September 8, 2013

Homeowner know-how

If you're new to house upkeep, these handy skills and tools will prepare you to fix problems.

By MARY BETH BRECKENRIDGE McClatchy Newspapers

Houses don't come with instruction manuals.

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Homeowners can be ready for trouble ranging from losing electrical power to grease fires with the help of basic information and supplies.

Shutterstock.com photos

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A set of Allen wrenches helps when garbage disposal blades have jammed. But use a wrench to fix the disposal only after turning the power off.

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Little emergencies inevitably crop up, and new homeowners aren't always equipped to deal with them.

To help, we've put together a list of tasks every homeowner should know how to do. Think of it as your own homeland security strategy. It certainly doesn't represent everything you'll need to know about your house, but it's a good start.

We compiled our list with help from www.energystar.gov and the books "Tools" by Steve Dodds and "What's a Homeowner to Do?" by Stephen Fanuka and Edward Lewine.

PUT TOGETHER A TOOL KIT

At the very least, you should own a curved-claw hammer, an adjustable wrench, needle-nose and standard pliers, slotted and Phillips screwdrivers in a couple of sizes and a pair of safety glasses.

An electric drill and a set of twist bits are also invaluable. Cordless drills are convenient but may not have enough torque to handle heavy-duty jobs. Start with a corded drill, and save the purchase of a cordless model for later.

It's worth investing in good-quality tools that feel comfortable in your hand. They'll last years, maybe even a lifetime.

FIND THE MAIN WATER SHUTOFF

When a water pipe leaks, you need to stop it right away. Otherwise the water can do extensive damage to your home and your bank account.

Shutoff valves for individual pipes are typically found along supply lines and near fixtures, but those valves can break or freeze up. So it's important to know how to stop the water supply to the whole house.

The main shutoff valve usually is found where the water supply enters the house, near the water meter. Look along the basement wall nearest the street. If you don't have a basement, the shutoff is probably near the water heater but might also be under a sink.

The valve might be right next to an outdoor meter or inside the house. Some water meters have two shutoff valves, one on each side. If yours does, use the valve farthest from the street.

It's a good idea to close and open the main shutoff valve once a year to prevent it from corroding and freezing in an open position.

RESET THE ELECTRICAL POWER

When the power goes out in part of your house, it means a circuit breaker has tripped or a fuse has blown, shutting off power to an electrical circuit. Usually the cause is an overload, meaning too many electrical devices are trying to draw power from one circuit.

Most homes have electrical panels with circuit breakers, switches that flip when there's a problem with the circuit. Resetting it isn't rocket science, but there's a little trick to it: You have to turn the switch all the way off first before you can turn it back on.

It's a good idea to turn off or unplug all the lights, appliances and other devices on the circuit before you reset the circuit breaker. When the power is back on, leave some things shut off, or plug them into a receptacle on a different circuit.

Sometimes a circuit shuts off because a ground fault interrupter has tripped on a receptacle. You can fix that by pushing the reset button on the receptacle. (GFI receptacles are usually found near water, such as in bathrooms and kitchens.)

If your house has older-style fuses, you fix a blown circuit by unscrewing the bad fuse in the electrical panel and screwing in a new one. However, it's important to use a fuse with the right wire gauge to handle the circuit's amperage.

You can foolproof that process preventively by screwing a Fustat fuse adapter into each fuse socket on your electrical panel. It will change the socket size, so you can't screw in a fuse that's the wrong size.

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Additional Photos

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If pipes leak, it’s easy to find valves near individual fixtures, but it may be necessary to know how to stop the water supply to the whole house.

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Cleaning or changing the filter in your furnace about every three months can help keep the heating system from breaking down in the middle of winter.

 


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