Forget the Pro – Do it Yourself!


Last week we talked about when to call in a pro to help with home repair projects. This week I am featuring some DIY home repair and maintenance projects for pesky problems that you can handle yourself. Some of these have surprisingly simple, and sometimes unusual, solutions.

Listless Toilet

If your toilet seems to be flushing with less oomph than normal, don’t automatically assume it is the water pressure. Ninety percent of the time the problem is that the holes under the rim are clogged with calcium and sediment. Get a small brush with stiff bristles and clean them out. The flushing power of the toilet will improved significantly.

Gross Grout

If you want to replace the grout, you have two options: Dig it out by hand or use a grout-removal attachment on a rotary tool. Let’s go with the latter. Allow a strong grim cleaner (Formula 409 also works just fine) to soak in for several hours, not just a few minutes. Grab a small brush (a toothbrush with firm bristles works well) and vigorously scrub. Your bathroom will look so much cleaner!

Torn Vinyl

Use a silicone-base seam sealer to fill the tear and wipe off the excess with a dry cloth. Or try this easy fix: If it’s a no-wax floor and the tear is small, take a bar of soap and rub it sideways along the cut until it is filled. Unless you soak the vinyl in water and use a brush to scrub, the soap will stay in place during routine cleaning.

Broken Tile

This handy DIY project can make a dramatic difference in your bathroom or kitchen. Remove the grout around the tile with a grout saw (available for less than $5 at paint hardware stores). If a tile has already started to chip, continue to break off little pieces and remove the entire damaged tile. If not, make a hole in the center with a masonry drill, which will break the tile, and remove the pieces from the center outward. Glue the new tile in place with an adhesive such as Liquid Nails, then apply fresh grout around the edges

Woodwork Scratches

Hardware stores sell a number of scratch fillers that look like brown pencils or crayons. Find the shade that most closely matches your cabinet and rub it into the scratch. Hide marks in furniture, trim, and floors using Minwax markers (about $5 each, in nine colors; at hardware stores). They provide pinpoint stain application

You can hide a damaged finish on antique furniture or any fine woodwork by applying a coat of pigmented wax, such as Briwax, or a pigmented polishing fluid, also known as scratch cover, which will make fine scratches barely noticeable.

Frozen Icemaker

Remove the ice bin and find the tray where the water freezes into ice cubes. Open the tray and look for a little piece of plastic pipe where the water flows into the ice-cube tray. The end of that pipe can freeze up. You can thaw it out by aiming a hair dryer at the pipe. It should thaw within five minutes.

Drippy Faucet

First things first – stop the flow of water to the faucet by turning off the stop valves under the sink. If it’s an old faucet, remove the handle by unscrewing it. (The screw may be hidden under a plastic piece that you can flip off with a pocketknife.) Once the handle is off, remove the chrome cylinder underneath, then remove the nut that holds the stem in place. Pull out the stem and replace the washer. New faucets have “seats” that serve the same purpose as a washer, but you need to buy one that’s specifically for the brand and model of your faucet. Disassemble the faucet and take it to a hardware or plumbing store if you need help identifying the model.

Bumpy Plaster Walls

Brush on a matte paint rather than the usual eggshell. The ultra-flat sheen helps hide imperfections in the surface; any amount of glossiness reflects light and highlights unevenness.

Unclog a Sink

The surest solution is to remove the P-trap, flush out the clog, and reinstall the trap. You can also try clearing the clog from above. Just unscrew the ball-and-socket connection that holds the assembly together in the back of the sink, slide out the rod, and remove the pop-up stopper. The offending glob—or at least enough of it to get the drain flowing again—is likely to come out on the end of the stopper. Clean it off, replace and hand-tighten the its ball-and-socket nut.

Quiet a Bathroom Fan

That noisy vent fan may just be the rattle of a loose cover. For a simple fix, remove the cover and bend the spring-loaded attachment brackets slightly so that they grip a little tighter against the ceiling. While you’re at it, switch off the circuit breaker and vacuum the unit’s insides to quiet the fan blades and take the strain off the motor.

Wobbly Toilet

First, check the closet bolts holding the bowl to the floor. If they’re loose, hand-tighten them, then give an additional quarter-turn with a wrench. If they’re already tight, steady the toilet by slipping some plastic plumbers’ shims into the gap where the bowl meets the floor. You’ll find these useful wedges in plumbing-supply stores, as well as home improvement stores.

Loose Laminate Countertop

Use a heat gun, or even a hair dryer, to gently heat the laminate and soften the old glue underneath. Whack it with a rubber mallet or a hammer cushioned by a block of wood. Weigh it down for about an hour with a stack of heavy blocks while the laminate cools and readheres to the substrate.

Weak Showerhead Flow

Your showerhead could be clogged with mineral deposits. Gently unscrew it from the pipe and soak it overnight in vinegar. (If you don’t have that much time, a 50-50 mixture of hot water and CLR, a powerful calcium dissolver, will do the job in a few minutes.) Then wrap new Teflon tape clockwise around the pipe threads and turn the head back into place.

What handy DIY techniques do you use to keep your home in tip-top shape?

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