What Not to Do as a New Homeowner

If you’re new to homeownership, you’ll definitely want to avoid these easy-to-prevent mistakes that could cost you big time.  We know so well the thrill of owning your own home — but don’t let the excitement cause you to overlook the basics.

front of home

I gathered up a dozen classic boo-boos new homeowners often commit — and included some insight on why each is critically important to protect you and your new home.

Not Knowing Where the Main Water Shutoff Valve is Located.

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Water from a burst or broken plumbing pipe can spew dozens of gallons into your home’s interior in a matter of minutes, soaking everything in sight — including drywall, flooring, and valuables. In fact, water damage is one of the most common of all household insurance claims.

Quick-twitch reaction is needed to stave off a major bummer. Before disaster hits, find your water shutoff valve, which will be located where a water main enters your house. Make sure everyone knows where it’s located and how to close the valve. A little penetrating oil on the valve stem makes sure it’ll work when you need it to.

Not Calling 811 Before Digging a Hole.

planting-tree

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 from getting buried yourself. In many states, calling 811 is the law, so you’ll also avoid fines.

Not Checking the Slope of Foundation Soil

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The ground around your foundation should slope away from your house at least 6 inches over 10 feet. Why? To make sure that water from rain and melting snow doesn’t soak the soil around your foundation walls, building up pressure that can cause leaks and crack your foundation, leading to mega-expensive repairs.  All (especially new) construction needs to be evaluated annually for even the smallest dips, divots, and settled areas.   Don’t take chances, add more dirt if you find any of these.

This kind of water damage doesn’t happen overnight — it’s accumulative — so the sooner you get after it, the better (and smarter) you’ll be. While you’re at it, make sure downspouts extend at least 5 feet away from your house.

french-drains

Things with “French” in the title are usually fancy, right?  But a French drain (pictured above) is nothing more than a ditch in the ground, inset with a perforated pipe under a layer of gravel. That pipe funnels storm water away from where you don’t want it—along the foundation, for example—and deposits that water in a more desirable place, such as the municipal storm drain or a backyard rain barrel.

Whereas gutters collect precipitation as it runs off the roof, French drains manage water at ground level. Let’s say that after a rainstorm, water tends to pool in a particular low spot on your property. Rerouting the flow of water with a French drain would alleviate that problem.  A drop of 1” for every 8 feet for the entire length of the French drain is required.  Landscapers call these dry creeks and they can be a cool feature for your landscape.

A French drain also provides a solution for basements that admit water through the foundation. In these “wet” basements, water presses against the foundation and gradually leaks through. With a French drain, however, water near the foundation can be rerouted and deposited elsewhere.

If water continues to invade your basement despite seemingly adequate outdoor drainage, then you might need to install a French drain indoors (a Thrashers service). Installation involves cutting a trench in the basement slab along the perimeter of the foundation, laying pipe in the trench, and putting in a sump pump to move water from the interior to the exterior.

Not Knowing the Depth of Attic Insulation

This goes hand-in-hand with not knowing where your attic access is located, so let’s start there. Find the ceiling hatch, typically a square area framed with molding in a hallway, garage or closet ceiling. Push the hatch cover straight up. Get a ladder and check out the depth of the insulation. If you can see the tops of joists, you definitely don’t have enough.

The recommended insulation for most attics is about R-38 or 10 to 14 inches deep, depending on the type of insulation you choose. BTW, is your hatch insulated, too? Use 4-inch-thick foam board glued to the top.

Carelessly Drilling into Walls

5f8d9a10bbf2db1f7a3e63f1a54977baHanging shelves, closet systems, and artwork means drilling into your walls — but do you know what’s back there?Hidden inside your walls are plumbing pipes, ductwork, wires, and cables.  You can check for some stuff with a stud sensor — a $25 battery-operated tool that detects changes in density to sniff out studs, cables, and ducts.              But stud sensors aren’t foolproof. Protect yourself by drilling only 1¼ inches deep max — enough to clear drywall and plaster but not deep enough to reach most wires and pipes.

Household wiring runs horizontally from outlet to outlet about 8 inches to 2 feet from the floor, so that’s a no-drill zone. Stay clear of vertical locations above and below wall switches — wiring runs along studs to reach switches.

Cutting Down a Tree Yourself

The risk isn’t worth it.  Last year over 45,000 people were hospitalized from chainsaw, ax, and hatchet injuries – and that doesn’t include the thousands hurt by falling trees. Even small trees can fall awkwardly, damaging your house, property, or your neighbor’s property. In some locales, you have to obtain a permit first. Cutting down a tree is an art that’s best left to a professional tree service.  If a tree is big enough to climb, call a professional to remove it.

Plus……….. I love trees!  Trees help preserve property values and provide shade that cuts energy bills. So think twice before going all Paul Bunyan.

There are times when trees might need a good pruning – or need to be eliminated altogether.  If branches rub your shingles it’s bad news.  Keep branches well off the roof – if you think it’s close, a pruning is in order.  Remember trees bend in the wind – if you’re in doubt – this is a good time to do a check of what’s going on. If a tree is rotten get rid of it.  If is planted too close to the foundation, it may put pressure on your basement walls causing them to bulge in.  It’s time to bring in a professional.

Starting A Fire in a Fireplace That Has Not Been Checked

Seasonal hazardHome fires can start from the ignition of material inside the chimney.  This might be a bird’s nest or creosote (leftover debris that is byproduct of previous years of use).  This is a dirty job so I would recommend hiring a professional to inspect it.

Trusting that You Have All the Keys to Your New Place

It’s a good idea to rekey your new home.  There could be multiple previous owners with keys to get into your home.

Not Checking the Gutters

Plugged gutters can create havoc.  Water cannot drain, so it spills over the edge, puts pressure on the foundation, and will lead to leaks, cracks, and basement flooding.  Make sure all gutters are free of leaves and bird nests so that they drain properly.

Gutter leaks at joints can be just as problematic.  The purpose of a gutter is to get the water away from the foundation.  Any joint where water drips or runs out during rain storms or snow melt should be sealed immediately.  There are new spray-on materials that are perfect for sealing these up from inside the gutter.

Clean out the gutters, then rinse with a hose and check for leaks.

Make sure all of the downspout extensions are connected and extend out 5 feet.

Icicles-on-house
Icicles. Kids love them – you shouldn’t!

Ice jams in a gutter can be especially problematic as built up ice wedges up under the first few rows of shingles and can cause big problems.  Ice forms in the gutter due to the area being WARM from heat escaping through your attic.  Check insulation and pay special attention that insulation goes all the way to the edges. If you see ice or icicles forming in the winter, you have a heating problem where it should not be.  Keep the attic air cold with good insulation on the floor of the attic.  This will prevent the loss of warm air you have just spent a fortune on and prevent ice jams.  For ice jams caused by Mother Nature’s warming and cooling, you may have to install heat strips.

Not Making Sure Outlets Are Grounded

Anything with electricity should involve an electrician.  Hopefully you had a home inspection and everything passed or was brought up to snuff.  Ungrounded outlets in older homes can shock and aw – electrocution or fire that is.

gfci-housemasterOne area that you can do yourself if installing GFI outlets anywhere there is water.  This includes kitchens, bathrooms, garages and for sure outside outlets.  GFI stands for ground fault interrupters and their main purpose is to make sure you or someone you love does not get electrocuted!  If something you are holding is plugged in and water is involved, you could get electrocuted if the circuit isn’t interrupted.

Turn the breaker off in the area you’re working, remove the plate and the small electric box inside the wall, unscrew the electric connectors, connect your new GFI outlet according to package instructions, and replace the cover.

Not Knowing Which Breaker to Turn Off

Emergencies might involve knowing where your electric panel is located how to turn off breakers.  The main shut off will be in or near the main box.  On an old fuse box, it may be a big lever that pulls down.  On newer panels, it will be an isolated switch near the top of the panel.

EPANEL4Many electric panels are poorly labeled.  Write directly on the panel with a fine sharpie.  Have a buddy plug a lamp into each outlet and go around your entire house and mark which areas are controlled by which breakers.  Be specific, like “kitchen minus fridge” or “sofa and window walls only”

Not Buying Fire Extinguishers for Key Areas of Your Home

Place one under the kitchen sink, in the garage, and under the bed of master suite.  The typical fire extinguisher only lasts 8 seconds, so think about where you might need one to protect yourself and your family in case of an emergency.  It goes without saying that your first line of defense against fire is a working smoke detector.  These should be placed outside each bedroom, on all floors, and within proximity to the kitchen.

Final thoughts:  Enjoy your new home!  Hopefully avoiding these common mistakes will save you heartache, money and PROTECT your new investment.

For more information contact Marceta@propertyprosgroup.com

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