The 6 Scariest Things About Being a Homeowner
That feeling when something breaks and you can't call your landlord.
October brings out the ghosts and ghouls for Halloween, but I’m here to tell you they pale in comparison to the frightening thought of what’s lurking behind the walls of your home.
I’m talking about leaking pipes, bad electrical wiring, a broken HVAC unit and a host of other issues. When you rent, most of these problems can be taken care of by your landlord, but if you own your home it’s up to you to find a solution. The thought alone is enough to wake you up late at night in a cold sweat.
In the spirit of this frightening time of year, I’ve pulled together six of the scariest things I’ve experienced since becoming a homeowner. Read them below…if you dare!
The Dotted Line
You’re sitting in a sad conference room at a bank or your realtor’s office, and you look down at a stack of papers in front of you and your heart rate increases. The typical length of a mortgage is 30 years, and the average cost of a home in the United States is around $189,000. That’s not to mention the cash you need on hand for things like escrow and inspections. Suddenly, a chainsaw-wielding man in a hockey mask doesn’t seem so scary.
Water, Water Everywhere and It's Out to Destroy Your House
Water may be essential to life but make no mistake about it, water will cause serious damage to your home if you’re not careful. Whether you have standing water around your foundation or water leaking through your roof, if you don’t fix the problem immediately you’re looking at thousands of dollars in damages.
One thing I learned the hard way is to find out where the main water line to your house is. This will be helpful if you’re ever doing plumbing work and need to shut the water off to avoid it gushing out all over the bathroom. Purchase a shut-off key from any home improvement store to turn the water line off, unless you enjoy sticking your hand in a spider-infested hole in the ground.
Be Ready for Water Problems 01:00
Is the Air Conditioner On?
I would rate not having heating and air conditioning up there with a creepy clown holding balloons on a deserted street. Both are absolutely terrifying. Whether it’s a scorching hot summer day or a freezing winter night, your HVAC will make being in your home tolerable, and if it’s not working prepare to be miserable. There are things you can do to troubleshoot your HVAC if it’s not working, but if all else fails, be prepared to call in an expert. (And it won’t be cheap, either.)
Sure, curb appeal and a big backyard sound great at first, but after a few weeks in your home it will be time tackle the landscaping before it looks like a scene from Jurassic Park. The least you’ll need to do is mow and trim your yard. If you want the greenest patch of grass in the neighborhood, you’ll want to look at seeding and potentially new sod.
Purchase a set of good hedge shears. You’ll use them to keep the bushes around your house looking uniform and to trim the branches of small trees that are growing uncontrollably. They’ll also save you from losing blood while maintaining your rose bushes as I learned one memorable summer day.
If there’s one thing you take away from this blog post, do not mess with your home’s wiring unless you know what you’re doing. If done improperly, shoddy electrical work can cause a fire or serious injury. Like the water tip above, you’ll want to turn off the power to whatever section you’re working on to avoid an electrical shock. When in doubt, though, call an electrician.
Bills, Bills, Bills
It may take about a month for all the costs of owning a home to arrive, but rest assured — they will come. And expect there to be a lot more than when you were renting or living with Mom and Dad. Mortgage, electric, water, insurance, property tax, internet, television, homeowner association dues — it adds up quickly, and you’ll soon shudder at the sound of the postal truck’s brakes as it screeches to a stop at your mailbox.
How Do I Replace a Doorknob?
Give It a Go. Chip says, use a long screwdriver to remove the screws that hold the doorknob in place — they'll be tucked below the knob on one side of the door. Then, pull apart the entire doorknob assembly. Unscrew the strike plate on the side of the door, and slide out the latch (the metal bar that goes into the strike plate when the door is locked). Your new doorknob should come in a kit with all these pieces. Slide in the new latch first, then align both knobs on either side of the door and screw them in. If your new knob doesn't match up with the old screw holes, patch them, then pre-drill new holes for the new knob and screw it in. Finish by screwing in the new strike plate.
Can I Add a Retaining Stone Wall to My Yard on My Own?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, you may think you can just start stacking stones, but if your wall doesn't have a properly installed footing (a.k.a. foundation), it can topple over. In fact, any wall that's more than two feet high, which is as low as most walls get, requires engineering to be supported properly. That's why I suggest calling in a landscape contractor. He or she will make sure the wall — whether it's made from concrete, stones or natural boulders — has a solid foundation, then they will build it up to just the height you want.
How Can I Fix Peeling Paint on Exterior Windowsills?
Give It a Go. Chip says, peeling is usually caused by exposure to moisture and sun — hard to avoid, I know. To fix it, first get rid of all the old paint. Wearing a dust mask or respirator, remove the peeling stuff with a stiff wire brush and/or a paint scraper. Fill any cracks with a paintable exterior sealant; let dry. Sand the wood, then coat it with an exterior primer. Wait a day to ensure it's dry, then paint it with an exterior semigloss, which holds to the elements better than a flat finish. Check the forecast before you do this task. If it's rainy or colder than about 50 degrees F, the paint won't bond to the wood or primer and will peel as badly as it did before.
There's a Skunk in My Backyard. Help!
Give It a Go. Chip says, before you call animal control try these tips: First secure garbage can lids to get rid of food sources that could entice the stinker to take up residence. Also, close off any dark, sheltered areas where the skunk could hide, like the space under a deck. Next, install outdoor lights on motion sensors. The brighter the bulb, the better since skunks are nocturnal and tend to stay away from well-lit spots. As a last resort, you could spray your yard with a repellent that contains dog or fox urine (But just a warning — it could smell.) If that doesn't send him packing, set a humane trap. That'll allow you to capture the skunk and relocate it far away from your home.
What Should I Do About Termite Damage?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, it can be hard to tell the difference between termite damage and wood decay caused by water. It's best to hire an exterminator certified to deal with termite infestations. He or she will do an inspection and, if the damage is from termites, treat the problem with baits or termiticide, usually over a few visits. Although treatment can run in the thousands of dollars, it pays to get an exterminator in ASAP to limit the damage those little buggers can do.
What Should I Do About Scuffed Hardwood Floors?
Give It a Go. Chip says, the only way to really fix a scuff is to refinish that portion of the floor. A pro job can cost hundreds of dollars, so if the area is small, do it yourself. First, clean the spot with a degreaser. Then, sand it with a sanding sponge or an orbital sander, going from coarse grit to a fine grit. Wipe the wood with a damp cloth, then restain it by applying the stain in light coats with a foam brush then wiping with a rag. Let it dry, then use a paintbrush to apply a protective finish such as polyurethane, extending it a bit beyond the repairs so it blends in. If it looks too glossy after it dries, buff away some of the sheen with superfine steel wool.
Should I Replace a Regular Door With a Sliding Door?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, this is a fairly simple job for a licensed contractor, as long as your original doors are French or double doors. Otherwise, it will require a major renovation. Either way, if you can, buy your sliding door from the company that made your old doors, as they're more likely to have the same dimensions. Before your contractor arrives, tape down the tarp to protect your floors. He or she will remove your old door and install the new one, as well as flashing. Make sure they offer a warranty so you're covered in case of leaks or drafts.
Can I Replace a Cracked Windowpane?
Give It a Go. Chip says, putting in new glass is easy, especially if you have single-pane windows, which are only one piece of glass thick. To start, put X's with painter's tape over the cracked pane. Tap it with a hammer to free it from the frame, then wearing heavy gloves, pull out any remaining pieces. Using a screwdriver, dig out the old glazing putty and the glazier's points, the small metal triangles that hold the glass in place. Once the frame is clear, apply a thin layer of new putty around it. Press the new pane (get one at a glass shop) into the putty knife. If you have windows with double panes, you can buy a replacement sash (which includes the glass and frame), then pop out the old one and put in the new one.
What Should I Do About Worn Kitchen Tile Grout?
Give It a Go. Chip says, first scrape away at least 1/8-inch of the old grout with a grout removal tool— you can get a handheld one for about $5 or a bit that attaches to the end of an oscillating power tool starting at about $15 at the hardware store. Clean the area with a disinfectant to kill any mold or mildew, then start regrouting: If your tiles are spaced 1/8 inch apart or less, use non-sanded grout. Otherwise, use sanded grout. Spread some on a rubber grouting trowel, then hold the trowel at a 45-degree angle and spread it over the wall, forcing it into the gaps between the tiles. Scrape away any excess, then let the grout set for 10 minutes and wipe the tile with a damp rag. After the grout dries, spray it with a sealant.
My Bookcase Shelf is Sagging. How Can I Prop It Up?
Give It a Go. Chip says, a droopy shelf will inevitably fall, so add supports stat. Cut a 1x2 strip of pine or poplar into three pieces — one that's the width of the shelf and two slightly shorter than the depth of the shelf. (A home improvement store can cut them for you.) Stain or paint the pieces to match your bookcase. Take everything off the shelf, then use wood glue or screws to attach the supports right under the shelf. This way, the shelf is resting on the supports instead of just the pins or pegs that many bookcases come with.
Can I Replace Missing Roof Shingles?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, in most cases, falling shingles are a sign of an aging roof, and replacing them is just a short-term solution until you can get an entirely new roof. Even if you have only a few missing shingles, you should hire a reputable roofing company to do the repair. In addition to installing the new shingles, they should do a complete inspection so you know your roof's overall condition. Also keep in mind that no matter how good the patch is, the new shingles will look darker than the others since they haven't been faded by the sun. That's why this is just a temporary fix.
The Wallpaper in My House is Peeling. Help!
Give It a Go. Chip says, all you need is a tube of wallpaper adhesive (available at hardware stores). Squeeze a generous amount onto the wall under the peeling paper, and spread it out with a cotton swab. Press the paper back onto the wall, then quickly wipe up any excess adhesive with a damp rag. Apply a piece of delicate surface painter's tape over the patch's seam to help the paper lie flat while the glue sets. Let it dry overnight, then gently peel off the tape.
How Do I Add Radiant Heating to My Bathroom Floor?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, you'll have to rip up your existing floor, so it's best to hire an experienced tile installer. I suggest an electric radiant heat mat — which is like an electric blanket under your floor — as opposed to a hydronic system, which uses pipes filled with hot water and requires a major remodel, costing thousands of dollars. To install the heat mat, the tile pro will remove your floor down to the subfloor, then lay down a backer board, a compressed stone or fiber cement covering that shields the subfloor from moisture. Next, he or she will add the heat mat and encapsulate it in mortar. Once it's dry, they will install the new flooring. In a standard-size bathroom, the job should take three or four days.
My Toilet Rocks When I Sit On It. What's the Fix?
Give It a Go. Chip says, it's possible the bolts securing the toilet to the floor have come loose. To tighten them, remove the plastic caps at the base of your toilet, then twist the nut at the top of each bolt to the right with a wrench. Make sure you don't tighten them too much or you could crack the porcelain. If that doesn't help, the floor under the toilet probably isn't level. Even it out by placing plumbing shims — small, thin plastic wedges — in any gaps between the toilet and floor. Then, squeeze a bead of silicone bath caulk around the toilet's base to seal it.
Can I Get Rid of a Popcorn Ceiling?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, if the "popcorn" was added before 1979, you must first check that it doesn't contain asbestos by either sending a sample to a lab or calling in an asbestos abatement pro. Depending on the result, you should either have the asbestos expert remove it, or, if it's asbestos-free, you can hire a general contractor to do the work. The job will be dusty and messy, so before the pro arrives, clear everything from the space and lay down drop cloths to protect your floors. The pro will then scrape the ceilings clean and apply fresh drywall. The entire process should take two days.
What Can I Do About Slippery Front Steps?
Give It a Go. Chip says, falls are one of the most common causes of injury around the house, so it's worth it to add extra traction to outdoor steps. If your steps are a dark color, you can get away with using nonslip tape, which comes as strips of peel-and-stick black sandpaper or rubber. Just clean your steps, then apply the tape across each one about half an inch away from the edge. If your steps are a light color. your best bet is to stir nonskid additive — a sand-like material you can get at hardware stores — into floor paint in the color of your choice, then paint your steps with it. Save this project for a clear, sunny day since the paint needs 24 hours to dry.
How Do I Change Out a Ceiling Light Fixture?
Give It a Go. Chip says, this is an easy swap. First, turn off the power for the light from your circuit breaker or fuse box, and unscrew the old fixture. Before unraveling any of the wires, check them with a voltage tester to ensure they're not electrified. Once you're in the clear, untwist the wires and remove the light. Make sure the electrical mounting box (the metal box that houses the wires) is securely anchored to your ceiling. Then, connect the wires from your new fixture to those in the ceiling. Using needle-nose pliers, gently twist the ends of the wires with the same color coating together, then cap the ends with wire nuts. Finish by screwing the fixture into the ceiling and turning the power back on.
I Want to Replace My Front Door. Help!
Hire a Pro. Chip says, even if your jamb — the framing around the door — is in good shape, you'll want to call a carpenter. That's because you'll need to chip away spaces, called mortises, in the jamb to fit the new door's hinges, and that requires some deft chisel work. A carpenter can easily fit the hinges, screw them in and mount the door in as little as an hour. If your jamb also needs replacing, no doubt about it: You need a carpenter's expertise. Image courtesy of Brittany Bailey.
My Electric Stove Burner Isn't Warming. Help!
Give It a Go. Chip says, over time the receptacle that your burner plugs into can become charred or corroded, which will cause the burner to stop working. When your stove is off,
hold the burner with both hands and pull it off the stovetop. You'll see the receptacle, which looks like a little plastic box that's chipped or screwed into your range. Detach it and the two wires connecting it, then take it to a hardware store to get an identical replacement. Clip or screw the new receptacle into the stove, reattach the wires and replace the burner.
How Do I Clear Overflowing Gutters?
Give It a Go. Chip says, if you want your gutters to flow freely, you have to clean them by hand from a ladder. If you're not comfortable climbing up high, hire a professional gutter cleaning service. If you want to go the DIY route, place your ladder at one end of your roof and climb up so the gutter is right in front of you. Wearing work gloves and using a small spade, scoop out any debris or leaves and drop them on the ground. (You can clean up the piles at the end.) Once you've gotten rid of as much as you can easily reach, climb down and move the ladder over a few feet to tackle the next section. Continue until you've cleared all the gutters.
Can I Install Surround Sound On My Own?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, you'll need an audio/visual installer. He or she will know more about speaker systems and their wiring needs than an electrician. Before he or she arrives, tell them the make and model of your system so they know which wires to bring. They will run them through your walls from your TV or stereo to where you want your speakers. The pro can also cut holes in your walls for the speakers and mount them, but that will likely add at least a few hundred dollars to the cost.
How Can I Boost the Water Pressure in My Shower?
Give It a Go. Chip says, check that the shower is the only place where you have low pressure — if that's the case, your showerhead's spray jets are likely clogged with mineral deposits. To clear them out, soak the head in a solution of one part white vinegar to three parts water. Let it sit overnight, then poke a toothpick or pin in the spray jet holes to remove buildup. For stubborn gunk, you can also scrub the inside of the head with a toothbrush. Then, rinse it clean and screw it back on. If the water from your faucets also dribbles out, you may have a problem with your pipes, so call a plumber.
How Do I Install a Porch Light?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, this involves running wires and cutting through your exterior walls and insulation, so it's best to get an electrician. Just make sure you already have the fixture you want to install so he or she cuts the right size hole. The light's mounting box should fit in it without any gaps — otherwise moisture or pests could sneak through. The electrician will run wires from your porch ceiling to your main circuit breaker, then screw in the fixture. The job can take an hour or two, depending on how complicated the wiring is.
How Do I Fix a Window That Slides Closed?
Give It a Go. Chip says, unless your windows are more than 50 years old (hire a pro if they are), there are springs on each side of the frame that help keep the window in place when you slide it open. One probably broke or wore out. To access it, remove the window sash — you'll likely have to tilt it, then slide it out of its track. Unhook the broken spring from the window frame and bring it to the hardware store to get a replacement. Fit the new spring into the frame, then put the sash back in.
How Do I Keep My Ceiling Fan From Wobbling?
Give It a Go. Chip says, misaligned or poorly mounted blades are usually the cause of a shaky ceiling fan. To fix them, tighten any loose screws that attach the blades to the blade holder, and the blade holder to the fan's center hub, which houses the motor. Still wobbling? Measure the distance from the tip of each blade to the ceiling. If one is higher or lower than the others, gently bend the blade holder until the blade is in line with the rest. If that doesn't do the trick, pick up a fan-leveling kit at the hardware store. It costs about $5 and includes weights that you attach to the blades to balance them, helping the fan run smoothly.
Can I Repair Sinking Fence Posts?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, the best way is to pull out the posts and create new holes for them. This requires pouring concrete, so call a handyman. He or she will dig a hole about 12 inches wide and 12 inches deep for each post, tamp the soil at the bottom of the holes, then add a few inches of coarse gravel to prevent erosion. Next, they will fill the holes almost to the top with cement and a concrete anchor, which will jut out of the ground. After about 24 hours, when the concrete is dry, they will fasten each post to an anchor, then camouflage the tops of the holes with soil and grass.
How Do I Fix an Outdoor Faucet That Drips?
Give It a Go. Chip says, first use a wrench to tighten the nut behind the handle. If the faucet still leaks, you most likely have a worn-out washer. To replace it, turn off the faucet's water supply — if you have a basement or crawl space, the valve is probably there. If not, it's likely outside the house near the faucet. Unscrew the faucet's handle. Once it's off, loosen the nut behind the handle, then use your hands to pull out the valve stem — it's a thin metal rod with a ring-shaped piece of rubber (the washer) at the end. Bring the washer to the hardware store to get a matching new one. Put the new washer on the valve stem, then reattach the stem and faucet handle and turn on the water supply.
How Do I Get Rid of an Ant Invasion in My Kitchen?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, you can try a repellent like Raid first. Spray it along the baseboards around the perimeter of your kitchen, as well as along the outside perimeter of your house. But if the ants keep marching back, call an extermination service, which should cost about $75 per session. The pros will target the problem area, and they'll treat the perimeter both inside and outside your house to prevent the pests from returning. In fact. you should have a service come at the start of each season. Different types of bugs show up at different times, and this will ensure you stay protected.
How Do I Get Rid of Stains on Granite Countertops?
Give It a Go. Chip says, granite may look solid, but it's actually porous and can absorb spills if not sealed well. If you have non-oily stains, such as coffee, use concentrated hydrogen peroxide, found at beauty supply stores. For oily stains, like salad dressing, use concentrated acetone. (It's different from nail polish remover.) Wearing rubber gloves, soak some paper towels in the peroxide or acetone, then layer them over the soiled area. Cover with plastic wrap, taping the edges. Let sit for 24 hours, then peel up the plastic, leaving the towels in place until dry. Repeat until the stain is gone, then wipe with granite cleaner and coat with granite sealer.
Why Do I Trip a Circuit When Blow Drying My Hair?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, the electrical wires in your house that power your dryer probably aren't thick enough to handle the amount of electricity you need, so they overheat, tripping the circuit breaker. A licensed electrician will remove or disable the old wires and install new ones. He or she may need to make and patch a few holes in your walls, too. The process should take less than a day and cost a few hundred dollars.
Can I Patch a Small Hole in a Window Screen?
Give It a Go. Chip says, if the hole is less than four inches, you can mend it. At the hardware store, get a patch that matches the material of your screen — metal, fiberglass or nylon. Metal looks and feels like wire, while fiberglass and nylon are softer. Remove the screen and, using a utility knife, cut around the hole so it becomes a square. Trim the patch slightly bigger than the square. If you have nylon or fiberglass, adhere the patch with superglue. For metal, bend the wires around the edges of the patch into right angles. Place the patch over the hole, then bend the wires flat on the other side to clamp it in place.
How Do I Revive My Weathered Wood Deck?
Give It a Go. Chip says, sweep the deck, then use a long-handled, stiff-bristle brush to scrub on a deck wash to remove dirt and mold. Rinse with a hard stream of water, then apply a wood brightener to restore the boards' original color. Let dry, and apply a wood sealer. Wood can warp if it's not all sealed, so get under your deck, if you can, and coat the underside, too.
My Automatic Garage Door Won't Open. Help!
Hire a Pro. Chip says, the culprit is likely the photo eyes, little sensors that detect if a person or object is in the door's path. The eyes sit on either side of the door near the ground, and if they're dirty or misaligned, the door won't work. You can try wiping them with a cloth, but if that doesn't fix the problem, you'll probably have to call in a garage repair technician. If the eyes are broken or knocked out of place, he or she can easily put in new ones. If they're not the problem, they can troubleshoot the door's motor, track and cables.
How Do I Install a Dead Bolt Lock?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, putting a dead bolt on your door involves drilling through the wood in multiple places as well as using a chisel, so if you're not much of a DIYer, it's best to buy the lock yourself, then hire a handyman (cheaper than a locksmith) to install it. For the most secure setup, choose a lock with heavy-guage steel strike plate, the small metal rectangle that goes on the doorjamb opposite the lock. Make sure the handyman installs the strike plate with extra-long steel screws that penetrate the solid wood under the doorjamb. You can also have the handyman reinforce the strike plate with another steel plate on top.
How Do I Repair a Chip in My Laminate Countertops?
Give It a Go. Chip says, to fill in the chip, you'll need laminate repair paste (available at hardware stores) that matches your counters — it comes in a variety of colors. Place a square of painter 's tape around the chip, then squeeze a small amount of paste over the nick, smoothing it with a putty knife so it lies flush with the surrounding surface. Let the paste harden overnight, then remove the tape.
I Dropped an Earring Down the Bathroom Sink. Help!
Give It a Go. Chip says, immediately shut off the water so your jewelry doesn't move any farther through the pipes. The earring should be caught in the P trap, that curved section of pipe right under your sink. The trap is secured to the rest of the pipe by two connectors, which are the big plastic or metal nuts that sit at either end of the trap. Unscrew those by hand, then carefully dump the contents of the trap into a bucket. The trap will be full of water, debris and your earring should be in there, too.
My Basement Air Feels Damp. How Can I Fix It?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, you can use a dehumidifier to make the area more comfortable, but to really treat the problem, you need to get rid of the source of the moisture. Check the basement's ceiling, comers and walls. If the problem is localized, like a wet spot on the ceiling, have a plumber look for leaky pipes. If you see condensation or wet spots on the walls, call a foundation repair company. They'll check that settling cracks aren't letting ground water seep in, and they'll make sure the earth around your house slopes away from the foundation so water isn't trickling into your masonry.
Can I Replace the Caulk Around My Bathtub?
Give It a Go. Chip says, dig out the old caulk with a plastic caulk removal tool (about $4 at hardware stores). I avoid using anything metal, such as a screwdriver, because it can scratch the enamel. After you scrape away the dirty caulk, clean the edges of the tub to remove any mildew or dust. Make sure the tub is dry, then squeeze a line of silicone tub-and-tile caulk around the edges, and smooth it out with a plastic caulk applicator tool (about $9 at hardware stores) to create a watertight seal. Let dry following package instructions before using the bathtub again.
How Do I Stop the Loud Thump When the Heat Turns On?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, there are so many potential causes for the racket, it's tough for the average homeowner to figure out what's going on. Instead, leave it to an HVAC technician. They'll turn your heat on and off to make sure the system is working properly, then examine your furnace and the ducts to identity the origin of the noise and eliminate it.
My Bedroom Door Drags on the Carpet. What's the Fix?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, check that the hinges are tightly screwed into the door. If they are and the door still drags, it needs to be trimmed. Unless you're experienced with power tools, hire a carpenter. He or she will remove the door, use a power saw to cut it so there's about a 3/4-inch gap between the door's bottom and the floor and sand it. Then, paint or stain the new cut and rehang the door.
How Do I Fix a Jammed Garbage Disposal?
Give It a Go. Chip says, there's probably food wedged under the blade. Cut the disposal's power, get under the sink, and insert an Allen wrench into the Allen bolt — it has a hexagon-shape socket in its head and is attached to the disposal's blade. Swivel the wrench until the blade moves freely and you can pull the debris from the sink with tongs or pliers —never your hands! Turn the power back on, then run cold water with the disposal on to make sure it's clear.
Water Is Leaking Under My Kitchen Sink. Help!
Give It a Go. Chip says, clear out the cabinet and dry the area, then run your hands along the pipes to feel where the water is coming from. Most leaks are caused by a loose pipe connector, called a fitting, which resembles a big nut. Look for it where the pipe curves or is joined to another pipe. Once you locate the weak spot, twist the fitting with your hand or a wrench until it's snug.
Can I Install a Programmable Thermostat in My Home?
Give It a Go. Chip says, this is an easy swap. Just turn off the power to your furnace, pop off the old thermostat cover and unscrew the base from the wall. You'll see between two and six wires; note which part of the thermostat each was attached to. Then, screw the new thermostat's base into the wall, reconnecting the wires according to your notes. Snap on the cover, turn on the furnace's power and set your on/off times and temperatures.
My Outdoor Faucet Freezes During Winter. Help!
Give It a Go. Chip asks, does the pipe that leads to your outdoor faucet have a shutoff valve inside your home? If yes, this is a DIY job: Turn the valve clockwise to stop the water supply, then go outside and turn on the faucet. Let any remaining water dribble out of the pipe, then turn off the faucet. If your home doesn't have a shutoff valve, have a plumber install one. Until then, protect the faucet with a foam cover (about $5 at hardware stores).
Can I Patch Thin Cracks on My Concrete Driveway?
Give It a Go. Chip says, apply painter's tape around the edges of each crack. Fill thin fissures (1/8 inch to 1/4 inch wide) with a concrete patch sealer. Caulk tube versions are easiest to use — just squeeze the sealer into the crack, then smooth it with a plastic spatula or putty knife, and peel off the tape. For cracks wider than 1/4 inch, first push a concrete backer rod (a foam rope) into the crack to fill most of the void, then apply the sealer on top. Smooth it, and peel off the tape. The sealer takes about 24 hours to harden.
What's the Best Way to Fix a Leaky Faucet?
Give It a Go. Chip says, most leaky faucets are caused by worn-out rubber seals. To replace them, tum off the water supply to the sink, then pry off the faucet's handle(s) with pliers or the tip of a screwdriver. Dismantle the valve (the hardware under the handle), and remove the old black rubber seals by slicing them with a utility knife. If they're screwed in, you 'll need to loosen the screw that holds them in place. Bring the seals to a hardware store to find same-size replacements. Smear them with a little heatproof plumber's grease, then reassemble the fixture.
Can I Clean the Siding on My House?
Give It a Go. Chip says, you don't need many tools to clean siding, just a lot of elbow grease. Fill a bucket with water and a few squirts of dish soap, then dip a stiff-bristle nylon brush attached to an extension pole into the solution. Work from the top down, scrubbing the siding with an up-and-down motion. If necessary, use a ladder to reach the top of the siding. Finish by rinsing with a hose.
How Hard Is It to Add an Electrical Outlet?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, installing a new outlet is a relatively straightforward task, but to make sure the work is done safely, hire a licensed electrician. He or she will calculate how much electricity the new outlet will use so you don't overload your circuit. Then they'll drill a hole in the wall for the new outlet box and snake wires behind the walls to activate it — a complicated task if the new outlet is far from your power source.
How Do I Quiet a Squeaky Door Hinge?
Give It a Go. Chip says, first try cleaning it: With the door closed, place the tip of a flat-head screwdriver under the top of the hinge pin (a nail-like piece of metal in the hinge's center). Tap the end of the screwdriver's handle with a hammer to pry the pin out. Swab the pin with rubbing alcohol to loosen dirt, then coat it with a lubricant like WD-40 and put it back in the hinge. If that doesn't help, invest in a new hinge.
How Can I Bring My Rusty Porch Railing Back to Life?
Give It a Go. Chip says, begin by sanding down the old paint and rust using 60-grit sandpaper. You may need to cover patches with a filler, like Bondo. When the surface is mostly smooth, finish with 150-grit paper. Wipe clean with a rag. Next, spray the railing with an exterior rust inhibiting metal primer. Once it's dry, add a coat of exterior spray paint — it resists chipping on outdoor metal better than brushed-on paint does.
Can I Replace Chipped Tile in the Middle of My Floor?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, you'll need a tile and flooring expert with an oscillating tool and an abrasive grout attachment to remove the grout and tile pieces, then pop in a new one. After a 4-hour drying period, the pro will come back and apply an extra layer of grout to finish the job. Prices vary depending on where you live, but I'd budget around $200 for the project.
How Do I Prevent Foggy Windows During Winter?
Give It a Go. Chip says, condensation on the inside of windows could mean your house is too humid, and a dehumidifier will solve the problem. If that doesn't work, it may mean air is leaking in around the glass. Buy some window glaze at the hardware store and apply it to the edges of the windows to create a seal. If you have wooden windows, the frames may have cracks, and a simple paint touch up will likely fix the leak.
How Do I Fix a Broken Doorbell?
Give It a Go. Chip says, doorbells are pretty simple devices, but they're also mini electrical appliances that should be handled carefully. First, try flipping your fuse breaker — the problem could be just a blown fuse. If the doorbell still isn't working, turn off your power, then unscrew the switch plate and check to see if the two wires behind it are connected tightly; you may need to adjust them. Still not hearing a buzz? It could mean there's no power running to the switch. Time to call an electrician for the fix so you don't risk getting shocked or burned.
Can I Replace My Bathroom Faucet?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, this looks like an easy job, but it's actually deceptively cumbersome, so I'd leave it to a plumber. He or she will have to turn off the water and spend about an hour disconnecting and reconnecting the supply lines before they can actually install the faucet. And if the plumber says the supply lines look worn, it's a good idea to replace them while you have help on hand.
Can I De-Creak a Squeaky Step?
Give It a Go. Chip says, if you can access the underside of your stair case, that is. Insert a few screws into the loose board and apply superglue to the wood to keep it from rubbing against the other boards. If you can't see the bottom of the step, call a handyman who can tighten it by attaching an additional piece of wood to the loose board (figure around $300 for labor).
Should I Repaint a Crack in the Bathroom Ceiling?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, your ceiling will need to be stripped, reskimmed with drywall and then repainted (figure three days of work). Choose a high sheen paint — flat ones dry out faster in humid rooms. Most important, have your exhaust fan checked out or have one installed. Poor ventilation accelerates paint peeling.
How Hard Is It to Install Light Dimmers?
Give It a Go. Chip says, I suggest spending $10 on a dimmer at a hardware store instead of $50-plus for a professional installation. Turn off the power by flipping the breaker, unscrew the switch plate and disconnect the wires. Attach the color-coded wires to the new dimmer and replace the switch plate.
Can I Hang a 42-Inch Flat-Screen TV on the Wall?
I Have Pools of Water Inside My Fridge. Help!
Give It a Go. Chip says, first make sure you haven't accidentally turned your refrigerator's temperature control above 40 degrees. Then use a piece of wire to unclog the small hole that leads to the drainpan — the hole is located inside your fridge in the back near the bottom. Finally, test your fridge door's seal: Close a piece of paper in the door with half of it sticking out. If you can easily pull the paper free, your gasket is loose, which means warm air is getting inside. You 'll need to replace the gasket, an easy DIY task. Still seeing puddles? Time to bite the bullet and get help from an expert.
Can I Scrub Dingy-Looking Tile Grout in My Bathroom?
Give It a Go. Chip says, you can get rid of the dirty stuff with a homemade solution of equal parts baking soda, ammonia, white vinegar and water; rub vigorously with a stiff-bristled brush. If that doesn't do the trick, try a store-bought formula or enlist a pro (around $150 per day), who can use an oscillating grout-cleaning tool.
My Fridge's Ice Maker Keeps Jamming. What's the Fix?
Give It a Go. Chip says, first look at the top of the ice maker to find the raker bar, which has little plastic fingers that help knock the ice into the dispenser bin. Remove any frost or excess ice from around the bar by chipping it away with an ice pick or a screwdriver, or by pouring room temperature water on it. And make sure your freezer's cold enough — zero degrees F will ensure that the cubes won't constantly melt a little and then refreeze, causing ice buildup. In the future, dump the ice bin every few days to prevent it from getting too full and stopping up the contraption again.
Can I Patch Crumbling Mortar on My Home's Exterior?
Hire a Pro. Chip says, to avoid damaging the brick, have a mason handle the work, known as repointing. (It typically costs $5 to $20 per square foot.) He or she will use a special blade to remove loose mortar. With a brick chisel and hammer, they'll also remove the surrounding mortar to a uniform depth, then fill in the gap with fresh mortar. If the cracked area is 10 square feet or less, it's normally a one-day job.
My Dresser Has a Drawer That Won't Open. Help!
Give It a Go. Chip says, it's probably the drawer's slides that are sticking, and if they're metal, a little spray lubricant like WD-40 will help things run more smoothly. If the slides are wooden, friction could be causing a binding effect. Remove the drawer and examine all of the slides, both on the drawer and inside the dresser, for any pieces that are broken or splintered. Lightly sand those areas, then finish with a coat of beeswax.