When Eddie Ferrer’s garbage disposal jammed, he grabbed a computer and then a broom.
“I Googled ‘How do you fix a garbage disposal?’ ” says Ferrer, 32, who owns a rowhouse in Northeast D.C. and a condo in Arlington. “The recommendation was that you stick a broom handle down into it, force it to turn until it starts turning freely, and then you can use it again,” he says. “And it worked!”
Ferrer is pretty fearless when it comes to repairing or renovating his home (“I’ve definitely been electrocuted twice!” he says), but many homeowners, especially first-timers, don’t even know where to begin.
Jackie Huelbig, 29, was in that boat when, after years of renting, she bought an Alexandria one-bedroom. When her air conditioner motor froze and her dryer leaked, Huelbig discovered the big difference between renting and owning: “If something goes wrong, you’re the one who has to figure out how to fix it,” she says.
By learning what you need to take care of and how to care for it, you can save yourself repair hassles — and dollars.
The utility room or closet houses vital equipment, including your water heater and your central heating, ventilation and cooling system (HVAC).
“Keep it clean,” says D.C.-area handyman Roger McGraw. “Don’t stack things around these machines. If there’s dust floating in there, it’s getting into the electronics.”
After paying a whopping $800 repair bill, Huelbig decided it was a better investment to pay $259 a year to a service company, Amtek, to inspect and tune up her HVAC at the start of spring and fall.
You also need to replace your furnace filter at least once a month to keep your HVAC running well and your air clean, says Old Town Ace Hardware manager Bob Chapeskie (809 S. Washington St., Alexandria; 703-879-0475). Filters, which can range from a few dollars to more than $100, are sold in hardware and home-improvement stores and come in a variety of sizes.
Clean is once again the way to go. Once or twice a year, you should vacuum underneath and behind the fridge, Chapeskie says.
You also need to clean out the dryer exhaust duct in your home every year or so. If you notice that your clothes are taking longer to dry, it’s definitely time to bring in a pro to clean out the duct. Huelbig found a Web-coupon deal with Amsel Cleaning to vacuum hers last year.
News flash: Regularly cleaning your drains and pipes will help prevent future clogs.
To that end, “Vinegar is probably one of the best things you can pour down your drain,” Chapeskie says.
He recommends that you pour a cup or two of it into sinks, toilets, showers and even your dishwasher every month. Vinegar will help sanitize pipes and lessen blockages. However, those of us with long, thick hair might still have to use chemical clog removers, such as Drano, every once in a while.
Garbage disposals, those receptacles of all of our kitchen mistakes, often need extra attention.
One surefire way to clean even the smallest particles out of your disposal: Once a month, plug your kitchen sink, fill it up, turn on the disposal and then pull the drain plug. “It will get that cyclone action happening,” Chapeskie says, which will break up waste and kill odors.
Counters, Caulking and Grout
Inspect the caulking in your bathroom, kitchen and around windows and doors at least once a year, McGraw says. “Don’t ignore it if you see cracking,” he says.
Cut out cracked caulk with a caulk remover (such as the Workforce 3-in-1 Caulk Tool for $4.98 at Home Depot), wipe the area down with a wet cloth, let it dry, then apply fresh caulk.
Huelbig is planning to recaulk her bathtub. The first-time recaulker plans to ask for detailed instructions at her hardware store.
“I remember as a kid watching my mom do it, but we’ll see what the hardware dude says,” she says. “If he takes one look at me and is like, unh unh, then I’ll find someone [else to do it].”
Tile grout “needs to be resealed once a year. It seems tedious, but it really goes quickly,” McGraw says. “Put on some good music and have a couple glasses of wine. Have a grout party.”
One common question among new owners is how often to seal counters made of granite or other stone. The answer depends on how porous the stone is and how often you use your kitchen or bath area.
“For granite, they recommend that every six months you at least wipe it clean with a sealer,” McGraw says. “I would seal it as soon as you move in.”
It’s OK to Ask for Help
If all of this sounds daunting, there are some ways to make home maintenance more manageable.
“A lot of times on the smaller jobs, it often involves me starting and then having to call a contractor to fix any mistakes I made,” says Ferrer, who is an attorney when he’s not tinkering at home.
After he watches the pro do it, he’s usually able to do the repair on his own the next time. He also turns to resources such as the book “Home Improvement 1-2-3” or the website eHow.com.
Of course, having a handyman around is the easiest, but not the cheapest, route to a well-run home.
McGraw says to look for repairmen and companies that have been around for a while. “It’s a small town, so if you’re not doing good work, you’re out,” McGraw says.
But bringing in the pros won’t give you great stories to share with friends. After tearing down a wall in his basement, Ferrer had to get a tetanus shot, “because I dropped a wall on my leg and stabbed myself with a rusty needle. So that was fun,” he says.
One Giant Warranty
Want one-stop shopping for appliance and mechanical repairs? Consider purchasing a home warranty from a company such as First American Home Buyers Protection Corp. (Homewarranty.firstam.com) or HSA (Onlinehsa.com). Annual fees start at around $300 to cover such things as refrigerators, stoves, water heaters and HVACs. Be sure to read the fine print, because deductibles do apply. T.K.