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7 Basic Home Maintenance Skills Every New Homeowner Should Have

Things like knowing how to shut off the water to your sink are essential skills to pick up soon after moving into your new home, wouldn’t you say?

Ah, the joys of homeownership — you can paint the bedroom walls any color you choose, let little Fido run free in your backyard, and finally leave your bike outside your side door, without getting a citation from your property-management company.

In other words: don’t let clogged gutters or a running toilet put a damper on your new-home high!

There are many perks of having a place to call your own, but the homeownership honeymoon can come to an abrupt stop as soon as something goes awry!

Suddenly, there’s no one to call when your toilet just won’t stop running, a leak appears below your bedroom window, or your garbage disposal gets clogged. You’ve got to figure out how to fix the problem yourselfor hire someone to do it.

But with a little patience (and some smart internet research), it’s quite possible to take on many common home maintenance tasks yourself.

Who knows: you may even start to take pride in your newfound handyman (or handywoman) skills!

So, whether you’re moving into a new home in Cape Town or Port Elizabeth, these maintenance skills are essential techniques that every new homeowner across the country should know how to do:

1. How to shut off your water

Ask someone, whether it’s your home inspector, a friend with construction experience, or a plumber, to locate and show you where the main water valve is in your home.

Water is one of the leading causes of damage in homes, so if you know how to shut off your water quickly, you can prevent thousands in damage!

If you’re going to be away for longer than one or two days, you should turn off the water to your washing machine — it’s as simple as turning the water-valve handle behind the machine to the right. If there’s a leak while you’re gone, that water is going to run continuously.

2. How to turn off your gas

If you smell gas or suspect there’s a gas problem, your first step should be to call your gas company. However, it’s important to know how to turn off the gas yourself just in case you need to.

The shut-off valve is usually located outside at the meter and will require an adjustable pipe or crescent-type wrench to operate.

3. How to turn off power to different parts of your house

We had a customer who bought a new house, and the first week the client was there, the hair blow-dryer suddenly stopped working. The electrician went in, hit the ‘reset’ button on the outlet, and the dryer started working again…

The lesson?

Look to see if your outlet has a reset button (common for grounded outlets, which are typically located in kitchens and bathrooms, since they are close to water); and while you’re at it, familiarize yourself with the circuit-breaker box.

It’s common for power to die in one room of the house and people immediately think there’s a power outage. They don’t even think to go to the breaker box to see if it has tripped.

Especially if you have an older house, the wiring was not built to handle the same capacity of modern electrical systems. Older homes will get overloaded quicker.

When you move into your new home, take some time to flip your circuit-breaker switches and figure out what controls what room — and that the switches are properly marked.

4. How to maintain your appliances

This doesn’t exactly seem like a skill, right? 

But you’d be surprised: knowing how to properly clean and maintain your appliances is key to extending their lifespan.

  • For one resource, locate your oven’s instruction manual (or look it up on ManualsOnline.com) and run the self-clean feature — no need to bake your cookies with lasagna leftovers from the previous homeowner.
  • If your refrigerator is equipped with a water dispenser (i.e., it makes its own ice), we’re betting it has been a while since the filter was replaced. Again, use the manual to determine the correct filter model and how to replace it.
  • Next, clean your dryer vent of lint buildup — in the lint trap, behind the lint trap, and in the duct that leads to the outside of your home.
  • Then clean your dishwasher filter or trap (depending on your dishwasher model) and run an empty cycle on “hot” with a cup of white vinegar: This will remove all grease and grime.
  • And finally, know how to unclog the garbage disposal — a clean toilet plunger can work or, in more extreme cases, an auger, which is sold at home improvement stores.

5. How to fix a running toilet

A running toilet might sound like the start of a joke, but it can be very annoying — not to mention become a waste of water that could amp up your next water bill.

Toilets run for several reasons, where problems with the flapper, chain, or float are the most common.

A diagnosis and repair can be rather quick and easy!

And remember, the water inside the toilet tank is clean, so don’t worry about putting your hands in there.

6. How to clean your gutters

Clogged gutters are no joke. They can cause water to flow onto the wood trim and siding of your house, which can eventually lead to rot — and replacement.

Gutters should be cleaned every year, or twice a year if you have overhanging trees!

If you feel confident on a ladder, you can clear the gutters yourself by suiting up (wearing long sleeves, gloves, even goggles and a mask all don’t have to be a luxury) and using a small garden shovel to clear the muck, followed by a high-pressure water rinse from your hose.

Focus on clog-prone areas: mainly where the downspouts join the gutter system.

7. How to caulk

Caulking is a simple task but delivers big impact — not to mention, it keeps air and water at bay.

  • First, pick the right caulk: for a long-lasting seal, choose permanently waterproof, flexible, shrink-proof, crackproof silicone caulk (skip acrylic caulk, which can shrink and crack over time).
  • Next, remove old caulk with a utility knife and make sure your surface is clean and dry.
  • Cut the nozzle of the caulk tube to your desired bead size and run a line of caulk — make sure to use even pressure when applying with a caulking gun.
  • Finally, smooth the line with a wet finger. Need more instruction? Do a little research about proper caulk protocol, and you’ll be sealed up in no time.

In the end, with a healthy dose of patience and some elbow grease, you’d be surprised to see how many of these home maintenance projects you can actually do yourself! 


Which home maintenance skills do you think are important for a (new) homeowner to have? Please share them with us in the comments below!


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