For most of us, the fun part of moving into a new home is putting our own stamp on the space. I’m sure people who get excited about furnaces and drainage are out there (and waiting to leave a comment), but I can’t be the only one who barely gave that stuff a thought. As a first-time homeowner, though, I have made some stupid, expensive mistakes on the boring stuff that no one talks about. So, I’m spilling the beans here so that you can learn from my house mistakes. Hopefully, they'll save you plenty of cash...and frustration.
1. Not understanding how my heating works
As a renter for many years, I didn't need to understand how to keep the heat running in my space. Other than adjusting a thermostat, I was oblivious. So when we returned from a winter trip to a furnace that was misbehaving, our first step was to look for our missing manual, and then Google the problem.
Several furnace repair websites later, we learned that there was a filter on the furnace that you’re supposed to replace every three months. If you don’t replace your Brita water filter, nothing happens except maybe your water doesn't taste as good. If you allow your home furnace filter to be coated with a thick layer of dust and cat hair by never changing it (ew, I know,)the consequences are worse. And pricey. It may actually stop working in the middle of the winter, leaving you cold, sad, and having to spend too much money on furnace repair.
The second time I spent too much money on my furnace, the first thing I did was check the filter, and replace it. No dice. With the temperature rapidly falling during the coldest days of the winter, after a few more attempted fixes I gave in and called a professional. The first thing he did was show me the error lights on my furnace, and the key for decoding them printed on the interior of a panel.
It turned out this, too, was a problem I could have solved myself, saving time, money, and days huddled under blankets to stay warm. If only I had known!
Furnaces are not a sexy part of home-ownership. Ideally, no one ever sees them. But when yours stops working during cold weather, you understand how much it pays to have a little bit of knowledge of how to keep yours going. Read your manual, and always replace your filter as your manufacturer recommends. At least for my furnace, new filters are inexpensive, and switching them out is easy, so there’s no excuse not to do it. I’ve set a calendar reminder so that I can’t forget to change mine, and many smart thermostats have the option to set a reminder, too.
2. Ignoring the pitter-patter of little feet
"Have you heard those noises upstairs? Like something is scrambling around on our roof?" I asked my husband. He hadn't noticed, so at first I wasn't sure if I was imagining it, but my cats soon confirmed my suspicions that creatures were running amok in our attic. Unfortunately, the cats had zero interest in helping solve the problem, and I naively hoped the creatures would decide to move on.
Spoiler: They did not.
Weeks after first hearing the scampering, we started to hear chewing, and called a local (humane) pest removal company. It turned out a squirrel mama had decided to make her nest and raise her babies in a hole she chewed into our exterior walls. She, and her family, each had to be trapped and relocated to some nearby woods (hopefully not really "a farm upstate"). Each. squirrel. incurred. a. separate. fee.
So the lesson I learned here was that pests are unlikely to leave on their own, and instead they’ll probably procreate and cost more to remove than if dealt with earlier. Ignore pests at your own peril. Once they’ve found a good situation, they probably won’t leave without encouragement.
3. Not understanding the importance of drainage
Even if you’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest, you may have heard that we get a lot of rain here. Most of it is during the winter, and as we learned during a record-breakingly-rainy winter, saturated ground plus improperly-configured drainage equals a wet basement.
Since our basement had never leaked before, we had no idea that it was a hazard, and some stuff that we stored down there was ruined by soaking in water.
To solve the problem, we considered painting the basement walls with waterproof paint, or digging a French drain system outside. In retrospect, I can't figure out why we never considered that dumping all of the water from the roof right next to our foundation was the problem. Oh right, it was because we were brand-new homeowners who just had no idea how these things work.
Over a few more rainy winters, we learned that the downspout extenders that our house came with weren't there just to get in the way of mowing the lawn. In fact, they channeled water away from the foundation, and prevented a wet basement. Had we known that the ugly plastic tubes on the corners of our house were important, we would have kept them in place, but we didn't even think about it until the damage was already done.
Cleaning the gutters of your house is also important, since that keeps the water that hits your roof from overflowing and dripping down near your foundation. Gutters and downspouts are another thing I never thought about as a renter, but I learned their importance the hard way.
Maybe I've watched too many episodes of Trading Spaces, and not enough of This Old House, but I wish someone had warned me about this stuff. These are the priciest mistakes we've made in the four years since my husband and I bought our home, but I'm sure they won't be the last.
Whether you're shaking your head at my stupidity, or nodding because you've made similar mistakes, I know I can't be the only one who has done this kind of stuff. What are the dumbest practical home mistakes you’ve made, and what can other homeowners learn from them?