Necessary Home Owner Skills

Necessary Home Owner Skills

10 Skills All Homeowners Should Learn 

  1. Replace a door lockEspecially if you have purchased an existing home with old keys floating around, you may want to replace the exterior locks.  On the inside of the door, remove the two long bolts holding the front and back of the lock together.  Remove the front and back of the lock. On the edge of the door, remove screws holding the latch in place and pull the latch out.  To replace, just add new hardware in reverse order. (Before buying one, measure the distance from the edge of the door to the center of the hole for the deadbolt or doorknob. Also, you may want to take the old knob to a hardware store in order to get the right one).  Replacement hardware will need to match.  Some locksets are adjustable, and accommodate the two standard backsets.  Keep in mind, door hardware needs tightening and lubricating over the years, so understanding how it works will pay off. 


  1. Change furnace and air conditioning filters.   Be sure you know where the filters are on air returns or at the air handler and how to change them.  Make a note of the filter sizes and keep this somewhere handy. Also, learn to clear the pipe that carries condensation from the air handler during the cool season. The pipes can get clogged with mold and algae and water usually backs up and starts dripping from you ceiling, if not taken care of.  If your air handler is in the attic or utility room, it should have two drains: one from the unit and the other from the safety pan under the unit.


  1. Learn the location of the main water cutoff.  It’s probably in a utility room or closet, but could be at a water tank or near a meter.  Note: You should familiarize yourself with other cutoff points too for your dishwasher, icemaker, gas, etc. (Gas valves indoors or at meter, are open when parallel to the line and closed when perpendicular).


  1. Find a stud in wall.  You’ll want to locate studs any time you are hanging a heavy object or installing molding or cabinets.  The “tap, tap” routine will help most of the time as the space between will be a higher pitch than the “thud” on the stud.  The centers of the studs are 16 inches apart, so if you find one you can usually find the others. Tip:  Look for the finishing nail heads at the baseboards, typically, they are in line with the studs.


  1. For spaces between studs, you’ll want to use hollow wall anchors to mount towel bars, drapery rods and others.  The most important rule is to match the anchor to the weight of the item you’re mounting. From weakest to strongest, anchors include:  plastic expansion anchors, threaded drywall anchors (zip-it), winged plastic anchors, molly bolts, or sleeve-type anchors, and toggle bolts.   When installing anchors, make small holes in the wall with a sharp nail first, but use a drill for larger holes.  To cover existing holes, patch over with spackle, sand after you remove the bolt or screw, and hammer the anchor flush with the wall.


6.  Hanging a ceiling fanThis is a time consuming job, but a popular upgrade, involving skills that you’ll use to replace light fixtures and receptacles.  The first step is to turn off the power at the breaker box. You must make sure a ceiling fan is anchored properly. If it is not, it can fall. If you can move the electrical box with one finer, it won’t support a fan. It’s best to anchor directly to the ceiling joist.  Assemble the fan, minus blades. Then attach the fan’s ceiling bracket. Hang fan in the bracket.  Connect wires’ black to black and white to white according to the directions. Attach the blades.  Fans work best if blades are at least 10 inches from the ceiling and no lower than 7 ft. from the floor. 

Tips:  Your first electrical project is a good time to make sure the breakers are labeled clearly and correctly. (Don’t assume this).  When hanging fans, or light fixtures, dimmer or switches, make sure wires are securely fastened and avoid jamming wires into crowded boxes. If you try to force wires, you could pull them apart and create a dangerous short.


7.  Sooner or later, you’ll need to learn to drive drywall screws with a variable speed drill.  You will probably repair drywall nail pops.  Pull the nail, drive a screw into the stud or joist a few inches away from the nail hole. The screw head should “dimple” and be just below the surface.  Cover the screw head and nail hole with spackle, let dry, sand, and repaint.  You use the same skill to repair loose deck boards.  Pull any loose nails and replace with decking screws.  Be sure to use coated or galvanized screws in treated lumber.  Remember to always have a spare No. 2 Phillips screw bit…you’ll tear them up doing decks for sure.


8.  You must master a caulking gun.  Some say squeeze tubes are easier, we say a gun’s trigger gives you more control.  There are some tricks. Cut the tip of the tube at an angle, but make a smaller hole than you think. You can always go larger. Break the inner seal. Quit squeezing before you get to the end of the area you’re caulking. The caulk will continue to come out.  When you reach the end, lift the gun from the surface and immediately remove tension on the push rod. 

Tips:  It’s important to choose the right caulk for the job.  Use mildew resistant caulk for bath and kitchen and paintable acrylic latex caulk for the gap between the wall and baseboard.  When smoothing caulk with your finger, resist the temptation to overwork it.  Smooth it with two passes, because most likely, the third will make a mess.


9.  Seal Stains.  You can’t paint over crayon, ball-point-pen, grease splatters or water stains on the ceiling without the stain coming through. You must seal the stain first.  There are lots of good sealers or primers, but one good one is pigmented shellac. A familiar brand is B-I-N from Zinser (see  Tips: Remember that you can tint primers to make them easier to cover with the finish paint. (Ask your paint pro).  Also, some primers, including pigmented shellac, seal in odors as well.


10.  Replace the flapper ball in a toilet.  Every homeowner deals with a toilet that leaks water from the tank to the bowl.  The problem usually is a bad flapper ball, the valve that opens when you press the handle to flush.  Buy a replacement, read directions on package and install it.  Tips:  Be sure to pay attention to proper chain length. A chain that’s too short or too long can interfere with proper operation.  Also, clean the opening at the bottom of the tank thoroughly before installing the new flapper ball. Grit and minerals build up and keep the ball from sealing properly.


 Three books we’ve found especially helpful are:

1.  “The Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual” (Rev.2005)

2.  “Home Depot’s Home Improvement 1-2-3” (Meredith Books, 2003)

3.  “Home & Garden Television’s Complete Fix-It” (Time Life, 200)


Seeking additional guidance:  Lowe’s tutorials online ( or This Old House ( are always helpful.


If you need to hire someone ask a neighbor or friend, check Angie’s List (, National Assoc. of the Remodeling industry (, or Home Owners Clubs of America (


Contact us for our list of vendors that customers recommended.  Thanks, Saralou 513.646.4819 or Mary 513.310.4448

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