Not many people would publicly admit they blew $1,000 on a new appliance when all they needed to do was reset an electrical outlet, but I’ll do it. That’s right, I panicked and bought a brand new gas stove when the old one stopped working, only to find out later I just needed to push a button on the power outlet to get electricity back.
In my defense, the stove was 15 years old, but there’s a good chance I could have gotten at least a few more months (or maybe years—who knows?) out of it. So realizing all I had to do was push a button (for free) seriously makes me the chump of the year.
Obviously common sense is helpful when it comes to home repairs, but so does a little knowledge. “You can save anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars by doing things yourself,” Henry Leal, a licensed contractor and landlord from West Tisbury, Massachusetts, says. “Calling a professional will typically cost you a hundred dollars before they walk through the door.” And even though you won’t be paying out of pocket for big repairs if you rent, landlords are less inspired to come running to fix a drafty door or low water pressure in the shower.
So instead of waiting around (forever) for your landlord to fix some of the easy stuff or doing something dumb like buying a new appliance if you own a home, do a little detective work first. Often you can fix the problem using a basic tool kit that includes little more than a screwdriver and a willingness to try something new.
Here are just a a few of the easy fixes you can do yourself without calling in an expert:
Door squeaks when you open it
It's tough to sneak into your apartment at 3AM without waking up your roommate if you've got a squeaky front door. Squash the squeak by spraying a lubricant like WD-40 from the hardware store directly on the hinge and wiping any excess with an old rag. If you're in a pinch, you can rub something like a bar of soap, petroleum jelly (not KY—not the same!), cooking oil or even a stick of butter all over the hinge to quiet it. Some home repair experts actually recommend these cheaper alternatives over WD-40, which can attract dirt and dust. This video from Helpful DIY shows you how to do it.
Cost: WD-40 for $3 or free if you have some soap, Vaseline or cooking oil on hand
Lights or appliances suddenly shut off
Before you call the landlord when an outlet stops working, check the GFCIs—small red, black or white buttons on your outlets. Just push in whichever button is sticking out and the power should be restored. If you can’t reach the outlet or it doesn’t have the button (as is the case with outlets in many older buildings), check the circuit breaker box, a small metal cabinet containing a series of switches, and flip whichever switch is in the opposite direction of all the others. If you're not sure what the heck is a GFCI button, this video by Property Managers shows you how easy it is to reset. And this video from Video Joe Knows shows you how to reset a tripped circuit breaker.
Refrigerator or freezer aren’t cold enough—or are too cold
If your milk doesn’t seem quite as fresh as it should or your ice cream has the consistency of soft serve, you may need to adjust the temperature inside your refrigerator. Look for a dial or button to adjust the temperature, which should be at 37 degrees in the fridge and zero inside the freezer, according to Consumer Reports. If your fridge doesn't have a digital readout, just twist the knob to make it a little colder and wait a day to see if that does the trick. If not, it’s time to call the super. Here are the various places where you can find your refrigerator’s controls by Samurai Repairman.
Gas burner won’t light
If a burner on your gas stove goes out, you may be tempted to call the landlord for help or bust out a pack of matches to get things going again. Instead, make sure the pilot light is still lit by testing other burners. (If not here's how to get that going again.) Most likely your burner is just clogged with food bits that are trapping the flame. To fix it, lift the grate covering the burner, remove the burner cap if it comes off and wash the area with warm, soapy water. If there's no cap, as in the example in the photo above, use a toothpick or needle to remove whatever is clogging the burner holes. This short video from HowToFixUp shows you how.
Shower caulking is turning black
Mildewy caulking is pretty disgusting, but easy to cover up or get rid of altogether. The quickest way is to buy a tube of silicone at the hardware store, squeeze it over the offending area, and smooth it out with your finger. The new caulk will seal better and last longer if you scrape out the old stuff first with a utility knife or razor scraper then use a caulk gun to fill in the cracks. “I thought I could re-caulk my shower without one and just smear the caulking on from the tube,” Melinda Renick from Plantation, Florida said. ”But that turned into a huge mess and I regret not using the caulk gun.” Here’s a video that shows you how to do it right from This Old House.
Cost: $4.75 for the caulk plus $3 for the caulk gun (optional)
Bathroom sink is clogged
Even though your roommate won’t admit to washing her hair in the sink you know that’s pretty much why it’s clogged. Start by looking under the sink for a metal rod, known as a pivot rod, that sticks out horizontally toward the wall. Unscrew the gasket to the pivot rod to dislodge the sink stopper, pull the stopper out from the top of your sink, then use a coat hanger to pull up the hair. If that doesn’t do the trick, remove the elbow-shaped pipe known as the P-trap by unscrewing the slip nuts that hold it in place, which may require pliers. Clean out the P-trap then screw it back in place. This video from AdamDIY shows you how to unscrew the pipe to clean out your drain.
Weak water pressure in the shower
If the water pressure in your shower sucks, your shower head may be clogged with mineral deposits from your water supply. To fix this, fill a small plastic sandwich bag with white vinegar and place it over the shower head, using a rubber band to hold it in place overnight. Remove the bag the next morning and pressure should return to normal. Alternately, you can remove the drain flow restrictor in the shower head. “Unscrew the head, pry out the little plastic piece with flathead screwdriver like a fire hose,” Leal explained. This video from Drain Help shows you how.
Small hole in the wall
Leaving small holes in the wall from hanging pictures and mounting a TV can eat away at your security deposit. Patch small holes using drywall tape, a sanding block, spackling and a putty knife. (Home Depot sells kits with everything you need.) Place drywall tape over the hole, then apply spackling over it with the putty knife. Smooth and allow to dry. Use sandpaper to remove any bumps. This video from Build.com shows how easy it is to do.
Cost: $8 for a wall repair patch kit
Torn window screen
Repair small holes and tears in your window screen using clear nail polish. Apply the polish to both sides of the screen—you may need a few coats—and allow it to dry. If it's a big rip, you may need to replace the entire screen. Here’s how to make this easy repair from Howcast and Home Depot. Cost: $2 for a bottle of clear nail polish
Can’t remove a stripped screw
A stripped screw, which is when you overuse a power drill and erode the indentation on top, is incredibly annoying but you can try to get it out using pliers or the back of a hammer if it isn’t flush, HGTV suggests. Otherwise, place a few strong rubber bands over the top of the screw to give your drill some traction. This video from Build.com walks you through each step.
Loose doorknob or door won’t close properly
For a loose doorknob, use a screwdriver to tighten the screws located around the base. If the door won’t close properly check the door hinges, which is often where problems begin. Tighten the screws in the hinge leaf to see if that resolves the issue. If not, it might be time to bring in a professional to figure out what’s wrong. This video by Fix It Home Improvement Channel shows a few ways to fix a loose door.
Cold air comes through the windows or under doors
Before you bust out the space heater, which will send your electric bill through the roof, apply clear plastic film that you put in place using double-sided tape and a blow dryer. “Clear plastic that goes over the window is really great for drafty windows,” Leal says. “Use double-sided sticky tape around perimeter of the window and put plastic on. Don’t worry if it looks wavy, you can shrink it with a hair dryer until it is taut.” For drafts under doors, get a draft stopper, which is a thin, long pillow you put at the bottom of the door. This video from Today’s Homeowner shows you how easy it is to use a plastic window installation kit to keep drafts out.
Cost: $5 for the window insulation kit, $10 or less for a door draft stopper
Garbage disposal stops working
If you are lucky enough to have a disposal (and many renters in older buildings aren’t), there may come a time when it just stops working—likely because you clogged it by dumping too much crap down the disposal. Whatever you do, don’t stick your hand down the drain. Instead reset the disposal by hitting the button underneath the sink on the bottom of the disposal canister. Hold button down until you hear it click and test your disposal. This video by InSinkErator shows you how to do it.
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