We all learn a lot during our school days - everything from our times tables to what exactly longshore drift is. But there are some things that schools can’t teach us, which can leave us in the lurch years later.
One of the things that doesn’t make the curriculum is how to look after your home. A property is the most expensive, and probably most complex thing we’ll ever buy, but we don’t get as much as a beginner’s course in how to keep on top of it.
That’s where MyBuilder can step in, with a quick masterclass in how to take care of your home:
Find your stopcock
If you have a leak or a broken pipe, dripping water and damaging your floor, walls or possessions, you need to stop the water flowing straight away. In that case, you’ll need to find your stopcock, a simple valve between two pipes that can be turned to stop the flow of water in your home.
Homes typically have two stopcocks, inside the home and outside. The external one is usually found just in front of your house under a metal cover marked “water”, “stopcock” or just “w”.
Turning it will usually need a stopcock key - a metal T-shaped bar that can reach into the hole to turn the valve. Turning it will turn off water to the entire building - worth bearing in mind if you live in a block of flats.
Your home should also have a stopcock inside, that isolates the water in your property. It can be in a variety of places, often under the kitchen sink, bathroom, or in a cupboard under the stairs.
Where is it?
They can also crop up in odd places like cupboards, or even boxed in under the floorboards near the front door. If you’re not sure, try asking the previous tennants, or your neighbours if their property is similar.
When you find it, turn it by hand or using pliers clockwise until the water stops coming out of the taps. You can use a lubricant like WD40 if it’s stiff to move, but be careful not to make it too slippery to turn. It’s a good idea to test it every few months to keep it operable.
Any plumber will need to know where your stopcock is so they can get to work.
Find your consumer unit or fusebox
Just like a stopcock can control water coming into your home, your consumer unit or fusebox can control the electricity coming from the mains.
A modern consumer unit will be fitted with Residual Current Devices (RCDs) and circuit breakers, that will trip or switch off in case of a fault, stopping the electricity flow to a particular circuit.
This is a safety feature that can prevent accidents like power surges that can cause wiring to overheat, causing fires, and protecting devices that are plugged into your sockets.
How old is it?
Older models will use fuses which contain a length of wire which melts when it overheats and needs rewiring - if so, this is a sign your unit is out of date is a due a replacement.
Consumer units will also have a main switch that controls all the power to your home, and can be turned off to stop the electricity entirely.
Like stopcocks, your consumer unit should be easily accessible, but they can be tucked away - sometimes in understairs cupboards, or in a cabinet near the front door.
Electricians will need to access your consumer unit so they can work on your electrics safely.
Find out how old your boiler is
Modern boilers should last for at least 10 years if they are properly maintained, so it’s useful to know how much lifespace yours might have left.
Boilers usually chug along happily without any issues, but when they do break, they tend to do it at the worst possible time. You should keep an eye on yours - make sure the pressure is consistent and not dropping, listen for any unusual noises, and watch that it doesn’t switch itself off.
You should have your boiler inspected once a year to keep it operating at its best - sometimes a gas engineer will be able to perform some maintenance like flushing your system to remove any debris that’s built up in the pipes and might damage the boiler.
Make sure your alarms are in working order
One thing schools often teach is fire safety - sometimes the local fire brigade will even make a visit to make a point about knowing your exit routes and testing your smoke alarms.
That’s a lesson you should remember even when you’re a grown-up homeowner. You should have a fire alarm in as many rooms as possible, and regularly check the batteries by pressing the tester button to ensure it’s working.
If you don’t have enough alarms, or yours are out of date, it’s easy to buy new ones, and a handyman can help fit them on the ceiling to help protect your home.
Get your locks up to date
You probably know where your house keys are right now - maybe in your pocket or purse, or on your bedside table.
You’ll also know if the other people you live with have a set of keys, and ideally, you’ll know if there are any spare sets, maybe in a drawer somewhere, or left with a neighbour or friend in case of emergencies.
But is that all the keys? What about previous residents of your home? If you can’t say for sure where every key is, it can give you peace of mind to make sure you’re back in charge of your home security by updating the locks.
Making sure your locks not only helps look after your home, it will also be a benefit when it comes to insuring your home. A locksmith can change your locks to get them up to scratch, and make sure you know exactly where every key is.
Check if your trees are protected
If you have any trees on your property, you might imagine that they’re yours to do what you want with - but that isn’t always the case.
Before you get any work done to a tree - especially if you’re planning to cut it down - it’s important to check if your tree is subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO).
TPOs are issued by local authorities and are designed to protect trees that is deemed to have an amenity value - for example, if your tree is very prominent and on a street corner, it may be protected.
If your tree is under a TPO, you will need to make an application before you can carry out any work on it, and failure to do so can result in a hefty fine.
Your trees will also be protected if you live in a conservation area, or if there are birds nesting in them - so consult a tree surgeon and your local authority before you get out the saw.