Following the path to homeownership can be exciting. About 66% of American households own their own homes, according to 2020 Census Bureau information, and each year nearly one-third of homebuyers purchase their first home. Along with the freedom of owning your own space comes a whole new set of responsibilities. Once you’ve crossed the line from renting to homeownership, it’s on you to keep the place up.
Many homeowners choose to take on many of these repairs themselves, and that can lead to lots of savings over time. If you don’t already own or use tools, choosing the right ones can be tricky with the myriad options available. I’ll break down the different types of home repairs into categories and cover basic tools that you can use to tackle home maintenance and repair projects.
When we talk about low level plumbing maintenance — other than plunging your blocked toilet drain — a couple of common tasks come to mind: adjusting or replacing faucets or shower heads and tightening drain nuts. There are a bevy of tools for these tasks, but most of them fall under the category of pliers. If I were forced to choose a single plier, I’d go with a pair of 12-inch or larger tongue-and-groove pliers. The jaws on these will adjust to accommodate many different sizes of nuts or pipes as needed.
These pliers will make changing out fixtures a breeze, although their larger size can sometimes put you in a jam if you’re working in a tight space, like under a kitchen sink. If you’re replacing a faucet in that scenario, you’ll want a basin wrench, which is specifically designed for those cramped quarters. You should also remember Teflon tape for all those threaded joints that will have supply water running through them.
Sink p-traps — the small curve of pipe that catches things dropped down the drain — often have joint nuts with oversized knob features that you can tighten and loosen by hand. If not, or if you have a stubborn one, tongue-and-groove pliers will also make quick work of the task. This is great for when that wedding ring or favorite toy accidentally disappears down a drain!
You can pick up tongue-and-groove pliers at any hardware or related big box store. A standalone pair could cost between five and twenty five bucks, or you can buy a plier set with a few different size and style options for ten to forty bucks.
Check out some solid 12-inch pliers below.
I wouldn’t suggest you take on most residential electrical issues unless you’re already familiar with the basics. That being said, there are some basic maintenance and troubleshooting tasks you can accomplish with the right tools and knowledge.
For about $30, you can pick up a decent test kit that includes a multimeter, outlet tester and voltage pen (like this). The outlet tester does exactly what it says: If you notice odd behavior or lack of power from a three-pronged outlet, just plug this in. Lights on the unit will illuminate to give you the all-clear or an error code to further troubleshoot.
The multimeter is a must-have tool for anyone doing any real volume of electrical residential work. Among other things, the multimeter answers the basic question, “Is there voltage present, and if so, how much?” This tool is especially important if you’re just looking to troubleshoot or replace light switches or outlets. (Always remember to use your multimeter to confirm there is no power to a switch or outlet after you have turned off the appropriate circuit breaker for that unit.)
If you’re switching out electrical components, you’ll also need a decent set of screwdrivers and maybe even a pair of wire strippers in some cases. If you want some tips on where to start, a manual like this could be helpful.
You probably know you need a hammer, but a couple of oft-overlooked tools for decorating your new home are a good level and tape measure.
Tape measures are essential when you’re deciding which pieces of furniture will fit where in your new place. Or maybe you’re redoing the floors or countertops — you’ll need to take measurements of those areas if you’re hunting down replacements yourself. So many things need to be measured and/or double checked: window treatments, spacing for wall decor or TVs, or more ambitious projects (adding a patio, deck or fencing). Most tape measures do about the same job about the same way, but occasionally you’ll find interesting features like built in pencil sharpeners, a writing area or even bubble levels. One of the main differences between most standard tape measures is their measuring capacity or length ranging from a few feet to about 30 feet.
Speaking of levels, you can never have too many — I probably have about 10 myself! A good level will come in handy when you’re putting up all those pictures and decor in your new home — I for one, am a serial “straightener” of crooked photos in my own (and sometimes other people’s) homes. But it’s just as important to use your level with your new kitchen appliances — a washer or out-of-level oven can experience degraded performance.
Finally, and this tool could be listing in most any of the topics I’m covering here, but at some point you will need a decent drill. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive name brand you can find, but I would recommend a cordless drill of at least 18-volts. Most products you can find at your local big box store will be fine. As important as the drill itself are the bits you get to go along with it. having a nice bit variety on hand will ensure you’re able to tackle all the jobs your home throws at you — hanging your new tv, drywall repairs, new door locks, or hanging new curtains. Try a bit set like this to be ready for anything!
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Now that you’ve moved in and started decorating, it’s only a matter of time before you redecorate (or try to fix that hole in the wall your kid swears they didn’t make).
Most residential interior walls are drywall, sometimes referred to as sheetrock or gypsum board. Drywall is a sheet of material that comes in varying thicknesses. It’s attached directly to the wood studs in your wall with drywall screws. The majority of drywall repairs are of the “nail hole” variety — holes in the wall from hanging photos or art. For these small hole repairs, you need spackle, a tape or putty knife (small is OK — 2 inches would work for this) and some sandpaper. I actually prefer joint compound, or “mud,” to spackle since you can use it on small and large drywall repairs. The same isn’t true of spackle, which will only work for small drywall repairs.
For your sandpaper, you can grab sandpaper blocks that have two different grits, or levels of roughness, on the same block. For these repairs, I’d recommend at least one grit in the 80 to 120 range, and a smoother finishing grit closer to 300.
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After all that decorating, redecorating and wall repairing, you’re going to need to paint. Here’s a tip before we even get started: Write down every paint brand and color code you use anywhere in your house. Paint matching can be an extremely frustrating task — and often ends with repainting entire rooms when you don’t have that information handy.
For small touch-ups you’ll need brushes of varying sizes depending on paint area and location, painters tape (to block off differently colored trim or other important fixtures) and a drop cloth. If you drip small amounts of paint on most flooring surfaces and act fast, they can easily be cleaned up. But if you’re working over carpet or spill half a gallon of paint, you’re best off with a drop cloth to cover that surface area.
If you’re painting a larger area, or entire walls, switch to a paint roller. An extension pole for your roller will help save you some back/neck pains as well. I’d also recommend a painter’s tool to help with cleanup, and a paint tray, but make sure that you get the disposable liners to go with it. You’ll save a lot of time in cleanup, especially if you’ll be working with multiple colors.
For many of you, owning your first home will also mean an entirely new world of responsibilities outside your home. Luckily, most home exteriors are durable and don’t need too much upkeep. Depending on your location, the occasional sweeping may be enough, or you might want a water hose to spray off dust accumulation. If you’re in an area with heavy traffic or unusual levels of airborne dirt, you might look into getting a pressure washer. Which one you ask? We’ve got that covered too.
A hose will also help if you have a lot of garden space in your yard, and, speaking of which — that grass won’t cut itself! At the least you’ll want to pick up a mower. If you fancy a new electric push mower, we have a fresh list of the best ones here. You might also need a string trimmer for yard edges or getting into tight spaces and trimming around stationary objects. If you have deciduous trees in your yard that drop leaves with the seasons, its worth picking up a rake or leaf blower. If you choose a blower, those can help you to manage grass clippings as well!
Maintenance and repair are often overlooked when considering investments such as electronics, vehicles or homes. Many of these tasks are only suitably done by licensed professionals, but there is plenty to be done by the enthusiastic end user — you! If you have or are thinking about buying your first home, this info should help keep you happy and your new place in working order.