Learn How to Fix Things around the House

Learn How to Fix Things around the House

1. Have a Point of Reference

There are certain repairs that you can figure out without much help. However, there are many instances where you will encounter a problem that you are completely clueless on how to fix. Thankfully, most such issues will have one or two, If not numerous, tutorials online. More often than not, it’s not rocket science. You simply have to determine what is broken, research how to repair it, and do the job. With practice, you’ll see a pattern, and after a few more attempts, you could become a pro.

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Insulation is Key

Though it can seem intimidating, installing your own batting installation can be easy, and take just a few hours if you isolate the need to a few key spaces. Have a drafty attic? Start there. Concerned about a freezing crawl space? Throw on your work jeans and get to work. These insulating spaces will instantly feel warmer and you’ll notice the savings on your next heating bill.

Fix a Broken Refrigerator

Simple fixes for the four most common refrigerator problems: an ice-maker breakdown, water leaking onto the floor, a cooling failure and too much noise. Chances are, you can repair the refrigerator yourself, save some money and avoid the expense and inconvenience of a service appointment.

26. Unclog a blocked shower drain

(Image credit: Colin Leftley)

If water is sluggish to drain away, take action before it becomes a total blockage and the shower tray overflows. If there is a trap, lift it out and clear away debris.

Otherwise find a piece of wire and bend over the end to form a hook. Pull out the clog (often shed hair) then use a plunger until water flows freely.

Tools

21. Crushed hose fitting (shown)

Hoses are most susceptible to damage at their ends, which also makes them easy to fix.

  • If you run over your hose with a car, cut the damaged end off with a utility knife.
  • Twist the right-size male or female fitting—5/8 inch is the most common—onto the opening, then tighten with a stainless-steel band clamp. $4; Home Depot

22. Sluggish power tools

Most electric power tools transfer energy to the motor through chunks of carbon called brushes, which wear down over time. If a tool stops responding or is noticeably slow, spend about $15 on replacement brushes before tossing the tool or upgrading.

  • Unscrew the large plastic caps on the outside of the motor housing to release the spring-loaded brushes.
  • Add new brushes from the manufacturer or file generic ones until they slide in freely, and reattach the caps.
  • Plan to take the housing apart completely in older drills and circular saws that don’t have easily accessible brushes—take plenty of photos to help with reassembly.

23. Broken wood handles

Don’t buy a new rake, sledgehammer, or wheelbarrow just because its wood handle is broken. Home centers stock replacement handles; you can also check the House Handle Company, which specializes in hardwood handle parts.

  • Use a hammer to knock the head and ferrule off the broken tool, or drill out the head’s rivets.
  • Add the new handle to the tool head; turn it so the straight grain faces up, for maximum strength, and drive the two parts together.
  • To fix a split handle, mist the damage with water; add some expanding polyurethane glue to fill the void, or wrap the damage with FiberFix tape ($6). If you routinely break handles, consider upgrading to tougher fiberglass.

Damaged Screens

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Almost nothing can bug you more than a torn window screen, but take a deep breath of that fresh air—it’s an easy repair to make. For a tiny tear, apply clear nail polish to the spot to bond the screen together. For larger rips and tears, use window screen repair tape (available on Amazon) or a repair patch. If the mesh is beyond repair, you can replace the screen in the existing frame using a kit from the hardware store, like this one from The Home Depot. Related: How To: Replace a Window Screen homedepot.com

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29. Unclogging a toilet or drain

(Image credit: Colin Leftley)

You might need to unclog a toilet if the water level in the bowl is higher than usual or is taking longer to clear after flushing. Turn off the cistern isolation valve or tie up the ball valve. Protect your arm by covering it with a bin bag and check the pan.

If the blockage is further along, bailout excess water and unblock using a drain auger, a long flexible tool that will prise a blockage apart.

If you’ve tried a plunger and cleaned the u-bend, you need to clean the pipe leading to the outside drains. 

Once all the pipes are clear, run hot water and soda crystals down to flush away any detritus.

If the drain is still blocked, check the gully grate outside and remove debris. Raise the manhole cover nearest the house and slide two drain rods towards the blockage.

Add more rods as needed and continue pushing while working them backwards and forwards. Turn rods in a clockwise direction to stop them unscrewing.

Dripping Faucet

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Depending on the source of the leak and the type of faucet, your quick fix may vary, but you’re most likely dealing with a worn washer or O-ring. If you have separate handles for hot and cold water, shut off the water to one at a time to determine which causes the drip. Once you know, make sure the water is shut off and then disassemble the faulty handle so you can reach and replace the washer and O-ring. If the faucet is really old, consider replacing it with a new model that will match the holes left by the old model. Related: 5 Things to Know About Low-Flow Faucets and Fixtures istockphoto.com

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Replace a light switch

Most electrical work in your home should probably be done by a professional, but light switches are among the easiest to replace. If you have a switch that’s not working properly, you can do it with these common tools:

Turn off the proper circuit breaker before beginning, then get to work. This tutorial from the Lowe’s YouTube channel lays it all out:

Once you’ve unscrewed the faceplate, you just need to disconnect the wires, connect your new switch, and replace the plate.

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Unclog a toilet drain

Before you call a plumber to unclog a toilet, there are two things you should try. You will need:

First things first, make sure you’re using toilet-specific tools. Toilet plungers have flaps at the business end that form a tight seal with the drain. Sink plungers are totally round and may not do much to a stubborn clog. Augers are very similar to drain snakes, but they’re designed specifically to work with toilets.

Neither of these tools is hard to use, but this short video from the Home Depot YouTube channel shows the techniques in action:

They recommend pouring 3 tablespoons of liquid dish soap into the toilet before plunging (or auger-ing) to lubricate the drain and help dislodge clogs.

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Kitchen

5. Sluggish vent-hood suction (shown)

If you have poor suction and the filters and ducts are clean, the motor probably needs replacing.

  • Shut the power to the hood and remove any filters.
  • Pull out the fan blade and find the motor’s wiring harness.
  • Unclip that, then unscrew the motor from its bracket.
  • Attach the replacement motor, then reconnect the harness before reinstalling the fan blade.
  • Finish by popping the filters back in. $64; RepairClinic

6. Cracked glass cooktop

While a grimy cooktop is an eyesore, a cracked one is an electrical hazard. If the burners work, replacing the glass should take less than an hour.

  • Pull the range away from the wall and unplug it (for a cooktop in a counter, shut off the power at the breaker); unscrew any fasteners securing the top.
  • Prop it up and unplug the wires connected to the burners.
  • Place the damaged cooktop, with burners glass side down, on a towel next to the new one.
  • Transfer the burners over by plugging the wiring into the new cooktop.
  • Now reinstall the top. About $200; RepairClinic

7. Drippy dishwasher

The thick rubber gasket along the edge of the dishwasher tub can become brittle over time, letting water leak out and ruin wood floors.

  • Examine the gasket; if it’s not damaged, gently pull it out and reseat it into the tub, then run the dishwasher.
  • Still leaks? Get a replacement gasket; soak it in warm water until it’s pliable, then install it the same way.
  • Clamp the door closed for a few hours to let the gasket conform to the door. About $10; RepairClinic

8. Unreliable gas oven

When fluctuating temperatures ruin dinner, a faulty igniter is often to blame. This carbide element sits alongside the tubular burners and glows red-hot, starting the flames.

  • To check yours, remove the oven floor, exposing the igniter.
  • Turn the oven on; if the igniter doesn’t change color or if it takes longer than 90 seconds for flames to light, replace it.
  • Shut off the oven’s electricity and gas, disconnect the igniter’s wiring, then remove the fasteners holding it in place.
  • Attach the new igniter in the reverse order, orienting the carbide tip in the same direction. $31; RepairClinic

9. Broken ice-maker

When a fridge’s ice-maker stops working, it’s usually because the inlet valve is broken. The most difficult part of this repair is moving the refrigerator far enough from the wall that you can gain access to the back.

  • First, shut off the refrigerator’s water supply, which usually comes from the sink’s cold-water valve.
  • Unplug the appliance and remove the rear panel.
  • Disconnect the water supply line to the refrigerator—it connects into the inlet valve.
  • Take the valve out by unscrewing its fasteners.
  • Now unplug the electrical connections from the old valve and plug them into the same spots on the new one.
  • Replace the water lines, then reattach the valve to the refrigerator body, reconnect the supply line, and put the panel back.
  • Wait until the unit has made a batch of ice before you push the refrigerator back into placE—it will reduce wear and tear on your kitchen floor. From $20; RepairClinic

10. Leaky sink plug

The sink strainer body is regularly exposed to hot water and chemical cleaners, which can erode the gaskets, leading to a leak.

  • Rub the underside of the strainer body with a tissue—if it picks up any water, replace the part with a new sink strainer kit.
  • Press a length of plumber’s putty to the new strainer body; tighten the gasket and nut from below until the excess putty squeezes out.

3: Applying Caulk

Caulk is the bead of rubbery stuff between your tub, shower or sink and the wall, or between your toilet’s outer rim and the floor. It creates a seal that protects floors and walls from moisture. It also glues itself in place, which makes applying it an easy one step process. Over time, caulk can discolor or deteriorate, leaving your home vulnerable to water damage and mold growth.

The hardest part of installing caulk is removing the residue left by the old stuff. Without completely eliminating the old caulk, the new bead won’t stick, so good preparation is important. In the old days, you had to remove caulk with a razor scraper, and it took a while to get it all up. Now, there are a number of products on the market that will soften old caulk and make it easier to remove. Treated caulk residue comes up easily with a putty knife. After the old caulk is gone, clean the area with paint thinner and let it dry completely. Now you’re ready to move on to the installation process.

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Using a caulking gun or standard tube of caulk takes a little practice. It’s a bit like trying to draw a straight line using a tube of toothpaste. You have some choices here, though. Caulk is inexpensive, so you can buy extra and practice on a piece of plywood first. Be sure to cut the cone-shaped tip of the caulk cap on an angle and at a diameter that’s large enough to accommodate the widest gap in your project.

If you don’t have much confidence in your ability to lay down a smooth, even bead of caulk, there are caulk strips on the market that you simply unroll and press into place. They take the artistry out of the process but are a pretty foolproof solution if you want to do the job in a hurry and have a standard installation.

On the next page, well take a look at the challenges of fixing a leaking faucet.

The Cost of Home Maintenance According to financial expert Eric Tyson, homeowners should set aside one percent of their home’s value for annual maintenance and repairs [source: Tyson].

1: Unplugging a Clogged Toilet

Nobody likes it, but sometime or another, every homeowner is faced with a toilet that backs up. Consider it a rite of passage. Toilet problems are stressful because there’s usually some urgency involved.

The first order of business is not to panic. Instead, become a detective and determine whether or not any foreign object may have ended up in the toilet bowl by accident. Households with young children are very prone to toilets that play host to all manner of toys. If this is the case, you may be able to put on some sturdy gloves and just fish the object out. You can also try waiting for the water in the toilet to drop to a normal level and then pour a bucket of water into the bowl. The added pressure will often dislodge blockages and send them on their way.

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If that doesn’t work, use a plunger to clear the toilet. Flanged plungers are best for toilet clogs because they make a better seal and increase the amount of pressure you send down into the discharge siphon tube. Accordion style plungers are effective, too. Just make sure that the suction cup is completely covered with water before you start plunging. Add water to the bowl if you have to.

Another choice for clearing clogs is to dislodge them using a plumbing snake, or closet auger, a length of coiled metal that you can thread from the toilet bowl down through the serpentine piping of the toilet to free anything trapped there. Snakes are relatively inexpensive options that are available at your home improvement outlet.

If these options don’t work, most plumbing supply stores carry compressed air or carbon dioxide cartridge delivery tools that will provide stronger pressure than a standard plunger to clear clogs. They’re more expensive than plungers, but are a lot less costly than hiring a plumber.

As a last resort, you can uninstall the toilet, upend it and get at the clog that way. There’s definitely a gross out factor involved here, but it might be better than a large plumbing bill.

Actually, most toilets are relatively easy to disconnect. After you’ve unbolted the tank from the bowl, the bowl is typically attached to the floor with hold down bolts and sits on a wax collar. Once the bolts have been removed and you’ve removed the caulk around the base, it isn’t hard to get the toilet off the collar and onto a plastic tarp for easy access.

Cushion the area under the tarp with an old blanket to avoid cracking the toilet when you set it down, and cover the drain opening to keep gas from escaping into the room. You’ll also want to replace the wax collar before reinstalling the toilet. Toilet removal isn’t complicated, but toilets are heavy, so make sure you have a helper.

6. Know When to Call in the Professionals

You must know where your boundaries are when it comes to repairs, just as you must know where your boundaries are in many other aspects of life. As previously stated, there are several house repairs that you can handle without much assistance. However, some argue that if you’re unsure about your ability, it’s advisable to hire a professional. It will not be that difficult to do some minor repairs, such as plumbing or painting. Electrical work, on the other hand, should be left to the professionals. The same is true for any additional fixes that you believe are beyond your capabilities.3

DIY repairs and fixes are among the best ways to save money as a homeowner. With the appropriate knowledge, tools, and resources, you can save money from house repairs and have fun while at them. Hopefully, you will find the above few tips inspirational as far as fixing things DIY is concerned.

By Naser Nader Ibrahim

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