Home Improvements

Buying a used house often requires some updates and improvements. Such is true with our half-century old house. Luckily all of these updates are minor in nature. Knowing how to perform your own general maintenance, repairs, and upgrades will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars. I have been lucky that I have been gifted with a great father that passed on knowledge and confidence to me. My personality is such that I am always willing to take on a new task. Unfortunately I believe that many my age lack the above traits, which leaves me wondering if handymen will become a rare thing in 20 years. Many are also discouraged from performing their own repairs and told to leave that up to the “professionals” for fear they will make mistakes. Making mistakes is how you learn. It is certainly how I have learned to do many tasks. My advice is always use common sense and try a task yourself before hiring a so called professional. It is also alright to ask for advice from those who know more than you. I will finish my rant with this, in case you haven’t figured it out, I will be posting many posts about projects I have completed around the house. My wish is that my experiences will encourage those who need it to get out there and try something new. Maybe that is plumbing a new faucet or changing a ceiling fan. Regardless, spend some time trying a new task and have patience. Now on to the rest of the post.

We were very blessed to have found such a wonderful place to buy as our first home. We are even more blessed that the previous owner made some major updates such as new windows and floors. Some of the great features incorporated into the house are double hung windows and whole-house attic fans. These will save us money by allowing us to open the windows in the spring and fall and get a good breeze going. However, there are some more minor improvements that have to be done.

Some of the first tasks I began to tackle was those brought to light by the home inspection. This included sealing a few nails on the roof, plumbing the hot water heater thermal pressure relief valve, and we decided to replace all the light switches and plugs in the house (as they were the original yellow color). I used roofers cement to seal up the nails and any place that looked like it might leak in the roof. The shop also needed the roof sealed along a seam, but it still leaks in one spot. The water heater relief valve is supposed to be plumbed down to the drain to prevent scalding in-case it ever blows. That is a safety device that is often forgotten. While doing all this plumbing work I decided to drain the tank and inspect it for sediments. Often water heaters will develop a few inches of sediment in the bottom over time if a house has hard water and the tank is not maintained. In extreme cases there could be a foot or more. The sediment prevents the water heater from being as efficient because it blocks some of the heat from the heat source. So every 6 months or so I will turn off the water heater, run the hot water for 15 minutes to get some cool water in the tank. Then attach a garden hose and run it outside before opening the drain valve. Once the water out the bottom of the tank runs clear and there is not sediment coming out the hose, I close the valve and stow away the hose. That simple bit of maintenance will extend the life of most water heaters, the exception being those with extremely bad sediment problems.

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Hose connected to the drain valve to drain sediment out of the bottom of the tank. Also useful for getting clean drinking water out of the tank in an emergency if pressure is no longer available.

The Thermal Pressure Relief Valve is usually located near the top of the tank and should have a pipe attached down to the drip pan or a drain.

The Thermal Pressure Relief Valve is usually located near the top of the tank and should have a pipe attached down to the drip pan or a drain.

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This is the Thermal Pressure Relief Valve. You should lift the lever and test the valve every 6 months or so to make sure it is functioning. Otherwise, it should not leak.

The light switches and plugs we just replaced because the old ones were yellowed and a few were broken. Some other improvements we have made recently is can lighting in the living room, running wiring to install a chandelier in the dining room, and install flood lighting on the back side of the house so we can see the dogs when we let them out at night. Of course when messing with electricity you should turn off the circuit breaker and double check that all the plugs or lights you intend to use are not powered. If others are in your house, put a piece of tape over the circuit breaker to make sure nobody turns it back on by accident. Installing the can lighting was straight forward since we just tapped into an existing light circuit and ran some new wiring. The hardest thing was trying to square up the four lights in a room that is not square. The dining room however did not have an existing light so my father and I had to snake a wire through the wall and into the ceiling. I still have to install flood lights onto the front of the house (per Kallie’s request).

Our house is built on a pier and beam foundation meaning it has a crawlspace under it. This type of foundation is great for areas with clay based soils or anyplace where the ground moves. This is because the foundation can flex and move with the ground. The best thing about a house with a crawlspace is it is possible to get under the house to perform inspections and repairs. The unfortunate thing is I have to crawl under the house which because of the dust requires a mask and safety glasses. The plumbing, gas, and A/C ducts run under in the crawlspace under my house. My first inspection revealed the A/C ducts to the kitchen and living room were separated and pumping cold air under the house. Some number 10 self-tapping sheet metal screws were all that was needed to make sure the ducts never come apart again. Then I wrapped the joint with foil tape and topped that off with duct tape to seal the air gaps. Being able to inspect the underside of the house allowed me to check for termites and rot, which I was happy to see there was none.

It is amazing how I have been so busy the last few weeks working on the house and writing up the post it seems like I have so little to say. What I have learned is to take my initial estimate for how long it will take me to complete a task and multiply it by three. Everything always takes longer to do than I think because there is always some sort of complications. There will be more posts to come that will hopefully be more informative. Coming up I will explain how I built a storm shelter to protect us from tornadoes. Also to come is how to install a new propane port for a gas stove. Keep checking back and until then, go try a new task that you haven’t done before.

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