How do I homeowner?
October 27, 2018 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Well, it looks like I'm about to become a homeowner. Pending a successful home inspection, I am on track to become the latest resident of this adorable 1870s cape on a half-acre lot in New Hampshire. I have never owned a home before. If you own a home yourself, what do you wish you had known when you bought your first house?

This is very exciting, and slightly terrifying. I am super psyched for this house and have lots of big plans for it, but I'm pretty unfamiliar with the year-to-year nuts and bolts of owning and maintaining a house. What do I need to be aware of? What do I need to do in the first month, the first year, and then year after year? How do I make sure that I stay right with my town, what should I expect to have to deal with in terms of my taxes going forward, and what should I be thinking about in terms of ongoing maintenance expenses? What surprised you (either good or bad) when you moved into your first house, and what would you have done differently if you had it to do again?

The house in question is an 1875 cape with wooden clapboard siding (board-and-batten on the garage) and an asphalt shingle roof. The siding will need to be redone soon, but the roof looks good to me. No gutters, but decent soffit and rake overhangs. The kitchen and garage are additions; I'd estimate they were built in the 1950s or 60s based on the style of framing in the garage and the type of cabinets in the kitchen. The main house is 1½ stories tall (the attic was finished out in wooden lath and plaster either from the beginning or early in its life) and is post-and-beam construction. The basement is cement, I assume a skim coat (in good condition) over an original stone foundation. The basement does not have a sump or a french drain system but it appears clean and dry.

The main house is mostly carpeted over what I assume are original hardwood floors. There is a lot of wood paneling in the interior, which I happen to like. The windows are Harvey Majesty-series wood windows with modern double-pane construction. There is a downstairs bedroom, two upstairs bedrooms, and one downstairs bathroom. I plan to mostly live downstairs; in fact I intend to tear out the finished upstairs (the lath and plaster is in bad shape), reinforce the roof as needed (the framing up there looks a bit wacky), improve the insulation, and then eventually refinish it as a single large bedroom plus bathroom. I also plan to bring in some new beams down in the basement, as there are a couple that look like they're nearing the end of their lives.

The kitchen is the breezeway area between the house and the garage. It has some old-school cabinets that I like, a laminate countertop that I don't, and a range and wall oven, both electric. There's a propane tank out back which is honestly a bit of a mystery to me since the house has oil heat and electric hot water, but someday I'd like to get a gas line run for a new range and wall oven. There are also vinyl floors in here, which again are not my favorite but which I'm not in a hurry to replace as they're perfectly functional.

The one-car garage off the kitchen is unfinished, with a cement floor and exposed, uninsulated framing. It's basically an attached barn (not built like a barn though) but I'm alright with that. It appears to be in fine shape. It has an electric door, so that's nice.

Mechanically speaking, in the basement there is a well system, an oil tank, a furnace for forced-hot-air heating (no cooling), and an electric water heater. My general impression was that everything looked in good condition and reasonably new except for the oil tank, which has a wonky leg that will need fixing. The fuel line for the furnace is just laying on the floor (it's hooked up though) which will need to be fixed. There is a functioning wood stove in the living room. The house has a septic system. Testing the well and septic are part of next week's home inspection.

Electrically, one can find traces of old knob-and-tube wiring throughout the house, but the existing wiring is a combination of modern Romex and midcentury cloth-insulated wire. The house is on a new-looking 200A service with a new-looking breaker box that has plenty of free space in it. Some of the older wiring is clearly not right; behind the kneewalls in the attic I saw old cloth wire just draped loosely over the floorboards. At some point, I will likely pull new Romex to replace the old cloth. Note that while the photo I posted shows two electric meters, the house currently only has one. (The second meter was almost certainly for the water heater; there used to be lower billing rates for electric water heaters when metered separately, but this is no longer the case.) The electric utility is a subsidiary of Eversource.

Out back I've got that septic tank way off in the back corner, with two candy-cane-shaped vent stacks, one of which is absurdly tall (like 10' tall) for some reason. There's an old well with a concrete cap near the middle of the yard, and a newer well head on the side yard. There's a large, rather magnificent sugar maple in the back yard, as well as an impressively big and gnarly Japanese maple in the front and another more modest-sized one out back. The house has a low deck on the back side, in good repair, made from what looks like painted pressure-treated lumber or maybe painted cedar. There is no shed. The driveway is asphalt and is in decent shape. The house is not on a busy street although it is near a school and will probably get a lot of school-related traffic, mostly while I'm at work.

The town is fairly typical for New Hampshire, and indeed for New England. Property taxes are high (normal for NH), there's a town meeting-style government which I intend to participate in, population density is in the low 600s per square mile, and the town has about 10,000 total residents. There are a couple of decent-sized ponds nearby which appear to have at least some public access. I do not intend to ever have children, so the school system isn't super relevant to me except in that the house is is near one. Trash pickup is curbside, with single-stream recycling and a town transfer station that can handle non-standard items.

What do you think? What am I missing, what am I not thinking about? What should I be aware of going into this that you wish you had been aware of when you bought your own first house? It's going to be just me living there (at least for the foreseeable future) so I can do pretty much whatever I like with it. I really want to take care of this house and put it on a good footing for the 21st century. I also want to have as few surprises as possible, financial or otherwise, in the process.

Thanks so much for all your advice and perspectives.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The to Home & Garden (45 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Congratulations! It looks/sounds like a great place.

This may be too oddly specific, but: before moving into our house, we wish we had looked at flood maps and had a plumber out to tell us if we were in good shape re: stormwater management. I know you say the basement looks clean and dry (yay!) but ours did too until the first major rainstorm, which caused stormwater to back up into the house via our toilet. (0/10 worst way to come home from a vacation.)
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:51 PM on October 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Insulation for New England winters?

If you're going to be using that wood stove for heat, make sure it's well-vented, and get a carbon monoxide detector. (Actually, get the carbon monoxide detector anyway.)
posted by basalganglia at 12:55 PM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would make sure the inspector examines every outlet and ceiling light to ensure that they're all grounded - making it less likely that there's a run of K&T hidden somewhere.

If I had it to do again, I'd try to cram as many renovations into the very early days and then just coast for as long as possible. As much as you think working on the house might be fun and exciting, ongoing reno work takes time away from family, career and hobbies. It robs you of vacations. Normal maintenance eats up lots of time and money as it is.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:59 PM on October 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

- Apparently you're supposed to wash the outside of the house every year.
- You're supposed to make sure soil doesn't build up too high around the base of the house.
- Prior to our house getting insulation, we took photos of the exposed walls. We now have x-ray views for every wire and pipe in the house.

I really want to take care of this house and put it on a good footing for the 21st century.

Compost bucket toilet systems are approved under new international plumbing code. Happy to talk more about this if you're interested!
posted by aniola at 1:07 PM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

If possible, refrain from any landscaping for at least a year. I bought my home in August and had too much money wrapped up in renovations to do any landscaping at the time. Eight months later in the spring, a huge area of beautiful daffodils sprouted up along a property line and I love them! I had no idea they were there. You will get a chance to see how your yard interacts with the elements throughout the seasons - where does the water go when it rains? Does it pool anywhere? Where do the leaves blow and accumulate? Where does snow drift and melt slower/faster? Knowing little things like that will inform good decisions moving forward.
Congratulations and enjoy your new home!
posted by NoraCharles at 1:08 PM on October 27, 2018 [11 favorites]

After you redo the siding, consider painting the house rainbow. In any case, painting a house by hand all at once takes forever! I highly recommend doing a couple stripes a year. Mark the year the stripe was painted in permanent marker on the least-visible corner. Then you never need to spend the whole summer painting the house!

If you don't have a strong preference about the yard layout, plant it out with layers of low-maintenance native vegetation to create habitat for wildlife such as birds. It makes it easier to hide from predators if you can go from hiding on the ground with groundcover, to hiding in a small bush, to a large bush, to a small tree, to a large tree. Vegetation can also create a wind buffer and protect your paint job from the sun. Plus the prettiest yards have the most layers.
posted by aniola at 1:21 PM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Thanks for sending me down a GIS rabbithole, schroedingersgirl. I have now learned that my house is not in a flood zone, that there's more public conservation land nearby than I had thought, that the soil my house sits on is considered well-drained, and that the neighborhood is rated as prime farmland. All good stuff! Also it looks like there's been very little development in town since 1992—the earliest year for which aerial imagery is available.

I do intend to hold off on landscaping work for a while. Actually I intend to do almost nothing until spring, using the first winter (when working on the house is harder anyway) to learn the house and property, getting a sense of how it works and what it needs. My long-term landscaping plans involve converting much of the back yard to native meadow (an endangered ecosystem in New England) with a meditation path and sitting area cut through it, and planting more trees in the front—maybe some nice Eastern Red Cedars. I definitely want to go with native plants; I'll probably keep the Japanese maple in the front as it's just a really great specimen, but the one in the back is kind of in a weird location so I may have it dug up and sold; it's not as grand as the front one, but it's a mature tree and they command a good price.

I almost hesitate to mention it, but I may take that sugar maple down. I want to do solar, and as magnificent as it is I'm pretty sure that it's perfectly positioned to shade the rear, south-facing roofs. It's also much taller than the house and is within striking distance should it ever come down, though to be fair it looks like it's perfectly healthy. What I would like to do is to raise a few of its shoots that are in more propitious locations (sugar maples are prolific breeders) and once I've reared three or four of them to saplings (I would continue to care for them during my tenure at this house) have the parent tree cut down and turned into lumber to be used in the house for framing and furniture. If I do decide to lose this tree, that seems like the most respectful way to go about it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:37 PM on October 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

These are all great questions for the home inspector you'll hire as part of the buying process. There's a list of stuff he'll check and then you can ask him anything about houses and the stuff and systems in it. You can follow him around as he's inspecting too, like literally over his shoulder if you want.

Property tax and the home insurance can be rolled into the mortgage payment so then you don't have to worry about those as long as you're paying your monthly payment.

The other thing, is I'd recommend putting 20% down. If you put less than 20% down, you have to pay PMI on top of the mortgage payment until the mortgage principal is down to 80% of the value of the house. PMI felt like totally throwing money away.

After I bought a house I made a ton of trips to the hardware store. Have you bought a lawn mower? A snow shovel? Yard tools? A screw driver and wrench set?

Do you know what the utility bills are like?

The first house I bought, the refrigerator died 3 months later. The AC died a few years after that. These expenses are entirely yours. The roof is the other major expense.

How long are you planning on being there? The other thing that didn't sink in for a while for me is the concept of return. If you have to redo the electric or redo the insulation, how much does that increase the value of the house? The house is what it is. If you spend $20k to redo the insulation in the house but it only lowers your heating bill by $50/mo, was it worth spending that $20k?

When it comes time to sell, the house is only worth what you can get someone to buy it for. The more you customize it for yourself and your specific tastes, the more you could be turning potential buyers off. Also when you sell, the realtor is going to take 6% of the sell price.
posted by Blue Tsunami at 1:39 PM on October 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hey congrats, this looks nice. I think a lot of the structural stuff will be sorted out with the inspection which is useful. One thing I didn't hear you mention is internet and figuring out how it will work, both how fast can you get it and how do you want to set it up inside your house.

When I w2as a first time homeowner the things that were helpful to me were

- learning about passive solar gain and how that could affect my heating/cooling if I understood it correctly at the time
- similarly what needed attention/insulating for its first winter (drafty doors, how to get in and out of the house, what settings were good for the thermostat)
- figuring out where the rainwater goes (gutters, drains, places where drips congregate) because that can also give you an idea about ICE in the winter. Similarly, how the snow comes off of the roof (do you need a roof rake? Is there a person you can call if you have ice dams?)
- what do you need "a person" for and what do you want to do yourself as far as routine things. When I was first a homeowner things like "get the furnace serviced/cleaned every year and it will save you money in the long run" were completely opaque to me. Other things like plowing, lawn care, gardening/planting, dealing with leaves are all choices you can make balancing time and money
- backup power. If you're in a place with real winter and it looks like you are, think about whether you need a generator or anything else. I know what you do for work so I'm sure you've already thought about other power stuff
- TAXES - figure out when they're due and how you're notified. In my small New England town even being a few days late can be a HUGE money issue so stay on top of it. Also some towns have weird district stuff where you might be in one or another blabity bla district and taxes might be slightly different. Make friends with your town clerk

As far as getting along with neighbors I've always found the best thing to do is be friendly, be outside sometimes so they know who you are (if not go over and say hi). Don't change a ton of stuff all at once, keep your front yard tidy enough, try to get a feel for the area before you start thinking about what sort of visible changes you'd want to make to your place. Make friends with the people at the post office and the library and the transfer station (like specifically say "Hi I am new in town") and see if there's some regular spot you can get coffee or a sandwich that you can feel comfortable in or around. Go to your town meeting and say your peace (I've found this is especially important about social justice stuff where people might not be speaking up so much) but be more cautious about jumping in to whatever longtime town grudge match is going on. Don't be that person "from away" who instantly wants more cops and sidewalks.

I'd also figure out the propane tank (maybe calling the company who owns it if you know) and why that vent stack is so tall. If you have a wood stove get wood NOW and prepare to pay through the nose for it and get wood early next year sand save money. Get the chimney cleaned (or DIY) and yes, carbon monoxide detectors are a big thing. Above all, prepare to spend some time in your house just enjoying it as well as fixing it so make sure there is a space in it that you like as well as all the work you'll be doing.
posted by jessamyn at 1:39 PM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, but I'll probably keep it its original color. A rainbow house would be awesome, but that olive green color is a classic on old capes (rarely seen on new houses) and I think it suits me. The color was one of the first things that attracted me to the house.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:40 PM on October 27, 2018

I plan to be there basically forever. I love my job, and it's conveniently located between both that and the White Mountains, where I spend many of my weekends (when I'm not working on my house, I guess). I can't imagine ever needing something larger. So I'm less interested in return on investment than in making good long-term choices that will carry this house forward into its next 150 years. I feel like with a house this old, one has almost a duty to take care of it and pass it on to the next generation in good working condition, and that notion of stewardship is how I plan to approach my tenure here.

OK, I'll stop commenting. I'm just very excited and you're all giving me such excellent advice! I'll sit back and let it roll in.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:44 PM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

That is adorable!! Lots of good answers so far, I will only add ...

"someday I'd like to get a gas line run for a new range and wall oven"

If you can make it work, you want a gas range and an electric oven. That's the ideal. Gas is better for stovetop cooking because you have more control over the flame/heat, but an electric oven heats to a more consistent temperature for baking.

Oh, and as a general rule, whatever $$ you think you're going to need for repairs in the first couple of years, double it. It will take 2-3 years to have a good idea of a maintenance budget. Not saying this to scare you, just to be realistic.

I"m so excited for you!!
posted by mccxxiii at 2:05 PM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

We bought a house for the first time in 2014 and only later realized that we had basically purchased the best-staged house we looked at. We missed what should have been obvious, things like exterior trim that was about to peel and rotting deck boards. Just look very, very carefully at stuff that is going to need work in the future, because, well, it will.
posted by 4ster at 2:06 PM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

So.. this is not specific to your house, but one of the things it took me a long time to internalize (and I sometimes still struggle with) as the owner of an older house: Your house is like the Ship of Theseus.

It will be necessary, over time, to replace bits and pieces of it because that is how houses (and ships) work. Try to stay true to the overall shape and style of the house but don't get hung up on individual bits and pieces -- if, say, a section of wall is rotting away and needs to be repaired you're not "tearing out historic wood which can never be replaced" you're participating in the ongoing process of the house as it passes through the years.
posted by Nerd of the North at 2:09 PM on October 27, 2018 [13 favorites]

Sealing drafts with weatherizing film and aerosol insulation foam and tight door seals and things like that which a homeowner can do themselves can make a huge difference in energy consumption especially in an older house of that type.

Hopefully I'm not being premature in saying welcome to NH!
posted by XMLicious at 2:21 PM on October 27, 2018

Nthing set aside more money than you think for unexpected repairs (15 months in and I've had to replace the water heater, the gutters, and the oil tank, ouch).

R/homeowners and r/home improvement are two Reddit subthreads that are super friendly, helpful, and often funny/reassuring.
posted by TwoStride at 4:47 PM on October 27, 2018

If it was my house, I'd rip out all that carpet. The stuff is a magnet for dirt and allergens, and no vacuum cleaner gets it all out. If the floor underneath is reasonable, finish it. If not, put in some appropriate-looking laminate. I know, New England winters and the floors get cold, but a decent pair of slippers is better than carpet.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:56 PM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just out of curiosity, it looks like there are two separate electrical meters on the front, does your prospective house have an ADU? If I was buying this, I'd want to know more about the septic situation -- why the tall vents, what is the system age and condition, etc. And if you are on well water, I'd want to have the water tested to be sure there aren't issues there, either. (Around here you can download well logs [the records that are filed by well drillers], which can be informative in terms of how deep people are having to drill and how productive the wells are.) Those are both high-dollar items to fix, so best to know as much upfront as possible.

almost hesitate to mention it, but I may take that sugar maple down. I want to do solar, and as magnificent as it is I'm pretty sure that it's perfectly positioned to shade the rear, south-facing roofs.

Do you have AC other than that single window unit? If not, you may regret losing that shade once summer hits.

If you own a home yourself, what do you wish you had known when you bought your first house?

People have touched on this already, but I find that all the time you have to make choices between what would make the house perfect for you and what is best for (eventual) resale. I'm not saying that there is a set answer to that question, since it is always changing; it just has surprised me how it is such a constant issue to be thought about -- and something that everyone and their mother will have loud opinions about that they will be happy to tell you.

Probably I am showing my age, but I've been thinking a lot more about accessibility lately, in terms of whether a house will work as people age or deal with an unexpected injury, or if you have a friend with mobility limitations visiting. Our current house gets a big fat "F" for this, and we'll end up selling it eventually because of it. I wish I had really thought this through and made that a priority at the time.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:05 PM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

What should I be aware of going into this that you wish you had been aware of when you bought your own first house?

My house was far newer than yours so adjust accordingly, but: 200 bucks a weekend at Lowe's, every weekend, for the first year.
posted by ftm at 5:34 PM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

I owned House the Original for about nine years and have been in House the Sequel for nearly the same amount of time.

1) Both times, something massive went wrong within the first few months (in this house, it was the boiler). Square away a lot of $$$ for emergencies.

2) House the Original was also a Cape Cod, albeit a few decades more recent. Nevertheless, I was warned early on (correctly, as it turns out) that the roof pitch can produce unfortunately wonky results, so just keep an eye on that.

3) I live in an area with a lot of properties about the vintage of your house, and two of the questions you'll want squared away fast are: 1) what does the plumbing look like (what has it been updated with? Lots of cast iron about?) and 2) what's the state of the wiring (a friend who has owned a couple of early twentieth-century properties keeps finding odd things going on in the walls...).

4) I purchased this current house because it has a room big enough to store (nearly) all of my books, which is admittedly eccentric. Unfortunately, like Dip Flash, I will absolutely not be able to retire in this house, because it has way too many stairs, with the main staircase pitched at an unusually sharp angle; one visitor in the early stages of mobility problems was virtually defeated by the trip to the second floor.

5) We have a lot of houses out here on propane tanks. Can you have someone look at it and see what it's connected to?

6) As has been suggested above, get a handyman ASAP! Your best bet is someone you find via word of mouth.

7) I try to do one upgrade every year. Right now, I'm saving to replace the flooring in multiple rooms downstairs. This is a manageable schedule that reduces disruption and keeps the interior design reasonably up-to-date.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:41 PM on October 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

The most important thing I learned as a homeowner was information that I never needed. It is like insurance. Buy it and hope to never use it.

Find out where the water shut off valve is. Know how to turn it off for the entire house. Just in case. Water does the most damage to a house.

Find out how to cut off the circuit breakers. Just in case.

Have a plan to egress during a fire. Just in case.

Pay your homeowner's insurance bill. Just in case.

Also, depending on the nature of the sale, I would sit down with the current owners and ask them if there is anything you need to know, any little tricks, or any neighbors you need to know about, good or bad.
posted by AugustWest at 5:46 PM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

As mentioned in the question there is currently only one meter (the second was almost definitely for the water heater), the septic and well will be tested, and there is no AC. (That window unit doesn't come with the house.) However I've lived in this climate most of my life without central air, so I'm sure I'll be fine. Heck, for eight years I lived in New Orleans without central air.

In the longer run I can get heat pumps installed at cost with a no-interest paycheck-deduction loan through my work, and can reduce costs further by contributing my own labor and using scratch-and-dent equipment that is perfectly good but can't be installed on a customer's house. I plan to install a couple of nice floor units; the unfinished basement will mean that the line runs for a 1st-story floor unit can be hidden rather than running on the outside of the house. If I eventually end up doing some more heat pumps upstairs, I'll trench out a section of the wall and do an interior line run up the gable end.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:50 PM on October 27, 2018

Accessibility is actually pretty good! The main bedroom and only bathroom are on the first floor, and the front door is only a couple feet above grade.

The plumbing is copper, other than the septic drain which is cast iron. I will definitely ask the home inspector about that propane tank, that and the weird septic vent are the two questions foremost in my mind right now.

The current owners are unfortunately deceased; this is an estate.

thomas j wise, what do you mean about the roof pitch (which I estimate at being between 37° and 40°) causing "wonky results"? I'd be very interested to hear more about that.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:56 PM on October 27, 2018

Get the house inspected by the fiercest home inspector in the area. Old houses may have experienced less than competent renovation, may have rot, etc. They don't always have adequate insulation. Wells go dry. It's the Granite State, so have ai and water tested for radon. Septic systems need to have the tank emptied every 5 years or so.

Wood stove. You can probably get unseasoned wood. Get some for the 2019-2020 season. You *might* be able to get seasoned wood for a price. has forums where people are quite knowledgeable about heating with wood. You want a wood stove that is EPA certified; if yours is not, start checking craigslist. I have a small, EPA-cert. wood stove that I got from craigslist and it keeps the living room cozy, while the furnace keeps the rest of the house from freezing. Stack wood someplace that gets sun and air; don't cover too tightly, it keeps drying and the moisture needs a place to go. I would not stack wood next to an old house as it creates moisture and rot. I have scavenged leftover construction wood on cl and now have a wood rack of kindling.

A maple on the south side provides shade in summer, potentially more useful than solar in summer. It's possible to mount solar panels someplace other than the roof. Get a couple of opinions.

I had to redo the falling apart kitchen, got a propane stove. Nearly all the local propane suppliers have been bought out and now I have to pay a lot ore for the tank and propane; trying to decide if I can run the stove on a small tank like you'd use for a grill. It has been a surprising pain in the butt.

I used to fear power tools, now I have a table saw, drill & driver set, sawzall, circular saw, etc. Cordless is awesome, but get tools that use the same batteries & charger. Mine were gifts, and used from cl, and I have 3 different chargers, and the right battery is seld charged. Congratulations; it looks great.
posted by theora55 at 8:03 PM on October 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Solid advice there theora55, thank you! There is a huge stack of free pallets at work that I bet they would let me have for firewood, would that be OK to burn in a wood stove?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:13 PM on October 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

And if you are on well water, I'd want to have the water tested to be sure there aren't issues there, either.

It's the Granite State, so have ai and water tested for radon.

In some parts of New Hampshire the chemical PFOA in water sources is also a concern.
posted by XMLicious at 8:23 PM on October 27, 2018

I'm a new homeowner too, so am reading this thread with interest... but I just want to say congrats and that your house is adorable!!
posted by DTMFA at 8:28 PM on October 27, 2018

Wow XMLicious, that is super relevant to my interests. Thanks for the heads up!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:04 PM on October 27, 2018

That's a gorgeous house.

If you see a weird object left behind, like a tool or some sort of item that just doesn't seem to make sense or doesn't belong -- I dunno, like a metal pipe in the living room, or something un-kitchen-like in a kitchen drawer, or a rusted tool that surely looks like it should be tossed, or a curtain rod in the garage -- *do not throw it out*! It is probably there for a reason, and the reason will become very obvious after you throw it out. Something will happen and you'll need it in some moment and you realize "Ohh that's what it's for!" Trust me on this one.

Also save things that could be used/reused and may be very difficult to source again if you tossed them -- like old locksets or doorknobs (newer ones may not fit easily in old doors; or you might be able to save parts to fix another), or a box of spare floor paneling.

Buy some fire extinguishers and know how to use them. They don't have to be commercial grade.

For when you have to replace an appliance or other thing: your local library may offer free online access to Consumer Reports. The Wirecutter is also an AskMe favorite, and they've been adding a lot of stuff recently in their review coverage that would be helpful for any homeowner or really anyone (e.g. appliances and, hey, fire extinguishers, to laundry detergents). I have to admit that sometimes I just go through their review sections to see if there's something I *should* have that I don't, especially re: safety or emergency preparedness.

Motion-detecting lights are super useful, especially for outside. It's also worth buying some good flashlights and batteries and keeping them around the house (garage, kitchen, bedroom, entryway) instead of relying on one or two.

There are maintenance things that are easy to remember because they happen often, but the intermittent tasks are easy to forget, for me at least. I find it helpful to have calendar events / reminders for things like "change smoke detector / carbon monoxide detector batteries."

Do a thorough inspection for rodent-proofing. Know all the access points for the attic and crawlspace(s) and make sure you can open the gates/doors that are supposed to be openable by humans and can access them yourself. Speaking of wildlife above - become familiar with what kind of wildlife is in your neighborhood, especially if you're going to be gardening or jogging or if you have pets.

Nth-ing the plumbing and electric review. It is really really helpful to know exactly how the plumbing is laid out. Draw a diagram if you can because the longer you live there the easier it is to forget, and the plumber will ask you what the piping is like or how/where things are connected and it will save you time/money if you know the correct answer. Confirm whether each water appliance (e.g. shower, toilet, sink) or room (bathroom) has its own water shutoff valve; if not, consider adding it to the upgrades list, so you don't have to shut off water for the entire house to fix one thing.

And if you do have a chance to talk to neighbors, definitely ask them who they call for repairs/services. Maybe they already have a reliable plumber/electrician/pest control person/handyperson/roofer/window shop etc. Also just as important (if you get this chance) is to ask them if they *weren't* satisfied by a vendor, so you can avoid them.

Keep a box or a file cabinet of all home-improvement records and stuff the invoices and receipts in there, organized at least by year. Plumbing, electric, handyperson, HVAC, paint, etc. Always ask for business cards of the people who do a good job (put them in the box). Write notes on the invoices for reference later, so you don't have to remember which plumber it was that arrived late vs. the plumber who was on time, or the plumber who wanted to use a big box store to replace a water heater vs the plumber who got a better quality water heater from a plumbing supply place.

If you do any major upgrades, you might be able to get discounts on your homeowner's insurance. Definitely worth checking. e.g. new plumbing, heating, etc.

When you buy paint, keep paint samples / paint chips with the name and manufacturer to save time for when you have to buy matching paint later (you can put the paint chips in the box mentioned above).

A lot of services now accept credit cards but many still only accept checks. e.g. for roofing some still only accept checks or add a fee for credit card payments (which really adds up as you can imagine). Some will give you a discount if you do not pay with a credit card.

When you move in and start living there, you'll hear sounds and noises of all sorts. Creaky floorboards, the refrigerator, the clock in the hallway, creaks caused by wind, rustling noises outside from the trees, wildlife, etc. Pay attention to the sounds and see if you can figure out where they're coming from. When it's sunny, or windy, or rainy. During the day, and at night. The thing is to eventually become familiar with them and figure out what is normal, because then you'll be able to tell if something is *not* normal.


(not technically a homeowner but I have basically become the point person for this stuff for my folks)
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 9:19 PM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

There is a huge stack of free pallets at work that I bet they would let me have for firewood, would that be OK to burn in a wood stove

Pallets have a tendency to be made of sort of crappy pine so they don't have a lot of heat value and they do generate a lot of creosote which is bad for chimneys. You can use them to start a fire but I would not use them as an ongoing source of heat. theora55 is right about

If the house is an estate it may have been empty for a while, so I'd check for stuff that you might not otherwise check for (look extra hard for mouse and other animal nests, make sure you test ALL the plumbing, outdoor spigots, etc). And also in that case, neighbors may know stuff about the house that even the owners don't, so dno't be shy if you have a question, if they were friendly with the late owners they may know answers.
posted by jessamyn at 9:47 PM on October 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's so much easier to paint and do floors before you move in. So much.

I don't know the particulars, but I believe pallets are often treated with chemicals you may not want to burn.
posted by bongo_x at 9:59 PM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Pine should never be burned in a wood stove or a fireplace. A lot of utility wood for shipping involves pine. Better to repurpose pallets as, say, vertical garden infrastructure.
posted by childofTethys at 4:21 AM on October 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Make sure to turn off the water supply to the outside faucets before temperatures plummet. Typically, there's a shut-off valve a foot or two inside the house on the same pipe. Consult your plumber if in doubt.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:17 AM on October 28, 2018

Congrats on the house! Everyone else has already said plenty but I'll add one specific for you (that you probably already know) but you'll most likely have a "gear room" or closet for all your hiking shit. If your basement is at all damp, and most of them are, don't keep any "soft" gear like sleeping bags and tents down there. Keep those somewhere dry. They'll last a lot longer and won't have that musty smell that basement gear tends to have.

Good luck!
posted by bondcliff at 8:27 AM on October 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

One thing about painting: while it's easier to paint before you move in, I definitely wish I hadn't spent money on professional painters before realizing that my old house expands and contracts quite a bit and that my painters put latex paint over old oil-based paint and thus my fancy new paint job has a lot of cracks around most of the windows and doors... They've come out and done some repairs (which weren't great) but the lesson I learned was to definitely do all future painting myself because if it's gonna look not-great every couple of years it might as well be the product of free labor.
posted by TwoStride at 10:41 AM on October 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I recommended for a reason; lots of expertise. They recommend burning pine if it is very well seasoned, probably 2 years. Pallets are made of dried wood, mostly crappy pine. I got stuck with a bunch of broken pallets and have spent time cutting them down to be burned using the table saw and jig saw. Somewhere on the web there is a chart of the labels and icons - you don't want pallets with insecticide, which is not standard, but worth paying attention to. The wood is crappy and full of nails. It makes decent kindling. I scavenge the sturdiest pallets I can find to stack wood on top of. Off the ground, and air underneath is really helpful. If you buy the house, at least order wood for next winter. I use @ 2 cords/ year, half that when I was employed. My house is @ 1,000 sq. ft. Also, get a little thermometer to put on the stove, have a very hot fire at least once a week; that really helps keep the chimney cleaner.

You need a lidded metal container for ashes. The ashes may seem cold, but every year in Maine, and no doubt NH, home fires are started by the ashes that still had coals, in a box or bag. I have taken ashes out to put on the driveway as grit and been quite surprised by live coals. Smoke & carbon monoxide detector, fire extinguisher.

Pine is soft wood and generates fewer BTUs than hard woods like maple, birch, oak. Putting much effort into chopping pine isn't really worthwhile except for kindling - hot and fast burning, and maybe to use at the start of a fire to get things warm. My recent wood delivery has a fair amount of oak, which takes longer to get burning but once there's a bed of coals, it's excellent.
posted by theora55 at 5:24 PM on October 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

Nthing set aside more money than you think for unexpected repairs

For the next three to five years, you will never again walk out of a big box store having spent less than one hundred American dollars. *sigh*
posted by wenestvedt at 7:23 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Looks like at least one person pointed out radon. Living in the granite state means there is radon. It is abate-able, but can be expensive. In addition to the air you will want to abate the water. Not for drinking water, but for the gases when showering. At our house we have a bubbler that aerates the water, and then pushes the gases outside. We also have a fan system to vacuum the gases out from below the foundation and vent them outside of the house.

Congrats on new home ownership. I look forward to your spring meetup :)
posted by terrapin at 10:53 AM on October 29, 2018

I am in RI, south of you a bit, and we have ledge here in my town so we also have radon. I think I paid like 900 bucks for a simple radon system less than ten years ago t suck the gas out from under my foundation and blow it into the sky. *shrug*

Note that I suggest you be home when the radon system is installed. My guy did a good job on the radon system in the house we sold, but fr the one that he put into the house we bought, he drilled through a hot water line! He called a real plumber to fix it immediately, which was fine, but...WTF, man?

Actually, you should be home when anything is being done to your house! By watching the contractor you will learn about the task begin done, as well as get a peek inside your walls/pipes/panel/whatever -- and knowledge is always good.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:37 PM on October 29, 2018

So many answers.

First, congratulations! You are in for a lot of pride and worry, if you are normal.

My general answer is to really make an effort to understand both the old house and how it has been tweaked before applying remedies, retrofits, or solutions that are not explicitly suited to your house. Get a sense of the ideal and the real, in other words. No one else is really in a position to do it like you are.

For example, you say some plaster is in bad shape - why? That's not something that should just happen. Was it painted? - that can screw it up. Or was the house left unheated for a while? Was there a roof problem? Was it a roofline change? Was this imaginary roofline change to solve a problem or as a result of new construction or layout? Was there movement in the structure? If so, why? And so on.

Presented this way, it is maddening, but when I hear you talk about giving this house to another 4 or 5 generations, it seems proportional.

A book I like is this one because it does a good job of explaining older structures as systems. It is not just for renovators. The author was/is[?] a renovation contractor in Vermont, so he'll be speaking to your regional issues, in part.

Good luck.
posted by Glomar response at 1:08 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Congrats. We also recently purchased, so I have been monitoring this thread with interest.

One thing that I have found incredibly handy is to use an online tool to monitor all things household related. I use Centriq, but there are a few out there. The app will let you snap a photo of the machine plate of a given appliance or subsystem, and will automatically mine all relevant user manuals, replacement part numbers, serial numbers, etc and keep a repository of that information for you. When I went to replace the water filter in the fridge, it took all of 10 seconds to get the required part number for the filter from the app and order it on Amazon. I also upload photos of the receipt for all new purchases over $20 (great for insurance reasons as well), as well as pictures of paint colors so I can have a perfect match in the future.
posted by fonzie at 2:28 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hey thanks for the book recommendation, Glomar response! I actually read that book a long time ago and was trying to remember what it was called. That's the one!

And yeah, a radon test is happening and I'll abate if need be.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:40 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't have much to add to all the good advice above, but one of the best cheap purchases we made for our house was a bunch of these passive emergency lights that turn on when the power goes out. They also operate as flashlights at any time.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:37 PM on October 29, 2018

you learn something new every day
posted by lalochezia at 10:04 PM on October 29, 2018

If anyone was wondering, I've been through my various inspections now and while there are some issues here and there (it's a 143-year-old house, after all) the bottom line is that I'll be moving forward and I'm almost certainly going to buy this thing.

Here's a "before" picture that I took during the home inspection. I intend to take many more over the years, documenting changes as they happen. With all the advice in this thread, I feel well prepared to tackle this adventure head on.

(Also, I'm leaning away from removing that maple. I'm thinking I'll build a shed further back in the yard and install my solar modules on that.)
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:08 AM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

« Older Is it too late to get curious?   |   How should I frame these place cards? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments