125 Things Homeowners Need to Know
Make things easier and save yourself a ton of time with these household hints. Here are 125 things every homeowner should know.
Make a Homeowner’s Journal
– Debora Emmert
Paying too much for your insurance? Learn how to save money on insurance here.
A Leaking Water Heater is a Time Bomb
Water heaters sometimes leak from the drain valve or relief valve. Those valves are easy to replace. But if a leak is coming from the tank, you’ve got serious trouble. The tank is lined with a thin coat of glass. Eventually, that glass begins to crack, the steel begins to rust away and a puddle appears. Left alone, the tank will rupture, causing an instant flood. It may take months for a leak to become a flood, or it may take days. But it will happen. Don’t gamble. Replace that leaking time bomb now.
Daytime is Crime Time
Most of us think of burglary as a nocturnal activity. That used to be true. But these days, most burglaries occur between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. In many cases, the crooks get in through unlocked doors or windows. Learn how to theft-proof your home with these 13 home security tips.
Make Your Furnace Last
Regular filter replacement is the very best thing you can do to keep your furnace in top condition. And here’s a way to keep track of that task: Buy several filters and label them. With some systems, monthly filter changes are best. Others can go a few months between changes.
Don’t Squish Ants
Place liquid ant bait stations in areas where you’ve seen ants, like under the sink and along walls, to make it as easy as possible for the ants to take the toxic bait back to the nest. Expect to see more ants (initially) when you set out the bait. That’s a good thing. It means more ants are taking the bait back to the colony where they’ll share it with the rest of the ants, including the queen. Get the comprehensive guide to how to get rid of ants.
Flush With a Bucket
Even if a power outage stops your well pump or the city water supply, you can still flush the toilet. Dump a couple gallons into the bowl or fill the toilet tank. This works just as well as the usual flush, but won’t refill the bowl. Still clogged? Here’s our guide for how to unclog a toilet.
Shut Off the Water Before Vacation
Every insurance adjuster has a hundred stories like this one: The homeowners left town Friday and returned Sunday evening to find thousands of dollars in water damage. The moral of these stories is simple: Before going on vacation, turn off the main water valve. In less than a minute, you can eliminate the most common cause of home damage.
Locate Your Main Water Shutoff Valve
In warm climates, the main water shutoff is typically outside, attached to a wall or underground.
In colder climates, the main water shutoff is typically in the basement. There is also a “curb stop” shutoff that requires a special tool to operate.
Find Your Property Lines
Iron stakes mark property lines in most communities. They’re typically located at corners and places where property lines meet. To get started, request a plot plan from city hall. You may be able to find the stakes by dragging a rake over the suspected location. But more likely, the stakes will be several inches underground. In that case, your best bet is to buy or rent a metal detector (inexpensive ones cost less than $40). When you’ve found your target, dig to make sure that it’s really a stake and not just a lost quarter.
Synthetic Soap Makes Less Scum
Synthetic soaps make cleaning your shower or bath easier because they don’t contain the ingredients that create tough soap scum. Any liquid or gel soap is synthetic. Most bar soaps are standard soaps. But a few, including Zest and Ivory, are synthetic. Here’s the scoop on which cleaning supplies you should be using.
Don’t Leave the Remote In Your Car
A thief who breaks into your car can grab the remote for easy access to your garage. This isn’t just a problem when your car is parked in the driveway; the registration card in your glove box gives a crook your address. So get rid of the remote on your visor and buy a keychain model. You can easily take it with you every time you leave the car. Home centers stock only a small selection of remotes, but you’ll find many more online.
Hearing Protection: What Should I Use?
The risk of hearing damage is highest for those who use loud equipment every day. But if you use a shop vacuum, leaf blower or circular saw without hearing protection, you’re doing permanent damage every time. And that’s just dumb because protecting your hearing is so easy. The goal is to reduce noise levels to 90 decibels. All forms of hearing protection—earmuffs, disposable foam earplugs, reusable plugs—are adequate for most noise. With super-loud equipment like framing nailers and chain saws, it’s smart to use both plugs and earmuffs.
Of the carpenters we talked to, some preferred earmuffs, others liked plugs, but they all said the same thing: “I hated them at first—uncomfortable, inconvenient, a #&%* nuisance. But after a day or two, I got used to them. Now I actually like them. Can’t stand the noise without them.” Give hearing protection a try, and you’ll like it too.
Squeeze-Tube Caulk is Trouble
Squeeze tubes are convenient. But if you need to lay a neat, even bead of caulk, use a caulk gun instead. With a squeeze tube, it’s difficult to produce a steady flow. And that means a lumpy bead.
Choose Colors That Work Now And Later
R-value is a measure of the resistance to heat flow, a way of indicating insulation’s ability to stop heat from moving through it. The higher the number, the better. Insulation is labeled by total R-value. Two factors determine that number: the thickness of the insulation and the insulating ability of the material. The fiberglass batts shown here, for example, are all the same thickness but differ in R-value because of their different densities.
Don’t Trust Breaker Panel Labels
Inside your main electrical panel, you’ll see labels or lists indicating which breaker controls which circuit. These labels are a reasonably good guide, but they’re not completely reliable, especially in older homes that have been through remodeling projects.
For example, you might find that there’s one outlet in a room that’s not on the same circuit as all the others in that room, yet it’s not listed elsewhere at the panel. That orphan outlet could be connected to almost any other circuit in your home. In some cases, you might even find wires from different circuits in the same junction box. The bottom line: Always use a voltage detector to make sure the power is off before you do any electrical work.
Galvanized Pipes Get Plugged
If you have galvanized steel pipes in your home and low water flow at faucets, chances are the pipes are to blame. Galvanized pipe is prone to mineral buildup, which eventually chokes off the water flow. The example shown here isn’t unusual; any veteran plumber has seen much worse cases. Complete replacement of the water supply pipes is the best cure, but you can often improve flow a lot just by replacing exposed horizontal sections.
Buy Better Dust Masks
Dust isn’t just a sneeze-inducing nuisance?heavy repeated exposure can lead to severe allergic reactions and even harm your lungs. You can buy a dust mask for as little as 50?, but don’t. Instead, spend a few bucks on one with an ‘N95’ certification. You’ll get a mask that’s more comfortable and truly effective at keeping dust out of your lungs. These cleaning tips reduce household dust and keep it from accumulating in the first place.
Before You Buy a Toilet?
Here’s a story we’ve heard a hundred times: Homeowners go toilet shopping and decide that an ‘elongated bowl’ would be an improvement over the old ’round’ bowl. Only later?usually after installation?they discover that the bathroom door can’t be closed, and laughing, crying or swearing follows. So if you want a longer bowl, measure first. A typical elongated toilet protrudes 2 in. more than a standard model. Also check the clearance for any nearby cabinet doors.
Preview a Fence
Will a privacy fence really deliver privacy?or hide your neighbor’s junk collection? Finding out is easy with a big sheet of cardboard. Along with a helper, you can determine the best location and height.
Our Favorite Floor Protector
Canvas or plastic drop cloths are slippery on hard flooring like wood or tile. For protection that stays put, you can’t beat rosin paper. Just tape sheets together and tape the perimeter to the floor. Be sure to vacuum before you lay the paper; grit trapped under the paper can lead to floor scratches. A single layer will protect against paint drips, but wipe up larger spills before they can soak through. For remodeling projects, tape down two or more layers. You can find rolls of rosin paper at home centers.
Deal with Drainage
Adjust Your Water Heater
Measuring Cup Hang-Up
For more inside cabinet door storage ideas click here.
Stir-Stick Paint Organizer
– Perry Parson
Here are 8 Great Painting Tips.
Plus: Savvy Sawhorse Tips.
Test the Sump Pump or Risk a Flood
To avoid a similar disaster, be sure your pump has a vertical float switch. Also, check your pump at least a couple times a year by dumping water into the basin to make sure everything is working properly.
Six-Pack Shop Organizer
Pull-Tab Picture Frame Hook
Eliminate Drain Odor
The traps in floor drains – or for that matter, any drains that aren’t used often – will eventually dry out. This may sound harmless enough, but a dry trap can cause a room to fill with potentially harmful sewer gas from the septic tank or the city sewer system. Eliminate this problem by adding about a quart of fresh water topped with a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil. The oil floats on top of the water and seals it against evaporation. Your drain will hold water in the trap much longer.
Racks for Canned Goods
Extra Towel Bar
Topsy-Turvy Door Painting
Plus: How to Install a Door
Plus: Here are 10 tips for cleaning your whole house.
Toilet Paper Shelf
Here are more DIY bathroom storage solutions.
Clean Dryer Vents or Waste Energy and Risk a Fire
You’ll have to remove the vent from the back of the dryer to clean it. Suck debris from the ducts with a wet/dry vac, or ream them out with a cleaning kit that includes a brush on a long flexible rod that attaches to a power drill. The kits are available at home centers. If your ducts need replacing, get smooth metal ducts, which will stay cleaner longer than the rough corrugated surface of flexible ducts. Avoid plastic ducting altogether; it can be a fire hazard. Plus: Slash Heating Bills
Stop Losing Socks
Here’s how to Organize a Laundry Room.
No-Slip Seat Cushions
— Kelley Griswold
Stop Under-the-Door Air Leaks
If you can feel the breeze and see daylight under your entry door, it’s costing you big-time. It also means you need to adjust your door threshold or install a new door sweep. Door sweeps start at $10. The hardest part about replacing them is usually taking off the door.
Start by adjusting the threshold. Newer versions have screws that raise and lower them. Turn all of the threshold screws until the door opens and closes without much drag and any draft is eliminated. If that doesn’t work, or your threshold doesn’t have adjustment screws, replace the door sweep.
Close the door and pop out the hinge pins with a pin punch to remove the door. Set the door on a work surface and remove the old door sweep. Caulk the ends of the door, then install the replacement sweep. Some sweeps are tapped into place and stapled along the door bottom; others are screwed to the side along the door bottom. If a drafty sliding patio door is your problem, here’s how to fix it.
Closet Nook Shelves
Wire shelves are available in a variety of widths. Measure the width and depth of the space. Then choose the correct shelving and ask the salesperson to cut the shelves to length for you. Subtract 3/8 in. from the actual width to determine the shelf length. Buy a pair of end mounting brackets and a pair of plastic clips for each shelf.
Wet-Saw Marking Tip
– Mike Winter
Test and Replace the Batteries in Smoke Detectors
Smoke detectors have a lifespan of 10 years, so look for a ‘replace by’ sticker or date embossed on the inside of the unit to see if it needs to be replaced, even if it passes the chirp test. If you can’t find a date, replace it anyway immediately. On new detectors, make sure to write the ‘installed’ date on the inside cover on a piece of masking tape. Get all the info you need on installing smoke alarms here.
Junk Drawer in a Bag
To clean-up that junk drawer or any space in your home, here are 18 easy organization tips.
Here are 19 more Pool Noodle Hacks.
Find a Flashlight
Repurpose Old Jars and Containers for Free Garage Storage
File by Grit
Switch Your Ceiling Fan Direction
Instant Drawer Dividers
Mobile Tool Rack
Plus: Get more tool storage hacks here.
Hang Ladders Low
Spray-Bottle Pipe Pump
— Dean Debeltz
Repair a Loose Doorknob
Hang a Bike on the Wall
If you want to build your own shelves, learn how to build DIY box shelves here.
For more simple life organization hacks click here.
Here’s how to Install Gutters.
Let Paint Dry, Then Cut the Tape Loose for a Perfect Edge
Once paint is dry, you can’t just pull the tape off the trim. Paint forms a film between the wall and the tape, and removing the tape tears pieces of dried paint off the wall. So before pulling off the tape, cut it loose.
Wait for the paint to completely dry at least 24 hours, then use a sharp utility knife or box cutter knife to slice through the film. Start in an inconspicuous area to make sure the paint is hard enough to slice cleanly. If you cut the paint while it’s still gummy, you’ll make a mess. As you cut the paint, pull up the tape at a 45-degree angle. Get more secrets of professional painters.
Plus: Tune Up a Lawn Mower
Simple Storage Spools
For more holiday storage hacks click here.
Closet Bracket Bike Rack
Luminous Light Switch
— Don Greer
Plus: Easy Lawn Care Tips
Loosen Stuck Pipes with Heat
A Sticky Solution
Plus: Learn how to Hang Artwork and Wall-hangings Straight and Level.
Having trouble with dust in your home? Here are Cleaning Tips to Reduce Household Dust.
Perfect Keyhole Template
Plus: How to Hang Shelves.
Wine Cork Caulk Saver
Make the Most of Your Vacuuming
- Vacuum high-traffic areas twice a week and the rest of the carpeting and large area rugs at least weekly.
- Make numerous slow passes over the same area in all directions (fast passes stir up more dust than is being sucked up).
- Use certified True High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters to remove invisible particles and allergens. Look for the word ‘True” on the label.
- If you have allergies, upgrade to a sealed-body bagged vacuum with an airtight ‘sealed filtration’ system that works together with a True HEPA filter. This means all of the exhaust will exit through the HEPA filter instead of leaking dust back into your house through the machine’s housing. Sealed-body vacuums have rubber seals or gaskets around the lid and filter and will last 10 to 20 years. Brands include Riccar, Miele and Sanitaire.
- Buy high-quality vacuum bags. Inexpensive 2- or 3-ply paper bags leak more dust. Higher-quality cotton-lined paper bags are better, and top-quality synthetic cotton HEPA bags are the best. Bag capacity matters too. Higher-capacity bags capture more, smaller particles that would have otherwise clogged the filter.
- Clean all your bagless vacuum filters regularly and replace them every three months.
- Turn off the agitator brush on hard flooring so you’re not blowing dust into the air.
- Maintain your vacuum: Empty the canister frequently (always outside) and change bags and belts when needed. Keep the agitator brush free of hair and other material, and check the vacuum for cracks and loose hinges and get it serviced every so often to keep it running smoothly.
Glove and Mitt Storage
Touch-up Without Cleanup
Dustless Drilling and Drum Sanding
— Doug Kaczmarek
Here are other woodworking projects.
For more easy storage ideas click here.
Plus: 9 Simple Cabinet Repairs
Solid Cord Connection
More Shower Shelves
For more bathroom storage ideas click here.
Here are more of our best painting tips and tricks.
Don’t Choose a Problem Tree
Don’t Wreck an Outdoor Faucet
Here’s why you end up replacing outdoor faucet washers that have worn out long before they should: When you turn off a frost-proof faucet, water continues to trickle out of the long pipe even after the valve is closed. When people see that water, they often assume the valve didn’t close, so they crank down harder, which overcompresses the washer, greatly reducing its life. Patience is the key. Wait a second or two after closing the valve. The water should eventually stop (unless you’ve already destroyed the washer).
MYTH: Frost-proof faucets cannot freeze.
FACT: Leaving a hose attached throughout the winter could leave water in the line to freeze and cause the faucet to burst. Also, if the faucet slopes slightly toward the house, the long pipe will also hold water that can freeze.
Before You Call an Electrician
“I screwed in a new fuse but I still don’t have any power.” Are you sure you used the same amperage fuse as the one you replaced? Is the fuse good? Is it screwed in tight?
“I’ve checked the circuit breakers, but the outlet still doesn’t work.” Some outlets are protected by upstream GFCIs or GFCI circuit breakers. Look in the circuit box for a GFCI circuit breaker and in bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms for GFCI outlets. Test and reset them. This may solve your problem.
“I replaced the lightbulb but the light fixture still doesn’t work.” Are you sure the new bulb is good? Try it in another light fixture and make sure it’s screwed all the way in.
“This outlet used to work. Now it’s dead.” Check all the switches in the room. One of them might control the outlet.
Instant Mini Bins
Plus: Build your own customizable garage storage wall.
Tablecloth Drop Cloth
Store on a Door
Keep Pictures Level
Plus: How to Use a Laser Level.
Fix Loose Joints With Epoxy Resin
Brush a layer of epoxy onto both parts to be joined. Assemble and clamp the parts if necessary. Then wait the specified time for the epoxy to set up. Read the instructions to determine how long the epoxy should cure before you use the furniture. Even five-minute epoxy may take an hour or more to reach full strength. If you’re repairing a valuable antique, you may want to avoid epoxy repairs because the result is irreversible.
Fix a loose screw
This is an old carpenter’s trick. If you have a screw hole that’s too big, just wrap a bit of steel wool around the screw before you drive it in. It provides just enough friction to hold the screw firmly in place and takes less futzing than trying to fill a hole and re-drill.
No-Mess Epoxy Mixer
Suck Out Drain Clogs
Add-On Clothes Rod
Mirror and Message Board
— Matthew Kelly
Long Reach Shears
Plus: How to Trim a Tree
Secret Lock Code
Replace loose, popped nails
One way to make sure your gutter doesn’t fall off the house is to install fascia hanger brackets. Installation is simple: Just hook the bracket under the front lip of the gutter, and then screw the other side of the bracket to the fascia. Leave the old spikes in place—a spike head looks better than a hole in the gutter.
If your shingles overhang your fascia by a few inches or you have steel roofing, buy the brackets with the screws built in (the type shown here). They cost more, but the head of the screw remains a couple of inches away from the fascia, making them a lot easier to install.
Overhead Ladder Rack
Heat up sticky stuff
Make the Most of Skinny Spaces
Robin Hood Curves
— Bruce Philbrook
Plus: Woodworking Projects
Clean Hard Floors Faster
Create Secret Storage
Fix a Wobbly Ceiling Fan
Sizing a Ceiling Fan
Placement of a ceiling fan for adequate air circulation is 7 ft. above the floor with the blades 8 to 10 in. from the ceiling. And to move more air at low speed, a fan with five blades is best.
Regarding energy savings, research has proven that ceiling fans can save energy during the cooling season by creating a gentle breeze. You get your savings then by raising your thermostat by a minimum of 2 degrees. This decreases air conditioning energy used by 10 to 15 percent, or 5 to 8 percent per degree. By reversing your fan (so it runs clockwise) during winter, you pull heat from the ceiling and push it down to the floor for more even heat.
Vertical Cabinet Space
Learn how to increase kitchen storage by building under-cabinet drawers.
Coffee Bag Ties
Tennis Ball Parking Guide
Here are 11 Easy Garage Space-Saving Ideas.
Joist Space Storage
Seal Outlets and Ceiling Boxes
The tiny gaps around outlets on exterior walls and ceiling boxes let cold air in (and warm air out). Sealing these areas takes just half a day and will help cut down on drafts (and your heating bill!).