By Daniel Bortz
Getting ready to move into your new home? Before you settle in, there are some important home improvement projects you’ll want to tackle.
We totally get that home improvement is probably the last thing on your mind while you’re unpacking boxes, but trust us. You’ll regret not tackling these tasks while your home is a blank slate. Some of these projects are just easier to do before your furnishings are all set up, whereas other things are essential for your safety.
Curious about what you could be missing? Take a look at these eight essential home improvements to do after moving in—or even just before—to start your new life right.
1. Change the locks
Here’s a basic safety check: Those old locks at your new house need to be replaced or rekeyed, says Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design at The Home Depot.
It’s not that you shouldn’t trust the sellers—it’s that you shouldn’t trust all of the people who’ve had contact with those keys over the years, any of whom could have copied the keys for some unsavory purpose.
Unfortunately, more than half (52%) of baby boomers and about a third of Gen Xers (33%) and millennials (31%) who moved in the past year have not changed their locks, a recent Home Depot survey found. Don’t join them.
2. Change alarm batteries
Making sure your fire and carbon monoxide detectorshave fresh batteries may not seem like a pressing issue when you’re in the middle of a stressful move, but it’s the kind of thing that gets ignored and then forgotten. It’s better to deal with it now, when the home is empty and you can replace the old batteries without having to move furniture to make way for a ladder.
3. Caulk cracks and gaps
Using caulk to seal cracks around bathtubs, windows, doors, and other crevices around the house will help you stop leaks, drafts, and other nuisances that could inflate your utility bills.
“Caulk serves multiple purposes: It lowers heating and air-conditioning bills by reducing airflow into and out of the home; it prevents moisture that can cause wood rot, mold, mildew, and water damage; and it keeps insects and other pests out,” says J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman.
Pro tip: Mark Clement of MyFixItUpLife recommends using a latex-based elastomeric caulk, specifically DAP Dynaflex 230.
“It’s versatile: You could use it for molding, repair for paint jobs, both interior and exterior,” Clement says. “It’s the best jack-of-all-trades caulk.”
4. Spackle holes
Cracks, scratches, and holes in walls can form over time from regular wear and tear, or simply from nails that were used to hang artwork. A bit of spackling and painting will make rooms look fresh again, says Fishburne.
Nearly 3 in 5 (59%) new homeowners patch and paint their walls themselves, a Home Depot survey found. If you have only a few holes and scratches, you can fill them with spackling compound, which is sold in small qualities. For a greater number of gashes and holes, use joint compound, which is sold in quarts or 5-gallon buckets.
When you’re done spackling, you’ll want to repaint those areas. If you don’t have any of the original paint lying around (ask the seller if there’s left any), peel a dollar-size piece from the wall and bring that to your local paint store, which can match the color.
5. Build extra storage
If your new home is short on storage space, installing some storage units around the house can make your new home a lot less cluttered after you move in.
Specifically, entryway storage is crucial, especially in the winter, when puffer jackets, snow boots, and scarves demand extra space. So, consider mounting a shelving unit near your front door or in your mudroom (or both).
The only tool you’ll need is a power drill. If you don’t have one, you can rent one from a hardware store—or, better yet, borrow a drill from one of your new neighbors.
6. Childproof your new home
If you have young kids, take a day to childproof your new house. After all, accidental injuries are the leading cause of death in children aged 14 and younger, and more than a third of these incidents happen at home.
Installing safety gates at the top and bottom of all stairs is a must for small children. Choose a gate model that needs to be mounted with nails or screws to the wall or banister, rather than one that stays in place with tension, which kids can potentially push out of place, says Sharalyn Crossfield, a child safety expert and owner of Gate Maven Childproofing Services.
Blind cords are another problem—every day, at least two kids head to the ER for blinds-related injuries, often involving little ones getting entangled in (or strangled by) these strings.
To keep window blind cords and strings out of a child’s reach, place them on high, wall-mounted hooks.
7. Deep-clean carpets
If your new home has older carpets that are crying out for a deep clean, do it before you move in so there’s no furniture in your way.
Going up against deeply embedded dirt? You’ll want to rent a powerful, industrial-style carpet-cleaning machine such as a Rug Doctor, which sprays hot water with a detergent over the carpet and extracts it with a high-powered vacuum. These have more washing and sucking power than most consumer carpet cleaners, but they’re expensive to buy—about $400 to $700—so it’s more economical to rent one from a hardware store for about $25 to $30 per day.
Transporting the equipment and operating the machine can be cumbersome, but it does a better job cleaning your carpet than a regular vacuum cleaner and is less expensive than hiring a professional carpet cleaning service, which costs on average between $121 and $233, according to HomeAdvisor.
8. Clean hardwood floors—without ruining the finish
This is another task you’ll want to tackle before moving in so that you don’t have to move heavy furniture around to get the job done. Using the right cleaning solution is crucial. Most wood floor installers or manufacturers recommend cleaners that contain isopropyl alcohol, which dries quickly, and are available at home supply stores.
To make your own solution, add a capful of white vinegar to a gallon of water, which will help dissolve grease and grime on the floor without stripping the finish.
To remove shoe scuff marks, rub marks with a tennis ball. Whatever you do, do not clean wood floors with a steam mop, says Brett Miller, vice president of education and certification for the National Wood Flooring Association, in St. Louis.
“Steam is horrible for wood floors,” he says. “It opens the pores in woods and damages the finish, causing irreversible damage to any wood floor.”
Jamie Wiebe contributed to this report.