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25 Things You Need to Do When You Move Into Your New Home

Take care of these vital tasks right away to avoid headaches later.

water heater
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Make a prioritized list

The minute you walk in to your new home, your mind will be racing with to-dos. Keep this overwhelming task list at bay by keeping a notebook in a central location, and write down every action item you or your family thinks of throughout the day. After 24 hours cut the list off, and prioritize each item with a 1, 2, or 3. First priority should be items completed that week, such as safety concerns, cleaning, and unpacking essentials. Priority two should be tasks completed within the next two months: anything related to organization, maintenance, and remaining unpacking. Priority three tasks should be non-essential improvements and projects you’d like to complete within the year: renovations, landscaping, and large purchases. Read this first-time homebuyer’s guide to home maintenance to get started, and make sure you remember these 35 tips every homeowner should know.

refinishing hardwood floors
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You can refinish your own hardwood

Intimidated by this seemingly daunting project? Don’t be. If you have the will and a whole day (or two) to yourself, you can refinish the hardwood floors in the major areas of your home. You don’t necessarily need to sand, but if the floor is damaged enough to warrant buffing, check out your local hardware store and rent the equipment for anywhere from four to forty-eight hours. Here’s how to refinish your hardwood floors.
fridge coil
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Clean refrigerator coils—or pay unnecessary repair bills

Refrigerator condenser coils are located on the back of the fridge or across the bottom. When coils are clogged with dust, pet hair and cobwebs, they can’t efficiently release heat. The result is your compressor works harder and longer than it was designed to, using more energy and shortening the life of your fridge. Clean the coils with a coil-cleaning brush and vacuum. A coil-cleaning brush, which is bendable to fit in tight areas, does a thorough job. Look for one online or at appliance stores. For tips on repairing your refrigerator (without a service call), check out our guide or learn how to pick the best refrigerator out there.

dryer vent
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Clean out the lint for dryer efficiency and save up to $25 a year

A clogged lint screen or dryer duct drastically reduces the efficiency of your dryer, whether it’s gas or electric. Clean the lint screen after each load and clean the exhaust duct once a year. The Linteater (shown) has an auger brush that attaches to a drill to clean out the ducts. Check out 35 other crazy ways to save money in your house.

Electric dryers use about $85 of electricity annually. A dirty lint screen can cause the dryer to use up to 30 percent more electricity, according to the Consumer Energy Center. Lint buildup is also a common cause of fires.

Dry loads of laundry back-to-back so the dryer doesn’t cool down between loads (a warm dryer uses less energy). And only run the dryer until the clothes are dry. Overdrying damages your clothes and runs up your electric bill. If you’re in the market for a new dryer and already have a gas line in the house, go with a gas dryer. A gas dryer is more efficient.

detachable toilet seat
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Install a detachable toilet seat

It seems like no matter how hard you try, you can never get the hinges on the toilet seat clean. There’s always a bit of cleaning solution that seeps underneath and creeps out later. Installing a detachable toilet seat solves the problem. This Bemis brand seat is easy to remove by just twisting two hinge caps about a quarter of a turn. Then you have easy access to clean under the hinges. Detachable seats cost about $20. Installation is straightforward and requires only a wrench. Just don’t let this simple job turn into a terrifying plumbing adventure like these 100 plumbing goofs. Are your bolts rusted and stuck? Learn how to remove rusted toilet seat bolts.

exterior of house
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Get to know your house before making big changes

Live in your home for 12 to 18 months before undertaking any major renovations such as additions or knocking down walls. What you initially think you want may change after you’ve lived there for a while. If you are considering big changes, check out these home renovations you just might regret later on.

polishing furniture
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Renew wood with mineral spirits

If the finish on your furniture or woodwork is dull and murky, it may need refinishing. But before you take on that project, take a tip from furniture restorers and clean it with mineral spirits. Mineral spirits—sometimes labeled “paint thinner”—is a gentle solvent that dissolves years of grime and residue from cleaners or polishes without harming wood finishes. Get it at a home center or paint store. Just soak a soft cloth and keep rubbing until the cloth no longer picks up grime. Work in a well-ventilated area, and remember that the fumes are flammable. Hang the cloth outdoors to dry before throwing it in the trash. Don’t forget these 40 other home repairs anyone can do themselves.
Handyman inspects a filter from a home furnace
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Replace the furnace filter

One of the fastest ways to create problems with a forced-air heating and cooling system is to forget to replace the filter. Locate the furnace filter and buy replacements if the previous owners didn’t leave you a stash. Replace the filter (and get in the habit of doing it every month). Here’s how!
The men are cleaning the air conditioning condenser
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Clean air conditioner condensers and evaporators

A little sweat equity now will help both your wallet and your comfort level later when summer’s heat sets in. Most of the job can be done without the help of a professional, and by servicing and testing out your cooling system now, you will have plenty of time to make an appointment with an air conditioning contractor if there’s any unforeseen issues. After cutting off the electricity to the unit, vacuum the outdoor condenser’s exterior fins with a soft-bristled brush and clear away bushes, weeds, and overgrown grass within two feet of the unit. Indoors, replace the furnace filter on the evaporator unit, vacuum the blower compartment, and clean the condensation drain. For the full guide to cleaning the air conditioner, click here.

water main shutoff
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Locate your home’s main water shutoff valve

Learn where you main water shutoff valve is in case you need to shut off the water to your entire house, and know where to find the gas shutoff too.

Almost all homes have one main shutoff valve directly before the water meter and another directly after. Where the meter is located depends on the climate in your area. In cold climates, the meter and main shutoff valves are located inside, usually in a basement or other warm area to prevent freezing. In milder climates, the meter and its two shutoff valves may be attached to an exterior wall or nestled in an underground box with a removable lid.

Between the water main in the street and the meter, there’s also usually a buried curb stop valve (accessible only by city workers wielding special long-handled wrenches) and a corporation stop, where your house water line hooks up to the water main. Your city absolutely doesn’t want you messing around with these valves. Turn your water off or on using the main valve on the house side of the meter. This valve will normally be a gate-type valve, with a round knurled handle, requiring several full clockwise rotations to turn off. In newer homes, it could be a ball valve. Find out more about main water shutoff valves here.

electrical panel
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Locate the electrical panel

Find the electrical panel so you know where to shut of the power to your whole house or an individual circuit.

You’ll usually find the main circuit breaker panel—a gray, metal box—in a utility room, garage or basement. Don’t worry about opening the panel’s door. All the dangerous stuff is behind another steel cover. Behind the door is the main breaker for the entire house (usually at the top of the panel) and two rows of other breakers below it, each controlling individual circuits. If you’re lucky, there will be a guide that indicates which outlets and receptacles are served by each circuit. Learn more about circuit breakers here.

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Inspect crawlspaces and the attic

It’s good to familiarize yourself with the farthest corners of your home. Check for leaks, bugsmold, and other issues that you should address sooner rather than later. If your crawlspace doesn’t have a vapor barrier, learn how to install one here.

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Make one room a sanctuary

You won’t be able to make all of the home improvements you want to make right away, and it’s best to live in your home for at least a couple of months before starting any major projects. Something that seems like a must-do when you first move in might quickly fall to the bottom of the wish list after you’ve actually lived in your home for awhile.

So choose one room that doesn’t require too much work and make that space your new-home getaway. You’ll have a place, in your colors and style, where you can relax and dream about the day when every room in your home is just the way you want it. Like the wall panels shown here? Here’s how to create this look in one weekend.

woman cleaning shower
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If you already keep a clean house, simply keep up the good work, checking to make sure you don’t overlook little-used closets and other nooks and crannies that aren’t part of your weekly routine. This needs to be a deep cleaning.

For the rest of us, it’s time to get serious. Start at the top (the attic or second-story rooms) and work your way down. Clean ceiling light fixtures first, scrub walls and woodwork, and finish with floors. As you work your way from top to bottom, don’t leave one area until it is completely clean, and then move on. Don’t drag dirt from one area back into the place you just cleaned. Here are some easy ideas on cleaning.

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Meet the neighbors

It’s wise to reach out and extend a friendly gesture to your neighbors as soon as possible. You want to know those around you so that everyone can look out for each other. It’s hard to know if a situation is suspicious if you don’t know the people involved. Establishing yourself in your neighborhood can also give you access to inside information, like who’s the best plumber in the area and which roofing company to avoid. Even if you’re an introvert, you’ll be happiest if you’re in good standing with your neighbors. Want to replace your front door to make it more welcoming? Here’s how to do it yourself.

Smoke detector mounted on roof in apartment
Alexander Kirch/Shutterstock

Check smoke and CO detector dates, and replace as needed

It’s important that you know where your smoke and CO detectors are located and that you make sure they are working. Smoke alarms may be the cheapest, easiest, and most effective means for protecting your family and your home from a fire, as long as they’re functioning. Learn where smoke detectors should be located, how to maintain them, when to replace them and some cool new options available for homeowners here and here.

sump pump
The Family Handyman

If you have a sump pump, does it work?

It’s easy to forget about your sump* pump, but it’s important to make sure it’s in good working order. If you don’t, you could end up like the homeowner who returned from a weekend trip to discover his entire basement floor covered in half an inch of water. After shutting down the power, he waded over to the sump pump and noticed it wasn’t working. Upon closer inspection, he realized that the cable attached to the float must have gotten tangled somehow. It took him two seconds to untangle the cable, and then he spent the next 15 hours dragging out waterlogged carpet, running the wet/dry vac, and moving fans around. 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.

Learn more about sump pump backups here and here. Make sure you know the 12 home improvement projects you should never do yourself.

*A sump is a pit, well, basin or the like in which water is collected. In a basement, excess water collected in a sump is removed by a sump pump.

laminate samples
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Start a sample file

It’s tempting to keep all of your home-related information stored in the cloud. However, for samples or paint, fabric, tile, plastic laminate, etc., it’s better to keep an actual physical sample. Trying to work with colors rendered on your phone can lead to mistakes that can be costly. All you need is a simple accordion file or even a small box with a lid. When you’re heading out to shop for accent pillows and a throw, grab your sample and go! Check out our tips on selecting laminate countertopscarpet, and a faucet.

hiding a key
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If you don’t have keyless entry, hide a key

If you don’t have keyless locks, be sure to hide a house key so you don’t get locked out. Consider a location other than under the welcome mat, like in a garden hose or under a flower pot. Protect your house against burglars by knowing the best hiding spots from this collection of tips.

safety alarm
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Add inexpensive door and window alarms

Keeping doors and windows locked is your first line of defense. Make wireless alarms your second. Burglars hate noises, so even a small alarm usually sends them running. See what else a burglar won’t tell you. The alarms are available at home centers. Or check out Intermatic or Door and Window Alarms. The alarms don’t provide the same security as pro-installed monitored systems because the wireless devices are activated by doors or windows opening (not glass breaking). Use the alarms for doors and windows in “hidden” areas of the house where you don’t normally gather and that are often dark.

home office organization
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Make a homeowner’s journal

Buy a ring binder and keep insurance papers, repair receipts, and all other paperwork pertaining to the house in it. Storing all your house information in one handy place makes life easier for the homeowner and can be a sales “plus” when selling the house later. Paying too much for your insurance? Learn how to save money on insurance here.

electrical panel
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Set up utilities

If possible, transition utility accounts to your new address, and set up all installation appointments as close to move-in day as you can. Use apps like Nextdoor and social media to ask future neighbors for vendors they’d recommend. (But also beware of the things your neighbor will never tell you.) File for a change of address with USPS, IRS, and banking.

Closed up doorknob, please lock the door
Suriya Desatit/Shutterstock

Change the locks

It’s a small price for piece of mind. Even if the previous homeowners have handed over their set of keys, there’s no telling who else might still have one. A dog walker, a cleaning lady, a babysitter or family member? Check out the easy ways to theft-proof your home. It’s easy to imagine someone still having access into your new home, so changing the locks soon after moving in will give you security and piece of mind. Same goes for garage door codes. Learn how to rekey a door lock here.

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Start small

You’ve likely got a long list of projects you’d like to complete in your new home, but if you haven’t taken on a large home project before, it’s best to start small and work your way up so you can learn from mistakes in less important places. Try updating the laundry room, installing a closet system before moving on to a bathroom remodel, or adding new flooring. Check out these 20 ways to make a laundry room work better.

braided steel hose
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Within the first six months

These are additional things you don’t need to do immediately, but doing them keeps you ahead of potential problems:

Next, don’t miss the 16 things all smart homeowners do once a year.

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Originally Published on The Family Handyman