Your home is one of the most expensive things you’ll ever pay for, so whether you’re renting or buying, you should take good care of it. While you may be tempted to call a professional when something breaks, you can take care of many minor repairs yourself.
These projects are all easy and low-risk, but you should always be sure to research any project you don’t understand — particularly if you’re dealing with electricity or plumbing, which can be extremely hazardous. Also, if you don’t already have a tool kit of your own, this wouldn’t be a bad time to start building your essential toolbox. Some of the repairs listed here will require special tools you may not have laying around, but we’ll list those where applicable.
Fix or replace a broken toilet lever
Toilet levers (or handles) break all the time, and thankfully, they’re very easy to fix. If pressing the lever doesn’t flush the toilet, you can usually just pop the tank open and re-attach the chain. However, in some cases, the handle itself can become corroded or any one of the pieces that connect the handle to the flapper (including the handle, nut, metal rod, or chain) can break. If that happens to you, here’s what you’ll need to fix it:
- Adjustable wrench
- Replacement toilet lever kit (if it’s broken)
The actual installation is pretty simple, as this video from Everyday Home Repairs demonstrates:
Unclog a toilet drain
Before you call a plumber to unclog a toilet, there are two things you should try. You will need:
First things first, make sure you’re using toilet-specific tools. Toilet plungers have flaps at the business end that form a tight seal with the drain. Sink plungers are totally round and may not do much to a stubborn clog. Augers are very similar to drain snakes, but they’re designed specifically to work with toilets.
Neither of these tools is hard to use, but this short video from the Home Depot YouTube channel shows the techniques in action:
They recommend pouring 3 tablespoons of liquid dish soap into the toilet before plunging (or auger-ing) to lubricate the drain and help dislodge clogs.
Fix a leaky P-trap under the kitchen or bathroom sink
Most minor pipe leaks happen around the P-trap, and are usually caused by a worn out washer or a loose or broken compression nut. To fix it, you’ll need:
- A bucket
- A 3-way plumber’s wrench (if the washer was tightened too much)
- Replacement washer (or a whole new P-trap)
Before you do anything else, turn the water off to the sink. Some sinks have a shut off valve right near the sink itself, but others may be as far away as the basement. Once the water’s off, you’re good to get started.
This one is very easy, as you can see in this how-to video from Jeff Ostroff on YouTube:
All you have to do is twist off the compression nuts holding the P-trap in place so you can replace them and the worn-out washers. As Jeff mentions in the video, this type of fastener is designed to be hand-tightened because PVC pipe can crack under too much pressure; if whoever installed your P-trap over-tightened the nuts anyways, a 3-way plumber’s wrench can help you loosen it up.
Clear a jammed garbage disposal
The garbage disposal is a big scary machine made of hidden blades and bad noises. Primal fears of ominous pits aside, it’s actually fairly easy to clear up a clog. You’ll need:
- A flashlight
- A 1/4-inch Allen wrench
- A garbage disposal wrench (if the other tools fail)
Hitting the reset button sometimes does the trick, but if it doesn’t, this video from Williams Plumbing & Heating shows two other easy methods for unclogging a disposal:
Rotating the disposal blades with an Allen wrench will usually be enough to dislodge debris and get the disposal running again. For bigger, tougher jobs, a garbage disposal wrench may be necessary: It’s designed to fit in the disposal’s main chamber and remove whatever’s jamming things up.
Patch drywall holes
Holes in walls are nearly unavoidable, even if you’re only renting. However, unless you’ve done ploughed a car through it, you can fix most holes pretty cheaply. Depending on the size of the hole, you’ll need some or all of these tools:
- A putty knife
- Spackle or joint compound
- 80-120 grit sandpaper
- Drywall tape
- 1-inch x 1-inch wood board
- Electric drill
- Wood screws
Start by assessing the scale of the damage. Screw or nail holes from hanging pictures or TVs are the easiest: Clean the area of any debris, wipe down the wall, then use a putty knife to press some spackle into the wall and let it dry. Once it’s done, smooth it out with some sandpaper. Depending on how seamless you need it to be and what colour you your walls are, you may need to apply a coat of paint.
Larger holes are trickier. This video from LRN2DIY shows a couple different methods for patching them:
To properly patch a large hole, you’ll need to cut out some of the surrounding drywall and replace it. This isn’t exactly difficult but it does require more advanced techniques than some of the other fixes we’ve covered so far — especially for really big holes. If you’re not confident you’re up to the task, call a pro.
Loosen a stuck window
If you go too long without opening a window, it can get so mucked up with dirt and crap that it’s difficult to open. This isn’t a terribly complex problem to solve, but it can require some elbow grease. You’ll need these tools and supplies:
- A putty knife or pizza cutter
- Paint thinner (if your windows are painted shut)
- WD-40 and/or a “dry” silicone lubricant spray
- Cleaning supplies
- A rag
Physically unsticking the window from the frame is a pretty good place to start. This video from ForRent.com shows a few different techniques:
If prying and (gentle) hammering aren’t doing the trick, you might need to get chemicals involved. Paint thinner can help loosen stubborn painted-shut windows, and WD-40 or a silicone lubricant can help the window slide in its tracks again. Just keep in mind that WD-40 will gum up vinyl windows; you can use a little to dissolve rust, but don’t spray it all over the tracks.
There’s no shortage of things in your house that can break, but you’ll find that most of them can be fixed with some hardware store basics and a little Googling. If something breaks in a non-life-threatening way, check online before you call a professional. It could save you a bundle.
This article was originally published on October 15, 2013. It was updated on May 14, 2021 with new links, updated information, and to reflect Lifehacker’s current style guidelines.