Home Care Guide

Home maintenance includes regular, seasonal and one-time tasks. The following suggested maintenance schedule identifies some of the more common maintenance tasks that may be performed on a weekly, monthly or on a semi-annual basis. Tailor it to fit your own situation, adding or deleting items as required.

As a homeowner, you have normal maintenance responsibilities for your new home. Establishing a maintenance schedule is the best way to manage your maintenance budget.

These suggested maintenance tasks and schedule should not replace the manufacturer’s recommendations. We suggest the use of licensed contractors for any tasks you may feel unprepared to complete. Remember, safety first! What seems like a simple plumbing or electrical repair can cost you many times what you think you might save if you don’t do it correctly.

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The Following Is Suggested Monthly Maintenance

  • Smoke Detectors – Check operation by pushing test button. Check and replace battery if necessary.
  • Check fire extinguishers for proper charge. Never buy units without a pressure gauge. Be sure that you have an adequate number, located in the kitchen, garage and basement. Test Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) to insure proper protection.
  • Clean garbage disposal blades by grinding ice cubes and citrus fruit rinds.
  • Clean or replace dirty filter in range hood.
  • Check for evidence of leaks around toilets, under sinks and around dishwasher.
  • Clean and freshen sink drains by flushing with hot water and baking soda.
  • Inspect furnace and air-conditioning filters, humidifier and electronic air cleaners. Replace as required.
  • Clean aerators on faucets regularly, depending upon water hardness. You may need to use a rust or scale remover (such as CLR) to return them to normal condition, or have them replaced. Check water filters and softeners regularly. The life of the filters is dependent upon water usage and water characteristics. Retailers can help with this analysis.
  • Monitor and maintain floor coverings on an as required basis. Regular vacuuming will reduce wear of carpets and other floor coverings. Repair tears and stains as soon as possible.
  • Check the Temperature Pressure Release (TPR) valve on the water heater. The water heater should also be drained periodically. In areas with hard water drain at least 5 gallons of water from the drain valve every six months to prevent sediment build up

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Twice A Year Maintenance

  • Inspect roof for broken or missing shingles, identifying anything that might cause leaks or problems. Inspect and clean gutters and down spouts.
  • Inspect outside of home and condition of siding, paint and masonry.
  • Inspect doors and windows to verify proper operation, security and weather resistance. Clean tracks of windows and sliding glass doors   before applying silicone lubricant.
  • Maintain wall finishes following suggestions in this packet.
  • Monitor and maintain cabinets and countertops following instructions in this packet.
  • Inspect the foundation, basement or crawl space following instructions in  this Guide
  • Inspect main service panel, circuit breakers, all GFI outlets and breakers following instructions in this packet.
  • Complete seasonal maintenance on heating and air conditioning by licensed HVAC contractor. Check general condition of compressor; remove debris if necessary.            
  • Inspect and replace as needed caulking and grout around tubs, showers and sinks.
  • Have carpets professionally cleaned at least once a year.

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Annual Maintenance

  •  Examine caulking around windows, doors and other areas following instructions in this Guide.
  •  Inspect condition of concrete slabs and patios following suggestions in this packet.
  •  Visually survey wood trim following suggestions in this packet. Clean all woodwork and wax.
  •  Complete annual furnace and air conditioning maintenance by a licensed HVAC contractor.

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Examining Your Roof - Twice A Year

Visually inspect all surfaces from the ground if possible. Look for torn, broken, missing or cracked shingles, accumulated debris, gaps in flashing, exposed joints, and obstructed vent pipes. Shingle granule deposits found in gutters arenormal and common to new roofs. Check that sealed joints around skylightframes are not cracked and in good condition. Look in attic for water stains on underside of roof or wet insulation. Consult with a qualified roofing contractor,as necessary, for stains under overhand and in attic. Always call yourhomeowners insurance company first, for any storm-related damage. Many attics do not have floors. If you step on the insulation or ceiling, you maybe seriously injured.

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Inspecting Gutters And Down Spouts - Twice A Year

Hire a gutter cleaning service or find a ladder and do-it-yourself. Leaves anddebris will accumulate in the gutters as the seasons change. If you do it
yourself, carefully climb up to the gutter and scoop out leaves and debris with a small hand shovel. Also, remove debris from the down spouts. (You can sometimes clear these with a hose, but you may have to disassemble the downspout.) Make sure gutters are sloped to drain toward down spouts. When on the ground, inspect gutters from underneath and look for leaks, rust spots or holes. Caulk as necessary.

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Checking Condition Of Siding, Paint, Masonry And Wood Trim - Once A Year

Perform a walk-around inspection of the perimeter walls. Over time, normal weathering and minor settlement can cause cracking, peeling, warping, and crumbling in some or all of these materials. Look for cracks in brick and stone. Identify any areas where mortar has fallen out. A white powdery substance known as efflorescence may appear from time to time and is considered normal. Check for warped siding, gaps in wood trim, and peeling or blistering paint. Sand, scrape, wire-brush, caulk, stain, repaint and apply wood preservatives where necessary. Consult with a mason, as necessary, to repair cracked brick ormortar. Consult with a siding contractor, as necessary, to repair warped siding.

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Inspect Condition Of Concrete Slabs And Patios - Once A Year

Examine all concrete sidewalks, patios, porches, stoops, and garage slabs for cracks, chipping, stains, scaling or settlement. Consult with your local hardware store for products that can fill and repair cracks or chipping, or remove scaling residue. (Automotive brake cleaning fluid works well to remove most concrete stains). Seal and caulk any large gaps created by minor settlement.

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Maintaining Original Grading, Drainage, And Landscaping

Visually survey your yard and existing drainage patterns. Verify that the ground slopes away from the foundation. Stabilize any bare areas with grass, ground cover or landscaping materials to discourage erosion. Dig out areaswhere sand has accumulated and fill in any low spots where necessary to reestablish drainage flow. Avoid over-watering plants and shrubs which are next to the foundation. Adjust sprinkler systems to avoid over-spraying the house or causing puddles near the foundation. Plant trees and shrubs an adequate distance away from foundation to allow for mature spread and root systems. Water, fertilize, mow and aerate your grass as necessary.

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Inspecting The Attic - Twice A Year

Prior to entering the attic, purchase a paper filter mask from your local hardware store to avoid lung irritation from possible airborne insulation fibers. Bring a flashlight. Gain access through the trap door and check that all air vents are unobstructed and intact. Make sure there are no animals nesting in the insulation. If you walk around, be careful not to step on the drywall ceiling below, and watch out for nails sticking through the roof. Never store anything in the attic unless it was designed for that purpose.

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Monitoring And Maintaining Floor Coverings

  • For carpet, vacuum often. Use very short, slow movements, about 2 or 3 strokes each spot for maximum soil removal. Traffic lanes may require more frequent cleaning, to maintain the upright position of the nap. Spills should be wiped up and stains spot cleaned promptly. Always dab at the stain, never rub it. Use a manufacturer-approved carpet cleaning product as needed – test spray for color fastness in an inconspicuous location (like a closet). Use mats or rugs near outside doors to reduce soil tracking. (Always lift furniture when moving it around – never drag it.) Have carpets professionally cleaned once a year.
  • For ceramic tile, sweep or vacuum often. To clean, use a dishwasher crystal and water solution applied to a damp sponge. Check for cracks in the grout. Apply matching grout as necessary to fill cracks. Check caulking near bathtubs and baseboards. Caulk should be well-adhered to both surfaces – clean surface and re-caulk as necessary. Make sure all furniture legs have floor protectors installed. (Always lift furniture when moving – never slide it across tiles.) Use mats or rugs near outside doors to collect dirt.
  • For hardwood floors, sweep or vacuum often. Use non-rubber backed mats or throw rugs to minimize exposure to sand and grit. When the floor becomes excessively soiled, floors having a polyurethane finish may be damp mopped with a mixture of one cup vinegar to one gallon of water – never wet-mop or wax. If occasional squeaks occur, apply some powdered graphite to the area. The appearance of small splinters is common for new  hardwood floors. Avoid exposure to prolonged sunlight and high-heeled shoes (without their rubber heel protector’s in-place). Make sure all furniture legs have floor protectors installed. Always lift  furniture when moving – never slide it across the wood.
  •  Never allow water to sit on the surface for an extended period of time. Over time, with normal use, polyurethane finished floors may need to be recoated. A qualified contractor should do this. Waxing a polyurethane finish is not recommended, as new coatings will not bond to old wax. Other oil or water based finishes may have different care and maintenance requirements, and you may need to contact the flooring company for the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  •  For vinyl or other resilient – type flooring, sweep, vacuum or damp mop often. 
  •  To “wax” your no-wax floor, use acrylic finishes recommended by the manufacturer. Excessive water near seams can cause separation, lifting or curling. High heels will damage these floor types. Install floor protectors on furniture legs and lift furniture when moving – don’t slide.

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Maintaining Wall Finishes - Twice A Year

  • For drywall, check for cracks at windows, doors, corners, and ceilings. Repair with two to three coats of joint compound, sand and repaint when convenient.  Minor cracks can be filled with a heavy coat of matching paint.  For nail pops or protrusions, reset offending nails deeper into drywall, then repeat drywall repair. Most drywall cracks will occur after heating or cooling season with the change in humidity. (Air conditioners provide very dry air as they cool.) Consult with a  drywall contractor to retexture, as necessary.
  • For paint or stain, look for peeling, cracking, blistering, fading, or scuff marks. Scrape off paint from any damaged areas. Flat paint can be touched-up with a small brush and matching paint. Semi-gloss and glossy paint can be touched-up or wiped off with a damp sponge to clean. Exterior paints can usually be used for inside areas however; the opposite is not always true. Do not use an acrylic or latex paint over enamel or varnish, since it will not adhere. Use paint in the bathroom, kitchen and utility area.
  • Stain can often be rejuvenated with a good quality furniture polish.
  • For brick or stone veneer, periodically check for cracks in the mortar. Changes in humidity can cause mortar to shrink. Consult with a qualified mason, as necessary, to re-paint cracks and match existing mortar.

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Cleaning Walls

  • Some painted surfaces may be cleaned with a mild solution of detergent and water. If you are not sure of the washability of the paint, try washing in an inconspicuous place.
  • Glazed brick or tile should be washed with soap and water. Use a nonabrasive household cleaner to remove stains.

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Monitoring And Maintaining Cabinets And Countertops - Twice A Year

  • For cabinets, check out the hardware. Adjust, tighten or lubricate knobs, hinges, latches, rollers, and drawer glides. Refresh varnished wood cabinets with a good quality furniture polish once a month. Never use a paraffin-based spray wax. Painted cabinets may be cleaned with a mild non-abrasive detergent on a damp sponge. Scratches can be filled with a matching touch-up crayon available at most hardware stores. Wood cabinets should be cleaned and waxed just like fine furniture. 
  • For laminate countertops, verify that any caulking joints are in good condition and well-adhered to both sides of the joint – water can cause underlying wood material to swell when wetted. Clean joint and re-caulk with matching material as necessary. Avoid placing hot items such as pots, pans, cigarettes and ironson countertop laminate – heat can liquefy the underlying glue. Never cut on your new countertops – always use a cutting board. Clean with a mild, non-abrasive detergent on a damp sponge or wash rag – don’t use scrubby pads. Avoid prolonged exposure to dishwasher steam to underside of countertop – high humidity and condensation may cause wood warping under laminate. For ceramic tile countertops, inspect grout and tile for cracks. Replace cracked tiles and re-grout as necessary. White grout can be refreshed by applying a diluted bleach solution with a stiff narrow brush.

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Monitoring And Maintaining Doors And Windows - Twice A Year

  • Check overall door and window integrity and operation. Windows and doors can be affected by a number of elements including minor settlement, wear and tear, expansion and contraction, and general weathering. Check weather-stripping at all windows and entrance doors. Make sure a tight air seal is formed when closed. Replace any weather stripping that becomes loose or damaged. Check door and window hardware (hinges, knobs, pins, latches, locks, etc.). Make sure door latch bolts and dead bolts engage properly. Adjust, tighten and lubricate where necessary. Spray graphite into keyholes and onto hinges when lubricating – never use oil. Look for binding or rubbing in the frames, cracked panes,difficult operation, locking problems, cracking or peeling paint or varnish.  Adjust, lubricate, clean and re-seal as necessary. Door thresholds can often be adjusted by loosening or tightening the threshold screws. Also, don’t forget to lubricate the tracks for sliding and pocket doors. Paint or seal top and bottom of doors to reduce moisture penetration and wood shrinking and swelling. Don’t sand or plane a door until it has been exposed to the various moisture changes of every season.
  • TIPS FOR CLEANING: To clean lightly soiled windows, use a solution of: 1 cup of vinegar to 1 gallon of warm water. For heavily soiled windows, use a solution of: 1 tablespoon of household ammonia, 3 tablespoons of denatured alcohol or vinegar to 1 quart of warm water.

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Inspect The Foundation, Basement Or Crawl Space - Twice A Year

  • For slab-on-grade foundations, walk the entire ground floor and look for water stains or cracks in the concrete. Remove stains with an appropriate concrete cleaning agent. Seal cracks that may allow water to enter with a compatible waterproof caulk. Both can be found at your local hardware store.
  • For basement foundations, walk the entire floor and perimeter walls, Look for water stains or cracks in the concrete. Remove stains with an appropriate concrete cleaning agent. Seal non-structural cracks with a compatible waterproof caulk. Both can be found at your local hardware or building supply store. Inspect sump pit if there is one. If there is standing water in the pit, you may verify that sump is operational by pouring additional water into the pit to trigger pump.
  • For crawl space foundations, gain access to crawl space through trap door. Inspect concrete walls. Look for water stains or cracks. Seal cracks that may allow water to enter with a compatible waterproof caulk. Check ground surface for any standing water. Inspect sump pit if applicable. If there is water in the pit, verify that the sump pump is operational by pouring additional water into the pit to trigger pump. Locate all air vents. Verify that they’re open and unobstructed by insulation or other debris.

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Inspecting Your Plumbing System - Twice A Year

Simultaneously turn on the water at all sinks, bathtubs and showers; operate dishwasher and washing machine; and flush toilets. Check on all drains first to make sure nothing overflows. Then, look for any leaks in the water and sewer pipes. Look in cabinets, closets, on the floor, under lower level ceilings and in the basement or crawl spaces (if applicable). Water pipes will be copper (metal) or a gray plastic. Sewer pipes will be white or black plastic. If freezing temperatures occur, make sure to disconnect the outside garden hoses to keep inner water pipes from freezing and bursting at the spigot. If any water line leaks are found locate the shut-off valve nearest to the leak and turn the valve to the right (clockwise) until tight. If any sewer line leaks are found, try to trace the piping back to the area it services and discontinue use of those fixtures until repairs are made. Consult with a qualified plumber if necessary.

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Maintaining Plumbing Fixtures And Appliances - Twice A Year

  • For sinks, turn on the hot and cold water and observe for adequate water pressure and drainage. If water pressure is low, unscrew the piece (aerator) at the end of the spigot and inspect the filter screen. Wash out any trapped pieces of debris, then reinstall. If sink is slow to drain, you can try some drain cleaner to see if that helps, but use a funnel when pouring to avoid splashing acid on the basin surface. Drain cleaners should not be used if your home is on a septic system. Another alternative to clear a drain would be to disassemble the trap (“U” shaped pipe) under the sink to try to clear any obstruction. Put a bucket under the trap first since it usually contains a small amount of water. This also works well for fishing out small valuables that go down the drain. To clean sink surfaces, use a non-abrasive cleanser and warm water on a damp sponge.
  • For bathtubs and showers, operate the cold and hot water and check for adequate water pressure and drainage. If you notice low water pressure in the shower, unscrew the shower head and flush it out, against the direction of normal flow, to clear any debris. A rubber plunger can usually unclog any drain obstructions. If that doesn’t work, you can try some drain cleaner to see if that helps, but again, use a funnel when pouring to avoid splashing acid on the tub or shower surface. Drain cleaners should not be used if your home is on a septic system. Clean surfaces with a non-abrasive cleanser and warm water on a damp sponge.
  • For toilets, clean often using a non-abrasive cleanser. Avoid scrubbing bowl too hard with a toilet brush – bristle rod may scratch porcelain. Avoid using drop-in type cleaners. Never mix cleaners especially those containing bleach. If toilet clogs and begins to overflow, turn off water supply at shut-off valve near the floor. Use a rubber plunger or something called a “coil spring auger” to clear any clogs. If toilet runs constantly, try adjusting the float mechanism in the tank to shut-off fill-water sooner. Never flush baby wipes, sanitary napkins, dental floss, hair, grease, motor oil, paper towels or cups, diapers, small dead pets, etc. Condensation on the outside of the tank is not a leak – try purchasing a tank cover if desired.
  • For spas or jetted tubs, see “bathtubs” above for cleaning suggestions. To avoid motor damage, never operate jets unless outlet ports are covered by at least three inches of water. If jets don’t work, check to see if GFI outlet switch is tripped in the tub equipment housing area
  • For garbage disposers, always use cold water when operating – hot water causes food to be cut less efficiently by the blades and causes grease to liquefy which may solidify in your trap and cause a clog. Avoid putting fruit peels or vegetable peels down the disposer which may also clog the trap. If disposer does won’t operate, unplug unit and manually try to rotate the inner chamber from the bottom with the included Allen wrench. If you can’t find the wrench, a broom stick used as a lever arm from the top side may also work. After you’ve given the chamber a few turns, plug it back in and press the reset switch on the bottom of the unit and try again. Consult with a qualified repairmen, as necessary.
  • For hot water heaters, take the time to read the manufacturer’s operation manual which explains how to periodically drain and refill the tank for optimal performance. Check that temperature setting is set on letter “B:, “Normal” or 140 degrees.
  • For natural gas units, there is a pilot light and a main burner which heats the water. If the pilot light goes out, read the re-lighting instructions found on the side of the tank. Never turn on electricity to the unit or light the pilot if it has an empty tank. Always shut off the electric or gas supply before turning off the water supply. When away from your home for an extended period of time, turn the temperature down to its lowest setting. Never store combustible materials near a natural gas unit. Fumes are often heavier that air and can make their way to the pilot light. Vacuum often near the base of the unit to keep dust from interfering with the flame. Avoid using the top of the water heater as a storage shelf. Test the pressure relief valve at least once a year by briefly pulling up on the lever and confirming water discharge. Stay away from end of discharge pipe when performing this test – scalding danger. Condensation at bottom of inner tank and above flame is not a leak. Water dripping from the bottom of the outer tank may be a leak. Consult with a qualified plumber as necessary.
  • Tips for cleaning fixtures: Regular cleaning of fixtures prevents a soap scum build-up. Never use a harsh cleaner, but rather; 1. Use a glass cleaner for chrome or brass; 2. Use a “soft-scrub” cleaner for marble or cultured marble.  3.  Use a stiff brush to clean grout. For heavy stains, use commercial grout cleaner. Regrout if necessary to prevent water from seeping behind the tile and into the walls.

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Checking Your Heating And Cooling System (before heating & cooling seasons)

  • For air conditioners, turn on system only when outside air temperature is greater that 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Set thermostat to desired temperature slightly higher than normal if away from home during the day. (This will allow for quicker cooling to your desired temperature at night rather than trying to cool a hot house.)
  •  If air conditioner does not operate, check thermostat is set to “cool” setting. If that doesn’t help, check the circuit breakers. There are two: one which controls the compressor and one which controls the fan. Verify that both are in the “ON” position. If either is tripped, switch it to the “OFF” position then to the “ON” position. If that doesn’t work, call a qualified HVAC contractor for assistance as  necessary.
  • If the system is operating properly, ensure that the condensation drain tube is draining water and is unobstructed. (It’s usually a clear plastic tube located next to the heat pump which drains into a floor drain or to the outside.) Verify that the outside compressor unit operates free and clear of any debris and don’t forget to removed any protective cover left on the unit over the winter.
  • In general, shield the inside of your home from direct sunlight and outside air.  Radiation from the sun will heat your walls, floors and furniture. Outside air contains heat and humidity. Both will significantly slow the cooling process.  Consider installing ceiling fans where desirable. They help with air circulation and enable the system to operate more efficiently. Make sure all cooling and return air vents are clean, clear and unobstructed. Set air vent vanes upward on lower floors and slightly downward on upper floors. Air blowing from the vents should be noticeably cool. If not, there may be a refrigerant leak somewhere. Again, consult with a qualified HVAC contractor as necessary.
  • For a heat pump or a natural gas furnace, turn on the system. (Heat pumps should not be operated unless outside air temperature is below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.) Set thermostat at desired temperature. If the system does not operate, check to see that thermostat is set to “HEAT” setting. Also check that fan panel on furnace unit is secure. (There is a switch behind the panel which will keep the furnace from operating if the panel is loose.) If that doesn’t work, check the circuit breakers. Verify that breakers are in the “ON” position. If any breakers relating to the fan or compressor are tripped, switch them to the “OFF” position then to the “ON” position. Otherwise, consult with a qualified HVAC contractor for assistance if necessary. If the system is operating properly, confirm that noticeably warm air is blowing out of the air vents. A mild odor is common the first time you turn on the heat and should dissipate shortly. Also check that any auxiliary heaters are operational (heat pump). If you have natural gas heat and smell a strong odor of gas, leave the home immediately and call the gas company from a neighbor’s house. Do not turn on lights or use the telephone. If your furnace has a pilot light, there will be re-lighting instructions on one of the inside panels forreference in the event it ever goes out. Make sure the fresh air duct near a natural gas unit is open and unobstructed. Occasionally, heat pumps will activate a defrost cycle which will melt ice buildup on the internal coils of the outside unit. When this occurs, steam will be seen rising from the unit. This is normal and not cause for concern.  Allow direct sunlight in whenever possible. Radiation from the sun will heat your walls, floors and furniture and aid the heating system. Consider installing ceiling fans where desirable. They help with air circulation and enable the system to operate more efficiently. Make sure all heating and return air vents are clean, clear and unobstructed. Set air vent vanes slightly downward on lower floors and upward on upper floors.
  • Check the filter regularly on any heating or cooling system. Dirty filters result in reduced efficiency and higher operating cost. If your system has a disposable filter, you should replace it at least every other month during the heating season (all year if you have air-conditioning). Periods of heavy use, high traffic in and out of the home, or other environmental conditions may necessitate more frequent replacement. Verify that the filter arrow points in the direction of air flow. Buy filters in large quantity for the sake of convenience. Permanent filters may be vacuumed or tapped to loosen dirt, the washed with warm water and mild detergent. Have unit serviced once a year.

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Examining Your Electrical System - Twice A Year

  • Check the main service panel. Look for rust, water stains, soot stains, or melted wires. Check the circuit breakers. See that they are properly labeled.  Do a quick check to verify that the labeled circuit is actually the correct circuit by switching off the breaker and trying some of the devices connected to that circuit. If it’s not correctly labeled, re-label it and investigate the remaining circuits. Circuit breakers have three positions: “ON”, “OFF”, and “tripped”. They are designed to allow only a certain amount of electrical current to pass through the wires – usually 15 to 20 amps. Circuit breakers will trip, or shut down, if that amount of current is exceeded. If any breakers are tripped, switch them to “OFF” then back to “ON”. If the breaker trips again, unplug all devices on that circuit. If this corrects the problem, then there are too many devices plugged in to this circuit or one of the devices or cords is faulty, unsafe and leaking electrical current. If the breaker continues to trip, consult with a qualified electrician as necessary.
  • Check all GFI outlets and breakers. These outlets and switches have “TEST” and “RESET” buttons on them and are ultra current sensitive to protect you from accidental electrocution if you’re exposed to water and an electrical device. They can be found in kitchens, bathrooms, garages, basements and in the main service panel. Push the “TEST” button at least once a month to trip the circuit. If the “RESET” button doesn’t pop outward during this test, consult with a qualified electrician, as necessary, to replace the GFI switch. If it does pop out, push it back in and repeat next month. Do not plug refrigerators or freezers into a GFI circuit. These appliances experience sudden large power draws which can trip the GFI switch and spoil food!
  • In general, keep tree limbs away from overheard power lines. Always call your electrical utility service to locate underground power lines before digging any trenches or holes. If an electrical outlet doesn’t work, see if it’s controlled by a switch, GFI switch, or if the breaker has tripped, before calling an electrician. Don’t use light bulbs with a higher wattage than the fixture allows.   Avoid changing exterior light bulbs in the rain. Never overload extension cords or use too many when bringing power to a remote device or fixture – check the label for restrictions. Plug sensitive electronic devices such as televisions, computers, printers, VCR’s etc. into appropriate surge protector strips. Unplug them during lightning storms. If there are small children in the home, installoutlet protector guards to keep out little fingers and paper clips!