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Blog
Nine basic DIY skills every homeowner should know
Add value to your home
11 February 2021

Nine basic DIY skills every homeowner should know

Daniel Strieff
Writer

Some are born to DIY greatness, some achieve DIY excellence through practice, and some have the need to learn DIY thrust upon them.

Many new homeowners are forced to overcome a steep learning curve when it comes to repairing, fixing, and improving their homes.

But there’s no better way to maintain -- and increase -- the value of your home than to tackle necessary improvements as they arise.

After all, a little DIY knowledge can go a long way.

Electrical and lighting

How to fix a broken lightbulb

Replacing a burnt-out lightbulb is straightforward, but if that bulb breaks in the socket you’ll need to avoid cutting or electrocuting yourself. Before you start, cut the power to the light source. You should also use gloves and eye coverings in case the glass shatters or splinters.

The simplest method is to use a pair of pliers -- preferably needle-nosed -- to grip the glass base of the filament. You then gently twist anti-clockwise until the base breaks free, allowing you to remove it. Work cautiously to ensure you don’t damage the light fixture.

Or you could turn to an old DIY trick: the humble potato. Cut the raw potato in half, press it firmly against the socket and twist anti-clockwise. The potato should grip the bulb’s base, allowing it to turn while the socket remains in place.

Learn which circuit breaker to turn off

It’ll pay off if you know how to do this before you really need it. Locate the main electrical panel to your home. Open the lid and locate the main circuit breakers at the top (there’s usually a pair of them). If you need to shut off ALL power inside your home, then flip these top switches to the ‘off’ position.

But if you only need to shut off the power to an individual circuit -- for instance, if you’re replacing an outlet or light fixture -- identify the correct branch circuit to flip to ‘off’. If you’re unsure, just shut all the power off to do what you need to do -- just make sure you’ve got a torch handy!

How to bleed your radiators

This is a useful thing to know for when your boiler is on but your radiator is still cold.

  • First, turn off your boiler and wait for all the radiators in your home to feel cold to the touch.

  • Then, with an old towel at hand to clean up any spillage, locate the bleed valve.

  • (Next, using a radiator key, which is available at most DIY shops and Amazon), loosen the bleed screw by turning it anti-clockwise. Listen to the air hissing out and, when it stops completely, turn the key back clockwise to re-tighten the screw. Don’t tighten it too much, though, or you risk damaging the valve.

  • Wipe up any spilled bits with your towel.

  • Finally, switch on the heating again and check that the radiators warm up this time.

How much is your house worth? Our valuation tool can help.

Plumbing issues

How to fix a dripping tap

A dripping tap is really annoying. It’s also really expensive. In 2016, Axa found that water damage stemming in part from dripping taps costs around £387 million in insurance claims nationwide each year.

If your tap is dripping, first determine whether you’ve got a cartridge (ceramic disc) tap or a traditional washer. To find out, gently turn your tap. If it only turns a quarter or halfway, then you’ve probably got a cartridge tap. If it rotates more than that, you’ve probably got a traditional one.

You’ll need a few tools, including: an adjustable spanner; cross-headed and flat-headed screwdrivers; replacement cartridge or washers and O-rings; and scissors.

  • First, turn off the water supply either at the stopcock or at the isolation valve.

  • Next, locate the screw that holds the tap together, then use your screwdriver to loosen it. The screw tends to be hidden beneath the decorative parts of the knobs. These parts can usually be unscrewed by hand or gently popped off with a screwdriver.

  • Then, you’ll need to take off the head of the tap. You may find you’ll also need to remove a metal cover around the neck protecting the valve. Be sure to place all of the various pieces so that it’ll be easy to reassemble your tap when the time comes.

  • If you’re replacing a ceramic disc: the valve should now be exposed. Using your adjustable spanner, grip it and turn it until it’s loose enough for you to take it off. Then just put your replacement cartridge in, tighten it, and reassemble the tap.

  • If you’re replacing a rubber washer: grip and turn the valve with your adjustable spanner, then remove it once it’s loose enough. Then, either unscrew or slide the washer off and replace it with a new one. Replace the valve, tighten it, and reassemble your tap.

  • There may also be times when you need to replace the O-ring, which is a larger washer that sits at the bottom of your tap’s spout. Unscrew the grub screw at the spout’s base and then carefully remove the spout. The O-rings sit at the base. Remove it with either the flat-headed screwdriver or by cutting it off with scissors. Then roll on the replacement. Replace the spout, tightening it with the grub screw.

  • Finally, test the tap by turning it on and off.

How to unclog a sink

Whether it’s food waste in your kitchen drain or soap scum in your bathroom drain, sinks can clog easily. Here are three really simple ways to approach that clogged drain:

  • Use a plunger

Partly fill the sink with water. Position the plunger over the drain and slowly but firmly work the plunger up and down atop the drain several times. Remove the plunger and look for whether the water is now draining. The suction pressure should dislodge the obstruction. If not, repeat. Note that if you have a double sink, you’ll need to stuff a rag into the unclogged drain to make sure the plunger pressure remains on the clogged drain.

  • Use vinegar and baking soda

This is an old standby. Begin by using a cup or bowl to empty the sink of any standing water. Pour one cup of baking soda down the drain. Follow that with one cup of vinegar poured down the drain. (Alternatively, you can mix the baking soda and vinegar in a cup beforehand and then immediately pour them down together.) You may need to place the stopper into the sink to ensure the vinegar is forced towards the clog. Wait up to an hour before pouring hot water down the drain to see if the clog is gone. If the sink still won’t drain, then repeat the process. Similarly, you can mix about ½ cup each of baking soda and salt together and then pour them down a clogged drain, followed immediately by boiling water.

  • The wire hanger method

This one is a bit more involved. You’ll need a wire hanger, pliers, rubber gloves, and a receptacle for excess water. Use the pliers to unwind the hanger into a long piece of wire. Retain the hooked end as is because it will help you grab any debris in the pipe. Use the pliers to bend the angle of the hook as needed to ensure it fits in the drain opening. Next, carefully feed the wire down the drain, hook end first. When the tip hits the blockage, snare it on the hook and pull the debris through the drain. Keep at it until you feel sure you’ve removed the obstruction. To make sure, run hot water down the drain to see if the sink empties.

How to fix a clogged or overflowing toilet

Unfortunately, toilets aren’t magic receptacles that flush away everything. Nappies, sanitary products, solid items, paper towels -- all of these can cause blockages. What should you do when you get a block?

First, shut off the water flow. Then, position a plunger atop the toilet’s exit hole and work it up and down. That motion should create sufficient suction pressure to force the clogged items out of the bowl and into the drain lines. Tip: soak or rinse the plunger in hot water before using it so that the rubber becomes soft and fits the toilet’s drain more easily.

Alternatives if you lack a plunger include using the wire hanger method (see above under ‘Unclog a sink’) or even pouring dish soap into the toilet with hot (not boiling) water, which should break up many clogs.

Learn more about how to add value to your home through DIY projects

Interiors

How to put up a shelf

You’ll need a few tools and materials, including: a drill, screws, a pencil, goggles, screwdriver, a spirit level, straightedge, hammer and nail, and a stud finder. Stud finders (also known as stud detectors or multi-purpose digital detectors) are easy to use. They allow you to discover whether there are any pipes, cables, or studs where you’re planning to install your shelf. Run it over the surface and it’ll tell you the spots to avoid.

  • Once you’ve used your stud detector to ensure the area is free from pipes, cables, or studs, you can fix your brackets. Hold your shelf against the wall and use your pencil to mark where you’d like the bottom edge to go. Next, mark the desired location of your first bracket in addition to the distance to the next bracket. Use your spirit level to check that the marks are level.

  • Next, place the first bracket on the mark to check it’s straight. Use your pencil to draw straight lines through the fixing holes. Repeat for the second bracket. If your shelf is going to have more than two brackets, place them between the outer brackets at equal distances apart.

  • Then, drill your holes into the wall and screw the brackets into place. Lay the shelf across the brackets and draw a mark through the holes in the brackets for the fixing screws underneath it. Remove the shelf and drill pilot holes on the bottom for the short screws. But be careful that you don’t drill all the way through to the other side. Put the shelf back in place and carefully fix the screws.

  • Finally, check the level (again) before you put anything on the shelf.

How to do a quality paint job

Preparation:

  • Clear everything out of the room to be painted, though sometimes large items of furniture can stay in the centre if they’re covered. Also remove all doors, light fixtures, and hardware.

  • Get the right gear. This includes what you wear, such as safety goggles, clothes you won’t mind ruining with drips and splatters, and possibly a facemask to protect your lungs if you’re doing any sanding. And it includes your equipment, which at a minimum consists of quality paint, stirrers, rollers and brushes, primer, a ladder, a tray, painter’s tape, patch or mastic, sandpaper or an electric sander, and canvas drop cloths to protect your floor from drips.

  • Clean and repair the walls before you paint. For bathrooms and kitchens, which tend to build up grime, consider mixing a bit of washing powder with warm water to cut through the dirt. A clean wall helps the paint bond. Next, look for and repair any nail holes, dents, or cracks in the walls. The most common way of doing this is with mastic. For minor flaws, like uneven paint surfaces, you can sand down any bumps to even it out.

  • Use the right primer. In most cases, a water-based primer is the best way to get an even base. If you’re painting paneling, pick an oil-based primer.

  • Tape it up. You’ll probably want to use painter’s tape to protect any light sockets, window frames, trim, or if you want a clean line between, for instance, the ceiling and the walls. Wrap the tape around the whole surface and try to mould its shape to what it’s covering.

  • Spread the canvas drop cloth across the floor, wall-to-wall. Use tape to secure it to the walls.

When you’re ready to begin:

  • Professionals usually recommend that one gallon of paint covers around 450 square feet. Always be sure to test your colours on a small surface area before you plunge in.

  • Experts often recommend beginning with the highest point of the room -- the ceiling -- and then working your way down to the trim, followed by the walls. You can use a fan to accelerate the drying process. Don’t forget to continually check your work as you go so you can sand out any imperfections and then reapply in that spot.

Tips:

  • To avoid lap marks on the walls and ceiling of your finished room, roll out the full height of the wall and maintain a wet edge throughout.

  • Because paint colour may vary from can to can, consider mixing several cans of paint in a big bucket for a consistent colour throughout the room.

  • In order to get a clean edge, let the paint dry before cutting the tape loose.

  • When tidying up, don’t clean any oil-based paint cans in your sink. You’ll need to clean your gear with thinner separately, like in a disposable tub or large bucket with washing powder. Then, check with your local council about how they dispose of paint and paint thinners, because you may have to request a special pickup.

And finally …

Know when to concede and call a professional

This may be the most important bit of DIY knowledge on this list! Calling in a pro every time something goes awry can get awfully pricey. On the other hand, some DIY jobs, if done improperly, will end up costing you a lot more in the long term.

By all means, try tackling these projects yourself. But don’t be too stubborn to call in professionals if the going gets tough.

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