The essential home repair and maintenance checklist for first-time homeowners
A lot of first-time homeowners will fancy doing some DIY. When you buy a home, there’s often essential home repairs and maintenance tasks to complete – from clearing the gutters to repainting. But what should you do yourself and what should you leave to the professionals?
In this guide, we provide a checklist of key tasks in each area of your home, including details like how often maintenance tasks need to be done and how to do them safely yourself where possible.
The essential home repair and maintenance checklist for first-time homeowners
- Home repairs and maintenance in the UK
- Moving into your first home
- Repairs and maintenance checklist
- Repairs and maintenance tasks you can do yourself
- List of essential home repair tools
- Repairs and maintenance tasks to outsource
Home repairs and maintenance in the UK
The most recent report by the government shows that the average expenditure for families in the UK is:
- £8 per week/£416 per year for maintenance and repair of dwelling (including central heating repairs, house maintenance, paint, wallpaper, timber, equipment hire, and small materials)
- £6.80 per week/£353.60 per year for routine household maintenance
- £3 per week/£156 per year for tools and equipment
- £4.90 per week/£254.80 per year for household insurances (including buildings insurance, contents insurance, and insurance for household appliances)
While these are relatively low figures, they quickly add up over the span of a year, showing how, as a nation, we’re willing to spend money on repairs.
Demand for people to carry out home improvement jobs went up by 12% in 2020 and a further 32% in 2021 according to one trade website. This upward trend is predicted to continue throughout 2022, as people redesign their homes, so they’re better suited to hybrid working patterns.
However, our research shows that while nearly 70% of people in the UK ask for help around the home, only 15% call a professional when something goes wrong, preferring to rely on help from spouses, parents, friends and neighbours. Worryingly, 42% said they’d never been shown how to carry out household maintenance tasks, with 38% feeling like they weren’t capable.
It’s true that you can carry out many repair and maintenance tasks around the home yourself. However, there will always be some that are easier (and safer) to leave to a professional. We’ll explain what these are a little later, but for now let’s explore how first-time homeowners can prepare themselves to keep their property in top condition.
Moving into your first home
Moving is always busy and exciting – especially if you’re a first-time homeowner. There’s a lot to think about, both before and after getting the keys. Once you’ve moved in, it’s important to take stock of anything in the property that may need a little care.
- Make a list of where everything is:
- Appliance instructions and warranty information
- Fuse box
- Gas and electricity meters
- Stopcock (the valve which controls the main water supply)
- Take readings. Photograph the readings for the gas, electricity and water meters, then share them with the providers when you’re setting up your utilities. This ensures you’re only charged for the energy you use, and not for the previous owner’s usage.
- Create an inventory. Make a list of everything that was included in the sale of the property and check it’s all present. Let your solicitor know if anything is missing, or if the sellers have left anything behind.
- Identify any maintenance you’d like to be carried out. This could be anything from repainting walls and skirting boards to larger projects like painting the exterior of the property. Having a list will help you prioritise and budget.
Repairs and maintenance checklist
Keeping your property in good condition is part of being a homeowner. There may be occasions when a repair needs to be made as soon as possible, both because of your safety and because of how much it will cost you if it’s left too long. Examples include cracks in the exterior, leaks in the roof, broken windows, damp, or rot.
Otherwise, it makes sense to start with the things that affect your day-to-day but aren’t emergencies – or the little things you always notice and wish you could change.
Repairs and maintenance tasks you can do yourself
- Regrout tiles - Everyday wear and tear can make the grout between tiles look shabby, but regrouting is relatively easy and can freshen up a bathroom considerably.
Start by covering everything with dust sheets, then remove the old grout with a grout rake and clean up any resulting mess. Then you can mix your new grout and apply it.
To apply the grout, squeeze a small amount onto the tiles, then use a grout float to work it into the joints, filling in all the space and wiping away any excess. Leave the grout to set according to the instructions, then wipe the excess off the tiles with a damp cloth or sponge after about 30 minutes. Avoid the grout between the tiles in case it goes patchy.
- Remove old wallpaper - It’s common to move into a new home and decide to redecorate as soon as you’re able to. You might not be a fan of the existing wallpaper, but removing it is normally straightforward, and leaves you with a lovely blank canvas for your own interior décor.
- To remove old wallpaper:
- Empty the room as much as possible, then cover the floor and any remaining items with dust sheets. Cover sockets and turn off the electricity.
- Gently peel back a corner of the wallpaper so you can see what’s underneath. If it pulls away easily or leaves a paper backing on the wall, it should be easy to remove. If it doesn’t budge, then you may need to use a chemical wallpaper stripper.
- If you’re using soap and water:
- Fill a bucket with warm water and a little washing up liquid
- Use a paint brush to apply the soapy water to the wall, and leave it to soak in
- Once the wallpaper is fully wet, use a scraper to gently peel it away from the wall
- If you’re using a steamer:
- Fill the steamer with warm water and let it heat up
- When it’s ready, hold the steamer against a section of the wallpaper until it gets damp
- Start peeling off the wallpaper, gently using a scraper if necessary
- Note: heat rises, so start at the bottom of the wallpaper and work your way up
- If you’re using a chemical stripper:
- Prepare the chemical stripper as per the packet instructions
- Cover the wallpaper in the chemical stripper
- Gently use a scraper to remove the wallpaper, disposing of it quickly so it doesn’t stick to your dust sheets
- Care for old wooden furniture - Many first-time homeowners buy second-hand furniture. It often costs less than new pieces and can be full of character. However, sometimes it may need a little extra care in order to look its best.
There are a couple of ways to clean and polish wood (always wipe it down to remove any dust first):
- Use beeswax
- Mix a quarter cup of clear beeswax with three quarters of a cup of olive oil
- Melt them together using a bain marie (it’s a container heated gently in a pan of hot water rather than on direct heat)
- Pour the cleaner into a heat-proof container and let it set, so its texture becomes like a balm
- Use a soft microfibre cloth to apply the beeswax balm, going along with the grain of the wood
- Remove any excess, then let it dry
- Use a natural cleaner
- Mix one part vinegar to three parts olive oil
- Apply to the furniture using a soft microfibre cloth, going with the grain of the wood
- Mop up any excess, then let it dry
Whatever cleaner you decide to buy or make, always do a patch test in a small, hidden area of the furniture first. And remember not to overuse it. This can create build-up, which makes wood look dull.
- Fix a wobbly chair - Chairs become wobbly when one of the legs gets shorter than the others. It’s tempting to shorten the other legs to match, but it can be difficult to do this with accuracy. It’s easier to add volume than it is to take it away, so focus on building the shorter chair leg up.
You can do this by using an off-cut of wood. Place it under the shorter chair leg until it’s stable, then draw a circle around the chair leg. Remove the off-cut and use a fine-toothed saw to cut out the circle. Glue it to the bottom of the chair leg.
- Bleed radiators - If a radiator is on but not warm all the way through, chances are you may need to bleed it to release the trapped air or gas. To do this:
- Turn your central heating on and wait until your radiators are fully heated.
- Check each radiator. If a radiator is warm at the bottom but cool at the top, or has cool spots, then it could have trapped air or gas.
- Turn off your central heating.
- Place one cloth underneath the radiator to soak up any water. Use another cloth to hold a radiator key or flat-blade screwdriver, then use your chosen tool to turn the valve at the top of your radiator anti-clockwise.
- You’ll know when all the air or gas has been released because water will start to come out. Close the valve as soon as this happens and mop up any spills.
- Change a light bulb - This is one of the most common household maintenance tasks, and well worth knowing. The most important thing to remember is to switch off the light (and unplug it if it’s a lamp) in order to avoid electrocution, then wait for the old bulb to cool. You also need to know the wattage and fitment type (bayonet or screw) of your bulb so you can buy the right replacement.
- Screw top light bulbs. Turn the old bulb anti-clockwise to loosen and remove, then screw the new one in clockwise.
- Bayonet light bulbs. Push the old bulb slightly to release the prongs, then turn it anti-clockwise to loosen and remove. Push the new bulb in, then screw it in clockwise.
- Clean gutters - Gutters can easily get clogged up with detritus like leaves. This can lead to water pooling around your property, causing leaks, mould and rot to form. Clean them out in spring and autumn to avoid this.
In order to clean your gutters safely, you’ll need a sturdy ladder and someone else to hold it still and help. Position the ladder so you don’t have to lean to reach the debris, and make sure you have something to put the debris in, such as a bucket.
You can wear waterproof gloves and scoop the debris out by hand or use a tool such as a gutter scoop or trowel. Be gentle, as some gutters can break easily.
Hire someone to clean your gutters if the ground around them isn’t level, you’re not confident on a ladder (or don’t have someone to hold it for you), or your property is particularly tall.
- Freshen a smelly washing machine - Unpleasant smells can build up in a washing machine, no matter how carefully you use it. Fortunately, it’s very easy to clean one. Simply add 230ml of white vinegar into the detergent drawer, then run the machine on its hottest cycle. Repeat the hottest cycle, this time with half a cup of baking soda added directly to the drum. Afterwards, use a microfibre cloth to wipe down the interior, exterior, and door seals.
- Remove the lint from a tumble dryer lint filter - Lint is a fire hazard, so it’s important to get rid of any left behind after every use. Make sure the tumble dryer has cooled down, then use a brush to pick up as much lint as possible. Use a vacuum afterwards to be extra thorough.
- Remove mould - Mould is unsightly and, more worryingly, it can cause health problems and damage to your property.
To remove mould, use a spray containing bleach or equal parts bleach and warm water to clean it off the surface. You can also buy sprays designed specially to kill mould. Use an old rag to remove any remaining moisture, then throw the rag away and leave the area to dry overnight. The next day, spray it with an anti-fungal wash and leave to dry.
Always wear a mask and rubber gloves when dealing with mould.
- Unclog a blocked shower drain - Sometimes water can be slow to drain away, in which case there is probably a blockage. If you’ve got a shower with a trap, fixing it may be as simple as lifting out the trap and removing the blockage. If not, you can normally find the blockage by using a piece of wire, bent over to form a hook at one end, and pulling it out.
- Unclog a dishwasher - A clogged dishwasher won’t clean your plates and cutlery as well as you’d want it to.
In some cases, you can unclog the dishwasher yourself. Start by testing the drain in the kitchen sink – if the water is slow to drain away, it might be that you just need to clear a blockage there. Next, remove any standing water so you can check the filter, which may be clogged with food particles, or just a bit dirty. To clear, run the dishwasher empty on a hot cycle, using vinegar and baking soda to freshen it up.
Note that if something is stuck in the dishwasher then it’s easier for a professional to fix it, as they may have to take the appliance apart and reassemble it.
- Patch up nail holes - Nail holes catch the eye, and not in a good way. Fortunately, it’s relatively simple to fill them in, and doing so can go a long way to make a wall look like new.
Use a spackle knife and putty to fill in each nail hole, then scrape the excess putty off the walls and wait for it to dry. Once dry, sand it down until smooth, then paint over the area with a primer.
Note that larger holes should be filled in by a professional.
- Repair a door that sticks - Weather can make wood swell, which causes doors to stick and become difficult to open or close. You can figure out where the swollen area is by running a crayon along the edge of the door, then opening and closing it a few times to see where marks are left. Smooth the swollen area by sanding it.
You can also help a door to open more easily by lubricating the hinges and checking nothing has got stuck in between the door and the frame.
- Seal draughty windows - Gaps in windows can cause chilly draughts, and also add more money to your heating bill as it takes more energy to keep your home warm. In the short-term, a draught excluder can keep cold air out. Long-term, you can make a difference by sealing any gaps using caulk or glazing putty.
List of essential home repair tools
A significant part of home repair and maintenance is having the right tools available for the job and knowing how to use them safely and properly. The following will be useful:
- Allen keys, for installing and removing fasteners with hexagonal heads.
- Claw hammer, which can be used to knock nails in place and pull them out.
- Craft knife, for cutting material on a flat surface.
- Drill, for boring holes and adjusting screws. You can choose between a corded drill, which is lighter but normally needs an extension lead, and a cordless drill, which is rechargeable and can be carried around anywhere.
- Dust sheets, for covering your floors and furniture so they don’t get dusty or dirty during DIY jobs.
- Grout float, for sweeping grout into the gaps between tiles.
- Grout rake, for removing old grout.
- Pliers, for cutting and shaping wires or removing nails.
- A ruler or measuring tape, between 5m and 8m.
- Safety goggles and mask, to protect you from dust and other debris.
- Sandpaper, for smoothing surfaces.
- Saw, preferably a multipurpose one so you can use it for different DIY projects.
- Screwdrivers of different sizes and types, including Phillips and flat head, for tightening and removing screws.
- Spackle knife, for spreading materials evenly. Also known as a scraper.
- Spanners of different sizes, for unscrewing nuts and bolts, or tightening them.
- Wallpaper scraper, for removing unwanted wallpaper without damaging the wall.
Repairs and maintenance tasks to outsource
Sometimes a job is too complex or too risky to contemplate doing yourself. If that’s the case, it’s time to hire a professional. While this can be more expensive upfront, it’s often more cost-effective in the long run to have an expert carry out the job than attempt it yourself and then keep having to fix it.
- Any job which requires expensive tools or machinery - By the time you’ve invested in them, you may as well hire someone to do the job and bring their own tools, especially if it’s likely you’d only use them once. There may also be some tools or machinery which can only be operated by someone with a valid licence.
- Any job which requires intense manual labour or specialist skills - Some jobs may be simple but require a lot of work that you don’t have the time or resources to complete. Others may require a trained professional to carry out the tasks safely.
- Dangerous jobs - Some jobs are too dangerous to try yourself, for example those that involve hazardous materials or electrical issues, or those performed at a great height like roof repairs. They can have catastrophic consequences if not done correctly in the first place and so require an expert, who’ll be trained in the correct safety protocol.
- Hanging wallpaper - It’s not easy to get wallpaper straight, flat, and with the patterns matched up. Save yourself the hassle and hire a professional for a seamless finish (and less stress).
- Installing flooring - While some plank flooring is fairly straightforward to install yourself, flooring which is laid wall to wall can be more difficult to work with because it comes in a larger piece.
- Painting your home’s exterior - This is a huge job which involves a lot of time up high ladders. Save yourself the stress and hire a professional.
- Plumbing task - What starts out as a relatively simple fix can quickly become a bigger problem that causes a lot of damage (and costs a lot of money). A plumber will be able to protect you from this.
- Replacing a door - Especially if the new door is very different to the old one – for example, if you’re replacing a traditional door with a sliding one.
- Replacing windows - This job requires a lot of accuracy, and it can be difficult to source the correct replacement windows.
Home repairs and maintenance may seem overwhelming to a first-time homeowner, but a lot of it comes down to common sense and taking the time to look after your property.