DIY Home Fixes
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DIY Home Fixes

Don't dial a pro -- put down the phone and pick up your tools. These simple solutions to common household problems will save you time and a whole lot of cash.

Problem: The Garbage Disposal Is Jammed

Time Commitment: 20 minutes

Repair Kit
Flashlight
Tongs
Allen wrench

DIY Solution
If the machine makes no sound at all when you turn it on, press the red reset button on the unit and try again. If it starts making a humming noise, that means something is probably blocking the motor. Turn the power off at the circuit breaker and unplug the disposal, then look down the drain with a flashlight. Even with the power off, it's best not to put your hand down there. Instead, remove small objects with a pair of tongs, or a pencil with duct tape on the end, or two butter knives used together as chopsticks. Let your inner MacGyver lead the way.

If there's an object you can't reach -- or you don't see anything at all -- you'll need to rotate the motor so the obstruction can pass down the drain. Most disposals have something called a hex head slot on the bottom of the unit and come with a hex head, or Allen, wrench. Insert the wrench into this slot and gently turn it back and forth to spin the mechanism. Check to see if any items have popped back into view and remove them. Turn the power back on, plug in the disposal, run the water and turn it on. Still not working? It's time to call a plumber.

A Pro Costs: $140
Your Cost: $00
Total Savings: $140

Problem: There's a Clog in Your Bathtub or Sink

Time Commitment: Less than an hour

Repair Kit
Bucket
Pliers
Plunger
Auger

DIY Solution
Back away from the chemical clog remover! According to plumbing experts, these formulas can damage your pipes -- and the environment. Instead, try a safer method to unclog your sink and tub.

Most sink clogs occur in the P-trap, that pipe under your sink that looks like a U. The P-trap may have two slip nuts. One connects it to the tailpipe, the pipe coming out of the sink, and the other connects it to the pipe going into the wall. Put a bucket under the sink and loosen both slip nuts with a pair of pliers; let the P-trap drop out and clean it over a trash can. Next, reach into the tailpipe to make sure nothing is stuck in there. Then reattach the P-trap and run the water to be sure you've removed the clog.

When your bathtub won't drain, try to remove the stopper and strainer. Fill the tub with about an inch of water and plunge. If that doesn't do the trick you'll need an auger (a.k.a. snake), available at hardware stores. Slowly lower it into the drain until you feel it hit the blockage. Rotate the auger, pushing through the clog, then pull the auger back up, cleaning the cable as you go. Run hot water down the drain to wash away any remaining debris.

To maintain your newly cleaned pipes, use a bacteria-producing drain cleaner that contains microbes or enzymes on a weekly or monthly basis, suggests Charlie Wallace, a vice president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association.

A Pro Costs: $190
Your Cost: $15 (for the auger)
Total Savings: $175

Problem: You've Got Ants Marching Through Your Kitchen

Time Commitment: An hour or two

Repair Kit
Caulk
Sponges
Cleaning spray
Maple syrup & borax
Cinnamon
Black pepper
Vinegar
Chalk
Cream of Wheat

DIY Solution
Ants invade because they find food. So the first step is a thorough cleaning. Next, caulk visible cracks around kitchen counters and under the sink. You can use ant baits, but why not try some natural deterrents that are likely in your cupboards? Sprinkle dry Cream of Wheat, indigestible (and lethal) to ants, along the room's perimeter, suggests Myles H. Bader, DrPH, author of 1001 All-Natural Secrets to a Pest-Free Property. Use substances ants don't like to cross -- chalk, cinnamon, and ground black pepper are a few -- as a barrier to block their main corridors. Or spray full-strength vinegar near doors and windowsills. Another popular home remedy: Mix borax, a naturally occurring mineral that's toxic to ants, with a little maple syrup (avoid this method if you have pets or kids). With these techniques you should see a major reduction in 30 days or less, depending on the colony size, says Bader.

A Pro Costs: $100 (for a single visit)
Your Cost: $10 ($3 for caulk and $7 for borax)
Total: Savings: $90

Problem: The Toilet Won't Stop Running

Time Commitment: 15 minutes

Repair Kit
A new flapper

DIY Solution
After you flush a toilet, water flows from the tank to refill the bowl. But if there's a leak between the tank and the bowl, it'll keep running...and running. The rubber flapper inside the tank is the key. If it's not sealing tightly, water leaks into the bowl. Some toilets have a float on the chain that's meant to sit at water level, but when it's installed too low it can pull on the flapper and cause a leak. Adjust it so it's higher on the chain or remove it and see if you can do without it. If that doesn't work, simply replace the flapper. You can find one at any hardware store.

A Pro Costs: $150
Your Cost: $7 (for a flapper)
Total Savings: $143

Problem: Your Dryer Leaves Clothes Cold

Time Commitment: 45 minutes

Repair Kit
Vacuum
Flashlight
Screwdriver

DIY Solution
Running your clothes dryer more than once to finish a load? The culprit may be lint blocking the exhaust vents. Unplug the dryer and use a screwdriver to unscrew the flexible hose. Shine a flashlight into the vent and remove any objects you might find. Use the hose attachment of your vacuum cleaner to suck lint from the flexible hose and the dryer. Reattach the hose and plug the dryer back in. Next, head outside and locate the dryer exhaust vent. Remove the vent cover, remove any debris, then reattach it.

Problem: You've Got Dozens of Nail Holes Dotting Your Walls

Time Commitment: 45 minutes plus drying time

Repair Kit:
Putty Knife
Spackling Compound
Drywall sandpaper

DIY Solutions:
For professional results, you really do need to patch these up before you paint. "Otherwise light gets caught in the holes, making the wall look imperfect," explains Amy Devers, home improvement expert and host of A&E's Fix This Yard. To repair your wall, dab spackling compound into the holes and smooth with a putty knife. Wait for it to dry, then lightly sand with drywall sandpaper. Now you can prime and paint.

Tool Time

You don't need a garage full of fancy tools to handle most basic repairs. Here, home improvement and design expert Amy Devers shares the nine must-haves every aspiring DIYer should have on hand.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, May 2010.

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