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plumbing richard trethewey Russell Kaye

There is an inherent frugality that comes with being a do-it-yourselfer. You paint walls, tile bathrooms, and install deck boards in part because hiring a pro isn't in the budget. But when you're faced with certain niggling things—specifically, broken things—that DIY drive seems to fade.

Ice-maker busted? Get by with ice cube trays. Vent hood stopped drawing up? Open the kitchen window. Slow drill/driver? Buy a new one.

Yet most of these repairs are within reach of the average homeowner—and rolling up your sleeves pays off. Fixing a washing machine could cost you less than $30 in parts, plus an hour's time, while an appliance service call could run $75—just for the repairman to show up. Here are more than 20 common household repairs you could be making yourself.


1. Uneven shower stream

Behind a shower’s handle is a valve responsible for correctly mixing hot and cold water and keeping the pressure consistent. If your shower struggles with either of those tasks, install a replacement pressure balance cartridge, about $15.

  • Shut off the water to the shower.
  • Remove the screws holding the handle and trim plate on, then the ones holding a cap over the valve.
  • Use pliers to pull out the old cartridge; slide the new one in and rebuild the handle.

2. Leaky faucet

A faucet drip can waste more than 8 gallons of water daily. If the fixture has two handles and is less than 20 years old, you can often buy a replacement cartridge—a brass or plastic valve that contains all the parts that control water flow.

  • Shut off the water underneath the sink first, then pull the leaky handle off after loosening the fastener.
  • Swap in the new part with a pair of pliers. $8; Home Depot

3. Puddling toilet

Pooling on the floor around the base could be condensation, but if you don’t see water beading on the outside of the tank, chances are the wax ring that seals the fixture to the waste pipe has failed.

  • Disconnect the water supply line, and drain the tank and bowl.
  • Use a wrench to remove the two nuts holding the toilet to the floor, then lift it up and out of the way.
  • Pry the wax ring up with a putty knife and replace it with a flexible polyurethane foam ring that is water- and chemical-resistant. $12; SaniSeal

4. Toilet bowl scratches

While it seems logical to clear a clogged toilet with a drain snake, the metal cable can leave scuffs inside the bowl.

  • Remove them by draining the bowl, then scrubbing the marks with Bar Keepers Friend and a green kitchen scouring pad.
  • When you’ve finished, go get a closet auger, which has a protective rubber sleeve to prevent future scratches. $9; Home Depot


5. Sluggish vent-hood suction (shown)

If you have poor suction and the filters and ducts are clean, the motor probably needs replacing.

  • Shut the power to the hood and remove any filters.
  • Pull out the fan blade and find the motor’s wiring harness.
  • Unclip that, then unscrew the motor from its bracket.
  • Attach the replacement motor, then reconnect the harness before reinstalling the fan blade.
  • Finish by popping the filters back in. $64; RepairClinic

6. Cracked glass cooktop

While a grimy cooktop is an eyesore, a cracked one is an electrical hazard. If the burners work, replacing the glass should take less than an hour.

  • Pull the range away from the wall and unplug it (for a cooktop in a counter, shut off the power at the breaker); unscrew any fasteners securing the top.
  • Prop it up and unplug the wires connected to the burners.
  • Place the damaged cooktop, with burners glass side down, on a towel next to the new one.
  • Transfer the burners over by plugging the wiring into the new cooktop.
  • Now reinstall the top. About $200; RepairClinic

7. Drippy dishwasher

The thick rubber gasket along the edge of the dishwasher tub can become brittle over time, letting water leak out and ruin wood floors.

  • Examine the gasket; if it’s not damaged, gently pull it out and reseat it into the tub, then run the dishwasher.
  • Still leaks? Get a replacement gasket; soak it in warm water until it’s pliable, then install it the same way.
  • Clamp the door closed for a few hours to let the gasket conform to the door. About $10; RepairClinic

8. Unreliable gas oven

When fluctuating temperatures ruin dinner, a faulty igniter is often to blame. This carbide element sits alongside the tubular burners and glows red-hot, starting the flames.

  • To check yours, remove the oven floor, exposing the igniter.
  • Turn the oven on; if the igniter doesn’t change color or if it takes longer than 90 seconds for flames to light, replace it.
  • Shut off the oven’s electricity and gas, disconnect the igniter’s wiring, then remove the fasteners holding it in place.
  • Attach the new igniter in the reverse order, orienting the carbide tip in the same direction. $31; RepairClinic

9. Broken ice-maker

When a fridge’s ice-maker stops working, it’s usually because the inlet valve is broken. The most difficult part of this repair is moving the refrigerator far enough from the wall that you can gain access to the back.

  • First, shut off the refrigerator’s water supply, which usually comes from the sink’s cold-water valve.
  • Unplug the appliance and remove the rear panel.
  • Disconnect the water supply line to the refrigerator—it connects into the inlet valve.
  • Take the valve out by unscrewing its fasteners.
  • Now unplug the electrical connections from the old valve and plug them into the same spots on the new one.
  • Replace the water lines, then reattach the valve to the refrigerator body, reconnect the supply line, and put the panel back.
  • Wait until the unit has made a batch of ice before you push the refrigerator back into placE—it will reduce wear and tear on your kitchen floor. From $20; RepairClinic

10. Leaky sink plug

The sink strainer body is regularly exposed to hot water and chemical cleaners, which can erode the gaskets, leading to a leak.

  • Rub the underside of the strainer body with a tissue—if it picks up any water, replace the part with a new sink strainer kit.
  • Press a length of plumber’s putty to the new strainer body; tighten the gasket and nut from below until the excess putty squeezes out.

Laundry Room

11. Leaking top-loader (shown)

If the supply hoses are sound, then a top-loading washing machine that leaks might have a failed pump.

  • Undo the screws that hold down the control panel and any wires, then flip up the panel, exposing the clips that hold the three-sided metal cabinet in place.
  • Remove the clips and slide the cabinet off—the pump is on the bottom with two hoses attached to it.
  • Detach the hoses (have a rag handy to catch any drips), wiggle the pump off the motor shaft, then band-clamp the hoses to the replacement pump before reattaching everything in the same orientation. $25; RepairClinic

12. Slow dryer

Every dryer needs proper airflow to finish a load of clothing in about 60 minutes. For a slow-to-dry machine that has plenty of air circulation and a clean exhaust duct, the problem might be the blower wheel. Swapping in a new one is easy:

  • Remove the front panel and housing cover, taking care to unhook the door switch’s wires.
  • Behind that is the blower wheel.
  • Remove the wheel from the motor shaft with snap ring pliers, a $15 tool that pries open the wheel’s metal retainer ring.
  • The area around the old wheel might be caked with lint, making this a good time to clean it with a damp cloth or a wet/dry vac.
  • Slide the new wheel in place and test that it spins by hand, then reassemble the dryer front. $15; RepairClinic

13. Stalled vacuum brush

Even a vacuum that can suck up bowling balls is useless if the rotating carpet brush isn’t pulling debris from the floor. If the motor runs but the brush isn’t spinning, you need a new belt.

  • Flip the vacuum over and remove the screws holding the belt cover in place.
  • Take the brush out and slide the worn belt off the spindle, then add the new one.
  • Thread the brush through the loosely fitting belt, and stretch the rubber far enough that the brush seats in its compartment.
  • Spin the brush to test that it rotates freely, then reattach the cover. $3; RepairClinic


14. Broken ceiling-fan switch (shown)

Too many yanks on a ceiling fan’s chain can break the flimsy plastic switch inside.

  • Add a new switch by shutting off the power and removing the lower part of the fan housing, which usually supports the light fixture. Note and then disconnect the wiring and move the housing to a table.
  • Connect the wires to the new switch to match the order of the old one, then reinstall the housing. $4; Home Depot

15. Broken baluster

A missing baluster ruins the look of a staircase and can also be a hazard for children. The first step in replacing one is finding an exact match from the home center or one of the companies that offer stair parts.

  • Remove the stair tread’s end cap, which holds the tenon on the bottom of the baluster in place, with a mini pry bar.
  • To trim the replacement to fit, measure the upstairs side of an existing baluster from the tread to the spot where it touches the underside of the handrail, then transfer that measurement to the new one.
  • Find the angle of the railing with a T-bevel, and mark that angle on the new baluster, too. Use that line to calibrate the angle of your miter saw.
  • Cut the part, slip the tenon into the mortise, and drive finish nails through the new baluster into the underside of the railing before replacing the tread’s end cap.

16. Sticking door

Solid-wood doors are particularly susceptible to seasonal changes in humidity, but you don’t have to be a master carpenter to fine-tune one so it swings free all year. Tightening the hinge screws might pull the door back into alignment.

  • If the door still binds, remove it, take the hinges off, and use a chisel to make the mortises about 1⁄8 inch deeper—and then remove the same amount of material from the same edge of the door with a hand plane.
  • Add the hinges, prime and paint the newly exposed wood, and rehang the door.

17. Cracked plaster ceiling

The settling of your house or a leak on the floor above can crack a plaster ceiling. If you’re comfortable working on a ladder, this is an easy fix using Big Wally’s Plaster Magic kit, which includes a two-part adhesive that you pump through and behind the plaster around the crack, securing it to the lath.

  • Clamp the repair tight with screw-in washers for at least 24 hours.
  • Then remove them before skim-coating the repair with joint compound. Homeowners Pack $87; Plaster Magic


18. Bad grill burners (shown)

Grease, unburned food, or insects looking for a home can clog the tiny ports that line the burners in a gas grill. If your grill heats inconsistently, try cleaning the faulty burner with a wire brush, then turn it on. You should see an even blue flame from each port. If the burner is still clogged, upgrade to a new one to fit your grill.

  • Remove the manifold controlling the gas flow and the burner itself in sections.
  • Install the replacement parts in the reverse order. $45; Home Depot

19. Caved-in asphalt

Asphalt settles over time, but serious driveway potholes that collect rain in spring and snow in winter should be repaired before they freeze and become larger. The fix is easy but labor-intensive.

  • Square the damage with a water-cooled circular saw fitted with a diamond blade, then dig the hole out down to the subsoil.
  • Refill the hole with bagged paver base in 2- to 4-inch-thick layers, tamping as you go, until you’re within 2 inches of finished grade.
  • Top the base with a bag or two of blacktop repair (stone mixed with an asphalt binder); tamp that even with the rest of the driveway. $12; Quikrete

20. Trickling spigot

An outdoor spigot that doesn’t thoroughly shut off not only is wasteful but also may cause water to enter the basement. You can rebuild a compression-style faucet, the most common kind, without calling a plumber or ripping into interior walls.

  • Shut off the water and remove the handle with wrenches.
  • Replace the small rubber washer held in with a screw. Thread the handle back in and turn the water on.
  • If it still drips, remove the handle again and stick a valve reseating tool, about $10 at the home center, into the faucet body; turn it a few times to mill a flat surface for the washer to rest against.


21. Crushed hose fitting (shown)

Hoses are most susceptible to damage at their ends, which also makes them easy to fix.

  • If you run over your hose with a car, cut the damaged end off with a utility knife.
  • Twist the right-size male or female fitting—5/8 inch is the most common—onto the opening, then tighten with a stainless-steel band clamp. $4; Home Depot

22. Sluggish power tools

Most electric power tools transfer energy to the motor through chunks of carbon called brushes, which wear down over time. If a tool stops responding or is noticeably slow, spend about $15 on replacement brushes before tossing the tool or upgrading.

  • Unscrew the large plastic caps on the outside of the motor housing to release the spring-loaded brushes.
  • Add new brushes from the manufacturer or file generic ones until they slide in freely, and reattach the caps.
  • Plan to take the housing apart completely in older drills and circular saws that don’t have easily accessible brushes—take plenty of photos to help with reassembly.

23. Broken wood handles

Don’t buy a new rake, sledgehammer, or wheelbarrow just because its wood handle is broken. Home centers stock replacement handles; you can also check the House Handle Company, which specializes in hardwood handle parts.

  • Use a hammer to knock the head and ferrule off the broken tool, or drill out the head’s rivets.
  • Add the new handle to the tool head; turn it so the straight grain faces up, for maximum strength, and drive the two parts together.
  • To fix a split handle, mist the damage with water; add some expanding polyurethane glue to fill the void, or wrap the damage with FiberFix tape ($6). If you routinely break handles, consider upgrading to tougher fiberglass.

Where to Find Parts

To order replacement parts for an appliance, you’ll need its serial and model numbers. Sites for manufacturers and retailers, like GE Appliances, RepairClinic, and Sears Parts Direct, stock parts to fit all the major brands. And before starting any fix, shut off the electricity, gas, or water to the unit.

What’s Not a DIY Fix

Try the repair first if the cost of the new parts is less than half of what you’d pay to replace the product with a new one. Cost aside, here are a few instances that break that rule.

Microwave ovens that don’t heat: It’s too dangerous to replace the magnetron tube because of the high voltage stored.

Pressure-washers with weak flow: The pumps on $100 units are not designed to be repaired. But the axial cam or triplex pumps found on more expensive models can be replaced.

Cracks on the furnace heat exchanger: If not properly sealed, these can leak carbon monoxide and other gases into the house. Call in a pro.

Squeaky bearings on a front-load washer: This is one of the most mechanically involved repairs and warrants the cost of a service call.

Refrigerators that don’t cool: Recharging the compressor that keeps food cold requires a torch and refrigerant gauges. Hire a pro, or recycle the appliance and spring for a new one.