If no one’s clued you in yet, home ownership comes with a long to-do list. So, don’t move into your dream home with an empty toolbox. Or what will you do when the time comes to hang pictures on the wall, unclog a stopped-up drain, or assemble a piece of Ikea furniture?
Neglecting routine maintenance tasks like cleaning gutters because you don’t have the right tool leads to bigger problems. So, purchasing quality tools now is an investment that helps you tackle all the basics of home ownership.
This guide lists 15 must-have tools for homeowners. From the lowly screwdriver to a few power tools, this list includes suggestions from veteran homeowners, builders, and other folks who’ve been there. So, aside from the ubiquitous roll of duct tape, super glue, and personal protective equipment, let's take a look at the must-have tools for homeowners.
Need something fixed, but you haven’t invested in your own toolkit yet? Let us match you with someone who can help.
The most basic of hand tools, everyone needs a hammer. A hammer drives nails and pulls them out. With a straight claw, a hammer acts as a demolition tool. Choose one with a comfortable grip. If you plan to drive a lot of nails, look for one with a vibration-dampening coating.
Times you may use a hammer around the house include:
- Hanging a picture
- Framing a wall
- Breaking bricks apart
- Applying upholstery tacks
I'm a fan of the framing style hammer but with a smooth face as opposed to a waffle head. For the average homeowner, a lightweight (16oz) will be fine. – Vince Thompson, licensed general contractor from Knoxville, Tennessee
2. Step ladder
Without a ladder, you may climb on a chair, the back of the sofa, or even the kitchen countertop to reach something overhead. This practice is extremely dangerous. A ladder provides elevation with a sturdy, wide base to keep you safe. When choosing a ladder, look for one with rubber treads on the steps and a handle to grip for balance.
You’ll be glad to have a ladder when it comes time to
- Paint the ceiling
- Clean the gutters
- Reach the platter at the top of the pantry
- Change the lightbulbs in the ceiling fixture
- Clean the bathroom exhaust fan
3. Screwdriver set
To be prepared for any home improvement project, you’ll want more than one screwdriver. In fact, a set that includes multiple flat head and Phillips head sizes is the way to go. A case to keep them in and magnetic heads are added bonuses.
When will you need a screwdriver?
- Installing a drawer knob
- Hanging a door
- Assembling furniture
- Opening the battery compartment of anything
- Hanging a curtain rod
- Replacing a doorknob
Don’t get a cheap screwdriver set because they'll just strip screws and hurt your hands. – Lindsey Laughlin, marketing consultant and homeowner for 16 years.
4. Caulk gun
Over time, the caulk around your tub, shower, and sinks degrades and needs replacing. Failure to recaulk leads to water damage in those areas of the home. Sometimes the caulk is still intact but has unsightly mildew or water stains. Caulking is an easy DIY project any homeowner can do if they have a caulk gun.
Tasks you may use a caulk gun for include
- Caulking around bathroom and kitchen fixtures
- Sealing drafty doors and windows with fresh caulk
- Appling construction adhesive when building things
Whether you want to hang a new picture or install kitchen cabinets, you want to make sure everything is straight and square. While many types of levels are available on the market, an inexpensive 3-foot level with a floating bubble is all you need.
You may wish you had a level for the following types of projects.
- Hanging a TV bracket
- Installing cabinets
- Hanging window treatments
I have a level that has sliding marks on it that you can use when hanging pictures. You align the marks with the holders on the back of the frame, which helps you mark where the nails/screws need to go on the wall. – Lindsey Laughlin, marketing consultant and homeowner for 16 years.
6. Outlet tester
Dust and grime love to accumulate in the oddest places, particularly in the nooks and crannies of your outlets and switches. Therefore, many homeowners change the outlets, switches, and covers when painting a room. But the first rule of home improvement is to turn off the power before beginning any electrical project. You need an outlet tester to ensure an outlet or switch isn’t hot.
Times you’ll need an outlet tester include
- Installing new GFI-rated outlets
- Changing old, discolored outlets and switches
- Installing new smart switches
- Installing new light fixtures
7. Utility knife
When Amazon drops a pile of boxes on your front porch, you want to dispatch them as soon as possible. The quickest way to cut through all that tape is with a utility knife. These handy tools with replaceable blades have many uses around the house.
You’ll find a utility knife useful for the following tasks and more.
- Opening boxes
- Cutting carpet
- Scraping away dried glue
- Opening windows painted shut
Buy one that is ergonomic for your hand and holds extra blades. Not having an extra blade on hand is the ‘gotcha’ that messes up little projects. – Isaac Alexander, home remodeler in Florida.
8. Stud finder
A stud finder helps you find the studs that frame a wall. This task is essential when hanging things like shelves, artwork, or cabinets, as the studs will receive and hold a nail or screw, unlike plaster or drywall. A magnet stud finder is easy to use and affordable.
Projects you may need a stud finder for include
- Hanging artwork
- Installing shelving
- Hanging the television
- Installing cabinets
9. Cordless impact driver
One tool many homeowners never dream of needing but use all the time is a cordless impact driver. Unlike a cordless drill, which creates holes, an impact driver is like a screwdriver on steroids. “The special part of this tool is the impact feature,” says Kyle Barr, vice president of franchise operations for Storm Guard Roofing and Construction. This feature–an internal hammering action–kicks in when the fastener doesn’t want to move. That means when the going gets tough, the tool does all the work, not you. When purchasing a new impact driver, look for durability, battery capacity, and torque level a model delivers. Remember to buy a box of tips as well.
Times you may find a cordless drill handy include
- Installing window treatments
- Hanging doors
- Bolting shelves to the wall
- Screwing down deck boards
An impact driver breaks free stubborn screws or bolts with minimal effort. For a tough job like breaking rusty nuts and bolts loose on a bicycle, it’s a must-have! – Kyle Barr, Storm Guard Roofing and Construction
10. Cordless reciprocating saw
A reciprocating saw is a powerful tool that cuts with a push-pull (reciprocating) motion. “Although this particular tool is far from the definition of precision, its applications for most home improvement projects are hard to understate,” says Stacy Elmore, co-founder of The Luxury Pergola. When you need more force than a hammer for demolition work, a reciprocating saw is your go-to tool. Outdoors it’s safer than a chainsaw for small tasks like limb removal, and inside will cut into spaces, unlike other saws that simply cut items into pieces.
With a reciprocating saw, you'll be able to
- Cut tree limbs
- Cut out drywall to create wall cubbies
- Remove material around windows or doors
A homeowner needs to look for a strong warranty, good battery life, and reviews written by contractors and professionals” when choosing a brand to buy. – Stacy Elmore, The Luxury Pergola
11. Tape measure
To accurately measure anything, you need a good tape measure. When choosing a carpenter’s tape, an easy-locking, 25-foot long, ¾-inch model is a good starter. Also, Anna Lawrence, flooring department supervisor for Lowe’s, says to look for one with a lock and a long standout. These features “come in handy if you're trying to measure long things by yourself,” she says.
You’ll want a tape measure for the following home improvement projects.
- Choosing the correct size of any furnishings–rungs, appliances, furniture
- Hanging artwork, TV, or shelving
- Planning the space for a new deck or patio
- Replacing doors or windows
I'm very partial to my tape measure that has both metric and English measurements. Not everything in the U.S. uses English, so it can come in handy. – Anna Lawrence, flooring department supervisor for Lowe’s
12. Speed square
A speed square is a multi-purpose carpenter’s triangle used for marking angles and square cuts on boards. “The reality is that most homeowners don't have a miter saw to make a straight cut on a 2x4 if they need to,” says Alexander. Unlike a common T-square or other type of triangle, a speed square also serves as a protractor, allowing you to easily mark angles of any degree.
You will want to use a speed square when
- Building a deck
- Installing a board fence
- Cutting shelves
A speed square is cheap, and it's the fastest way to get a perfectly square line that you can follow with a circular saw if you've got to cut one. Isaac Alexander, a home remodeler in Florida.
13. Drain plunger
Nothing’s worse than a clogged drain when you’re expecting it to flow freely. “A plunger is a must in our house, especially having a nonverbal autistic son that likes to watch things get flushed down the toilet,” says 18-year homeowner and medical foster parent Polly Johnson. Drain openers are caustic and sometimes harmful – particularly if you have a septic system. If you don’t have a plunger, you’ll be tempted to use them. A drain plunger is inexpensive and easy to use. Every homeowner should have a cup plunger for sinks, tubs, and showers and a flange plunger for toilets.
You’ll want to use a plunger
- When the toilet won’t flush
- When your kitchen sink is clogged
- To hurry along a slow shower drain
Going cheap on this item does not pay off, especially when you’re plunging two rolls of toilet paper. – Polly Johnson, homeowner
When you need to grip something small, pliers are the best tool to have. They come in long-nose and locking varieties, too. So, having several pairs is a great idea. Choose pliers with rubber handles for comfort and safety.
You will find yourself reaching for the pliers when
- Leveling an appliance foot
- Fixing jewelry
- Holding something to glue
15. Rotary tool
For a versatile, all-in-one device, get a rotary tool. It has a hand-held motor with a spinning tip that accepts multiple attachments for various tasks. With a rotary tool, you can grind, sand, polish, and more. “With the wide range of tasks it can perform, you’re set for fixing, creating, and maintaining all kinds of things,” says Barr.
You’ll love your new rotary tool once you use it for
- Sharpening tools
- Polishing metal
- Cutting metal
- Cutting drywall
- Sanding and shaping small pieces of wood
I once used a rotary tool to repair and sharpen a shovel that had a damaged point. And, I’ve also used mine to cut drywall for running audio/video cables. – Kyle Barr, Storm Guard Roofing and Construction
Not tools but good to have
Homeowners and building professionals recommend a few items we didn’t think classified as tools but feel every homeowner should have.
- Personal protective equipment– Things like work gloves, eye protection, and dust masks are invaluable when working in or outside the home.
- Extension cord – From Christmas lights to electronic equipment, you’ll want a cord for reaching an outlet.
- Epoxy repair kit – "An epoxy kit would help repair any holes or damaged areas on most surfaces," says Greg Longe, CEO of Door Renew.
- Duct tape – You don’t have to be a homeowner long to learn the myriad of uses for duct tape.
- Flashlight – Yes, your phone is always handy. But a real flashlight, preferably rechargeable, is another must-have around the house. You get extra points if it’s hands-free.
- Toolbox – You need a place to store all your new tools. Whether you choose a tool bag, bucket with a pocket liner, or a traditional box, we can’t leave it off the list.
Get the best tools for your home
Don’t get caught in the middle of a project without the right tool. Start now to collect these must-haves recommended by veteran homeowners and professionals. And always remember, if DIY isn’t your thing, we can always hook you up with a pro for all your home improvement needs.