Adulting 101: Essential Home Maintenance Checklist for New Homeowners

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If you thought the mountains of paperwork, home inspections, and mortgage applications were the end of the new house buying experience, wait until you get settled into your new home and stuff starts breaking.  For first-time homeowners, the lead-up Moving Day in is full of anxiety, confusion, and stress. The ownership part of home ownership is no different–at least when you start out. The problem is, you don’t know what you don’t know, and you desperately need a new home maintenance checklist to start you off on the right foot.

The good news is, nobody knows what they don’t know when they’ve never done it before! Your 60-year-old neighbor who stares sidelong at you, scrutinizing your every move, as you get on the roof for the first time to clean the gutters–he may look like an expert from your perspective, but he wasn’t always an expert. Thirty years ago, he was in your shoes, feeling uncertain about his new-home-know-how, and some older, wiser neighbor was probably looking on with the same critical eye. And while you may not be an expert now, if you keep up with the regular maintenance that’s required of homeowners, you’ll not only have a strong and healthy house or decades to come, but if you’re lucky you’ll one day have the great honor of staring skeptically at the new homeowners who move in next to you someday.

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The 1% Rule of Maintenance

The “1% Rule” says that about 1% of the cost of your home should be saved every year for home maintenance. That doesn’t mean a $250,000 home will require $2,500 every year to maintain. It means only that you’re prepared if something does go wrong. Obviously, the age of your house, the size, and the weather where you live can either complicate or simplify the application of this rule, but it’s a good start to mentally preparing you for the extra investment you’ll want to make to keep your home in tip top shape.

A Little Now Saves a Lot Later

Another rule of thumb is, for every $1 in maintenance you spend now, you save $100 later. This may sound like an exaggeration, but if anything it’s probably a conservative maxim. Vacuuming the coils of your refrigerator twice a year can add years to the life of your fridge, and at a cost of nothing. Replacing furnace and air conditioning filters will significantly reduce how hard your unit has to work to do its job, and a filter costs $5 compared to $4,000 for a new unit. This isn’t an absolute: just doing home maintenance won’t keep you from ever having to replace your appliances. But it does add years to the life of your appliances and at a fraction of the cost of replacing them.

You can and should apply these rules to everything. A minor grout patch will cost $10 and 15 minute on YouTube, which is thousands less than it would cost to replace a floor and hundreds less than replacing a wall that sustained water damage as a result of a leak. Gutters will rot out and drip down the side of your house if they’re not cleaned in the winter. Sealing cracks in stucco or siding can cost as little as $20 a year in exterior sealant, saving hundreds to thousands compared to the overhauls needed if left unrepaired for too long. All of these are easy home maintenance jobs if you’re paying attention, which is the first step in the process of knowing what you don’t know.

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Routine Inspections

Make yourself a new home checklist. Separate it by season, or even by month. It should look something like this:

Spring

  • Replace batteries in smoke & carbon monoxide detectors
  • Inspect bathroom grout and re-caulk any visible cracks
  • Using binoculars safely from the ground, examine the roof for loose or missing shingles.

Summer

  • Vacuum fridge coils
  • Clean kitchen exhaust hood & filter
  • Inspect foundation for bugs or moisture

Fall

  • Clean gutters, trim trees and shrubs
  • Schedule a furnace service (it’s cheaper in the fall than winter)
  • Check all plumbing handles and hoses for leaks or moisture, tighten and lubricate as needed

Winter

  • Clean dryer vent and check washer and dishwasher hoses
  • Inspect sinks, tubs, and toilets
  • Garage door hinges and seals

This list is far from exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start. As these home maintenance inspections and your house become familiar to you, you’ll not only find new things to look for, but you’ll find that little things break, crack, or need fresh paint or re-caulking. Indoor walls, baseboards, and window frames aren’t going to cause structural issues, but they’ll need a little TLC nonetheless.

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A plumber is performing maintenance on a residential water heater

Monthly Necessities

You can live without a dishwasher. You can’t live without a roof. Keep that in mind when you’re running through your home maintenance checklist. There are four main items that are vital to the core of every house: siding/stucco, roof, windows, and heating/cooling systems. If any one of these falters, you’re in for an expensive project. A few minutes every month–no more than a simple visual inspection–could save weeks of home repair headache and months of your paycheck. Look at the roof, gutters, downspouts, exterior windows, basements walls and windows, and attic. As far as furnaces and AC units, annual or twice-annual servicing can do the job, but checking them regularly for noises, obstructions, and dirt or outside debris is easy to do. Anywhere you see cracks, moisture, rot, bugs, or holes, you have a problem.

A New Home Homeowner’s Best Friend

The Money Pit is a quick an easy resource if you run into an issue. Of course, the difficulty of the job determines the level of expertise needed to fix it. And we highly encourage you to shop for an expert when one is called for, but for hose replacements, simple cleaning jobs, grout patching, caulking, winterizing, and even questions about what to look for when you’re inspecting your house, The Money Pit’s how-to resources are virtually limitless, so make sure to bookmark our site and check back with us for more new home maintenance checklists, tips and tricks to keeping your new house a warm and structurally sound home for years to come!


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