With its expanded role as office and school, your home is probably showing signs of wear and tear sooner than you thought from the strain of family members crammed together 24/7.
Or maybe your home simply needs a little help to become more functional and comfortable to meet everyone's needs.
But hiring someone to make the simple repairs or to do some upgrading may be out of the question now. Maybe money is tight. Or maybe you just don’t yet feel comfortable bringing a stranger into your home.
There’s no shortage of sources to help you tackle many projects on your own. YouTube, for instance, has a plethora of do-it-yourself projects, although the reliability of some of them is questionable.
Our DIY go-to Tim Carter, author of the “Ask the Builder” column, has warned readers not to believe everything they see and hear on YouTube. Carter — who has decades of experience as a builder, plumber and remodeler — said he has cringed at advice given by some so-called experts with huge followings.
“I caution homeowners to be very careful about following advice from any number of online sources. The written content on a website may have been created by someone who’s never performed the task in a professional capacity,” Carter said in an email. “The same is true for YouTube videos. I’ve watched hundreds of YouTube videos showing the exact wrong way to do something.”
As a service during the coronavirus pandemic, Carter is offering personal step-by-step instructions over the phone for readers interested in taking on their own home project. As he recently announced, he will record the instructions (keeping the caller anonymous) and post the video on his website AsktheBuilder.com.
Interested in tackling a DIY project? We’ve culled some of Carter’s most popular columns into three categories — easy, moderate and difficult.
For easy ways to make your home more comfortable:
On the easy scale, the first two are a 10 — you won’t even have to go to your toolbox for these.
Fixing a clogged toilet: If you’re experiencing a backup in your toilet or septic system, you might want to check to see whether baby wipes are being flushed down. One of Carter’s readers in South Carolina said the “flushable” wipes caused $3,000 in damage to his septic system.
Carter was so obsessed with the problem that he devised his own contraption — complete with piping and water — to simulate what flushable wipes look like in your sewer system. To play it on the safe side, Carter advises to simply avoid putting baby wipes — flushable or nonflushable — in your toilet.
Plunging a clogged toilet is nobody’s idea of fun — especially getting back-splashed from all that thrashing and having to clean off the rubber part of the tool. Carter conducted another experiment and found that pouring a bucket of water into the clog will often do to the trick.
Removing rust from metal and replacing exterior tile grout: It can be annoying to find some reliable but old tools in your shed or a mailbox have developed rust spots. Do you throw them away or try to repair them? Carter has found a common household product can do the trick in removing old rust: white vinegar. Carter discusses an old hand truck he restored using white vinegar. After removing the rust, Carter repainted the hand truck, which now looks good as new.
Maybe you’re like a Santa Barbara, Calif., woman with a Spanish tile patio tarnished by unsightly grout. Nothing seemed to work for her so she was considering replacing the entire patio — something she said would be a costly job. Carter recommended another fairly simply answer: an oxygen bleach solution. He said be sure not to get the oxygen bleach confused with chlorine bleach, which is harmful to vegetation. »Read more.
For DIY projects that require a little more effort
Waterproofing your basement and weatherstripping doors: Spring brings showers. Unfortunately, for many homeowners that means flooded basements. The best way to waterproof your basement is to prevent the rain from coming into it in the first place. If you can’t pipe your gutters into the storm drains, then you should use extensions on your downspout to funnel the water as far away from your foundation as possible. Another solution is to dig a six-inch-wide trench about two feet deep into your yard to keep the water away from your home.
If you neglected to weatherstrip your doors in the winter, it’s not too late. After all, poor weatherstripping can make your air conditioning work overtime by allowing the cool air to escape into the outdoors. Carter advises that aluminum strips with a long tube of compressible rubber can be used to make a tight seal against the door. »Read more.
Repairing bad caulking and chipped ceramic tile: If you’ve been doing DIY projects for a while, sooner or later you’ll have to try to undo a botched one. A reader named Angie wrote in asking for help fixing her husband’s messy caulking work in the bathroom shower. Carter offered suggestions on finding a solvent to soften the old caulking, scraping it away and reapplying the caulk — the right way this time.
A reader named Andrew in Australia wrote to find out whether he could salvage a “gorgeous” white ceramic tile in his floor with a chip in it. He wondered whether he should remove the entire tile and replace it with a new one. His concern was whether he’d be able to find one that matched the rest of the floor. Carter said there was no need to replace the tile; he suggested that Andrew repair the chip with some rapid-set clear or white epoxy.
For the experienced fixer-upper
Cleaning that dryer hose: Clearing the clothes dryer hose of excess lint is an important job because it can prevent a fire. But it can be difficult getting behind the dryer to get at the hose, which is often at the floor level. It often requires moving the dryer out of the way to get access to the hose. Carter came up with a unique solution: Mounting the hose up high and building a shelf to conceal it. His idea will ensure that the hose gets cleaned out much more often.
Installing wallpaper borders: Tired of looking at the same old walls? Maybe the idea of installing wallpaper overwhelms you.
Carter said wallpaper borders are an inexpensive way to add whimsy and personality to bland painted walls. The best part, he said, is, unlike covering an entire wall, installing wallpaper borders is “almost impossible to goof up.” »Read more.
Assessing whether your air ducts need adjusting
Being at home all the time, you’ve probably noticed rooms that are always too warm or too cold. That probably means your air ducts need adjusting. Chances are, this is a job that you’ll have to bring in a contractor for.
But you might be able to at least figure out the problem yourself. There are online aids to help you calculate whether enough air is reaching every room from your air ducts. Carter said look for a Manual J guidebook online to help you with the calculations. »Read more.
Installing new drywall: Mike in Tyler, Tex., asked about installing drywall. Mike said he had watched the DIY shows on TV and watched some videos online and thought it didn’t look too hard.
Right off the bat, Carter dispelled him of that notion: “It’s easy to get overconfident after watching home improvement shows and such. But too often the producers tend to gloss over the hard stuff. And that’s intentional: If the impression you took away from DIY TV shows is that the work is too hard to do, you’d probably stop watching. I can tell you that’s the last thing the show producers want you to do!” Installing drywall is difficult — especially when putting in a ceiling. You have to hold the heavy sheet rock above your head while cutting and screwing it in. If you’re still game, here are his instructions — and warnings — on drywall installation.
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