Home repairs you can do yourself

Even if you’ve never repaired a darn thing in your life

If you own a home, it’s a guarantee that stuff is going to break. The toilet will inexplicably start running nonstop, the kids will put a nice gash in the wall, the caulk in the shower will be overcome with mold. Our mental lists of “things we need to fix” only seem to grow, year after year. And while we should certainly leave high-level projects to the pros, there are plenty of common home repairs and upgrades we can tackle our dang selves.

With a little help from YouTube (seriously, there’s a video for just about any project you can fathom—from fixing a garbage disposal to resurfacing your kitchen counters with pennies) and some guidance from your local hardware store, you can start crossing off those projects on your fix-it list yourself.

“Sometimes people are surprised by how easy and quick a project can be that they have been putting off for so long because they didn’t dare tackle it themselves or have the money to pay someone to do it,” says Tim Currier, general manager of Maine Hardware in Portland. But doing it yourself doesn’t mean you can’t get advice from people who know what they’re doing.

“We’re here to back you up,” says Andrea Drillen, store manager at Drillen True Value in South Portland (a hardware store her family has run since 1981). “We can show you how it’s done.”

Drillen and Currier see plenty of homeowners and DIYers come into their store every day, often looking for advice or the right tool get a job done. Experienced employees are there to help, even if you don’t know the right name of the part you’re looking for or you’re not sure how to approach a project you’re considering. One helpful tip: “Take a picture on your phone and show me,” Drillen says. “We can give someone pointers, or sometimes tell them how to fix it without a lot of tools.”

The first step is having the confidence to give it a go. “I usually find that, after someone comes in and we get through a first project, that excites them to tackle another.” Besides, he adds, it sure feels good to see a finished project and say, “Wow that’s looks so much better. (And I did it!) What can I fix or improve next?”

Drillen and Currier share a few home repair projects that you might consider tackling yourself:

Fix a running toilet

This basic plumbing issue typically requires a simple replacement, says Currier. “First closing the valve that supplies the toilet. Then either bringing in the flapper or take a picture of it in place so we can identify it. We love pictures! But generally replacing the flapper fixes a running toilet without calling a plumber.”

Replacing a toilet isn’t a big deal, either, says Drillen (although you might want to call in a friend to help you wrangle the new toilet into the house. Swapping out a toilet. “The water shutoff is often right at the toilet, then you get a new wax ring for about $3.” You’ll need to drain the ol’ porcelain throne, then remove a couple of nuts, which hold the toilet in place.

Changing a light fixture

“Most people call an electrician and spend $300,” says Drillen. But that isn’t usually necessary. You’ll want to be safe, of course, and turn off power to the fixture (or the whole house, as Drillen does), but removing the old fixture and replacing it with a new one is a generally easy to do.

Re-caulking a shower tub

Lose that old moldy caulk! Currier says removing the old caulk with a scraper is the toughest part.  “Then clean the area properly with a cleaner and you are ready for new caulking. They offer a caulk removing tool and a applier too. I usually run a bead of caulk down the tub then wet my finger and slide it quickly over what I just applied to smooth it out. You should have a couple paper towels on hand for that for any extra on your finger. That can be done in maybe an hour or so,” he says.

Patching or fixing cracks in walls

It’s something that most houses need through time, says Currier. “A little patch with some joint compound” will do it, he says. “A few coats may be needed with some sanding in between and boom… another eye sore fixed with a little paint.”

Pipe leaks and plumbing

Technology is always changing, says Drillen, so there are often new tools to make jobs easier. One she likes is the Shark Bite brand of push-to-connect pipe fittings. “There’s no soldering required,” she says. If you have a pipe leak or differently sized pipes that need to be connected, you have a simpler solution that no longer requires a torch or a plumber.

Replacing electrical receptacles

Those brown or green or cream light switches and receptacles in your house just don’t go with your updated decor. Replacing them with new ones—bright white, perhaps—is easy. Usually, you just need a set of screw drivers for this job, says Currier. Then start by “turning off the breaker each room at a time then double checking with an inexpensive tester to make sure the power is really off. Then it’s just a matter of unscrewing the two screws that hold [the switch or receptacle] in place, unhook the wires (while remembering where they went or take a picture so you can reverse the procedure) and replace with new.”

Shannon Bryan is an editor of Maine Women Magazine. She lives in South Portland and is always up for an adventure.

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