The best way to learn is from your own mistakes; the next best way to learn is from the mistakes of others. I do not want to assume other first-time homeowners are as clueless as my husband, Adam, and I were. But in case others could benefit from the mistakes we have made, I impart my knowledge onto you (and, if nothing else, you might get a laugh out of these). Unfortunately, since neither of us are particularly handy (Adam always likes to say that his tool box contains a cell phone and a credit card), I shudder to think of how many other things we have forgotten, but here are my top five.
Lesson #1 - Furnace Filters Need Changing
Close to two years after moving into our first house, I started to notice that it was dusty all the time. I’m talking, just got done dusting the coffee table, and five minutes later you could write a letter in it. I assumed the increased dust was because of all the construction going on in our neighborhood. My father-in-law happened to be visiting, and I casually mentioned to him that the dust level was driving me crazy. He said the construction could be contributing to it, and we might need to change our furnace filter more frequently.
Excuse me, what? Change the furnace filter?
Noticing our shock, he asked when the last time we had changed our furnace filter. Adam responded with what we were both thinking, “What do you mean you have to change your furnace filter?”
As it turns out, you have to change your furnace filter, but different furnaces have different filters AND different filters need changing on specific schedules. For instance, at our first house, it needed to be changed every six months, and at our current house, it needs changing every month. In case you were wondering, the dust situation does improve greatly once you change your furnace filter.
Lesson #2 - Water Softeners Run Out of Salt
Incidentally, we learned another lesson along with the furnace filter one. My father was also at our house, so he, my father-in-law, and Adam went downstairs to the utility room to check out the furnace. My dad asked if we had refilled our water softener.
Again, excuse me, what? What do you refill it with? And, by the way, what’s a water softener?
Depending on the water in the area, not all houses have water softeners, so do not be too alarmed if you are completely confused. Our current house does not have one, but our previous house did. But if you have a water softener, in order for it to actually work, you have to add water softening salt to it every couple of months. Huh, who knew? Clearly, not Adam or me.
Lesson #3 - Buy The Snowblower Before It Snows
I live in Wisconsin. In case you’re unfamiliar with Wisconsin winters, it snows. A lot. So, if you happen to live in a climate that doesn’t snow, you can skip this specific lesson, but keep in mind there is a good chance something in your climate requires a special tool or preparation that is better to have before it’s needed. Ask an experienced homeowner if you are totally clueless about what that might be.
When we moved from our condo, where our snow was magically removed, to our first house, I told Adam I had budgeted money for a snowblower. He decided that he didn’t need one; we didn’t have that much sidewalk or driveway. He didn’t want to be “that guy” that had a snowblower when a shovel would be fine. As snow removal was part of his marriage vows (I am only sort of kidding on this. I made it clear when we were talking about getting a house that I had never mowed the lawn or used a snowblower, and I really had no intention to start.), I asked one more time if he was sure he didn’t want a snowblower. He was adamant; his ergonomically correct snow shovel would do the trick. Okie dokie.
Fast forward to after a huge snowstorm dumped like 16 inches of wet, heavy snow. I was eight weeks pregnant and definitely not helping with snow removal (let’s be real, I wouldn’t have even if I wasn’t pregnant), so Adam and his snow shovel went outside to get to work. About 2 hours later, the doorbell rang, which I thought was odd. I answered the door, and there stood Adam. He was a hot mess--flushed cheeks from exertion, covered in sweat, and his hat barely on his head. He looked at me, holding his now-broken, ergonomically correct shovel and announced, “I broke my shovel. I’m only halfway done. I’m buying a snowblower.”
I stifled a laugh as well as an “I told you so,” and said good luck. He went to the local hardware store and, luckily, bought the very last snowblower in the entire city. In fact, as he was about to purchase it, there was a call from another store asking if they had any left. That solidified the purchase for sure.
There are two lessons here. One, if you live where it snows and you have a sidewalk and/or driveway, buy a snowblower. Two, buy the snowblower before the snow begins to fall.
We ended up having record snowfall that first winter in our house--over 100 inches! Adam lucked out on getting that last snowblower, and I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for the poor person, or people, who were not so lucky. Ironically, the two years we were in our condo, where snow removal was included, it barely snowed. Go figure!
Lesson #4 – Grass Farming is Hard Work
I always thought that outside plants and grass grew all by themselves, and that once it’s established, grass is as resilient as are some plants. Perennials, like hostas, are very hearty plants. For you fellow non-gardeners, words like “resilient” and “hearty” translates to “hard to kill.” However, the key is established plants/grass. Root systems for grass and “hearty” plants are deeper, but it can take a few years to reach this point. And even the hearty plants go through shock when transplanted!
To get to this point, you need to water and water frequently. I’m talking daily. I’m talking find-someone-to-do-it-for-you-if-you-don’t-have-a-sprinkler-system. Our first go-round with this, we tried to fashion a system of connected sprinklers on a timer. This had to be hilarious to watch. You see, every additional sprinkler added decreases the force, and distance of the stream. So there we were, trying to cover the entire yard with just the right amount of sprinklers. This would be fine EXCEPT we also had to carefully remove the sprinkler from the hose so we could water the perennials at a slow trickle for 10 minutes daily.
I will be happy to report, the plants survived despite abandoning them after doing this for about two weeks. I decided plants outside need to figure out how to survive. And, they did…but I probably just got lucky. And you better believe we invested in a sprinkler system in our current house.
Lesson #5 - Know How to Turn Off Your Water
Ok, this happened well after being a first-time homeowner, but is the most valuable lesson to share. We were getting our first house ready to be listed when we woke up to our refrigerator leaking water. A small hole had developed in the hose that brought water to the fridge, and it had leaked through the floor into the basement. It was amazing how much damage happened after only a few hours!
Knowing how to turn off the water was imperative to stopping the issue from causing more damage. Two more points:one,make sure you have access to the water shutoff valve (very important if you are finishing the area where it is), and two, turn your water off when you are out of town, just in case.
Let’s be real…I could go on and on. Check back for more stories of home ownership faux pas. I truly hope you can find the joy in first-time home ownership just as we did...these stories have entertained us for years!
Erika Fehrenbach Prell is passionate about inspiring and educating, others on their path to complete wellness-mind,body, and soul. This desire led Erika to the helping profession of nursing, and she obtained her Master's Degree as a Nurse Practitioner in 2007. Erika specialized in cardiac surgery, largely influenced by her personal experience with heart disease. While she loved working with this population, her heart's desire has always been to impact lives on a larger scale and from a proactive, not reactive, place. The universe answered when her path crossed with Jackie and SoulShine was born. Erika finally feels she is walking in her purpose and is excited for this journey to unfold.