Your relationship with your home is one that will hopefully last a long time, so it pays to learn its most intimate details. And not to be weird, but we really do mean intimate: what turns it on (or off), what makes it hot (or cold), and its delicate inner workings.
Because, after all, your home takes care of you—it keeps you warm, safe, well-fed—so it has every right to act a little high-maintenance and demand some TLC in return. Neglect your house, and there could be hell to pay later in the form of floods, electrical outages, and worse.
So as a sort of how-deep-is-your-love kind of test, ask yourself if you know these five things about your home—and if not, maybe you should go find out.
Love is a two-way street!
Q: Where is the main water shut-off valve?
Imagine you’re anywhere in your house where water is a feature: bathroom, kitchen, laundry room. They’re all connected by a network of pipes that come from your main water source. If any of those tangential pipes springs a leak, you’ll need to shut off the water until it can be fixed.
Every home is different, but you can likely find your main valve near the perimeter of your house, at ground level, nearest your water meter. If your water pipes are visible (in the basement, for example), follow them until you reach the main inlet and valve.
It’s possible your shut-off valve could be in a crawl space, closet, or somewhere out of the way, but it should definitely be in plain sight, rather than covered over with drywall. But rather than sit there and wonder, be sure to ask the previous home seller before you move in or check your home’s blueprints for a clue.
Q: Where is your circuit box, and is it properly labeled?
A circuit box is your house’s bodyguard against sudden spikes in electricity that run through the wires. Know your circuit box! It may enable you to avoid hiring a technician for simple electrical issues.
Most circuit boxes are located in a house’s basement, but some are also found in garages or utility closets. The switches inside correspond to rooms and sets of outlets in your home. Hopefully, they’re labeled properly—and if not, you should get on that pronto to avoid a tortuous guessing game every time you need to turn your power on and off.
If power suddenly goes out in a room (usually because you have too much plugged into one outlet), you can identify the tripped circuit by the switch that’s flipped in the opposite direction to the others. That means you may need to plug in your lava lamp elsewhere.
Q: What is a thermocouple, and do you know how to change it?
When your furnace goes out, you’ll be left in the cold—but not if you know how to change its thermocouple.This is the part of the furnace that shuts off the gas if your pilot light goes out, preventing that gas from seeping into your home. (You know, the gas that can kill you if left to run amok.)
If the furnace won’t stay lit, there’s a good chance you have a faulty thermocouple. Learning how to replace or adjust yours can be the difference between a $10 trip to the hardware store, and a $90/hour visit from a technician. Most thermocouples are held in place by brackets, which can be gently unscrewed to insert the replacement thermocouple.
Keeping a spare thermocouple on hand during winter is especially smart, because furnace problems can be more inconvenient—and costly—during the peak times of the year.
Q: Where are all your filters, and when was the last time they were replaced?
Lots of appliances in your home have filters. In fact, any device that conducts air or water should have some sort of filter in place to remove impurities and particulates. Changing these filters routinely can save you money, and keep you safe, which is why it’s helpful to know when they’re due to be replaced. Furnace filters should be replaced every two to three months; HVAC, ice maker, and water dispenser filters must change at least once a year. But that varies based on the manufacturer, so be sure to check your maintenance manual and not let it slide.
Q: Does your home have a sump pump, and do you know how to maintain it?
A sump pump is a pump (duh) installed in certain basements and crawl spaces to keep these areas of your home dry, which it does by collecting water that tries to seep in and moving it far, far away (or at least as far as the drainage ditch in your yard). They’re especially common in regions where basement flooding is an issue. Without a sump pump, the invading water can result in thousands of dollars in damage.
The good news, though, is that sump pumps are relatively easy to maintain. Check both lines, in and out, to make sure they’re not clogged with debris, and make sure the float component (this is the little bob that floats upward when water begins to fill the sump pit, activating the pump) can move smoothly.