10 Things I Wish I Had Known About Owning a Home

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1. Hot water heaters are often ruined if they’re submerged, such as in flooding.

Newer hot water heaters contain warnings on the side cautioning that the are essentially garbage after having been submerged. There are control electronics on the sides of these units that are sensitive and not repairable. You would be well-served to elevate your hot water heater off the ground some distance to prevent these kinds of issues in the event of flooding.

There are a few things to take into consideration when elevating your tank:

  • Make sure that your vent systems still drafts. The pitch of the vent pipe is angled such as it is to ensure that vapors draft up the pipe. If the vented gases hit a 90 degree angle (no pitch) at the top of the vent, they will face less resistance to vent elsewhere! There’s an updraft effect created when warm vapors travel through a pipe that draws a current. Check this by snuffing out a lit match and seeing if the smoke follows the vent line. The smoke should be pulled into the system.
  • Your supply lines may need to be swapped. There are a few types of water supply lines, and some of them are more resilient than others. Corrugated copper lines, for instance, are a great choice for installations, but they are prone to kinking and then leaking, making them useless and in need of replacement. I like using braided hoses for their flexibility and durability, but they don’t take and retain a shape in tight spaces quite as well as corrugated copper.
  • Hot water heaters are heavy! It’s no simple task to raise these, even a strong adult can struggle with a hot water heater with retained water. Sometimes it’s difficult to drain all the water from their tanks from the bottom spigot. With a drill pump and some hose, you can drain more from the supply line holes, but it takes some extra effort.
  • There are pre-fab platforms designed to hold water heaters. This is a great choice, but not the only choice. In our mud-floored basement, I laid down gravel, cinder blocks (hole side up), sand, then plywood. The sand and gravel allowed for better leveling on an uneven surface, and the blocks added a ton of stability.

2. Blow out your sprinkler system before the first frost.

Sprinkler systems are very expensive and are easily ruined if you forego yearly maintenance! Consider how your sprinklers might be effected before…

  • Aerating your lawn. If aerators penetrate deeper than the soil level above your sprinkler plumbing, they can do a ton of damage in a matter of minutes!
  • Tilling your soil. Basically, never use a tiller on soil with a buried sprinkler line. The system will likely be destroyed in the process.

It’s also vital that you blow out the system yearly to prevent freezing and cracking below the ground.

3. Tree service can be very expensive!

If you purchase a property with poorly-maintained, unhealthy, older trees, you may love the shade when you move in, but they can quickly become a hazard. Ice storms can put enough weight on limbs to cause massive branches to fall on your roof or vehicles. If your trees are in need of maintenance, it’s wise to hire a licensed arborist (yes there’s a license for this) to do the work in case of any liability issues. If an unlicensed arborist causes damages to surrounding properties, you could, and likely will, be held liable for repairs!

4. Know what’s in your sewer drain.

There are a number of services in most major real estate markets that will snake a video camera down your sewer drain to see if things are in good order. Over time, clay drain pipes can collapse or be damaged by roots underground. This can lead to one of the most expensive repairs a homeowner can have to make: a new sewer line. The going rate is in the thousands of dollars range.

5. Don’t assume your house is in great shape just because it passed inspection!

Not even a week after our home inspection and closing, we discovered that the fools that lived in our house before us had tiled our shower surround directly onto common drywall! The tiles began falling off like porcelain base jumpers and crashing down into the tub. Behind the tiles was a thin carpet of black mold! Don’t think that just because your home passed inspection that it’s in tip-top shape; the inspection is really for the bank, to make sure that they can still get their money back if you default.

6. Rusty pipes can ruin your fixtures.

If your home still has galvanized steel pipe, it can still remain in service for quite a while if it’s in good shape, but will eventually need to be replaced. If you bump one of these pipes or shut your water off and bleed the line, this can disturb rust deposits in the pipes that will run upstream and potentially ruin your faucets. With PEX being so cheap and easy to install, you may as well upgrade.

7. Just because a plumber is licensed, doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing!

There’s a way of doing things by the code that is smart and in compliance, or in compliance and dumb. Just because it’s done to code, doesn’t make it “right.” There’s a whole spectrum of right and wrong in the trades. If something a tradesman is doing to your home doesn’t make any sense, and they can’t explain, that should be a big red flag. Trust your gut.

8. Duct tape is not for rigid metal ducting.

These vents can get hot, I mean really hot, like 500 degrees max. Self-tapping screws are the way to go.

9. Most modern appliances have flashing lights for diagnostics.

Your HVAC repairman affectionately calls them “idiot lights” because they have idiot-proofed most diagnostics. Count the flashes, read the label, and proceed.

10. Early vinyl tile contains asbestos!

What we know know as VCT, vinyl composite tile, used to contain asbestos. It’s not a problem if it’s contained and/or not cut, but the dust can be hazardous to your health and has been linked to lung cancer. Pry it up, cover it, but don’t sand or grind it!

Must-have tools that aren’t in most homeowners’ tool boxes:

Plumbing:

  • Pipe cutters for PVC, Copper, PEX
  • Hacksaw
  • various sizes of boots, splices, ball-valves, tees. Sharkbite fittings are great!
  • short lengths of PEX, PVC, Copper, ABS pipe
  • PVC glue
  • propane torch, flux, solder, emery cloth
  • Heat isolating blanket (for brazing it tight spaces)
  • teflon tape
  • monkey wrench
  • basic wrench
  • water key
  • strap wrench
  • channel locks (2)
  • vise grips
  • coveralls and a head lamp (you’ll thank me later)

Electrical

  • Outlet tester
  • voltage tester
  • wire nuts of various sizes
  • some standard shielded wire
  • Spare fuses (if you use them)
  • Wire cutters/strippers

Roofing

  • Some HEET roof patch
  • Putty knife, caulk gun
  • tarp
  • spare shingles
  • ladder

HVAC

  • self-tapping screws
  • hose clamps
  • duct tape
  • the manual for your AC / furnace / water heater
  • a carbon monoxide detector

Or at very least, a good handyman’s phone number. Mine is 720 315 8591

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