40 Home Repairs Anyone Can Do
You can quickly master these yourself, even if you’re not very handy. They’re all smallish jobs that can fend off big problems later.
Test your thermostat
Risk: If the temperature in your house isn’t what shows on the thermostat, your air conditioner or furnace could be working too hard.
How to DIY it: Every spring and fall, tape a household thermometer on the wall next to the thermostat. After about 15 minutes, compare readings. If the difference between the two numbers is more than a few degrees, try recalibrating your thermostat (follow the manufacturer’s instructions).
While you’re at it: If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, consider getting one. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an Energy Star–rated model can save you about $180 in heating and cooling costs each year. You can buy one for about $40 and install it yourself. It’s a relatively easy job; no rewiring required. On the other hand, these are home improvement projects you should never, ever DIY.
Stop air leaks under doors
Risk: Cooling or heating the world outside your home is obviously wasteful—and expensive.
How to DIY it: Most door thresholds (also called a saddle; below) adjust up and down with screws. Turn all the screws equally until the door opens and closes without much drag and the draft is eliminated.
While you’re at it: You can seal drafty windows with removable caulk, which will keep cold air outside in winter and easily peel off come spring.
Patch a hole in drywall
Risk: Holes happen, but you don’t have to pay a pro $100 or more to patch them. The easiest way to do it yourself is with an adhesive aluminum patch, some joint compound (similar to spackle), and a taping knife, all sold at paint and hardware stores for just a few dollars.
How to DIY it: Clean up any rough edges around the hole, then stick the patch onto the wall over the hole (left). Using the taping knife, spread a layer of joint compound over it and let it dry overnight. Then spread a wider second coat, feathering out the compound on all sides to make the patch blend in. Let it dry, then apply one more coat extending 8 to 12 inches beyond the patch in all directions. After the final coat dries, sand the area with a sanding sponge (a foam block wrapped in sandpaper) until it feels smooth and even. Prime, and then paint.
While you’re at it: You can use joint compound to fill nail holes too. After filling the holes, apply a second coat and scrape the excess so the area is flush with the wall. Then prime and paint.
Protect your electronics
Risk: Power surges—caused by lightning, an unstable power grid, or heavy power use from energy-hog appliances such as your refrigerator or furnace—can fry your electronics. That includes anything with a digital display: your computer, TV, microwave, smart fridge, etc.
How to DIY it: Buy surge suppressors at a home-improvement store for $20 or so apiece, then plug each of your gadgets into one.
While you’re at it: Consider a whole-house surge suppressor, which protects all your devices from external surges. You’ll need an electrician to install it; expect to pay $400 to $600 for the job. When you do decide to call in the experts, make sure you follow these tips to avoid a home improvement scam.
Repair carpet snags
Risk: If you have carpet with woven loops, loose fibers can easily unravel into even bigger snags. This quick fix is far cheaper than replacing carpeting, which will run you about $40 per square yard, on average.
How to DIY it: Gently tug the loose part of the carpet to find the point where it’s still attached. Snip it off as close to the backing as possible and save it. Use painter’s tape to surround the repair area. Squeeze a heavy bead of carpet seam sealer (about $6 at home centers) into the run. Then fill in the hole with the saved fiber, using a screwdriver to press it into the sealer bit by bit until the area looks like the surrounding carpet (below).
While you’re at it: Vacuum high-traffic areas at least once a week. This may sound like a no-brainer, but fabric experts stress that because dirt is abrasive, walking on dirty carpet—even if it looks clean—damages the fibers, making it stain more easily and wear out faster. Don’t miss these easy home repairs you can do yourself.
Unclog refrigerator coils
Risk: When coils are clogged with dust, pet hair, and cobwebs, they can’t efficiently release heat. That makes your refrigerator’s compressor work harder and longer than necessary, using more energy and shortening its life.
How to DIY it: Coils are located on the back of the refrigerator or across the bottom. Pull the fridge away from the wall. (Hint: Grab the sides and pull from the bottom. You may want to lay cardboard on the floor first to prevent scratching.) Clean coils with a coil-cleaning brush (about $10 at home centers), then vacuum. Do this every six months or so.
While you’re at it: Wipe down the rubber gaskets that line the inside edges of the refrigerator and freezer doors, as a poor seal can also make your appliance less efficient. Use warm water and a sponge (no detergents, which can do damage).
Freshen up the dishwasher
Risk: If yours isn’t doing its job, you’ll waste water by having to wash dishes again by hand or in another run through the machine.
How to DIY it: A simple cleaning often solves the problem. Start by pulling out the lower dish rack. Remove the spray arm and use a thin piece of wire to clean out the holes where water sprays through. Scoop or vacuum out any leftover food particles from the filter area, then remove the filter screen (above), if possible, and give it a good rinse.
While you’re at it: If your dishwasher smells, cleaning the filter should help. Also, wipe the door with a spray cleaner. Then throw in a bottle of dishwasher cleaner (about $5) and run the machine empty. Here’s how you can fix all of those annoying noises you hear in your house.
Degrease range-hood filters
Risk: The range hood sucks cooking fumes up and out of the kitchen. As grease splatters, it builds up and clogs the filter in the underside of the hood, keeping the fan from working as it should. This could cause your smoke alarm to go off, attract fruit flies, and leave potentially harmful pollutants from your gas or electric range lingering in the air. And if you have to replace the motor, it will cost around $200.
How to DIY it: Once a month or so, pop out the filter and run it through the dishwasher. (You can also place it in a sink full of hot water, dishwashing liquid, and baking soda and let it soak for ten to 15 minutes.) Scrub any remaining grease off with a brush, then rinse and dry the filter before putting it back.
While you’re at it: Wipe down the fan blades and the rest of the hood with an all-purpose cleaner.
Clean garbage disposal blades
Risk: Gunked-up, greasy blades won’t chop up scraps the way they’re supposed to, potentially causing backups and bad smells.
How to DIY it: Once a month, toss a bunch of ice cubes into the disposal. They’ll make a racket, but ice does a good job of cleaning the blades. Follow with a few lemon or orange peels, then run cold water down the disposal.
While you’re at it: Scrub the rubber splash guard—top and bottom—using an old toothbrush dipped in an antibacterial grease-cutting kitchen cleaner.
Unclog a faucet
Risk: If the flow from your faucet isn’t what it used to be, the holes in the aerator are probably plugged with mineral buildup.
How to DIY it: Close the drain stopper so small parts can’t fall in. Wrap duct or electrical tape around pliers to avoid scratching the aerator, then unscrew it (above). Scrub it with a toothbrush and rinse. If there’s still residue, soak the aerator parts in vinegar.
While you’re at it: Clean your showerhead the same way. Or try this: Fill a freezer bag with a half-and-half mixture of vinegar and water. Secure the bag over the showerhead with a rubber band or duct tape. Remove it every 15 minutes and check the flow. Don’t leave it on longer than necessary, as vinegar can damage finishes.