By: Bob Vila
Clogs, squeaks, leaks, and other minor disasters strike even the most well-maintained homes. But you don’t necessarily need a professional handyman to cure what ails your house. With a bit of quick thinking and these DIY troubleshooting tips in your tool belt…
How To Replace An Outlet
Just because you live in an old house doesn't mean you have to live with old electrical outlets. Dated outlets are not only ill-equipped to handle modern-day appliances, but they may not even be grounded, which puts you at greater risk of electrical shock. If you turn off the power first, it's okay to replace a grounded outlet. On the other hand, if you want to install a grounded outlet where none was before, consult an experienced electrician.
How To Fix Leaking Pipe
Skip the call to the plumber and put a stopper on a leaky pipe yourself by clearing trapped sediment from the P-trap, the elbow-shaped pipe in the sink cabinet. After placing a bucket underneath the pipes to catch falling water, loosen the nuts on the pipe and remove the P-trap. Discard any sediment that has settled, and reattach the pipe. The next time you open your kitchen or bathroom tap, your pipe should be leak-free!
How To Thaw Frozen Pipes
When the temperature takes a serious dive, pipes can freeze and potentially burst, spewing water into your home. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to thaw out frozen pipes. If you discover a pipe has frozen, turn off the main water supply valve, and open all the faucets in the house. Apply heat to the pipe from a hair dryer, heating pad, or heat lamp. When the ice has melted (water should run from a tap the pipe feeds), partially turn on the water main, and inspect for leaks. If there are none, turn the water main on completely. If, however, a pipe has ruptured, turn off the water main, and call the plumber.
Repair Cracked Tile
A single chipped, cracked, or broken tile can make your whole kitchen or bathroom look worse for wear. Thankfully, you can remove and replace up to a few tiles without disturbing the surrounding installation. Simply remove the damaged tile by lifting the grout with a grout saw and cracking the tile with a hammer and cold chisel. Use a chisel or putty knife to remove any adhesive from the surface. Apply latex tile adhesive to a replacement tile, install the tile, and reapply grout to the joints. Once the grout has dried, your tile floor or wall will look like new!
A Screen Tear
A tear, hole, or snag in a window screen makes it easy for mosquitoes and other flying foes to invade the home. To replace a damaged window screen, use a flat-head screwdriver to remove the plastic spline, or cording, that runs around the perimeter of the metal frame. Then, remove the old mesh and either clamp or tape new screen material to the frame. Use a rolling spline tool to install the new spline, then cut the excess with a utility knife before replacing the repaired screen in the window.
How To Unclog A Toilet
No plunger? No problem! You can loosen moderate clogs by pouring a half cup of dish soap into the toilet bowl. Allow the soap to settle for 5 to 10 minutes before following up with hot water and a few flushes. For a different approach, pour a bit of baking soda and vinegar into the toilet to trigger a chemical reaction that should loosen the clog within 30 minutes. Don't use this trick if your toilet bowl is already filled to the brim, or the bubbling action could cause water to spill over. If all else fails, angle a straightened-out wire coat hanger or the bristles of a toilet brush down the drain, then jostle the tool in and out a few times. When the water starts to drain, give the toilet a few flushes to clear the clog for good.
Garbage Disposal Won't Turn On
The most likely culprit of a conked-out garbage disposal is a clog, either near the sink blades or at the base of the disposal. Turn off the disposal and inspect the blades, using a long stick to dislodge stuck foods or utensils. (Never insert your hand into the disposal!) If the blades aren't the culprit, locate the bottom of the disposal underneath the sink, and wiggle it back and forth with an Allen wrench to dislodge any stuck objects. If it turns out that you don't have a clog on your hands, it's possible that the circuit breaker has simply tripped, in which case you should be able to depress the red button at the bottom of the disposal to restore power and operation.
Flooded Basement Cleanup
When water has welled up, flooding your basement, don't let your stress level rise with it. That said, if there are gas lines or appliances in the basement, head outdoors and turn off the gas supply from the meter. As well, if water levels in your basement have reached a foot or higher, don't wade in yourself: Call a flood remediation professional. If, however, you see only a few inches of water and can safely reach the breaker panel, cut the power. Remove the water with a wet-dry vac, sump pump, or bucket, and discard the water safely away from the house if you're uncertain of the source of the water. Pull up any floor coverings and set them aside to dry. Run fans and dehumidifiers, and open windows to speed the drying process. Finally, inspect walls and wood for damage or mold, and if needed, call a professional to treat or replace these surfaces. Double-hung windows that have been painted shut can be a literal pain to slide open or closed. Set your sticky window free again by using a hammer and putty knife to tap the gap between the window molding and sash. Wiggle the blade into the gap to loosen the paint, working your way around the perimeter of the window to ease the binding. If the window is still stuck, rub a little candle wax into the window tracks to lubricate them.
How To Remove Water Stains From Wood
If you've been entertaining guests without providing coasters, your wooden furnishings have probably collected their fair share of water rings. If the rings are brand new, you can lift them by laying a cotton cloth over each ring and briefly running an iron over the fabric at a low temperature. Still see stains? Dab a dollop of mayonnaise or petroleum jelly onto a clean cloth, then massage the stain with the cloth. Leave the mayonnaise or jelly on the furniture for one to eight hours to let the natural oils permeate the stain and minimize the ring effect.
How to fix scratches on wood floor
While light scratches on hardwood floors can be masked with wax or acrylic floor polish, these polishes can also dull wood floors over time. Hardwood floor revival products are more effective in renewing wood and can be applied to clean floors without prior sanding. For deeper dings, your best bet is to conceal the blemish with a stain that matches the floor color. Or, opt for a precolored latex wood filler to disguise wider gouges.
How To Fix Squeaky Door Hinges Without WD40
An incessant squeak at the door is an unwelcome guest in any home. In most cases, you can quiet a creaky door simply by oiling the hinge pin. Using pliers, extract the pin and lubricate it with a thin layer of petroleum jelly. Tap the pin back into place, then wipe away the excess jelly with a cloth. Open and close the door a few times to appreciate the sweet sound of silence!
Patch A Hole In Wall
A natural by-product of a lived-in house, holes in drywall not only diminish the aesthetic appeal of your home, but larger holes can become access points for drafts, rodents, and other pests. The fix, however, is pretty straightforward. Patching a small hole—less than an inch in diameter—usually requires little more than applying a modest-size mound of spackling paste to the offending hole with a putty knife. For holes with a diameter of one to two inches, cover the hole with mesh tape, spread joint compound over the mesh, and then allow the compound to dry overnight before sanding and repainting the wall.
The best way to prevent costly structural problems down the line is to crack down on fissures in concrete driveways, walkways, stairs, or the foundation when they're still small. Use a putty knife to fill hairline cracks with concrete patching compound or masonry crack filler. To rebuild cracked concrete on stair edges or corners, use wood planks to build a form for the desired shape of the concrete, then trowel premixed vinyl compound into the form. While severe foundation cracks call for professional help, you can fill foundation cracks less than one-quarter of an inch in depth on your own. Be sure to cut away the crumbling concrete with a chisel or sledgehammer, then moisten the crack with water, and fill it with a mixture of dry vinyl concrete patch powder and latex.
How To Fix A Sticky Lock
Oil-based lubricants like WD-40 may be your go-to solution for most sticky situations, but they can also attract dirt and grime that can build up over time, making a sticky lock even less likely to budge. The solution? Powdered graphite, a mineral form of carbon. The dry lubricant, available in small tubes equipped with a nozzle, can be applied to both the keyhole and the latch to make it easier to unlock a door, all without clogging the lock itself.
How To Get Creases Out Of Carpet
Due to age, changes in humidity, or improper installation, your carpet can break loose from its original adhesive and begin to wrinkle. The easiest way to fix wrinkled carpet is to rent a knee kicker (a common installation tool) and a power stretcher, which resembles a mop with teeth that you can adjust to the depth of your carpet's pile. Start by removing the carpet from the baseboard tack strip. Then, sink the teeth of the stretcher into the carpet's pile, and depress the lever of the tool to stretch out the wrinkle. When you've removed the kinks in the carpet, use the knee kicker to reattach the carpet to the baseboard tack strip.
How to get scratches out of glass
Restore superficially scratched glass to crystal-clear condition by gently buffing the scratch in a circular motion with a cotton ball dabbed in metal polish. If you don't have metal polish on hand, head to the medicine cabinet for a bottle of clear nail polish and nail polish remover. Use the nail polish applicator to paint a layer of polish over the scratch, filling in the groove. After the polish has cured, apply nail polish remover to the glass to remove any excess polish. Voilà—your scratch has disappeared!
How to repair leaky roof
Rainy days are the best time to locate—and fix—simple leaks in the roof. Pay a visit to the attic to pinpoint damp areas in the insulation or on the rafters. (Hint: Look for patches that reflect light.) Mark the wet spot (or spots), then, on a clear day, head to the roof. Enlist a helper to stand near the marked spot in the attic and direct you to the shingle right above the wet spot. Keep in mind, not every leak requires a shingle replacement. For example, if the shingle is simply curled back, you can apply roofing cement to the underside of the problem shingle, then press the shingle down firmly to secure it.
How To Fix A Doorbell
Has a dead doorbell made you miss a visit from a friend or family member, or even a UPS delivery? If so, rest assured that you don't necessarily have to replace the entire doorbell system to get it working again. Check first to see if dirt or debris around the button is hampering its motion or preventing it from making contact. If buildup is the problem, apply rubbing alcohol or WD-40 to the button to clear the clog. If the button isn't the culprit, remove the chime box from its mounting bracket to inspect it, and grab a voltmeter to test it. If no signal registers, or if a signal registers but the chime doesn't sound, the culprit is either the transformer or the chime box, which you can replace or have repaired. Problems with the transformer are generally best left to the pros, though you can test the transformer by temporarily cutting the power and looking for any loose connections or disconnected wires.
Replacing Exterior Trim
Frequent exposure to the elements makes the exterior trim of your home extremely vulnerable to water damage and rot. If during a regular inspection of the trim you spy even a trace of rot, replace the entire board. After cutting the wood trim to size, prime all sides of the new trim and and secure it to the exterior with galvanized nails. Finally, apply two coats of exterior paint to help weatherproof the wood while giving your curb appeal a boost.