Adulting 101: Five maintenance ‘must-knows’ for new homeowners

October 30, 2019 by PEMCO Insurance

So you bought your first house. Congratulations! But now there’s no building manager to call if the toilet’s clogged or your Instant Pot® just tripped the circuit breaker.

We asked some new homeowners what DIY things they wished they’d known before they were on their own.

​I wish I knew....How to do it
Reset a tripped circuit breakerCheck outlet reset buttons first. One push may be all you need to bring the power back. If not …

Find your circuit panel (usually in the garage, basement or a utility closet).

See if circuits are labeled to find the circuit that's out. If there's no label, look for a switch that doesn't line up with the rest. That's likely the "tripped" switch.

Click it to the OFF position to reset it, then back to ON (aligned with the rest).

Circuit switches are stiffer than light switches, so don't worry if it takes more pressure than you might expect to move them.

Unclog a toilet

Stop flushing. If the water looks like it could overflow the bowl, quickly shut off the supply valve on the wall to the left of the toilet. Turn it clockwise.

Plunge (the best plungers are pleated with a tapered end; the cup-shaped ones are meant for sinks). Get a tight seal so you can force as much water as possible through the toilet to dislodge the clog. Keep at it until the clog clears.

Soap and hot water. If plunging gets you nowhere, dump in half a cup of dishwashing liquid and pour in a bucket of hot (not boiling) water. That may clear the clog within 20 minutes. If not, it will at least lubricate the pipe and another try at plunging will likely work.

 ​Find a wall stud

If you're hanging shelves or heavy wall art, make sure you secure the nail or screw into a wall stud (solid wood), not just the drywall.

Buy a stud-finder at the hardware store. The handheld device displays a signal to let you know when it's over a stud. (Hint: Studs usually are spaced 16 to 24 inches apart, so once you find one, it's easier to find the next one.)

Shut off the water

​​To stop a major leak fast, shut off water to the entire house. (Water sensors often catch leaks before serious damage occurs.)

Locate the main shutoff valve BEFORE an emergency strikes. Good places to look are the garage, basement, next to the water heater or even under the kitchen sink. You also have a shutoff valve outside, adjacent to your in-ground water meter near the street. (The street valve often needs a special wrench or "key" available at hardware stores. But it may be the best choice if your plumbing is old and indoor valves are brittle.)

Depending on the type of hot water heater you have, you may need to shut it off, too, when turning off water to the house. Check your owner's manual.

Change a furnace filter

Change filters monthly during the heating season and every three months in the off-season. (If you have pets or allergies, you may want to change monthly year-around.) On many furnaces, the filter is located behind an access panel that must be unscrewed. See your owner's manual.

Each time you change the filter, write the date on it. We like automatic filter delivery services (search "furnace filter subscription"), which deliver filters on a schedule you set. You'll never run out of filters and that box arriving on your doorstep is a great reminder it's time for a change.



  1. Cleaning gutters – Ladder-climbing poses significant injury risks, and improper cleaning techniques can damage your gutters. Have it done in the spring and fall.

  2. Removing moss from roofs – Like gutter cleaning, moss removal requires skill on a ladder as well as know-how to ensure your roof isn't damaged in the process.
  3. Furnace and air conditioner annual maintenance – Your technician will keep things running smoothly and check for gas leaks or electrical hazards that may not be obvious to most homeowners.
  4. Dryer vent cleaning – Your lint trap misses 25% of the lint your dryer generates. The rest collects in the vent pipe and around the drum. A pro has tools to reach that stubborn lint without damaging your dryer or the vent. Get it cleaned once a year (or more often if you do a lot of laundry). 
  5. Chimney cleaning – If you burn even half a cord of wood a year, have your chimney professionally cleaned to remove creosote, a sticky byproduct of burning that can start a chimney fire. Beyond cleaning, a chimney pro can spot damage or leaks you can't see from the ground.

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