By Gillian Harvey

Your home maintenance checklist

Even if you’ve viewed your new property several times, you may well find there are a few surprises (and a whole new to-do list) once you move in. So what should you check first?

It was love at first sight; as soon as you saw the place you knew this was the one – your new home. And now it’s moving-in day and the place looks quite different without all the furniture and fittings. Locks and leaks, stopcocks and safety alarms – what jobs do you need to do before reaching for the paint colour charts?

Changing the locks

You’ve been handed the keys, so why take the trouble to change the locks? While you may have several door keys returned to you, it’s quite possible that other keys have been handed out over the years – perhaps to baby- or pet-sitters, neighbours or friends. For peace of mind, it’s a good idea to change the locks and so be sure of your security.

It’s also worth taking a tour of your property to check that all the window locks work properly and that windows can be safely opened and closed.

Find your shut-off points

There’s nothing worse than having to deal with a sudden leak and not having a clue how to shut off your water. As soon as you can, locate the shut-off valves (stopcocks) to avoid any potential mishaps.

“The location of and number of stopcocks will depend on the kind of system you have,” explains plumber Hattie Hasan from Stopcocks Women Plumbers. “If you have a combination boiler, then the stopcock located close to this boiler should shut off the whole system. However, if you have a separate immersion heater, you will also need to find the stop valve for your hot water – often a red wheel located in the same cupboard as your hot water tank.”

It’s also important to locate your fuse box in case you need to shut off the electricity for any reason, or in case a fuse trips and you need to switch the power back on.

Check your electrics

While the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) provided by your seller will give you an indication of the energy efficiency and quality of insulation of your home, it won’t tell you everything about your electrical system. If you have asked for an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) as part of the moving process, you will be aware of any issues that need attention. However, if you have opted not to carry out these checks, it’s still possible – and worthwhile – to commission a registered electrician to prepare a report once you’ve moved in.

You should also look for visible signs of problems, for example, any scorching marks around electrical points, exposed wires or flickering lights. If you are concerned, it’s worth calling an expert.

Test your safety alarms

You may have taken over a property with ample smoke alarms, but do they actually work? Checking your smoke alarms and changing batteries, if needed, is a small job, but one many put to the bottom of the to-do list. Don’t, make this job a priority. To ensure your safety, take a moment to check the alarms are working and install additional alarms if needed. It’s also worth having a carbon monoxide detector if your property has an open fire or gas appliances; these little jobs could potentially help save your life.

Leaks and cover-ups

With all the legal forms and expensive conveyancing fees, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you must know everything there is to know about your new property. However, even if you’ve had a full survey done, there may be problems that you weren’t aware of. Perhaps the shower/bath is slow to empty or leaks when it’s used, or the kitchen tap – while it looks amazing –drips continuously.

“When it comes to small leaks, you might notice damp patches gradually appearing over a period of time,” explains Hasan. “It’s also worth taking note of any fresh patches of paint where the previous owners may have tried to cover up any staining.”

Again, rectifying these small leaks should be a minor rather than a major expense if done in a timely fashion.

Heating safety

A badly working boiler is not just a worry for your wallet, but could potentially be harmful to your health. CO2 from leaking boilers could be deadly, so it’s crucial you are confident about your boiler’s safety before switching on your heating.

“You need to check the service history of the boiler – usually recorded in a ‘benchmark book’,” says Andy Oliver from Stevenson Heating. “If none of these is available, then you need to get your boiler inspected to ensure it is up to current standards and is safe.”

If the boiler is on the old side, it’s worth acknowledging that it may need to be replaced in the near future and, if possible, put money aside for this cost. “If a boiler is over 10 years old, we class it as starting to become less efficient than it should be. It’s also likely to become uneconomical to repair if something major goes wrong with the boiler. Between 10 – 15 years is the normal lifespan of a boiler,” explains Oliver.

Cracks and snags

While major issues, such as structural faults, should have been picked up by your survey, unless you opted for a detailed report, smaller issues such as superficial cracks in the brickwork, old soffits, loose or missing roof tiles may only be noticed after you move in.

“It’s better to get these repairs done straight away; a small amount of water damage over a short period should just evaporate, but continual penetration of water can damage the fabric of the building,” explains Annie Summun, director of public affairs at Kisiel Group, a chartered building company. “What started off as simply replacing a few tiles could mean replacing roof rafters, which is a major job.”

Similarly, superficial cracks to the brickwork, while not a cause for panic, should be repaired as soon as possible, as “freezing and thawing of moisture can cause the crack to widen, causing more major damage”.

If you’re concerned about any cracks, it’s worth getting an expert to inspect them for you – which may well save you money in the long run. “If you think that something is serious but it hasn’t been picked up by the survey, it’s best to get someone in to give you advice or write a report,” advises Summun. “The report shouldn’t be a huge amount of money; you’re just asking them to assess the problem and give their professional opinion.”

Guttering and pipework

Guttering and exterior pipework need regular maintenance, especially if you live in an area with lots of trees. Blocked guttering or overspill pipework can lead to water running down the walls of your house, which can then cause damp and damage brickwork and mortar. It’s worth getting in the habit of checking for blockages; and having your gutters cleared/inspected at least once a year.

In addition, if your drains don’t seem to be working properly, you need to call an expert as “this can have an impact on the foundations over a longer period of time” advises Summun.

“You may discover collapsed drains when you first move into a home as they are not usually picked up during a house survey. If your drains are running slowly or new damp patches and mould are appearing around your home, your drains may have collapsed,” adds Greg Child, founder of Coastal Drains.

“The following signs are considered emergency drain issues and should be seen to by a professional as soon as possible: low water pressure from taps; drain flooding; slow-flowing water; bad odours emanating from drains; frozen drain pipes; burst pipes; waterlogged lawn or plants growing near the sewer line or unusual sounds, such as gurgling and bubbling.”

With funds often tight after a house move, it’s easy to understand why some owners would rather turn a blind eye to what seems like a minor issue. However, the most cost-effective way of dealing with problems is dealing with them early on.