Don't Call the Handyman: 9 Quick Fixes You Can Do Yourself
Even if home improvement isn't your strong suit, just about anyone can tackle these easy tasks.
Do it yourself.
Everyone has a list of little fixes and improvements they need to get done at home. And all too often, they’re the most avoided items on any to-do list. It’s tempting to just call a maintenance staffer or handyperson to cross tasks off the list. But certain jobs you can – and probably should – do on your own. “It’s more rewarding when you do it yourself,” says Alexa Garshofsky, a licensed real estate salesperson for full-service real estate firm Triplemint in New York City, who considers herself a relatively handy person when it comes to home projects.
Before you fix – get tools.
It doesn’t take natural skill or professional training with tools to complete the tasks on this list. You should, however, invest in a basic toolkit. Stores such as Ikea, Home Depot and Target sell home kits with a hammer, wrenches, screwdrivers with multiple heads and sizes and other useful items that allow you to tackle the most basic of home improvement projects for less than $30 – and even as low as $7.99 at Ikea.
Before you fix – always consider safety.
Pushing yourself to embrace your handy side does not mean you should put yourself or others in danger. Never rig up an unstable apparatus to stand on, stick your finger in a light socket without first turning off the power or stand directly under something that could fall on you. Even after watching a YouTube tutorial or reading a product's instructions, “If you’re still nervous, don’t do it,” says J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman, a national home improvement company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a part of the network of home service providers Neighborly. Read on for tips on tackling simple home maintenance tasks on your own and how to identify when you’re in over your head.
Changing a lightbulb.
You shouldn’t need instructions beyond “righty tighty, lefty loosey,” to change out a bulb on a lamp or simple light fixture. Wait a few minutes to let the bulb cool and unplug the lamp or turn off the power to that outlet before you start unscrewing the bulb.
When to call a pro? If you don’t have the right light-changing equipment, fixtures beyond your reach increase the possibility of a fall or broken glass. Sassano says he recently called for a handyman after a high-up bulb broke in his house while his wife was trying to change it: “It’s 20 feet in the air, I’m not playing with anything.”
Weatherstripping around your window and door frames to reduce drafts coming into your home is an even simpler task – no electric involved. Buy weatherstripping, which is sticky on one side, from any hardware store in a roll and simply cut the appropriate length for your doors and windows. This is key to cutting down on energy loss and heating costs in winter.
When to call a pro? When your draft problems are bigger than the crack under the door.
Installing a light fixture.
Garshofsky installed hanging lights in her home for an industrial look, and all she had to do was use screw-in hooks. “You just screw them into the ceiling, and then you pull the wire through – it’s so simple,” she says. You can also change out a light fixture by attaching the wire connectors and securing the fixture to the ceiling – after cutting off the power, of course.
When to call a pro? Get some help if you don’t have a sturdy ladder to reach the ceiling, or if you’re looking to create a new ceiling hookup where there wasn’t one before, which should require the assistance of a licensed electrician.
Hanging shelves or frames.
The 3M Command strips are the go-to for the notoriously unhandy, but sometimes your art or wall storage needs a bit more support. For maximum strength, use a stud finder (multiple apps can help find studs or buy an inexpensive device at any hardware store) to find the best placement for the screw or nail.
When to call a pro? If you live in an apartment or condo, you may find the walls have harder layers below the surface. “Once you hit concrete – extremely hard and you can’t get through it – you need to call a [handyperson] or super to do that kind of stuff,” Garshofsky recommends.
A new wall color is an effective way to transform a space, and it’s often a simple enough project you can at least get started with. “A lot of homeowners have hand tools, sanders, brushes, rollers, dropcloths,” says Dan Schaeffer, owner of Five Star Painting in Austin, Texas, also a part of the Neighborly family of companies. Clean the surface you’re going to paint thoroughly to avoid chipping or peeling in the future.
When to call a pro? Exterior painting often requires a lot of power washing, and not everyone has the right tools.
Whether you’re still in the paint prep process or you’re hoping to get your security deposit back on your apartment, patching holes is a simple enough task to complete in little time. Scrape peeling paint from the hole and even it out, then scoop a small amount of spackling paste or other patching compound into the hole. “You just smooth it down and it blends into the wall,” Garshofsky says. After it dries, sand and paint over the patch job so it blends in with the wall.
When to call a pro? If a doorknob, fist, foot or any other sizeable object went through the wall, the spackling will have a hard time drying. The project will require a patch kit or piece of drywall to cover the hole, and may even need a support added into the wall to keep the patch stable.
Now that you’re ready to repaint the room completely, tape off baseboards, outlets and anything else you don’t want paint on and paint away. “You’re going to want to have a roller and a brush – you’re going to need both. … You can’t usually get a roller all the way up to the corners,” Schaeffer says. Try to apply an even coat for consistency by working from one end of the wall to the other and rolling out any drips or lines of excess paint as you go, and then recoat as needed.
When to call a pro? More complicated paint jobs where you don’t have the sprayers, tall ladders or time to get the job done, whether it's the exterior of your home or your kitchen cabinets.
Fixing a leaky faucet.
The drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet can drive anyone a little crazy, and in many cases you can take care of it yourself. “If it’s just a washer change, it’s going to be something that any homeowner can fix,” Sassano says. The only tricky part is finding the right size washer for your faucet, which can be difficult. Before you make a move on the faucet, turn off the water.
When to call a pro? If the washer doesn’t fix it, call a pro. Any plumbing problem that can’t be fixed with a toilet plunger should get the help of a licensed plumber.
If you haven’t spent an afternoon building flat-pack furniture from Ikea, Wayfair, Joss & Main or another home goods company, you’ve lived a blessed life. While the instructions may not be entirely obvious – and may lack words entirely – they’ll get you to the end result eventually. “It’s more frustrating than it is hard,” Garshofsky says. Many large pieces of furniture call for more than one person to complete the project, so don’t be afraid to call a friend.
When to call a pro? Only when you’re ordering a custom piece of furniture from a specialty carpenter. You can handle the Ikea stuff.