By Elizabeth Keiser
Helplessness is expensive. Many of us lack skills to fix basic things around the house. The good news is that even if we’ve never been taught, online instructional videos make it easy to learn.
Here are 10 easy fixes suggested by the repair experts who spoke to HealthyLife (see list of sources on next page). All will give you a sense of accomplishment and empowerment — and help you save a few bucks. It just takes a little common sense and patience — take your time and pay attention when taking things apart.
But be forewarned. Even the easiest job can present unexpected twists. So be ready to improvise — or get help!
1. Unscrew a broken light bulb
Men and women get freaked out by this conundrum, say our experts. But there’s an inexpensive tool that makes it easy to remove these bulbs from the socket. A broken light bulb extractor costs around $10. (Sounds like a great stocking stuffer!) Just remember to shut off the circuit breaker and cut power to the socket before replacing the bulb.
2. Changing a light bulb on a vaulted ceiling
Handymen are often called in for a job anyone can easily do with an overhead light bulb changer, an extendable pole with attachments.
3. Fix a running toilet
The kit to replace the toilet fill valve runs around $23, requires pliers and a wrench, and takes 10 to 30 minutes to do, depending on experience. Plenty of videos on YouTube show you how. Compare that to the cost of calling a plumber.
4. Change a doorknob
Loose, sticking, hard to close or lock, or just outdated, doorknobs are easily replaced with a Phillips-head screwdriver and a new doorknob kit.
5. Replace exterior door deadbolts
One of the fastest repairs of all. All you need is a screwdriver to remove four screws, and install the new kit in minutes.
6. Fixing a squeaky door
Apply WD-40 to the door hinges. If that doesn’t work, your best bet is to call a professional, since there are so many things that could be causing that squeak — misaligned hinges or walls that aren’t plumb, for instance.
7. Painting a room or painting furniture
Sanding and painting are jobs almost anyone can do. It requires prep work, patience, a drop cloth and damp rags to wipe up any errant drips and drops. Great bang for the buck, too.
8. Unclog a kitchen sink
Put a bucket underneath the trap (the U-shaped tube beneath the sink) and unscrew the top and bottom (using your hands or a wrench), dump water and trapped debris into bucket. Screw the u-shaped tube tightly back into place.
9. Unclog a slow-draining bathroom sink
Hair and gunk get trapped in the drain stopper. Watch an instructional video, then look under your sink. Once you’ve disconnected the bar that moves the pop-up stopper up and down, lift the stopper out of the sink drain. A lot of gross stuff will probably come out with it.
10. Unclog a bathroom shower or tub drain
If you have a mechanical lever operating the pop-up stopper, unscrew it from the wall of the tub and then carefully pull it out. You’ll probably find lots of hair and gunk attached to it
Edward Caceres at Mr. C’s Fix-Up Shop, 221 Hope St., Stamford, (203) 357-1241, misterc.com
Eric Clamage, One Stop Home Repairs, Norwalk, (203) 526-2487
James Little, Personal Touch Handyman Services, Bridgeport, (203) 243-7870
John Marmolejo, owner, Castle Care, Milford (203) 375-2912
David Marshall, Winthrop Construction, Westport (203) 981-6029
Don’t Try This at Home!
When to Call a Professional
Getting more confident? Before you leap into a big project, take a breath. Certain home repairs are too dangerous for inexperienced DIY-ers. Repair experts caution that fixing your mistake could cost you up to three times as much as it would have cost to hire a professional to do the project in the first place.
• Don’t mess around with electricity. Other than switching circuits on and off, stay out of the circuit breaker panel. It’s high voltage and dangerous.
• Clogged toilet? Never use commercial drain cleaners or similar chemicals in a toilet. The acids will crack the toilet. To unclog a toilet, use a plunger. If that doesn’t work, call a plumber.
• Never remove asbestos. A trained professional is required to deal with this hazardous material.
• Don’t attempt to work on gas lines. You don’t want to risk explosion or leaking gas.
• Don’t try to install a ceiling fan by yourself. It’s too heavy and awkward — especially for one person, making it dangerous.