The Homeowner Necessities
December 22, 2021 9:13 AM   Subscribe

I am about to close on my first (single family, standalone) home. What tools and supplies should I have on hand right away? What can wait a few months, but I'll need at some point?

The house is on the north shore of Massachusetts, so we have a snow shovel on the list already. I own basic tools: a hammer, a mallet, power drill and driver, a small orbital sander, an assortment of screwdrivers and wrenches-- small tools that aren't in the way in a condo or apartment. We'll have a lawn, but can wait until spring for the lawnmower. We'll have central air and heat, gas stove, and everything in the house is fairly new or updated. Anything else to help the general upkeep?
posted by thefang to Home & Garden (34 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Applies to apartments too, so you might already have one, but a plunger.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:19 AM on December 22, 2021 [10 favorites]

Once you know the correct size, buy a few filters for your HVAC system. Install one set, and keep the spares wrapped up.
posted by aramaic at 9:23 AM on December 22, 2021 [11 favorites]

Non-Contact Voltage Tester is pretty nice to have around; lets you know with certainty that an outlet/switch/etc is off.

GFCI Socket Tester is really helpful; lets you know if your outlets are wired incorrectly, ungrounded, and tests to see if your GFCI outlets are working correctly.

Which btw on the lawn, Ego Mowers are amazing.
posted by gregr at 9:27 AM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Pipe snake (for when the previously recommended plunger isn't enough). It can wait a bit to buy but you'll need ladder(s) to maintain the exterior of your house. Also, electrical outlet tester and/or non-contact electric tester, because even if you're not going to fix the electrical you want to know what might hurt you. Check and replace the smoke detectors and CO detector.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:28 AM on December 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

Emergency Stuff:
Assortment of tarps
Several buckets
9V batteries for fire/CO2 alarms (or get the 10-year combo ones and replace existing ones)
Make sure you have fire extinguishers and that they are not expired and properly charged
Several long, heavy-duty extension cords

General advice:
Make sure everyone knows where gas & water shutoffs are

Nice to have:
Keypad lock on one of the doors (not a Smart one, just a regular keypad). I use Schlage brand. This way you won't get locked out.
posted by pyro979 at 9:31 AM on December 22, 2021 [12 favorites]

A roof rake in addition to the snow shovel, because ice dams are damaging.

A leaf rake, but it can wait until spring or even later.

A few basic gardening tools wouldn't go amiss: shovel, trowel, maybe a weeder claw, secateurs/clippers, hedge shears. Go ahead and get these now -- you may need some or all of them due to a storm.
posted by humbug at 9:35 AM on December 22, 2021

In terms of power tools, a decent cordless drill will be something you use more often than you may initially expect. If you can afford it, look at something like a DeWalt brushless - you can typically one up for about $100. A set of decent general purpose bits and drive heads for another $20 and you're set until you need more specific tools (masonry bits, etc.) down the road.

Also, +1 for a good plunger in every bathroom.

(Edit: Apparently I can't read and thought your initial post said you had a power saw, but not a drill/driver. Advice still remains for anyone who stumbles upon this in the future.)
posted by _DB_ at 9:40 AM on December 22, 2021

Water shutoff wrench
(Water Key)
to shut off the fresh water supply to the entire house in case of catastrophe, like burst pipes.
posted by bug138 at 9:41 AM on December 22, 2021 [5 favorites]

Water shutoff wrench
(Water Key)


I had quite a little collection of tools when I closed on my house (for someone who isn't in the trades), so I thought I'd be fine. Given my above enthusiasm, you can imagine what happened, and that, boys and girls, is how I wound up with a tile floor.
posted by eclectist at 9:53 AM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

A ladder to reach the highest lightbulbs you might need to change, or to reach all your gutters if you plan to clean them yourself. If you get to know your neighbors most people are willing to lend out stuff like this.

A can of WD40, some silicone lock lubricant and a can of penetrating machine oil. You will maybe use these things once a year but they will last you forever and will really come in handy when you need them.

If you have a garage, get to know how your automatic garage door opener works and who can service it. Understand how the manual bypass works for if/when the power goes out. Some things on a garage door can be maintained yourself, other things, especially the springs, should be dealt with by a professional.

Not a tool, but contact information for the previous owner's HVAC person, electrician, and a plumber.

A toilet auger. Much more useful than a plunger in most cases.

Electrical outlet tester. Extension cords, including a heavy-duty one. Surge protectors.

Come spring, if you have any sort of garden you'll want a wheelbarrow. If your property has any steps or curbs a 2x4 sheet of exterior grade plywood is handy to have around for any number of uses. Temporary ramp to get your wheelbarrow or lawnmower up some steps, a platform to spray paint stuff on, a quick table when combined with some sawhorses, etc.

Mostly buy things as you need them and eventually you'll have a good collection of stuff.
posted by bondcliff at 10:00 AM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Some are repeats of what you have/been suggested, but here's the tools and supplies we used A LOT after first moving into our new home from apartment living:

6 ft ladder
Power drill + a wide assortment of bits
Stud finder
Electrical tester
Box cutter / good scissors
Get friendly with your local hardware store for the nails and screws and anchors of various sizes
Assortment of tape (painters masking electrical duct)
posted by paradeofblimps at 10:05 AM on December 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

In addition to fire extinguishers, fire blankets -- ideal for grease fires, also good to use to cover a person during exit in case of house fire.
posted by vers at 10:07 AM on December 22, 2021 [5 favorites]

A good-sized canvas dropcloth. Don't even think about those plastic sheets. You'll be into painting projects sooner rather than later, and the canvas drop will last forever.

Also for painting: a roller with an extension stick you can screw into it. Painting a wall or a ceiling (or a floor, even) with that long-handled roller is a breeze, compared to holding the short handle of the roller itself.
posted by beagle at 10:32 AM on December 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

High quality, wide push broom (aka contractor’s broom, apparently).

Shop vac. I never understood why people had their regular vacuum and a shop vac until I bought a house.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:34 AM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Get a Zip-It strip or similar for every bathroom, especially if anyone has long hair. I have long hair and use it the second a drain is even a little slow.
You'll use a sturdy stepstool quite often, some are also handy if you need an extra chair outside or even inside. A 6' ladder will also get a lot of use.
Get a couple small toolbags and keep a pair of pliers, a few screwdrivers, cheap scissors, some duct tape, etc., on each floor. An assortment of tacks and picture hangers is good to have.
Salt and sand for sidewalk and driveway. I have a wood stove and use ashes for grit most of the time, salt or sand if the ice is really bad.
LED headlamps - 1 wherever the circuit panel is, and 1 or more elsewhere, and cheap LED flashlights, because you'll leave the batteries in, they'll corrode, and you'll have to replace the flashlight. Also, your son will always borrow a flashlight that you will never see again.
You should have WD-40 or something for stuck nuts & bolts.

1st aid kits in every bathroom. Carbon monoxide monitor and smoke alarms. Maybe think about what sorts of emergencies happen in New England, like ice storms (having an ordinary one in Maine right now), Nor'easters/ Wind storms/ Hurricanes, and put emergency supplies in every bathroom. For me, that means small, battery-operated LED light strings, candles in tins, matches. The Red Cross used to recommend cleaning 1- and 2-liter plastic soda pop bottles and storing water, so I have some water stored in the basement. I have an emergency radio that has solar charging, a crank, etc., and will charge via USB, and I have a solar battery brick for my phone that has a flashlight. I used to lose power more often, but even now, the occasional storm knocks it out for a day or so.

posted by theora55 at 10:39 AM on December 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

N-thing water shut off key. I would actually do it once or twice once you move in to make sure you know how to do it quickly.. Our shut off valve was rusted open and broke. Fortunately there was a shutoff inline under our house as well. When you need to shut off the water to your house, really being able to do it quickly is key. You’d be surprised at how much water can cascade from your pipes while you’re fumbling trying to shut it off (he says from hard learned experience).

Buckets. You gotta have a couple buckets. And inside those buckets, if your budget allows, buy shitty tools and create “kits” for each major room with appliances. Every sink under our house has a couple of cheap ass adjustable wrenches in a little plastic tub or bucket under the sink. Cause if you need that bucket, you also likely need the tools inside it. I have lots of nicer tools, but we keep them in our shed mostly; if something is spraying water or whatever just being able to triage it quickly with tools that are RIGHT THERE is great. I am a huge proponent of building little kits like this. If you happen to have older or weird plumbing fixtures, identify the cartridges and gaskets that could fail, and just pick up spares now. Let them hang out until that one day something breaks and you feel like a badass for having it ready to go, in the exact spot you need them.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:45 AM on December 22, 2021 [6 favorites]

Ratchet set, furnace filters on auto-delivery, a few lights on timers or that you can turn on from your phone so the place looks occupied, and I forget the name but one of those things that helps pound nails back into the floor without damaging the hardwood.
posted by anderjen at 10:51 AM on December 22, 2021

I actually recommend corded tools instead of cordless because if you are part-timer, finding the drill, making sure it's charged, that the battery is still holding a charge, etc are all giant time wasters. So buy corded tools and some extension cords and be done with it. I've had the same corded drill for 25 years now.

Of course if you use them all the time, then cordless are better.

Mine advice is also buy a ratcheting screwdriver. They are so much better than a regular screw driver it's not funny.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:01 AM on December 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

Your list sounds like a good starting point. Glad to see a rubber mallet mentioned—we use ours so often for every single household project that it's become a running joke in my family. Particularly useful for assembling Ikea-type furniture. A dead-blow hammer is also good for nonspecific "percussive maintenance" and you can pick one up for a few bucks at Harbor Freight (ours is bright orange). I bought two and keep one with the camping supplies for pounding in tent stakes, for which it is also ideal.

If you don't already have a medium size Crescent-style (adjustable) wrench and a pair of medium Channel Lock type pliers, they are some of my most frequently used tools around the house for small repairs, particularly light plumbing (compression fittings especially).

Get a couple of good extension cords and some sort of cord-management thing. Learn how to coil a cord properly (never do the wrapping-around-your-elbow thing) and they'll last forever.

In terms of consumables, I am a big fan of Household Goop for general sticking-stuff-together and repairs. It's pretty strong but also can be removed and cleaned off most non-porous surfaces later if needed. Good for everything from shoe repair to mounting hooks inside a shower/tub area on tile. I have a weakness for buying strange and exotic adhesives, but Goop gets used more than anything else around the house.

Also, a roll of cheap "550 cord" (aka "paracord") in some bright color can be pretty handy. I got some on eBay years ago and am slowly working through it. Use a cigarette lighter to fuse the ends immediately after making a cut in order to keep it from fraying. I have a bunch of 12-18" loops that I keep pre-made for bundling things (like coiled cables, hoses, etc.) and hanging them on hooks or nails on the wall. It's also good for putting lanyards onto small tools, knives, and other stuff that you might easily drop when working outside.

A couple of cheap tool bags are nice to have around for gathering tools from wherever they live (your basement/workbench/shop) and taking them to wherever you're working. IMO, it really helps the tools make it back to their proper place when they're not scattered about.

Oh, and furniture sliders are a lifesaver for moving furniture around, especially if you have carpet.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:08 AM on December 22, 2021 [5 favorites]

Emergency kit (the CDC website or Red Cross will have ideas, the prepacked ones blow) including nonperishable food and some water.

First aid kit.
posted by champers at 11:26 AM on December 22, 2021 [5 favorites]

Having just moved a few months ago
- thick, sturdy contractor garbage bags
- a step ladder
- a couple buckets
- fire extinguishers
posted by raccoon409 at 11:37 AM on December 22, 2021


edit: I didn't mean to shout, but I kinda don't want to edit it because omg!! congrats!! this deserves a celebration where we all yell at the top of our lungs.
posted by MiraK at 11:38 AM on December 22, 2021 [5 favorites]

Some old bath towels are always useful--you can use them to walk on, to pad stuff when you're transporting it, to soak up water when things overflow and leak and such, and so many more things. The Hitchhiker's Guide was right!
posted by Slinga at 11:59 AM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Congrats. We have found ladders the main thing on top of what you have. I also really like to have a good metal tape measure and a spirit level helpful. But those probably aren't essential to begin with. Many things can be bought when you start a project. Working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are the things that will potentially save your life. It's also a good idea to have sacrificial towels or sheets in case you encounter a leak of some kind.
posted by plonkee at 12:22 PM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

finding the drill, making sure it's charged, that the battery is still holding a charge

Hardly a problem nowadays; Li-ion batteries keep their charge much better than the NiCd and NiMH batteries of yore. Also, you can keep the battery on its charger until you need it, and put it back afterwards. No downside in that.

Grabbing that cordless drill for just a couple of holes or to use as a screwdriver (Torx! Robertson! Death to phillips!) is so much more convenient than getting the corded drill and an extension cord and finding the nearest socket (which is still always just a foot too far from where you need to work).
posted by Stoneshop at 12:35 PM on December 22, 2021 [4 favorites]

You may want to window-shop tools overall and decide which battery ecosystem you want to commit to for cordless tools. I'm a fan of corded for heavy-duty, but you're at least going to want a cordless drill-driver and some kind of small saw, and once you're on a battery system you might want to get one of the flashlights/work lights that use the same ones.

You can get a reacher-grabber that has an LED light and strong magnet, you will be surprised how handy it is.

Things we have multiple of around the house: scissors, measuring tape, flashlights, cheap screwdriver kits.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:52 PM on December 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

For the tools you will use most (particularly a cordless drill/screwdriver and, particularly, the screwdriver bits), spend money and get a decent one. Contractors like DeWalt and Makita, and I agree on the brushless DeWalt above for quality and reasonable price, btw.

For the tools you will barely use, that can't break, that are highly unlikely to break or that you're likely to break no matter how good they are (in my case that's been things like pipe wrenches, a corded hammer drill, extension cables, a furniture moving dolly, tool bags, task lights) find a cheap ass place like harbor freight. Walmart are also often cheaper than the DIY stores.

I'm not saying you need all those things; I'm just saying use judgement when you buy and your money will go further.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 1:15 PM on December 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Since winter is coming, in addition to snow shovel, get an ice chopper and either grit or ice-melt to keep walkways clear.
When I moved in to my house, I got one of those "box-of-rags". Very good choice -- I was making messes all over the place trying to get things fixed/changed and it was nice to have around for general cleanup.
posted by marplot at 2:25 PM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

A heavy-duty extension cord.
posted by Windopaene at 9:28 PM on December 22, 2021

finding the drill, making sure it's charged, that the battery is still holding a charge

I bought a two-battery pack and charger kit. Easy to keep one battery charged and ready to go, while using the other.

The main trick with cordless is to buy devices of the same brand that all use the same battery connection.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:01 PM on December 22, 2021

Buy a stash of rawlplugs/screw anchors/dowels - the little plastic things you put into a wall after you've drilled a hole in it and before you insert a screw. Get them in a variety of sizes and sorts appropriate to the sort of walls you have - you can get variety packs and that's fine. Lots of furniture and fittings and whatnot will come with their own rawlplugs and those will likely be awful and fall apart instantly; the ones you buy separately are much more reliable.

When you first move in you will likely as not spend a while trying to figure out various weirdnesses of the heating/plumbing/electrical systems. Once you figure this out, write it down - keep a folder or google doc or something because chances are next time you need to understand this it will be in two years' time when the details are hazy but you need to shut the water off immediately and can't remember which stopcock is which. The larger the number of responsible adults in the house, the more important this is to do.
posted by doop at 1:58 AM on December 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

keep a folder or google doc or something

Hardcopy. The one time you urgently need it you don't want to find out that your internet connection is down or your laptop won't boot or whatever.
posted by Stoneshop at 3:25 AM on December 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

I moved into my house having been an apartment manager for quite a while. That's how I saved up my deposit. Anyhoos, I had the whole rig for painting, cleaning, handyman repair, you name it, probably had a tool somewhere to do it.
What I've learned since then is that when it comes to repairs you look at paying someone or do it yourself. If you're doing it yourself, it's always tempting to buy the cheap tool. So for drains, buy a 10' drain cable, which comes in handy about 10% of the time or less. Prevention is best, so buy a $2 drain screen for bath and shower sinks, and find a good tool outlet like Harbor Freight. I have a hand held drain 'gun' now that triggers the cable and pushes it into the drain for up to 75'. Most problems are like this. Prevention first, then invest in a good tool or pay someone.
Buy a decent caulking gun, you'll be using it a lot. Buy good quality paint brushes and take care of them. Also get a decent tool caddy you can carry and a contractor type belt tool holder. Having to hold multiple project items in your hand or walking back forth to get the one thing you forgot gets old quickly.
Local thrifts are great places to find decent tools and gizmos cheap. Find a St. Vinnie's and start rummaging. If you're new to working on ladders and electrics, have someone show you the ropes. Sucks to get hurt working on your new house. Safety glasses are pretty important for preventing eye owies while drilling things and using power tools.
posted by diode at 5:46 AM on December 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Buy a bunch of folders and/or page protectors. Keep all manuals together with the receipts, plus any planning notes you take.

When you repair something, take picture of its guts.

If you use consumables (e.g., HVAC/furnace filters), save the wrapping for the next time you buy replacements. Consider buying those replacements as soon as you use up the item. That is, each time you swap your A/C filters, go out and immediately buy the next set.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:29 AM on January 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

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