Learning How a House Works

Since moving four months ago, my husband and I are busy learning how everything in our house works. Many contractors are available to support homeowners but, ultimately, some knowledge of rudimentary aspects of how a house works depends on the occupant.

Living comfortably in any house in Canada means having, at minimum, a dependable furnace and air conditioning system. We take a plentiful supply of hot water for granted when showering or doing kitchen chores. Most houses also have built-in appliances like central vacuums, fridges, cook tops, ovens, and dishwashers.  In Canadian real estate deals such equipment is sold with the house as an ‘attached’ chattel unless there is a specific exemption.

Issues We’ve Faced

Shortly after moving into our house, we had both the central Air Conditioning (AC) unit and the furnace inspected and serviced. What a surprise a few days later to wake to  a non-responsive central air conditioner.  A look at the thermostat revealed a flashing  ‘change battery’ light .  To our knowledge the thermostat in our ‘old’ house didn’t use batteries so finding two AA batteries on a hot, sultry morning and figuring out how to install them in the thermostat was a challenge.  As soon as we installed the new batteries, the AC responded.  It felt like a miracle.

Because our house is fairly new and supposedly air tight, there’s a mammoth ventilation fan in the basement to ensure fresh air exchange.  The  complicated instructions might be self-explanatory for some people but we both dithered before pressing the ‘on’ switch.  As with a furnace, the ventilation system  comes with filters that need periodic cleaning and replacement. We checked the filter and faced another learning curve in dismantling, cleaning, and re-installing the filter.

When the sprinkler system developed a leak that poured water into the street, we found the water main shutoff.  The sprinkler maintenance company serviced the system and showed us how to use the sensors and set the timers for watering every second day.  Given that our grass was greener than any on the street, I’m sure that it got more watering than necessary but the system watered the grass and gardens every second day at 3 am.   Too much water seemed a secondary problem.

We were lucky to know how to shut off the water supply when the kitchen faucet wouldn’t stop running. About a month ago, no matter what I did, I couldn’t turn off the faucet.  In a panic, we called a plumbing expert. He tightened part of the fixture and rectified the problem — within two minutes of his arrival!

The hydro circuit breaker panel proved easier to manage. When the central vacuum did not start, a quick internet search suggested turning the specific circuit breaker off and on. Since the panel is well-labelled, we found the circuit, flipped the switches, and the vacuum responded! The process for the oven was similar. Another minor victory!

The problems we’ve faced are inconsequential  but each brought a sense of surprise.  Perhaps we were so accustomed to managing the workings of our old house that responding to small issues became second nature. In time, that will surely happen again.  Meanwhile, we are learning about the subtle workings of our new place.  We’ve found a handy spot to keep flashlights, the tool box, replacement light bulbs, and extra batteries.  As well, we have a list of emergency phone numbers.

Taking care of a house means understanding how the house works, taking preventive action, and calling professionals when necessary. We’ll likely have a few more issues before adjustments become second nature and our confidence with handling problems grows.  Meanwhile, we keep the house inspector’s guide book handy and continue to marvel when appliances work as they should!


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