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8 common problems to prepare for in your first home

Stuff you notice only after you move in

A couple sitting on the floor of an empty house with tarps on the floor. Credit: Getty / SDI Productions

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As a first-time home buyer, there are many things to consider throughout the purchasing process. So much so that you may forget all about the common problems that come with owning a home.

While a home inspection will reveal many of the hidden secrets about your house, some issues, like drafty windows and clogged gutters, may not arise until you move in. Here are the most common problems that a first-time home buyer is likely to face after purchasing a home—and what to do about them.

1. Faulty appliances that are driving up your utilities

A old kitchen with vintage tiling, appliances, and counters.
Credit: Getty Images / SDI Productions

If you’re shocked by your utility bill after your first month in your new home, it’s time to swap out those old appliances.

Energy efficiency wasn't at the forefront of the home industry until the 2000s. One common problem with houses built in the 1990s and earlier is the old appliances that can drive up your energy bill.

If you find yourself shocked by your utility bill after your first month in your new home, it may be time to swap out that old refrigerator, oven, or other large appliance for one rated for energy efficiency.

As a first-time homebuyer, consider buying appliances with high Energy Star ratings that will save you money long-term. The higher the Energy Star rating, the more money you can save on your utility bills. Government programs, like Energy Star rebates, may be available to you to help offset the cost of purchasing a new appliance.

Appliance recycling programs can help you properly dispose of your appliances by hauling them away for you.

2. Unexpected rodent roommates

A mouse peaking its head out of a hole in the wall.
Credit: Getty Images / Tenra

Those small cracks in the walls that passed the home inspection don’t seem like a big deal until you spot a mouse sneaking its way through.

Those small cracks in the walls that passed the home inspection don’t seem like a big deal until you spot a mouse sneaking its way through. For a short-term fix, fill the holes and set out traps.

You can fill cracks or holes with a rodent-proof barrier, like expandable foam or flexible caulk, that pests won’t be able to penetrate. Setting humane traps around your home can capture and stop rodents without causing harm.

While these quick solutions can solve the infestation in the short term, a pest control specialist can assess the specifics of your home and help evict your rodent guests for good.

3. Drafty windows that let air inside

An older window with weathered window panes.
Credit: Getty Images / Maya23K

Well maintained windows are just as crucial to the insulation in your walls and play a large role in maintaining the overall comfort of your home.

Old, drafty windows can let outside air in, running up the cost of your heating and cooling bill. Properly insulated windows can decrease air infiltration by 25%. In turn, the right windows can save you money by reducing the amount of power your HVAC system uses to heat and cool your home (and help maintain comfort levels).

If you have older windows, consider replacing them with newer options rated for energy efficiency. For a more affordable (and faster) fix, a window insulator kit can help. The plastic cling film and insulation tape help seal up your windows. Weatherstripping is another option for sealing up windows. The foam of weatherstripping can expand to fill the gaps in the window so you can cover up every nook and cranny that lets air in.

Check for cracks in the caulk around the interior and exterior of your windows, too. The caulk needs replacing every several years to ensure a tight seal, but you may need to do it more frequently given the age of your home and the climate where you live.

4. Broken fire alarms and CO detectors

A person testing a dual carbon monoxide and fire detector.
Credit: Getty Images / Marvin Samuel Tolentino Pineda

Since you can never be sure when your home's previous owners tested the fire detectors, take some time to check your alarms.

Even if you're moving into a new build, checking the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors when you move in can bring peace of mind. Most jurisdictions require sellers to have working smoke alarms installed before closing, but you should check yourself to be sure.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends replacing smoke alarms every 10 years. Check the batteries every six months to keep them in working condition.

Even if your alarms do work, you might discover that the beeping isn’t loud enough to hear across the house, meaning you could miss the alarm, which is reason enough to consider replacing your old smoke alarm with a smart smoke and carbon monoxide monitor. These devices take the worry out of wondering about your smoke alarms as the devices perform regular self-checks, alert you to issues on your smartphone when you’re away from home, and can be integrated with DIY home security systems to dispatch authorities in the event of a problem.

Get the Google Nest Protect at Amazon for $110.67

5. Clean out the depths of your fireplace

A woman sitting beside a fireplace getting ready to clear it out.
Credit: Powersmith

Before lighting up a fire in your new home's fireplace, clean it out from top to bottom.

Fireplaces are often a selling point of homes, but before you light up your next fire, give the charred up space a clean first. An improperly maintained and ventilated fireplace creates dangerous carbon monoxide fumes.

If you’re not ready to climb up on the roof to check the chimney, we don’t blame you. However, that means it’s time to bring in a professional who can assure you there are no structural blockages.

For a do-it-yourself approach, try a chimney brush, which can reach the corners of your chimney to clear out any lingering debris.

Don’t use your everyday vacuum to clean up any ash or dirt in your fireplace that fell during scrubbing. An ash vacuum can help you easily clean up the mess. The all-metal design of the ash vacuum is heat-resistant, so it won’t lead to any fires starting when you’re cleaning.

Before cleaning the fireplace, make sure that it has fully cooled (and keep an eye out for any hot coals that may have been left).

6. Gutters full of leaves

A woman standing on a ladder cleaning out a gutter that is full of leaves
Credit: Getty Images / Ryerson Clark

Leaves, sticks, acorns, and other debris can clog your gutters, and it's time to clear them out.

If your gutters are overflowing during the first rainfall in your new digs, it’s time to get up on the ladder and clean them out.

Leaves, sticks, acorns, and other debris can clog your gutters. A garden trowel is a helpful tool to power through gutter gunk.

Once the debris is gone, give your gutters a good power wash. You can use a gutter cleaning wand that attaches to your garden hose and has a telescoping head for easy cleaning. You can also clean your gutters with a pressure washer.

If you are a first-time homebuyer with lots of trees, then accessories like gutter guards, which act as protective barriers, keeping your gutters free of debris and flowing smoothly.

7. Troubling termite damage

A piece of wood eaten by termites
Credit: Getty Images / Roberto

Termite damage could be hiding in the walls of your new home.

Even with a home inspection, termites and subsequent damage can be hard to spot. You may not uncover it until you go to remove walls or ceilings when you renovate your home.

Depending on the extent of the damage, an at-home termite treatment may be enough to rid your home of the bugs until you can get a pest control company out and check for active infestations. (A structural engineer may need to be called in if there is severe damage that may impact the stability of the home.)

As a preventative measure, termite bait stations can be installed around the perimeter of your home to keep them from entering through your foundation.

8. Low spots in the yard that flood during heavy rains

A yard flooding with water
Credit: Getty Images / KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Low spots in your yard may not be identifiable until you experience your first rain after moving in.

Though the grade of your property may look OK when you attended the open house on a sunny Saturday afternoon, it may look a lot different once a rain shower rolls in. Though sellers must disclose known flooding issues, it can be difficult for prospective buyers to know where the low spots are until it's raining.

If you notice water pooling throughout your property, consider adding a French drain system to remedy the issue. Gutter runoff can also contribute to flooding around the foundation of your home. Oversaturation can cause damage to the structure of your home over time, so removing pooling water is crucial.

While rain chains and rain barrels are two alternatives for gutter runoff, they aren't made to handle heavy downpours, like many parts of Texas and Florida experience. Instead, the best option is to bury your gutter runoff using a shovel, catch basin, gutter extenders, and proper piping.

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