Basic Home Repairs Every DIYer Should Know How to Do

hand holding clogged sink drain pipe
  • 1-6 hours
  • Beginner
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The life of a homeowner is never dull. Between accenting your interior design, planning for updates, and engaging in renovations, the joys and the chores never end.

When it’s time to tackle projects around your house, you’ll need to evaluate your skills, capabilities, tools, and time to decide whether it’s best to DIY or hire a professional.

There are some things, though, you should prepare to tackle yourself.

These are tasks every homeowner faces, but they require few to no specialized tools, a limited investment in how-to research, and will save you money by approaching them as a DIY repair.

1. Unclogging Drains

It’s merely a matter of time before you face your first clogged drain. Whether it’s in the toilet, sink, shower, bathtub, or septic, it will happen.

Your primary weapon of defense is an auger, otherwise known as a plumber’s snake. You will also want to own a plunger or two.

Plungers are ideal for toilets and often do the job. However, they are also effective with the sink backs up. Using a plunger requires a good seal to create suction. If the rubber on the plunger is deformed, it’s time to replace it with a new one.

To use the plunger, place it over the opening of the drain. Slowly push down on the handle, especially if it’s submerged in liquids. Pump the handle up and down a few times. Then pull the plunger firmly to break the seal.

If it doesn’t solve the problem, repeat the process several times. You’ll know the clog is broken up when liquids begin flowing down the drain.

For jobs the plunger couldn’t fix, it’s time to pull out the auger. The snake is basically a cable that can be fed down the pipes to access blockages deep in your plumbing. Here is how to use a plumber’s snake correctly.

Step 1 - Prepare the Area

You may want to wear gloves and even eye protection. Fluids may fly a bit, although it’s not common. Remove any drain covers or other obstacles between you and the drain you need to access.

Step 2 - Send in the Auger

Insert the end of the cable into your drain, whether that is a sink, tub, toilet, or sewer line. Hand feed the cable into the drain as far as it will go until you begin to feel resistance. At this point, you’ve reached a bend in the plumbing or the clog itself. This is where the plumbing snake becomes very useful.

Step 3 - Work the Auger

Turn the thumb screw to lock the auger into place. This will keep the cable from retracting back into the housing.

Then crank the handle on the auger, which will spin the cable and push the snake through the obstacle. You can often feel it break through.

At this point, any water in the sink, tub, or toilet should drain. If there isn’t standing water but you think you’ve cleared the blockage, pour some water through the drain to ensure it’s functioning properly.

Step 4 - Remove the Snake

To remove the snake, simply pull it back while allowing it to rewind into the housing of the plumber’s snake.

2. Swapping Out Light Fixtures

smiling man installing light fixture

Whether you have contractor’s grade light fixtures you want to upgrade, or you want to put in some smart lighting for security and energy savings, you can swap the old for the new fairly easily.

Caution: When working with electricity, always make sure the power is turned off.

Step 1 - Kill the Power

Find the circuit breaker associated with the fixture you’re working on and turn it off. Then test the fixture to ensure it’s not charged.

If the light was working, simply flip the switch to make sure the light no longer comes on. If the light wasn’t working, use a tester to check for current.

Step 2 - Remove the Old Fixture

Whether your old fixture is a chandelier, outdoor flood light, ceiling fan, or basic light, the process is the same. Start by looking for the screws that hold the cover in place.

Once you’ve removed covers, bulbs, and braces holding the fixture in place, take a picture of the wiring. It won’t always be the same with the new fixture, but it’s nice to have for reference.

Then disconnect all wired connections and lower the fixture out of place.

Step 3 - Install the New Fixture

Start by checking the mounting procedures for the new fixture. They may be different from the old one. If you need to install a new bracket or patch a hole, now is the time.

If your new fixture is similar to the old one, simply work the process in reverse. Start by attaching the wires. Then mount the fixture and attach any covers. Install light bulbs, turn the power back on, and test your work.

3. Maintaining a Wood Deck

spray cleaning wood deck

If you have a wood deck, you’ll quickly see it fade, splinter, warp, and crack. It’s no surprise considering the abuse it endures from harsh weather, animals, and human use.

The good news is that with some regular care, a wood deck will last decades.

Step 1 - Replace Boards

If you have cracked, warped, or splintered boards, pull them and put down boards of the same size. If they are screwed into place, use a cordless drill to unscrew them.

If they are nailed down, pry them off. You may need to cut the board and remove it in two sections if you can’t access the nails. Also check the supporting components and replace wood pieces as needed.

Step 2 - Evaluate the Condition of the Surface

If your stain still looks pretty good, but you need a bit of additional protection, you don’t need to strip the deck before restaining. Instead, you can just clean the surface and roll on a new coating of stain.

To decide if you need to strip the surface, look at the quality of the finish. If the stain is thinning, but all the boards are in good condition, you can apply a new coat of stain without stripping.

However, stain won’t cover up the damage of worn boards or repair flaking stain or paint. If your deck is showing a lot of wear, you’ll need to strip it and prepare the wood before adding more stain.

Either way, you’re going to clean the surface of the deck and surrounding structures you also plan to stain. If you plan to strip the deck, use a pressure sprayer to clean every surface first, but skip the deck cleaner.

Step 3 - Clean the Surface

Even though the stripper may not be toxic, protect your plants with plastic or tarps. You don’t want to leave your plants covered for too long, so place the coverings just before beginning work and remove them promptly afterwards.

Stripping a deck is a messy job. You’ll be removing years of grime along with any chemicals you previously applied.

Plan accordingly by dressing in long sleeves and pants. Wear a hat to protect your hair and scalp from the harsh effects of the chemicals. Also wear goggles, waterproof gloves, and a respirator.

Work the pressure washer across the deck. If you’re stripping the deck, you’re looking to take off the top layer of grime here. The stripper will remove the rest.

If you’re not stripping the surface, use the pressure washer to lightly remove dust and debris and leave a wet surface to apply the cleaner. Then follow the directions on the cleaner.

Use caution with a pressure washer. You don’t want to get too close to the surface of the wood. It may cause the wood to splinter, which will not leave you with a smooth surface and can damage the wood.

Step 4 - Strip if Necessary

Ensure the surface remains damp at all times, even if you need to stop application to rewet. Once a stripper is applied, use a mist setting for light application. You don’t want to overwet the surface, watering down the effects of the stripper.

When all surfaces are covered, allow the stripper to sit while it works. The only thing you need to do while you wait is make sure it doesn’t dry out.

Most strippers require between 15-45 minutes. You’ll be able to see the progress when the paint or stain begins to lift from the surface of the deck.

After applying the stripper and allowing it to work, you’ll use the pressure washer again to remove the peeling materials.

Step 5 - Sand the Surface

Use a power sander of any size to sand down any rough spots and remove residual finishes. This is your chance to obtain the smooth surface you want as your finish, so take your time.

Step 6 - Apply a Brightener

If you use a stripper, you don’t need a separate wood cleaner. However, whether you’ve chosen to clean for a restain or stripped the surface, apply a wood brightener.

This essential step not only removes graying and makes your wood look fresh and new, but actually balances the pH in the wood.

Applying a wood brightener is easy and quick. Just follow the directions on the product you choose. Allow your wood to dry thoroughly. This may take a few days.

Step 7 - Apply your Finish

Finally, all your hard work is about to pay off. It’s time to add your protective coating, whether that’s a stain or a paint.

Roll the deck finish onto your deck using a paint roller on an extension handle.

Allow your freshly coated deck to dry thoroughly before resuming activities.

4. Cleaning the Gutters

hand cleaning gutters

Clean and well-maintained gutters keep water flowing away from your home where it can damage siding and fascia pieces. However, keeping them clean isn’t difficult.

The most challenging part is often accessing the gutters and downspouts. If you can get on your roof, you can tackle it from there. Otherwise, you’ll need to move ladders to each section of the gutters.

Step 1 - Secure Your Access

If using a ladder, make sure you’re on stable ground. Wear gloves to protect your hands. If on the roof, secure yourself as necessary. Keep a hose or other water source handy.

Step 2 - Scoop it Out

Remove all debris from your gutters by scooping out the leaves and other collected debris.

Note that if you have a lot of roof-material runoff in your gutters, such as the sandy material on asphalt roofs, it may be time to have your roof inspected and get a timeline for replacement.

Remove as much of the debris as you can. If the gutters still have water that isn’t draining, your downspouts may be clogged.

Start at the bottom to make sure dirt and leaves aren’t blocking the exit. Then use an auger to clear debris inside the gutter.

If this doesn’t solve the problem, it may be an issue with the pipes that carry runoff away from the home. This is a bigger issue that requires digging and perhaps some professional guidance.

Step 3 - Inspect as You Go

Move along the length of your gutters, checking for a solid attachment. Replace any gutter hangers as necessary. Also inspect the eaves beneath the gutters.

Look for wood knots or nails pushing out from the wood that may indicate water behind the boards. Also keep an eye out for water spots or streaks down the sides of the house.

5. Caulking

hands caulking sink

Speaking of water, there’s a lot of it in your home too. Caulking keeps it from entering the walls and other vulnerable areas around sinks, tubs, and doorways.

When you start looking around you’ll see you have caulking around many areas in your home, so knowing how to install caulking is a useful skill to have.

Step 1 - Pick Your Caulking

Choose the right product for the job. Standing in the caulking section of the home improvement store, you’ll see a variety of colors. Choose what best matches the surrounding area.

Make sure you buy the right type, whether it’s meant for doorways, windows, tile, sink surrounds, etc. Some are waterproof, others aren’t.

Also make sure it’s paintable if needed. If it’s not paintable, paint won’t stick to it. Also buy a caulking gun.

Step 2 - Prep the Caulking Setup

Snip the end off the new container of caulking. The further up on the tube you cut, the thicker your bead of caulk will be, so use the thickness at the neck of the tube to estimate.

Then insert it into the caulking gun and secure it in place. Squeeze the trigger a few times until the caulking comes to the opening in the tube.

Step 3 - Apply the Caulking

Pull the trigger in a consistent stream while moving at a steady pace, releasing a bead of caulking as you go. Once the bead is in place, apply light pressure with a moistened finger and run it across the surface.

This creates the curved, finished look while filling all the gaps where water could enter the space. Keep a rag handy to wipe excess caulking on as you work around the tub.

The process takes some getting used to. It’s often messy at first while you figure out the proper amount of pressure and the best technique to smooth the caulking into place.

There are endless DIY tasks you can tackle around the house.

Start with the basics and work up to other jobs you feel equipped to handle. For example, consider Toilet Tank is Leaking into Toilet Bowl: Possible Causes and Basic Toilet Repair.