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You pay the bills, but do you have the skills?

Owning a home is hard. The list of skills (and tools) you need to maintain a home is as long and knotty as that clump of hair in your shower drain. And its not like they teach drywall or basic electrical in high school. (Too bad you cant trigonometry the leaves out of your rain gutter.)

Even if youre renting and the landlord is obligated to take care of the major stuff, he or she might not be available as quickly as you need. Better to take a little initiative at least on basic fixes.

Theres bound to be a little trial and error (and trial and error and YouTube and trial and error and three trips to the hardware store), but here are a few essential skills that can save you time and money and property.

Water, water everywhere

It usually happens at 2 a.m., but really, theres no good time for water to start issuing forth unbidden from a pipe. Before any diagnosing or fixing can occur, you gotta stem the tide. Know where your water shut-off valves are probably in the basement, if you have one and remember that, depending on your valve, righty equals tighty or turning the handle perpendicular to the pipe equals off. From there, you can start mopping up and either fix it yourself or call a qualified plumber.

HVAC attack

Allergies suddenly acting up indoors? Utility bills spiking unprovoked by the weather? We wouldnt suggest cracking open the Freon alternator pistons in your AC unit (which arent real things), but theres one HVAC (aka heating, ventilation & air conditioning) fix that just might save you an expensive service call: change the air filter in your furnace. Youre actually supposed to do that every one to six months depending on the time of year and your type of furnace. No dice? Time to make the call. Hopefully you have a certified HVAC professional you trust.

Take the plunge

There are lots of ways to clog a toilet, but lets just say your firstborn flushed his favorite fire truck. First, turn off the water behind your toilet. Then grab a plunger, form a seal and plunge, young apprentice, plunge! No luck? Snake the drainpipe with an augeranother one of those $15 purchases that could save you a $150 plumber bill. The idea is to feed it down the drain until you meet resistance and then crank until you snag the interloper. Still stuck? Well, theres a reason plumbers charge the same hourly rate as lawyers. Find one with good reviews.

Burgle yourself

Or your bedroom, at least. Have you ever locked yourself out of an internal door, or discovered your daughter is posting your personal information to Facebook from her locked bedroom (how does she know your social security number?!)? Just slide a flathead screwdriver into the slot on the doorknob until you feel a spring compress, turn, and voil! For external keyed doors, hide a key in your yard (today would be good) or get your skinny neighbor to slip through the cat door. Or, you know, call a locksmith.

Cut power

Whether youre installing a ceiling fan or experiencing an electrical emergency, its important to know which breaker goes to each region of the house. Label them very clearly to avoid having to do that trick where you tap an exposed wire with your finger real quick to see if its hot. Future homeowners will thank you, too. Keep in mind that electrical work isnt as forgiving as, say, gardening. If you dont know what youre doing, consult a licensed electrician.

Ladder-day safety

Ladders are like koalas: You need to be more careful around them than you think. Even if youve been up a hundred timespruning trees, washing windows, hanging Christmas lightsthe one time you get casual can bite you. Basic ladder safety:

  • Make sure the rung locks are anchored in place.
  • Use levelers on the feet if youre on uneven ground.
  • Put a stabilizer on top if you cant lean on a steady surface.
  • To measure a safe pitch (1' horizontal : 4' vertical), you should be able to grab a rung with your arms out straight and your toes touching the feet of the ladder.
  • Face the ladder when going up or down.
  • Never go higher than the third rung from the top.

These are the basics, the very first things you should know as a homeowner. For the jobs that are above your pay grade, hire a handyman. Watch them work, ask questions and look things up and youll pick up DIY expertise along the way. Find service providers you can trust at KSL Classifieds.

Most importantly, be safe!