Courtesy of Zhe Scott
As social distancing continues, homeowners reluctant to have tradespeople traipsing through their spaces are figuring out how to carry out basic maintenance and repair tasks on their own.
In Columbus, Ohio, writer Tami Kamin Meyer, 56, pushed herself to tackle several home improvement projects in recent months. Her boyfriend died a year ago, and she's had to rely on her ingenuity, instead of having him around to do those chores.
"I'm not only concerned about COVID-19, but also the cost of hiring someone to help me,” Meyer says. “I have found I can accomplish some things I didn't think possible.”
For example, Meyer recently installed a solar light on the side of her garage, and when the waterfall in her pond stopped working, she checked the breaker box, reset the plug and got it working once again. She's also weeding her garden and trimming her shrubs this year instead of paying someone to do it.
Prior to the pandemic, Terry McDougall, 56, an executive coach in Highland Park, Illinois, had a cleaning lady. Now, McDougall's family of five handles household chores on Saturdays.
"I get the supplies, put on music and we get everything done in about an hour,” she says. “It's fun, too; I have a checklist with 80 specific tasks, so people check things off as they do them."
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A newly purchased pressure washer has enabled McDougall's husband, Scott, 52, a financial adviser, to clean the deck and exterior siding.
"Under other circumstances, we would have hired somebody to do that,” says McDougall, who now plans to paint the home's interior with her oldest son.
Boost your fix-it know-how
Just about any task can be learned online by watching videos featuring professional tradespeople, taking virtual classes or consulting a hardware store employee, says Theodis Scott Jr., 69, an IT professional in Long Beach, California, who has done his own home maintenance since 1977.
"My father was in construction, and he taught me a lot of skills. He also told me, ‘I don't care what you take apart, but you better learn how to put it back together,’ “ says Scott, who has passed on his do-it-yourself ethic to his four children. “Don't be afraid. Try something simple, and you'll gain confidence."
Because the most important aspect of any DIY project is safety, start by reading the manufacturer's instructions for whatever you're working on, advises Bruce Barker, 68, president of Dream Home Consultants, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based building inspection and consulting company. If you don't have the instructions handy, many can be found online.
Barker, an author, teacher and incoming president of the American Society of Home Inspectors, also suggests consulting the ASHI website for home maintenance resources. But don't hesitate to call in a professional if your property needs immediate attention for a safety issue.
Here are some easy and affordable DIY fixes most homeowners can handle.
Change your air conditioner's filter
If your unit's not cooling properly, you may have a frozen coil thanks to a dirty filter.
"I go into houses all the time where the filters are just disgusting,” says Barker, who recommends changing your filter every month during high-use seasons to relieve strain on your HVAC system.
Resolve refrigerator issues
Does your fridge cycle constantly? One fast fix is to clean the condenser coils behind it. Pull the appliance away from the wall and vacuum off the dust, says Barker. If water pools underneath, check if the gasket seal is making contact with the cabinet. Ice buildup can keep a sliding freezer door from closing; solve this by defrosting the freezer.
Do minor drywall repairs
"Repairing a small hole is easy enough to do,” Barker says. “I use drywall joint compound: Just put it on, sand it lightly and touch it up with paint."
Replace window caulking
Inspect the outside of your windows and remove cracked or damaged caulk with a sharp knife, Barker says.
"Use a very good grade of silicone caulk, not the $1.98 special,” he says. “You don't want to do it again in two years."
Fix a clogged or running toilet
If a plunger doesn't unblock your toilet, buy a small plumber's snake from the hardware store, Barker says. You can use this tool for shower and sink clogs, too. And if your toilet keeps running after flushing, it's almost always a broken flapper valve.
"Those are extremely easy to replace; the trick is to get the right one,” Barker says. “Turn off the water at the angle stop valve under the toilet, pull the flapper valve off and take it into the hardware store to get a replacement.”
Patch up exterior peeling paint
Check underneath corner boards and wood siding where paint coverage is often poor, and touch it up before rot sets in, Barker advises.
"Painters don't paint that bottom edge because it's hard to get to, so water comes down and hangs there, getting back up into the wood,” he notes.
10 Essential Tools for Homeowners
Home inspector Bruce Barker recommends homeowners keep the following tools handy:
- Slip-joint pliers
- 6-in-1 screwdriver/socket driver
- Claw hammer
- Adjustable wrench
- Diagonal-cut pliers
- Half-inch battery-powered drill and drill bit index
- Volt/ohm meter
- Channel-lock pliers
- 25-foot tape measure
- Screwdriver set