Northern Virginia Living

Home Maintenance Tips

Maintaining Your Home

We’ve compiled a list of some of the most common home maintenance issues and how you can go about resolving them.

WATER SHUT OFF: One of the first things you should do after the move is to locate the water shut off valve. After a flood starts is not the time to start the search. What you are looking for is a single faucet that shuts off all the water in the house. The most common place to find this faucet is in the garage, close to the water heater (not at the top of the heater), in a closet, under the kitchen sink, or in the utility room. Try the shut off, but do not be surprised if all the water does not stop immediately. Some shut offs on older houses will only slow the water to a trickle, but this is definitely better than a flood. Main property water shut off is normally at the driveway or near the street in a cover box marked WATER.

CIRCUIT BREAKERS: We have a number of problems each year because tenants think that a circuit breaker pops by moving the circuit switch to the OFF position. This is not the case!! The circuit breaker moves very slightly and unless you look closely, you may still think that it is ON.

To reset, simply turn the circuit breaker OFF and back ON again. If you are not sure, try them all. Off then on. You may want to turn off electrical & electronic equipment when doing this. One type of circuit breaker found in many properties is the GFI (ground fault interrupter) circuit breaker. This circuit breaker detects the slightest voltage going to the ground and cuts the power off. There are usually two or three in your house, one is often in the master bath, one in the kitchen, and one in the garage, but there may be others.

If you lose power to the plugs in one bathroom, you can bet you have lost all power to the plugs on the GFI. The trick now is to find the circuit breaker. Some houses have the GFI at an outside plug. When moisture gets into one of your plugs, the GFI circuit breaker pops, so please make sure the covers are closed on outside plugs during rainy weather.

NOTE: The circuit breakers are ON when both rows of circuit breakers are positioned toward the center of the panel.

ELECTRIC STOVE: If the whole stove is off, check the fuse or circuit breaker. If the oven will not turn on, try the broiler. If both will not turn on, check the timer. Instructions are normally on the face of the timer, but generally one of the two clocks has a knob that will pop out if you are back to normal operation. Just turn the set knob until it pops out.

SELF-CLEANING OVENS: (uses heat to clean-door locks) Follow instructions printed on the oven. DO NOT use commercial cleaners such as Easy Off or Mr. Clean or Mr. Muscle. DO NOT put bright metal rings around stove burners in the oven for cleaning. They will turn black.

CONTINUOUS CLEAN OVENS: The oven cavity in a continuous clean oven absorbs grease when heated. The only way to clean the oven is to use it. If additional cleaning is required, most manufacturers recommend wiping the oven with mild soap and water solution. Because the finish will not absorb large amount of grease, it is important that the bottom of the oven be lined with heavy duty aluminum foil or a shallow drip pan. DO NOT use regular aluminum foil because it will catch on fire.

DISHWASHER: Use at least once each week. If used less, the seals dry up and the motor may be ruined when put back into regular use.

DISPOSALS: If disposal motor just buzzes, then stop and turn switch off. Free the disposal by turning the blade backwards and forwards from beneath the sink with a wrench that fits in the center of the bottom of the motor. Check the reset circuit breaker on the bottom of the disposal and try disposal again. If the unit turns easily by hand but not with power, call for service.

FURNACES: Gas and oil furnaces have an emergency shut off switch within sight of the furnace unit. Most have a red cover plate labeled EMERGENCY CUT OFF. The switch is often mistaken for a light switch. If the furnace stops working, this is the first place to check.

GAS HEAT: Old gas furnaces have a pilot light that burns continuously. The pilot light ignites the burner when the thermostat demands heat. A safety device keeps the gas from being turned on at the burner if the pilot light has gone out. Re-lighting a pilot light is simple, and you should learn the procedure if you have gas heat. Most furnaces have a three-way switch labeled OFF-PILOT-ON. To light the pilot, turn the switch to OFF. Then turn to PILOT and light the pilot light. To do this, you must exert downward pressure on the selector knob and hold the knob down for several seconds or maybe even a minute after the pilot light is lit. Next, release the downward pressure and the pilot should stay lit. If not, repeat the procedure. Finally, move the selector from PILOT to ON. Some selectors have red buttons that must be held down after lighting. If you have not looked your furnace over before the pilot goes out, you may not be able to figure out where the light is located because it is dark in there. New furnaces have automatic lighting devices and no pilot is required. Forget all the above and call for service if the furnace will not light. For both types of gas furnaces, the first thing to look for is the red switch. Next, check for the pilot. Finally, call for service.

HEAT PUMP: The heat pump is the most economical method of heating in this area-if used properly. Set a comfortable temperature and then LEAVE THE CONTROL ALONE. The air coming from the vents is colder than body temperature. DO NOT stand over the heat vent to try and warm up, it does not work. During the extremely cold temperatures, or when the emergency heat switch is turned on, filament heaters will provide extra heat. Use of the emergency heat mode is expensive! Do not be surprised if you find the outside unit caked with ice or steaming on a cold day.

WATER HEATER: If gas, learn to light the pilot light. (Same as a gas furnace.) If electric, check for a timer. Learn to set the timer and which fuse or circuit breakers control the unit.

AIR CONDITIONERS: Poor cooling is usually caused by a clogged filter. If the filter has been changed and there is inadequate air flow call for service. If the unit does not run at all, check the red switch. Check the fuse of the circuit breaker. If the unit still will not operate call your servicer. If water drops from the unit or runs on the floor, or drips through the ceiling (if the unit is in the attic) shut the unit off and clear the condensation drain. Some drains are very easy to clean with a vacuum cleaner or a garden hose used to blow out the line. DO NOT operate the unit until the clogged drain is cleared as the unit will continue to produce water and damage to the property may occur.


1. Always leave the heat ON.

2. Close the crawl space vents found around the bottom of the exterior walls of the house.

3. Let both hot and cold faucets run slowly on extremely cold nights.


AIR FILTERS: Check for location when moving in. Change monthly or more often as necessary to improve performance of furnace or air conditioner.

NO WAX FLOORS: Use only products specially designed for these floors.

FIBERGLASS TUBS: Use SOFTSCRUB or other comparable cleanser on the tubs and sinks and showers.

FIREPLACES: The fireplace is not an incinerator for Christmas wrappings, cardboard, etc. Burning these materials could be very dangerous. Before your first fire of the season, the fireplace should be inspected by a professional chimney sweep. Please burn hardwood only, so a build-up of tar and soot can be avoided.