4 Things My Dad, a Retired Plumber, Taught Me About Homeownership

published Jun 19, 2022
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When I discovered water leaking on the floor behind the toilet in my bathroom, I immediately FaceTimed my dad. I knew he’d be able to help — he’s a master plumber, after all. He quickly assessed the situation and sent me to the hardware store for a professional-grade wrench and a replacement part unfortunately called a “ballcock.”

Back on FaceTime, my dad patiently talked me through the installation process — just as I’d heard him do for his customers over the years. When I gave the toilet a test flush and water didn’t leak out, I filled with pride. His tutorial gave me confidence to know I could handle a plumbing repair.

It was good timing, too, because my husband and I were ready to leave condo life. We planned to buy a house a short drive from my parents’ place. And I knew just the guy to help us assess potential homes.

My dad knows homes. In addition to mastering pipes and city water connections, he has worked with home builders and electricians. He can spot the signs of an unhealthy house or one where the builder cut corners from a mile away.

He worked hard to teach me the fine art of home repairs when I was young. He gave me my first saw when I was about 5 — and wasn’t too happy that my friends and I used it to take a piece off the backyard swing set. 

I had less enthusiasm as a teenager when my dad wanted to teach me to drywall. But now I need to make up for lost time. As soon as my husband and I moved into our new house, it was time to enroll in Homeownership 101 as taught by Pat Nelson.

It’s now been a year since we started looking at houses and nine months since we got the keys to our home. My dad’s truck is often in the driveway while he’s inside showing me how to do one thing or another. Here are four important lessons he’s taught me.

Get curious about inconsistencies.

When looking at an online home listing, my dad pointed out new plywood in just one area of the attic. “That could mean the roof is leaking or was recently repaired,” he explained.

A fresh repair job or inconsistencies in building materials could indicate a problem. For example, one newly painted wall in the basement could be concealing water damage or dangerous mold.

At another house, freshly laid sod in the backyard told my dad something was wrong. “All the rainwater from this area is coming right here,” Dad said, pointing out that all the neighboring houses sat at a higher elevation. “They couldn’t keep grass alive. That’s why there’s fresh sod here.”

Sure enough, when we stepped out on the lawn, it was soggy. And it hadn’t rained in a while. “This backyard is going to be a mud pit,” Dad declared.

We moved on.

Credit: Artazum/Shutterstock.com

Don’t be afraid to try.

When I was questioning the right time and procedure to fill in some patches of my own lawn, my dad didn’t overthink it. Just rake up the dead grass, throw the seed down, cover it up, and water it. What’s the worst that could happen?

He was right. Most of the spots filled in. Some didn’t, so we repeated the process in the spring. No big deal.

Everything is not a crisis.

Over breakfast one morning, I saw two drops of water fall from one of the pot lights in the kitchen ceiling. I knew that wasn’t a good sign, so I FaceTimed my dad.

I had recently installed a bidet in the bathroom over the kitchen. It turns out I didn’t tighten the water supply tube enough. Dad instructed me to grab my wrench to tighten it back up.

With that tight and dry, I commenced panicking about water in the ceiling and the possibility of mold. Luckily, before I could grab a sledgehammer and bust open my ceiling, my dad calmed me down.

“Is the ceiling wet or spongy around the light?” he asked.

It wasn’t.

“Do you see signs of water up there?” he asked.


He reassured me it was fine. The water supply had just started leaking. The light is directly under the toilet, so the water didn’t travel far. It was winter in Minneapolis, so the heat was on in the house, creating a dry environment. Any water still in the ceiling would dry before mold could grow.

You don’t have to do everything at once.

When we moved into our house in September, the home inspector gave us a list of outdoor recommendations, including sealing the deck.

Driven by a fear of having to replace a rotting deck, I bought the sealing supplies and followed my dad’s advice for sanding and pressure washing the deck in preparation. Then I carefully watched the forecast for a rain-free week, but one did not come before temperatures dropped. We’d missed the window for sealing the deck.

“Just pressure wash it again in the spring and seal it then,” my dad said calmly. “It’s fine.”

That’s when I realized that homeownership is a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t have to be done right now — unless, of course, it’s a leaking plumbing fixture.