101 Things Every Homeowner Must Know
Being a homeowner has its challenges, but being a knowledgeable DIYer can make things a lot easier. Check out this incredible list of things you need to know.
Clean dryer vents or waste energy and risk a fire
A plugged dryer vent will cause your dryer to run inefficiently, and that’s bad. A plugged dryer vent could also cause a house fire, and that could be deadly! Dryers that are centrally located in houses are most prone to plugging because of the longer ducts. Excess lint is only one reason ducts get clogged; nesting pests and stuck exhaust hood flappers can also cause backups. Stronger odors and longer dry times are two signs your vent is plugged.
You’ll have to remove the vent from the back of the dryer to clean it. Suck debris from the ducts with a wet/dry vac, or ream them out with a cleaning kit that includes a brush on a long flexible rod that attaches to a power drill. The kits are available at home centers. If your ducts need replacing, get smooth metal ducts, which will stay cleaner longer than the rough corrugated surface of flexible ducts. Avoid plastic ducting altogether; it can be a fire hazard.
Keep a couple of sections of pipe insulation or pool noodles in your trunk to protect both the car’s paint and your oversized cargo. These are the things you need to know to be a genius homeowner.
Switch your ceiling fan direction
Ceiling fans should turn clockwise in the colder months, which pushes warm air back down into the room. Most fans have a simple switch that reverses the direction. Watch out for these surprising things that decrease your property value.
How to sharpen lawn mower blades
The hardest part about sharpening a lawnmower blade is detaching the blade safely from your lawnmower. Once the blade is safely removed and held in a vise, a good file is all you need to add an edge to the blade. Just remember to make sure that you are sharpening the right side of the blade! When detached, it can sometimes be difficult to tell which way the sharpest edge is facing.
Test the sump pump or risk a flood
It’s easy to forget about your sump pump, but it’s important to make sure it’s in good working order. If you don’t, you could end up like the homeowner who returned from a weekend trip to discover his entire basement floor covered in 1/2 in. of water. After shutting down the power, he waded over to the sump pump and noticed it wasn’t working. Upon closer inspection, he realized that the cable attached to the float must have gotten tangled somehow. It took him two seconds to untangle the cable, and then he spent the next 15 hours dragging out waterlogged carpet, running the wet/dry vac, and moving fans around.
To avoid a similar disaster, be sure your pump has a vertical float switch. Also, check your pump at least a couple of times a year by dumping water into the basin to make sure everything is working properly.
Topsy-turvy door painting
Here’s how to paint a door without waiting for one side to dry before flipping it over: Drive one lag screw into the center of the top edge and two near the bottom corners. Set the screws on sawhorses, paint, flip and paint the other side.
Measuring cup hang-up
Screw a couple of strips inside a cabinet door, add some hooks and you’ve got a perfect roost for measuring cups. Just make sure your cups won’t bump into the shelves. Here are some organizations tips you’ll wish you knew all along.
Stir-stick paint organizer
When you buy custom-mixed paint, the paint clerk slaps the mix label on top of the can. I always ask for an extra label to wrap around a stir stick. When I’m done with the project, I let the stir stick dry and drill a hole near the top of it. Then I label both the stick and the can with the name of the room where I used the paint. I hang the stir sticks near the cans of leftover paint. With both the color formula and a dried paint sample in view, I don’t have to pull down every can to find the right one for touch-ups.
I use cardboard appliance boxes as collapsible sawhorses. They’re lightweight and plenty strong for many tasks. They hold heavy workpieces like doors without wobbling and fold up flat in seconds. You can cut them to a comfortable working height with a utility knife. Try these home decor ideas to make your home look more expensive.
Wire pantry shelves aren’t just for pantries. They’re perfect for any wall where full-depth shelves won’t fit: garages, laundry rooms, utility rooms, etc. The perfect space-saving shelves solution. Many people still believe these myths about owning a home.
Pull-tab picture frame hook
If you’re hanging pictures and run out of those sawtooth hangers, just grab the nearest pop can. Bend the pull tab back and forth until it breaks off. Then screw it into your picture frame. Bend the free end out slightly and hang the picture. —Reader Carrie Tegeler
Here’s an easy way to tear tape and get a starting edge at the same time. Simply fold the tape under at a 90-degree angle to the roll. Then, with a snapping motion, pull the tape against the edge of the roll. The tape tears, leaving a triangular starting tab. This won’t work with plastic tapes; those must be cut. —Reader Chris Henrichs. Watch out for these signs that your home is an unhealthy place to live.
Eliminate drain odor
The traps in floor drains—or for that matter, any drains that aren’t used often—will eventually dry out. This may sound harmless enough, but a dry trap can cause a room to fill with potentially harmful sewer gas from the septic tank or the city sewer system. Eliminate this problem by adding about a quart of fresh water topped with a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil. The oil floats on top of the water and seals it against evaporation. Your drain will hold water in the trap much longer.
Kitchen organization: Racks for canned goods
Extra towel bar
Pick up a pack of S-hooks at a home center and turn wire shelving into a rack for cleaning gear. Read up on these 50 strange things people have done to their homes.
Toilet paper shelf
Here’s a clever idea for a small bathroom shelf. Build or buy a deep picture frame and hang it around your toilet paper holder. It will give you two convenient shelves for small items in your bathroom where every inch of storage counts.
When you’re painting or gardening, keep your phone clean and dry by sealing it inside a zip-top bag. You can still work the buttons right through the bag.
No-slip seat cushions
My dogs and I have an arrangement. They poop; I pick it up. But rather than make daily trips to the trash can, I built this poop pipe. It’s just a large piece of 4-in. PVC drainpipe sunk into the ground a foot or so, with a trash bag lining it and a cap sitting loosely on top. A rubber band holds the bag in place, and the cap helps keep odors at bay. When the bag gets full, I just take it to the trash bin and put a new one in the drainpipe. —Reader Kelley Griswold.
How to stop under-the-door air leaks
If you can feel the breeze and see daylight under your entry door, it’s costing you big-time. It also means you need to adjust your door threshold or install a new door sweep. Door sweeps start at $10. The hardest part about replacing them is usually taking off the door.
Start by adjusting the threshold. Newer versions have screws that raise and lower them. Turn all of the threshold screws until the door opens and closes without much drag and any draft is eliminated. If that doesn’t work, or your threshold doesn’t have adjustment screws, replace the door sweep.
Close the door and pop out the hinge pins with a pin punch to remove the door. Set the door on a work surface and remove the old door sweep. Caulk the ends of the door, then install the replacement sweep. Some sweeps are tapped into place and stapled along the door bottom; others are screwed to the side along the door bottom.
Closet nook shelves
Don’t let the recessed space at the ends of a closet go to waste. One of our favorite ways to maximize the space you already have is to install wire shelving to hold blankets, towels, or bedding.
Wire shelves are available in a variety of widths. Measure the width and depth of the space. Then choose the correct shelving and ask the salesperson to cut the shelves to length for you. Subtract 3/8 in. from the actual width to determine the shelf length. Buy a pair of end mounting brackets and a pair of plastic clips for each shelf. These are the things in your house a professional organizer would throw out.
Test and replace the batteries in smoke detectors
Smoke detectors should be tested monthly, and the batteries should be replaced every year, so it’s a good habit to make this part of your regular spring maintenance routine. Test the batteries by simply pressing the ‘test’ button and making sure the unit chirps. Even if it works, replace the battery (or back-up battery, if yours is a hardwired model) and re-test it. If the alarm does not pass the test, replace it immediately.
Smoke detectors have a lifespan of 10 years, so look for a ‘replace by’ sticker or date embossed on the inside of the unit to see if it needs to be replaced, even if it passes the chirp test. If you can’t find a date, replace it anyway immediately. On new detectors, make sure to write the ‘installed’ date on the inside cover on a piece of masking tape.
Junk drawer in a bag
Heavy-duty zip-top bags are a versatile solution for miscellaneous junk. Unlike a drawer or coffee can, they let you visibly see and instantly find just the thing you’re looking for.
Find a flashlight
When the power goes out, you’ll be groping in the dark for a flashlight—unless you wrap one with glow-in-the-dark tape. The tape glows for about eight hours after exposure to light.
Repurpose old jars and containers for free garage storage
Instant drawer dividers
Stick strips of adhesive-backed foam weather stripping to the inside of the drawer. Then cut 1/4-in. plywood strips and wedge them into place. Homeowners should make sure to check these things in the winter.
Mobile tool rack
If you see an old golf bag at a rummage sale, grab it. It will make a great tote for lawn and garden gear.
Spray-bottle pipe pump
When soldering a fitting onto a copper pipe, you have to get the water out of the pipe or the solder won’t melt. But removing the water from vertical pipes is tricky. That’s when I grab the spray nozzle from a plastic bottle. I just stick the plastic tube down into the pipe and pull the trigger a few times. It helps to have a small cup to shoot the water into. —Reader Dean Debeltz
How to fix a loose doorknob
Those plastic crates sold at discount stores make great (and colorful!) shelves. Mount them on walls, using screws and fender washers at the upper corners. Screw to studs where you can; use screw-in drywall anchors where you can’t. Here’s how to organize the messiest spots in your house.
I rake leaves like I’m sweeping the floor with a broom. I always used to get a blister between the index finger and thumb of my lower hand. Now I just keep my thumb and fingers on the same side of the pole. You get just as much gripping power—without the blisters! —Reader Kipp Beck
Don’t file away the manuals and spare parts that came with your kitchen and bath fixtures. Instead, put them right where you’ll need them, in zip-top bags hung on hooks at the back walls of cabinets.
With a big, cheap plastic tarp you can drag leaves, branches, or mulch around your yard.
Let paint dry, then cut the tape loose for a perfect edge
Once paint is dry, you can’t just pull the tape off the trim. Paint forms a film between the wall and the tape, and removing the tape tears pieces of dried paint off the wall. So before pulling off the tape, cut it loose.
Wait for the paint to completely dry at least 24 hours, then use a sharp utility knife or box cutter knife to slice through the film. Start in an inconspicuous area to make sure the paint is hard enough to slice cleanly. If you cut the paint while it’s still gummy, you’ll make a mess. As you cut the paint, pull up the tape at a 45-degree angle.
Simple storage spools
Cut up cardboard to make handy spools for holiday lights, string or cords.
Closet bracket bike rack
Luminous light switch
A dab of glow-in-the-dark paint means no more groping for the light switch in the dark. You can buy glow-in-the-dark paint at hardware stores and home centers.
My pine trees drop cones all summer long, and my old back doesn’t like me bending over a lot to pick them all up. I don’t have a dog, but a pooper scooper has turned out to be this man’s best friend! Gently squeezing the handle opens its jaws, allowing me to pick up pinecones with no back pain. —Reader Don Greer.
Loosen stuck pipes with heat
A sticky solution
To keep my square from sliding on slick material when I’m trying to mark with it, I stick vinyl picture-frame bumpers on the back. This holds the square in place while I draw a pencil line. —Reader Kelly Hicks
Perfect keyhole template
When you’re mounting something on the wall with keyhole slots, lay paper over the slots and make a template by rubbing with a pencil. Then level your template on the wall and you’ll know precisely where to position the screws. These are the things professional organizers would never do in their own homes.
Wine cork caulk saver
Synthetic wine corks are great for sealing partially used tubes of caulk. Drill a 5/16-in. hole into the cork about 1 in. deep. The cork fits perfectly and makes an airtight seal. —Reader Susan Claussen
Make the most of your vacuuming
The right vacuuming technique, combined with the right filters, bags, and machine, has a significant impact on how much dust remains in your carpeting. Keep the following tips for how to clean dust in mind:
- Vacuum high-traffic areas twice a week and the rest of the carpeting and large area rugs at least weekly.
- Make numerous slow passes over the same area in all directions (fast passes stir up more dust than is being sucked up).
- Use certified True High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters to remove invisible particles and allergens. Look for the word ‘True” on the label.
- If you have allergies, upgrade to a sealed-body bagged vacuum with an airtight ‘sealed filtration’ system that works together with a True HEPA filter. This means all of the exhaust will exit through the HEPA filter instead of leaking dust back into your house through the machine’s housing. Sealed-body vacuums have rubber seals or gaskets around the lid and filter and will last 10 to 20 years. Brands include Riccar, Miele and Sanitaire.
- Buy high-quality vacuum bags. Inexpensive 2- or 3-ply paper bags leak more dust. Higher-quality cotton-lined paper bags are better, and top-quality synthetic cotton HEPA bags are the best. Bag capacity matters too. Higher-capacity bags capture more, smaller particles that would have otherwise clogged the filter.
- Clean all your bagless vacuum filters regularly and replace them every three months.
- Turn off the agitator brush on hard flooring so you’re not blowing dust into the air.
- Maintain your vacuum: Empty the canister frequently (always outside) and change bags and belts when needed. Keep the agitator brush free of hair and other material, and check the vacuum for cracks and loose hinges and get it serviced every so often to keep it running smoothly.
Glove and mitt storage
Touch-up without cleanup
No need to mess up a brush to fix a wall wound. Just dip an old washcloth in the paint and throw it away when you’re done. A washcloth leaves the same texture as a paint roller, so your repair will blend nicely.
Dustless drilling and drum sanding
Whenever I have curves to sand, I chuck a sanding drum into my drill press. The only problem is that the sawdust flies everywhere. I wanted to catch the dust with my shop vacuum, so I made a bracket to hold the nozzle. I glued together two 3/4-in.-thick pieces of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and cut out the curved shape with my jigsaw. When I want to use it, I just clamp it to my drill press table. I made the hole just big enough so that the tip of the nozzle fits snugly. —Reader Doug Kaczmarek.
Hang-up shoe organizers are the fastest way to add easy-access storage just about anywhere. Plus pocket storage can organize just about anything. Find them at discount stores. These are the secrets of people who always have a clean house.
A metal file organizer is perfect for storing flat kitchen gear like cutting boards or cookie sheets. To keep it in place, set it on a pad of rubbery shelf liner.
Solid cord connection
More shower shelves
Those shelves that hang from a shower pipe are fine, but you have only one shower pipe. To hang more shelves, mount cabinet knobs on the wall using No. 8-32 hanger screws and screw-in drywall anchors.
Don’t choose a problem tree
Don’t wreck an outdoor faucet
Here’s why you end up replacing outdoor faucet washers that have worn out long before they should: When you turn off a frost-proof faucet, water continues to trickle out of the long pipe even after the valve is closed. When people see that water, they often assume the valve didn’t close, so they crank down harder, which overcompresses the washer, greatly reducing its life. Patience is the key. Wait a second or two after closing the valve. The water should eventually stop (unless you’ve already destroyed the washer).
MYTH: Frost-proof faucets cannot freeze.
FACT: Leaving a hose attached throughout the winter could leave water in the line to freeze and cause the faucet to burst. Also, if the faucet slopes slightly toward the house, the long pipe will also hold water that can freeze.
Before you call an electrician
“I can diagnose about 30 percent of electrical problems over the phone. I play a game of ‘Twenty Questions’ to see if I can avoid making a trip to the house.” Here are some of the most common complaints electrician Al Hildenbrand gets, and the questions he asks:
“I screwed in a new fuse but I still don’t have any power.” Are you sure you used the same amperage fuse as the one you replaced? Is the fuse good? Is it screwed in tight?
“I’ve checked the circuit breakers, but the outlet still doesn’t work.” Some outlets are protected by upstream GFCIs or GFCI circuit breakers. Look in the circuit box for a GFCI circuit breaker and in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms for GFCI outlets. Test and reset them. This may solve your problem.
“I replaced the lightbulb but the light fixture still doesn’t work.” Are you sure the new bulb is good? Try it in another light fixture and make sure it’s screwed all the way in.
“This outlet used to work. Now it’s dead.” Check all the switches in the room. One of them might control the outlet.
Instant mini bins
Plastic junction boxes for electrical work are cheap and easy to mount anywhere. Get them at home centers.
Tablecloth drop cloth
Store on a door
A door that opens into a closet or utility room provides a handy surface for hang-up storage. The trouble is that most doors don’t offer a flat, solid surface for fastening hooks or racks. The solution is to screw 3/4-in. plywood to the door. (On a hollow-core door, use screws and construction adhesive.) Then you can mount as many hooks or racks as you like.
Keep pictures level
A pinch of mounting putty (that sticky stuff used to hang posters) prevents picture tilt without harming walls.
Fix loose joints with epoxy resin
Epoxy is one of the few adhesives that can fill gaps without losing strength. That’s why it’s perfect for repairing loose-fitting joints in furniture. If you have only one or two repairs to make, buy a small quantity of epoxy in a double syringe at a home center or hardware store. Read the instructions on the label and make sure the epoxy is formulated for wood repairs.
Brush a layer of epoxy onto both parts to be joined. Assemble and clamp the parts if necessary. Then wait the specified time for the epoxy to set up. Read the instructions to determine how long the epoxy should cure before you use the furniture. Even five-minute epoxy may take an hour or more to reach full strength. If you’re repairing a valuable antique, you may want to avoid epoxy repairs because the result is irreversible.
Fix a loose screw
This is an old carpenter’s trick. If you have a screw hole that’s too big, just wrap a bit of steel wool around the screw before you drive it in. It provides just enough friction to hold the screw firmly in place and takes less futzing than trying to fill a hole and re-drill.
No-mess epoxy mixer
Suck out drain clogs
A wet-dry vacuum slurps clogs out of plugged drains. Even plumbers use this trick sometimes. If you need to increase suction, seal around the nozzle with a wet rag.
Add-on clothes rod
Here’s an easy way to add space for hanging clothes (or at least clothes that don’t require a tall space). Hang a second clothes rod from the upper rod with a lightweight chain. Attach the chain to screw eyes directly or use S-hooks or carabiners. Carabiners make adjusting the height of the extra rod a snap.
Mirror and message board
My family is always on the go, so staying in touch with one another can be tough. We thought about putting a whiteboard near the door so we could write messages, but we wanted something better-looking. So we bought a full-length mirror, turned it on its side, and mounted it on the wall. Now we can write on it with dry-erase markers and give ourselves one last look before heading out for the day. — Reader Matthew Kelly
Long reach shears
Slip PVC pipes over the handles of your pruning shears and tape them in place to extend your reach and clip high branches without a ladder. Avoid these things that you’re doing to your home that a real estate wouldn’t.
Secret lock code
If you have trouble remembering your combination, try this: Pick a secret number and add it to each of the combination numbers. Mark the resulting higher numbers on the lock. When you need to unlock, just subtract your secret number from the listed numbers to determine the combination.
Replace loose, popped nails
Years ago, spikes and ferrules were a common method for hanging gutters. They do the job all right, but eventually, the spikes work themselves loose. Pounding them back in is a temporary fix at best.
One way to make sure your gutter doesn’t fall off the house is to install fascia hanger brackets. Installation is simple: Just hook the bracket under the front lip of the gutter, and then screw the other side of the bracket to the fascia. Leave the old spikes in place—a spike head looks better than a hole in the gutter.
If your shingles overhang your fascia by a few inches or you have steel roofing, buy the brackets with the screws built in (the type shown here). They cost more, but the head of the screw remains a couple of inches away from the fascia, making them a lot easier to install.
Overhead ladder rack
My house has round ceiling registers for the air-conditioning system. In the winter, we’d get cold air falling from the registers. Rather than put up with the drafts, I sealed the registers with those clear plastic saucers that you put under flowerpots. I temporarily glued them in place with White Lightning SEASONSeal Clear Removable Weather Stripping ($10). It’s a rubbery sealant that you apply with a caulk gun and peel off in the spring. —Reader James Herrrenknecht.
Heat up sticky stuff
Make the most of skinny spaces
Robin hood curves
When I build woodworking projects with curves, I often turn to my trusty homemade curve tracer. It’s made from a long, 1/4-in.-thick strip of straight-grained, knot-free wood with a 1/4-in. hole drilled in one end and a narrow V-notch cut into the other end. I tie mason’s string to the drilled end and bend the strip to whatever size curve I need, tying a knot in the string that I slide into the V-notch. Then I just hold the bowed wood on top of my workpiece and trace the curve. Leave it unstrung between projects or it’ll become permanently bowed. —Reader Bruce Philbrook.
Clean hard floors faster
If you’re still using a regular old mop for everyday cleanup of your hard-surface floors, there’s a better way. Save the mop for really dirty or muddy floors and simply spot-clean using the tool the pros use.
David Malan/Getty Images
Create secret storage
Fix a wobbly ceiling fan
Ceiling fans often wobble for reasons other than balance. Although a slight wobble (1/8 in. on high) is normal, anything more than that is annoying and potentially dangerous.
Bill Oxford/Getty Images
Sizing a ceiling fan
Ceiling fans can save energy and money for heating and cooling. A quick rule of thumb for sizing them matches the diameter of the fan with the largest dimension of a room. For 12 ft. or less, use a 36-in. fan. For 12 to 16 ft., use a 48-in. fan. For 16 to 18 ft., use a 52-in. fan. And for dimensions larger than 18 ft., install two fans.
Placement of a ceiling fan for adequate air circulation is 7 ft. above the floor with the blades 8 to 10 in. from the ceiling. And to move more air at low speed, a fan with five blades is best.
Regarding energy savings, research has proven that ceiling fans can save energy during the cooling season by creating a gentle breeze. You get your savings then by raising your thermostat by a minimum of 2 degrees. This decreases air conditioning energy used by 10 to 15 percent, or 5 to 8 percent per degree. By reversing your fan (so it runs clockwise) during winter, you pull heat from the ceiling and push it down to the floor for more even heat.
Coffee bag ties
Small bags of fancy coffee have heavy-duty ties to keep them airtight. The ties are handy for securing small coils of electrical cable and rope. They’re usually fastened to the bag with just a dab of glue, making them pretty easy to pull off. —Reader Joe Gemmill.
Tennis ball parking guide
If you have ever wondered why a tennis ball was hanging from your friend’s garage ceiling, here’s why. To park your car in perfect position every time, hang a tennis ball from the garage ceiling so it just touches the windshield. It will show you precisely where to stop. No guesswork!
Joist space storage
How to seal outlets and ceiling boxes
The tiny gaps around outlets on exterior walls and ceiling boxes let cold air in (and warm air out). Sealing these areas takes just half a day and will help cut down on drafts (and your heating bill!).