Owning a home can be a dream come true, but the world of home ownership is more than just relaxing weekends on the deck and intimate evenings in front of the fireplace. It requires a commitment to keeping your private oasis safe and running smoothly. Making occasional repairs is part of the bargain, and even if you aren't a dedicated do-it-yourselfer (DIY), there are a few around-the-house fixes you should become familiar with.
Few things will sour a homeowner's disposition faster than a stopped up toilet or runaway faucet drip, and that's just bathroom and kitchen stuff.
Roll up your sleeves and take a few minutes to master five home repairs that you can do yourself without dangerous tools or complicated instructions. Even though spending a few hours regularly on DIY home maintenance and repairs may never become your hobby of choice, knowing how to perform a few simple fixes will keep your costs down and help get the work done on your schedule instead of your contractor's.
Prepping Your Paint Jobs Like a Pro
Whether you want to paint a whole room or just need to cover a nail hole, nothing helps to maintain or improve the appearance of a room like paint. You haven't owned a home very long if you don't have paint spattered work clothes in your closet and a couple of paintbrushes in your basement or garage.
Sprucing up your rooms with paint is one of the best ways to show your home to advantage, but before you start collecting color swatches, there are some things to keep in mind. Painting, when it's done well, can increase the value of your home and add style and flair to your space. When the job isn't done well, and it's easy to see roller marks, spatters, and sloppy trim paint, it's almost as bad as leaving cracked and peeling paint on the walls.
You'll achieve the best results when you prepare for the job. Where painting is concerned, prep is king. Good preparation takes time, but it also makes the actual painting easier.
Start by removing any fixtures or hardware that might get in the way of your project. Loosen up fixtures and remove curtain rods, switch-plates and door hinges. Yes, it does take time, but it isn't extra time. If you leave things in place that will create obstacles for your paintbrush or roller, you will be wasting time trying to cover or paint around them later. You'll take more time, and the end result won't look as professional as if you'd cleared everything away to start with.
After you have an unobstructed shot at the walls, clean them with a damp sponge or a dry cloth. Grease, dust and grime buildup will keep paint from making a good bond on your walls, and could cause streaks. Give the room a once over, and be on the lookout for nail holes, gouges and other imperfections that need to be filled with spackle and rough spots that could use some sanding. Little repairs like this, especially in older homes, can make a big difference in the appearance of the final paint job. Once you've cleaned the walls and done a few minor fix-ups, apply primer to any sanded areas. If you've sanded large areas, you might consider using a paint that has primer incorporated into it and eliminate the need to prime the walls as a separate step.
Now you're ready to mask any molding, built-ins and baseboards with painter's tape and start laying down drop cloths. After that, painting your room will be easy.
On the next page, we'll knock a little sense into your favorite interactive room divider, the door.
Dealing with Doors
You have doors all over your home, and even though they look innocent and simple, doors need occasional maintenance and repair. From squeaks to sticking, door problems are usually minor but can be a nuisance.
Wooden interior doors aren't exposed to the elements, but they're still subject to seasonal climate changes. In humid weather, wooden doors can swell if there isn't enough room to accommodate expansion between the door and the frame. Inspect the door to make sure there aren't any loose hinge screws or deteriorated hinges that could be causing the problem. Tighten loose screws by first placing a door wedge on the latch end of the door to balance the weight. If the screws look OK but the door meets resistance when it closes, make a note of the tight spots. If a door starts sticking only during humid months or during the rainy season, it may need to be planed. Before you take this step, though, consider the fact that in a few months the problem may go away by itself.
To plane the door, you'll need a special carpenter's plane. A plane will scrape a small layer of wood off the door's edge the way a cheese plane removes a narrow slice from a block of cheese. Draw a line along the door at the spot where it's hitting the jamb or lintel. If the tight spot is located at the top of the door or on the handle end, you can plane the door without taking it off its hinges. Just be careful to make an angle cut first in order to avoid splintering the wood or veneer. If the tight spot is on the hinge end or bottom of the door, tap out the hinge pins with a hammer and screwdriver and set the door on its side to plane it. Since planing the hinge end may result in having to reset the hinges, make this step a last resort option.
Sticking or binding doors can sometimes cause squeaks because they put extra pressure on the hinges. Hinges can also get noisy when they begin to oxidize. If your door hinges announce anyone entering or leaving the room, you might be able to silence them with a little lubricant. First, cover the area under the door with a cloth and then apply penetrating oil to the hinges. Be sparing at first. After applying a few drops, open and close the door to work lubricant into the moving parts of the hinge. Give it a couple of minutes, and try opening and closing the door one more time. If there's still a squeak, apply a few more drops and go through the process again.
If oiling the hinges doesn't solve the problem, try cleaning the hinge pins. First, place a shim under the door for support and remove the hinge pins one at a time. Scour them with steel wool, and clean the pinholes with a small circular wire brush.
Let's proceed to the next page, where we'll talk about working with 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.
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.
Repairing a Faucet Washer
Fixing a leaky faucet is one of the most common household repairs. It sounds like an insignificant problem, but all those drips add up. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the average home wastes about 11,000 gallons (42 kiloliters) of water every year with assorted leaks and drips. Aside from that being enough of the wet stuff to fill a swimming pool, it's also wasted cash you could be using for better things [source: EPA].
If you want to stop a leaky faucet without expert intervention, the process can be pretty simple, depending on the type of faucet you have. Start by shutting off the water to the faucet. There's usually a shutoff valve somewhere nearby. If not, you can always temporarily shut off the water to the entire house and turn it back on again later. The house shut-off is often in a basement or laundry room.
Compression-type faucets are pretty common, so we'll address replacing washers on that faucet style. If you don't know what type of faucet you have, try to get the name of the manufacturer off the faucet itself. It may be somewhere on the handle or main faucet housing. Many manufacturers have Web sites where you can identify your faucet and get information about replacement parts and comparable models.
You can complete a compression-type faucet washer replacement by following these steps:
- Unscrew the faucet handle and remove it. The screw may be hiding under a decorative metal or plastic cap, or at the back of the handle. For aesthetic reasons, the screw is probably concealed, but it's there, so keep looking.
- Remove the packing nut. You'll need pliers for this, and it may put up some resistance.
- Unscrew the valve stem and remove it from the housing.
- Take out the screw that holds the washer in place. If the washer's been in there a long time, you may need penetrating oil to loosen the screw.
- Remove the washer and examine it. If it hasn't deteriorated too much, you can use it as a template to help you locate a replacement. If the washer fell apart when you removed it, you may have to check the valve-body to get a better idea of the size washer you're looking for. Check the valve seat at the bottom of the valve body to determine whether the washer fits into a space with straight or angled walls, too. If you've identified your faucet make and model, you'll be able to find the right washer using that information and may even be able to locate a washer made specifically for your model by the manufacturer.
- Source a replacement washer at your home improvement retailer or plumbing supplier. Your retailer will also have generic washer kits that include dozens of washers in different shapes and sizes. Having a kit on hand may help with your next plumbing project.
- Once you've located a new washer, reverse the steps you took to remove the old one to complete the installation.
Deteriorated washers account for most faucet leaks, but in a small percentage of cases, the washer won't completely eliminate the leak because another part of the faucet may be worn. In most instances, addressing a leak by changing out the washer is the most logical place to start diagnosing the problem.
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.
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.
Old houses have an undeniable charm, but there are inherent issues that can turn owning one into a nightmare. Knowing what to watch for is key.
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