of your weekly routine. This needs to be a deep cleaning. For the rest of us, it's time to get serious. Start at the top (the attic or second-story rooms) and work your way down. Clean ceiling light fixtures first, scrub walls and woodwork and finish with floors. As you work your way from top to bottom, don't leave one area until it is completely clean and then move on. Don't drag dirt from one area back into the place you just cleaned. Finally, don't underestimate the power of clean windows. Buyers won't walk in and think, "Wow, clean windows!" But, freshly cleaned windows look great from the outside and with the lights on, they sparkle on the inside. And with this method, window cleaning is not all that bad.
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Make One Room a Sanctuary
You won't be able to make all of the home improvements you want to make right away and it's best to live in your home for at least a couple of months before starting any major projects. Something that seems like a must-do when you first move in may quickly fall to the bottom of the wishlist after you've actually lived in your home for awhile. So, choose one room that doesn't require too much work and make that space your new-home getaway. You'll have a place, in your colors and style, where you can relax and dream about the day when every room in your home is just the way you want it. Like the wall panels shown here? Here's how to create this look in one weekend.
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Meet the Neighbors
It's wise to reach out and extend a friendly gesture to your neighbors as soon as possible. You want to know those around you so that everyone can look out for each other. It's hard to know if a situation is suspicious if you don't know the people involved. Establishing yourself in your neighborhood can also give you access to inside information, like who's the best plumber in the area and which roofing company to avoid. Even if you're an inrovert, you'll be happiest if you're in good standing with your neighbors. Want to replace your front door to make it more welcoming? Here's how to do it yourself.
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Check Smoke and CO Detector Dates and Replace, as Needed
It's important that you know where your smoke and CO detectors are located and that you make sure they are working. Smoke alarms may be the cheapest, easiest and most effective means for protecting your family and your home from a fire, as long as they're functioning. Learn where smoke detectors should be located, how to maintain them, when to replace them and some cool new options available for homeowners here and here.
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Clean your AC unit.
Annual central air conditioner maintenance saves you money by increasing its efficiency and preventing breakdowns. You can complete the chore in an hour. Here's how!
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If You Have a Sump Pump, Does it Work?
It's easy to forget about your sump* pump, but it's important to make sure it's in good working order. If you don't, you could end up like the homeowner who returned from a weekend trip to discover his entire basement floor covered in 1/2 in. of water. After shutting down the power, he waded over to the sump pump and noticed it wasn't working. Upon closer inspection, he realized that the cable attached to the float must have gotten tangled somehow. It took him two seconds to untangle the cable, and then he spent the next 15 hours dragging out waterlogged carpet, running the wet/dry vac and moving fans around. To avoid a similar disaster, be sure your pump has a vertical float switch. Also, check your pump at least a couple times a year by dumping water into the basin to make sure everything is working properly. Learn more about sump pump backups here and here. *A sump is a pit, well, basin or the like in which water is collected. In a basement, excess water collected in a sump is removed by a sump pump.
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Start a Sample File
It's tempting to keep all of your home-related information stored in the cloud. However, for samples or paint, fabric, tile, plastic laminate, etc., it's better to keep an actual physical sample. Trying to work with colors rendered on your phone can lead to mistakes that can be costly. All you need is a simple accordion file or even a small box with a lid. When you're heading out to shop for accent pillows and a throw, grab your sample and go! Check out our tips on selecting laminate countertops, carpet, and a faucet.
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If You Don't Have Keyless Entry, Hide a Key
If you don't have keyless locks, be sure to hide a house key so you don't get locked out. Consider a location other than under the welcome mat, like in a garden hose or under a flower pot. For hiding valuables inside your home, check out this collection of tips.
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Do This Within the First Six Months:
These are additional things you don't need to do immediately, but doing them keeps you ahead of potential problems. Install a whole house surge protector to prevent your plug-in electronics from voltage surges. Replace traditional rubber washing machine hoses with no-burst hoses to prevent a costly flood. Flush the water heater to remove sediment that reduces efficiency.
Originally Published: June 19, 2018