photo: Maskot/Getty

Everything You Need to Know About Owning Your First Alberta Home

By Janet Gyenes

Buying your first Alberta home is exciting. But for many, it also marks an introduction to the necessities of home maintenance. Get a head start with this need-to-know guide for practical tips, interior design advice, step-by-step instruction and other ways to protect your investment for years to come.

MUST-DO MAINTENANCE
Keeping your home in good working condition can head off bigger issues down the road. There’s lots to do, but don’t get overwhelmed. A little upkeep each season goes a long way. Graham Carstairs, claims manager at AMA Insurance, shares some tips.

Stop the flow: Before winter arrives, “Shut off and drain exterior faucets, even if they’re frost-free,” Carstairs says. “Frozen plumbing lines can burst and cause major damage.” If you have an underground sprinkler system, clear it too.

Top-down view: If you have someone to spot you on a ladder, give your roof a thorough inspection. “Use roof adhesive to fix any lifting shingles, and the metal flashing of the roof valley,” Carstairs says. “And check the caulking around protrusions such as roof vents and skylights.” Uncomfortable with heights? Consult a professional inspector.

Check your vents: Lint buildup in your dryer can start a fire. Inspect the dryer vent monthly— and clear the lint trap after every use. Check the furnace vent too. If it’s blocked by ice or debris, potentially lethal carbon monoxide can accumulate inside your home.

Yard smart: Strong winds can bring down branches and even uproot unhealthy trees. Look at tree roots and trunk for signs of decay like deep cracks and missing bark. Prune dead or broken branches, especially on mature trees.

Water wise: In spring and fall, clear leaves and debris from eavestroughs to prevent clogging. Ensure downspouts extend at least two metres from your home, and that the ground slopes to lead water away from your foundation. 

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Filters and fans: Change furnace filters seasonally—every three months—to keep your home’s air cleaner and reduce wear and tear on furnace motors. In bathrooms, help keep your fans running well by clearing away dust from the exhaust covers. Since Alberta has mineral-rich hard water, it’s also smart to annually descale or replace filters inside water softeners. 

Under the roof: Check that the fiberglass batt or blown-in insulation in your attic has not become matted down: Compressed insulation loses its effectiveness. Ensure there’s good airflow from rafter baffles and vents to help prevent condensation buildup. 

Plumb the depths: Heavy rainfall can cause flooding in unprotected basements. Make sure your sump pump is working prop-erly; ensure it has power and the backup battery is charged. In older homes, prevent the nightmare of a sewer-line backup by having a pro install a backwater valve. 

Be fire safe: Upgrade to combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Test them monthly, change the batteries annually and replace each unit 10 years from the date of manufacture (listed on the back or side of the alarm). Keep a fire extinguisher handy and check its charge too.

Close the gaps: Check caulking and weather stripping around windows and doors—and replace if necessary. Sealing drafts helps boost the effectiveness of your HVAC system, lowering your heating and cooling costs.

GET A SMOOTH SEAL
Proper caulking around window frames, shower stalls and baseboards can stop drafts, bugs and water damage.

1 Pick your caulking: latex for interior trim and small cracks; paintable, no-shrink polyurethane for siding, windows and doors; antimicrobial silicon for kitchens and bathrooms.

2 Remove old caulk with a utility knife or razor. Use a wet rag to clean out dust, debris and grease. Allow area to dry.

3 Cut caulking tube nozzle at a 45-degree angle and load into good-quality caulking gun. 

4 Apply pressure to get a bead flowing. Move slowly but consistently, pushing caulk into cracks and joints.

5 Smooth caulk with a wet finger, wiping excess with a damp rag.

illustration: Stephanie Truong

FROM HOUSE TO HAVEN
Interior design tips to beautify your blank canvas.

PAINT is the cheapest and fastest way to achieve a fresh look for any space,” says Kevin Skelly of Cloverdale Paint. Pick a palette by pulling colours from artwork or family heirlooms. But when choosing neutrals, beware of undertones like pink, green and blue: “Those colours will really jump out when the paint is on the wall.”
Members save 30% on regular-price paint, plus 10% on brushes, rollers and more at Cloverdale Paint

Layer your LIGHTING. Plug-in wall sconces add ambience and make the most of vertical space. Or try an on-trend arc floor lamp for dramatic illumination.

Rolling out an AREA RUG anchors a room and creates cohesion with pops of pattern or colour. A living room rug should be large enough for you to set the front two feet of your sofa on it, plus the coffee table. 

Add energy or serenity by hanging bold ARTWORK or chic black-and-white photos. Just don’t hang pieces too high: The mid-point should be about 1.5 metres from the floor.

Mixing MATERIALS, textures and finishes can elevate a space. Consider a blend of tactile accessories like velvet curtains or wooden shades, silk or sisal rugs, wool cushions or luxe leather.
Members save 5% in-store and online at Bouclair

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HOME INSURANCE 101
Your first Alberta home will likely be your life’s biggest investment, so it’s vital to protect it with insurance—and to know what your insurance covers. “Typically, home insurance policies cover you on a replacement-cost basis for sudden, accidental losses,” AMA Insurance’s Graham Carstairs says. So if a tree falls on your roof, you’d make an insurance claim to cover the damages. On the other hand, insurance doesn’t cover problems due to lack of maintenance: You won’t have a claim if your roof leaks because the shingles are in bad shape. 

You should also get familiar with your policy’s exclusions— i.e. the things that are not covered. Talking to an insurance advisor may find opportunities to add coverage to fill any gaps in your policy.

It makes sense to reevalute your home insurance annually, and update it if necessary. Contact your insurance advisor when undertaking a substantial renovation: You might need to increase your coverage to reflect changes to your property. Likewise, if you’ll be away from home for an extended period of time, or if you want to rent out a portion (or all) of it, your policy may need to be adjusted. 

Even if you have robust coverage, Carstairs says it’s smart to keep an emergency fund and budget for anticipated maintenance—especially bigger-ticket fixes such as roof repairs. If you’re in an older home, you may need to factor in costs for replacing leak-prone polybutylene piping and aluminum electrical wiring, and eliminating asbestos, which can be present in drywall compound or vinyl flooring of houses built before 1990. 

Good to know: Home insurance also covers your home’s contents, but items like bicycles, jewellery and collectibles are subject to limits. Talk to your insurance advisor about getting the coverage you need.

illustrations of zz plant, snake plant and bromeliad in fancy pots

GO GREEN
Enliven a space with easy-care houseplants. Members save 10% on select houseplants and more at Parkland Nurseries and Garden Centre in Red Deer. And shop for Linen Chest pots via the AMA eStore to earn 5% in reward dollars.

ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
A good starter plant that’s disease-resistant and needs only infrequent watering. But keep it out of reach of kids and pets. It’s toxic if eaten.
7” Kissing Face Planter

Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
A water-wise succulent that thrives in low light. Line up multiple plants to create visual impact.
Gilded Agate Planters Collection 

Bromeliad (Bromeliaceae genera)
Pet-friendly, it grows well in shallow pots, and tolerates varying temperature and light conditions.
Gold Hanging Planter by Natural Living

Black woman sitting on couch in contemporary first alberta home
photo: Fizkes/iStock

CLIMATE CONTROL
It’s important to schedule yearly tune-ups of your heating and cooling system. Matthew Zivanov, general manager at Reliance Home Comfort, explains why.

• You’ll dodge a deep freeze. The majority of “no heat” calls that HVAC experts receive in winter are due to lack of maintenance. Scheduling a late-autumn furnace cleaning and inspection will help make sure it works optimally throughout winter—avoiding long and chilly wait times for service during the coldest months of the year. 

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• And you’ll keep your cool. A professional inspection of your air conditioning unit can increase efficiency and reduce costs. Among other things, a technician may clean the evaporator and condenser coils and test for refrigerant leaks. You can do your part throughout the year by keeping the outdoor compressor unit free of debris.

• It prevents pricier repairs. Staying on top of potential issues can help prevent untimely and potentially expensive breakdowns—and increase the life of your home’s furnace or AC unit.

AMA members save up to 15% on furnace, air conditioner and system purchases or rentals from Reliance Home Comfort

MARKET WATCH
Matthew Klingbeil, a Calgary-based realtor with Real Estate Professionals Inc., offers intel on what to know before you buy.

What’s the current state of Alberta’s housing market?
It’s pretty hot, with low interest rates helping purchasing power and lots of demand that has been building over the past year. But even with prices rising, housing remains more affordable here than in B.C. or Ontario.

What key things do first-time homebuyers need to know?
With high demand, buyers must decide quickly and be ready to make an aggressive offer. It’s also vital to be pre-approved for a mortgage. If family is helping you with the decision or down payment, get on the same page about who has the final say before writing an offer.

What about resale considerations?
Things that are difficult to change, such as location or the number of bathrooms in a home, are more important than aesthetics. Be careful not to deviate too far from market expectations for your property type. Things that are overlooked in a hot market can become dealbreakers in a more balanced market.