52 DIY Fixes for Annoying Home Ailments
The pros at This Old House help you tackle your to-do list with a fix for every weekend of the year
Caring for a home is more like a marathon than a 100-yard dash. Trying to sprint through myriad repairs in the days before you host a dinner party or the in-laws come for a visit only leads to frustration. And, like a winded runner dropping out of a race early, you won't finish. But if you pace yourself, taking on just one project a weekend, you'll always be working with fresh legs. Thanks to the following quick and clever solutions to 52 of your home's most niggling problems, you'll be moving on to more relaxing weekend pursuits in as little as 5 minutes.
If it's less than 1 inch across and you don't feel any debris inside, such as a paint chip, you can forgo the standard procedure of slicing an X into the paper and brushing adhesive behind it. Instead, use a syringe (about $5; at paint stores) to poke a pinhole that releases the air and allows you to inject adhesive right where it's needed. To get a clean cut in vinyl paper, make a small slit with a utility knife before inserting the syringe.
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.
Overfill holes with a lightweight patching compound. Once dry, smooth with a damp sponge. Unlike with sandpaper, there's no dust and no damage to the wall paint.
The old spring or roller latch is worn out or covered with paint. Order a heavy-duty magnet catch (about $4; rockler.com) and install it in just a couple of minutes. Works great for medicine chests, too.
Hide marks in furniture, trim, and floors using Minwax markers (about $5 each, in nine colors; at hardware stores). They provide pinpoint stain application.
If the meeting rail on the front sash doesn't drop low enough to sit flush with the rear one, the problem may be that the upper sash was painted shut without being pushed fully against the top jamb. To release it, cut the paint-sealed seam with a window-opener saw.
Chances are, debris has jammed the wheels. Remove the operable door by turning the adjustment screws at the bottom, then clean the wheels and tracks, and spray with silicone lubricant. Get detailed steps for a sliding-door tune-up.
The hard part of screen replacement is figuring out the size of the spline that holds it in the frame. Make it easy by measuring the old rubber gasket using an architect's template (about $6; staples.com). The plastic rule has holes that correspond with common spline diameters represented in decimals of an inch, such as .125 and .175.
You could open the crank cover and attempt a repair, but it's easier and usually more effective to replace the hardware. Select the right crank for your window size and model at swisco.com.
Pull out one of the hinge pins, lay it on a sturdy work surface, and hit the midpoint of the shaft with a hammer. Then reinsert the pin; the blow will have bent it slightly, providing enough resistance to prevent the unwanted movement.
Leave the door hanging and use two opposing rubber doorstops or wood shims set on the floor to stabilize it. Remove one hinge at a time and strip the hardware. Learn how to safely remove paint without chemicals.
The sash lock's cam mechanism is misaligned or broken. To suck a double-hung's sashes together and eliminate rattling—and drafts—remove the center latch and install two new ones instead. Arrange them so that the latches are fully engaged when the cam is turned about halfway.
Standard replacement glass won't match the wavy look of the original panes, so you can either swap in a piece from the back of the house and put the new glass there or order a historic reproduction from bendheim.com. See how to replace a window pane.
This "blocking" can occur when you close a door before the paint has fully dried. Apply wax to temporarily hinder adhesion. To fix it, sand around the door's edges and repaint using 100 percent acrylic latex with good block resistance.
Pick up Stanley's anti-sag kit (about $11; lowes.com). Run its cut-to-length cable from the bottom of the latch side to the top of the hinge side, then tighten its center turnbuckle to eliminate the droop.
The lock needs lubrication, but not with oil, which can attract dirt over time. Squeeze in graphite powder to lube the lock without creating future gunk-ups. And while you've got the tube handy, give any other squeaky hinges or sticking locks around the house a squeeze too.
The likely culprit is a clogged downspout. Flush with water, then use the hook end of a coat hanger to dislodge any remaining clumps. If that doesn't work, go at it with a hand-cranked pipe snake.
That's because water gets inside the fissures and freezes, pressing against the surface. Come spring, dig out any infiltrating crabgrass and dirt, and fix the cracks for good. For asphalt, use a cold-pour filler, such as QPR Asphalt Crack Filler (about $11 at lowes.com); for concrete, use Quikrete Concrete Crack Seal (about $10; acehardware.com), then seal the whole driveway.
Swap your old pavers for permeable ones, such as those made by Eco-Stone. Pores in the surface or special seams between pavers allow water to move through the material and the compacted stone and sand below, preventing washouts.
This is often due to insufficient watering. An easy way to tell if your lawn is thirsty, before it's too late, is to look at it through polarized sunglass lenses. If it appears blue-gray instead of green when it's in direct sunlight, turn on the sprinklers.
Even all-weather fan blades can eventually lose their rigidity after years out in the humidity. Besides looking bad, this can cause the fan to wobble. But you don't need a new fan—just order a replacement blade kit from farreys.com.
Rehang the swing using eye screws that go all the way through the limb and are secured with a washer and nut. Drilling into the limb is less damaging than wrapping a rope around it.
Odds are, your gutters are dumping their loads too close to the foundation. Extra long kickouts at the bottom of down-spouts are tripping hazards. So route the water underground using Flo-Well's easy-to-install dry well (about $130; ndspro.com for dealers and installation instructions).
Screw a First Alert in-socket motion detector (about $20; amazon.com) into the fixture and leave the wall switch in the on position. The light will illuminate as soon as anyone approaches, then automatically turn itself off. The device is also handy in attics and closets.
You don't need to buy a fancy paint sprayer. A $13 landscape pump sprayer makes easy work of the job.
To sanitize a wood countertop, wash with a solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach in 1 quart of water. To eliminate odors, pour some coarse sea salt onto the surface and scrub it into the wood using the face of a cut lemon.
Treat it with Rain-X antifog wipes (about $4; at auto supply shops), which are made to improve windshield visibility.
If tightening the bolts on the base doesn't stop it, buy some plastic shims from a hardware store and slide them under the toilet to stabilize it.
Rather than leave the bathroom blinds closed at all times, apply an attractive window film (about $79 to about $115 per roll, enough for two windows; 2jane.com). It'll create privacy without blocking natural light.
This can be due to house settling or grout that was never sealed, allowing water to get in and break it down. Scrape out the old grout and replace it with Bostik Tru-Color premixed grout (about $76 for a 9-pound bucket; sears.com), which contains urethane to make it more flexible and eliminate the need for sealing.
Brush contact cement onto the laminate and the substrate, and let it dry. Then press the laminate in place and clamp it tight using blue painter's tape.
Only the most meticulous homeowners save the little hex keys that come with their hardware. So buy yourself a about $13 Allen wrench set. Before tightening the setscrew, remove it and apply a dab of Loktite Threadlocker Blue 242 (about $6; homedepot.com), which will hold it in place—without preventing removal later on.
Remove the glass from the cabinet door, strip the old silvering from the back, and use a silvering kit to make it shine again. Just take note: This is an exacting job and supplies aren't cheap (about $176; angelgilding.com).
You can remove stains by bleaching with a grout pen, but that can leave the grout color uneven. Hide that problem by darkening all the grout with a grout colorant in a soft-gray or beige hue.
You've got to remove every bit of old grout so that the new material forms a seal against the tub and tile. If moisture gets back there, mold will form again. Use a 5-in-1 tool and a plastic razor to cut it out, and caulk remover to loosen any remaining bits. Then apply new acrylic latex caulk containing mildewcides.
Connect the mat to a programmable thermostat so that the first person awake in the morning doesn't get cold feet.
Replace the wall switch for your exhaust fan with a mechanical timer and set it to stay on for 30 to 60 minutes after every shower.
If you have BX cable (most two-prong systems have this metal-wrapped wiring), the sheathing can provide a ground, allowing you to swap in a three-prong outlet. But that only works if your home's electrical system is grounded. To be safe, just swap the outlet for a GFCI one.
Turn off the water and remove the faucet from the sink. Then smear Vaseline on the O-ring and replace the faucet. This isn't a cure, but it'll stop the drip until you get a new O-ring—or an entire faucet.
If there's no switched outlet in the room, add a wireless one for a table lamp. Leviton's Anywhere Switch (about $24; amazon.com) has an adapter that plugs into an outlet to receive the fixture's plug, and a battery-powered switch that fastens to the wall.
Paint or rust may be freezing the bleeder valve. Trying to free it with a radiator key usually just breaks the key, which is made of soft metal. Instead, use needle-nose pliers to gently work the valve back and forth until it opens. That'll release pent-up air so that the radiator will fill with hot water again.
With the water shut off, open the faucet completely, tighten the valve-assembly hex nut, then close the faucet again. This will realign the valve so that it will close fully.
This happens when the outlet isn't sandwiched tightly between the electrical box and the cover plate. Lock it in place using plastic electrical-outlet spacers (about $3; at hardware stores) that work like shims to bring the outlet flush with the wall.
Call Korky Toilet Repair's Flapper Finder hotline (800-528-3553) for technical service. Read them your model number from inside the tank, and they'll send you all the replacement parts and instructions you need to stop the gurgling.
Dimmers work by flickering lights on and off so fast that we perceive less illumination, but that can cause the filament to vibrate. Upgrade to rough service bulbs, which have stronger filament supports. Find them at thelightbulbstore.net.
Install pipe hangers along the supply lines in the basement to secure any loose sections. Wrap pipes in insulation where they penetrate floors or walls.
Loosening the screws, shifting the switches, and retightening the screws is doing it the hard way. Just place a flathead screwdriver against the attachment tab of the switch you want to adjust and tap lightly with a hammer.