47 Skills You Need to Survive Homeownership

Source: This Old House magazine via Pinterest

Too bad a house doesn’t come with an owner’s manual. And a week-long seminar where you learn what every button, switch, and wire is for. Alas, the keys to the castle come with no troubleshooting guide to dog-ear—and, we’re betting, no wise master to unlock the mysteries of the place you call home.

Then again, that’s what we’re here for: to provide fast fix-it advice when it’s time for you to do your homeowning duty. Because at some point, you’re going to have to know how to change out a light fixture without zapping yourself to kingdom come. Or paint a double-hung without gumming up the works. Or stem the flood when the toilet overflows. And you’re going to want to do things right. The first time. 

So consider these 47 tips a crash course in homeowner self-confidence. And study them well. ‘Cause owning a house means you’re going to have questions. Lucky for you, we’ve got some answers.

47 Skills You Need to Survive Homeownership

Photo: Craig Raine

1. Fix a Leaky Faucet

This particular type of water torture is likely due to a failed washer inside a handle. The faucet is just the messenger. 

To replace the washer, turn off the water supply valve under the sink. Stuff a rag in the drain so you don’t lose parts, then take the handle apart. Pop the screw cover on top, remove the screw, and pull off the handle. Use a wrench to disassemble the stem, and line the parts up on the counter in the order they came off, so you know how it goes back together. Examine rubber parts or plastic cartridges for cracks, and take the offending piece to the hardware store for an exact replacement. Reassemble the parts you’ve laid out, in reverse. Then revel in the ensuing peace and quiet.

2. Move a Refrigerator by Yourself

Clarence Yuzik, aka The Fridge Doctor, has two words for you: Magic Sliders. Put these little plastic disks under the fridge’s front feet (you can lever them off the floor with a long pry bar), then pull. Most refrigerators have wheels in the back, so the whole unit should glide forward effortlessly.

3. Dig a Hole

A stomp on a pointed shovel, that’s easy—and so’s electrocuting yourself when you slice into a buried power line. Which is why, says This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook, any prospective hole-maker should first call 811 to notify the local utilites in your area. They’ll send someone out to your place, mark any lines you have, and save you from getting buried yourself.

47 Skills You Need to Survive Homeownership

Photo: Shaffer Smith Photography

4. Locate a Stud

Say you want to hang a shelf. Knuckling the wallboard can pinpoint a stud. But to better the odds when your electronic stud finder’s gone missing, use deductive reasoning. Most studs are placed at 16-inch intervals, so once you know where one is, you can usually find the rest. 

Start at a corner, where there’s always a stud. Or take the cover plate off an electrical outlet and find out on which side it’s mounted to the stud. From there, measure 16, 32, 48 inches, and you should hit a stud at each go. Eliminate all guesswork by using a thin bit to drill a test hole at the top of the base molding, which you can easily repair with a dab of caulk.

5. Deal with a Seized Lock

Hit the 7-Eleven before you call that $100-a-visit locksmith. Some WD-40 sprayed into the keyhole will lube the mechanism quickly. If that doesn’t do it, you may have a broken spring or tumbler—and need that pro after all. If so, keep the new lock from locking up by giving it a yearly spritz of long-lasting Teflon spray.

6. Check for Termites

Despite your worst nightmares, you won’t hear a distinct munching sound. And these guys don’t hide in plain sight, so you need to scout out places where wood framing is exposed, like crawl spaces. Inspect them for raised, branchlike tubes that, when broken open, reveal cream-colored or yellowish insects. Also, check where siding meets the foundation for salt-size droppings or tiny clumps of dirt next to pinholes. If you spot even one, you need a licensed and bonded exterminator to squash those tunneling bugs. 

7. Unclog a Sink

“Chemicals rarely clear a stoppage—they only make a small hole,” says TOH plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey. “A full stoppage requires mechanical clearing.” Remove the stopper and block off overflow holes. With water in the bowl—the water puts more pressure on the clog—plunge with a flat-faced plunger. If that’s not enough, get under the sink and take off the trap to see if that’s where the clog is lodged. If the blockage is deeper, rent yourself a hand snake. Slowly push the coil down the drain, carefully twisting, pulling, and pushing when you hit the blockage. If the snake fails, then the still waters truly run deep. Call a drain-clearing service to get things flowing.

8. Hire a Handyman

Skip the classifieds—no one any good needs to advertise. Try the local hardware store instead. The guys behind the counter know who’s buying supplies for paid jobs. Or find out who does the maintenance at the school or town hall. Maybe he moonlights. Just be sure to check references, and find out whether your town or state requires a license. Also ask if he carries liability insurance—otherwise, be sure your homeowner’s insurance will cover him.

9. Ensure a Lightbulb’s Long Life

You know that popping sound that signals another lightbulb has burned out before its time? The cause: The little brass tab inside the lamp socket that makes contact with the bulb base is dirty or bent, interrupting the connection and causing the filament to imperceptibly flash on and off, shortening its life. With the fixture unplugged or the circuit breaker switched off, clean the tab with a Q-tip and rubbing alcohol; then nudge it up with a screwdriver so that it stays in contact with the bulb base. 

10. Remove a Stripped Screw

Hey, even TOH master carpenter Norm Abram has been there. He recommends a hand screwdriver appropriate for the screw and a double dose of elbow grease to fix this unfortunate bit of handiwork. Gently hammer the screwdriver into the head. Then use as much downward force as you can while you slowly back out the screw.

Continue reading all 47 of these helpful tips and tricks to survive homeownership here.

About Sutton Lipman

Sutton Lipman Costanza is a native Nashvillian and a second generation REALTOR. She is excited and proud to be a part of The Lipman Group Sotheby’s International Realty team. Sutton graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from The George Washington University. Before selling real estate, she worked at Centerstone, a community-based behavioral health care organization in Nashville. In her free time, Sutton enjoys spending time with her family and friends, traveling, practicing Spanish, knitting and playing tennis. sutton.lipman@sothebysrealty.com or 615.438.6149
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