5 things every adult should know how to do around the house

Part of being an adult is creating a well-functioning place to call home. If you want to add a personal touch, like artwork on the walls, you need to hang it. If something breaks, you have to be able to fix it – or hire someone to do it, which burns through cash fast. Luckily, the more tasks you take on, the more you learn, until someday you’re the one that everyone else turns to for advice.

Here are instructions for five simple home maintenance tasks everyone can – and should – master.

– Replace a stopper in a sink

Renters often have to suffer the consequences of previous tenants’ failed home-repair efforts, such as when someone didn’t know how to remove a sink stopper and forced it out, leaving an open drain – the perfect place to lose an earring or contact lens. But you can fix this annoyance with a part that costs less than $10 (Danco’s 1 5/16-inch universal pop-up is $6.78 at Home Depot).

Clear the area under the sink, and turn on a flashlight. Find the horizontal rod that connects to the sink drain, and mark where the rod threads through the vertical plate (the clevis). Loosen the clevis screw and the nut where the rod slips into the drainpipe so you can pull out the rod enough to slip the new stopper into place. Wiggle things around, pushing in the rod and raising and lowering the lever on the top of the sink that activates the stopper, until everything is aligned. Then tighten the nut just enough so the stopper doesn’t slide down, and tighten the clevis screw. Check again to make sure everything works. If the stopper doesn’t move freely, loosen the nut a little.

– Unclog a drain

Even if you don’t care about ruining a landlord’s plumbing, you shouldn’t use harsh chemicals. Unused chemicals become your disposal problem when you move.

You can clear most drains in just a few minutes without resorting to chemicals. Remove the stopper by loosening the horizontal rod that goes into the drain pipe. (See previous item.) With an old toothbrush, or a piece of stiff wire bent into a hook, fish out the clog. Most often, it’s a wad of hair and soap scum near the top of the drain.

If the drain is still clogged, replace the rod and tighten the nut that holds it, and place a plunger over the drain. Add enough water to cover the rubber, and seal the sink’s overflow hole with a wet sponge. Gently push the plunger down. Then, with the rubber still sealed to the sink, plunge up and down vigorously a dozen or more times. You’ll hear a whoosh when the clog breaks up.

To clear a bathtub drain, the steps are basically the same, except for removing the stopper. Sometimes you can lift and unscrew it. Or there may be a setscrew underneath the cap that you need to loosen. And on some tubs, especially older ones, the trick is to unscrew the plate covering the outflow and then pull out a set of links with a piece at the end that traps hair.

If the clog still sticks, the drain needs to be cleared with a snake – a flexible auger that you thread into the pipe until it pokes through the clog. You might want to call your landlord or a plumber. A YouTube video can help you decide. A video from” This Old House” shows how to snake through the overflow hole to clear a bathtub drain. On a sink drain, you’ll need to take apart the curved “trap” pipe under the sink and then feed in the snake.

– Hang art or even a mirror on a wall

There’s probably no better way to make a rental space your own than to decorate the walls with art. Thumbtacks were fine for college, but now you want framed art and maybe a mirror or two, and those can get heavy.

Picture hangers, which hold a nail at an angle, are easy to use and minimize wall damage. Some hold up to 50 pounds, which is plenty for most framed art. (If you’re unsure, weigh the art by standing on a bathroom scale with it in your hands.)

The trick is to get the hanger, or pair of hangers, in the right position. Turn the frame over and position the hanger where it would be if it were holding up the piece. Then measure up to the top of the frame and out toward one side. Make a paper template, with the hanger position marked, and move it around on the wall until you like the look. Then, at the marked spot, tap in the hanger nail if your walls are drywall. (If you can’t push in a thumbtack, you have plaster walls, which means you should drill a hole and then insert the nail.)

Using two hangers helps prevent a picture from shifting out of position, but it’s critical to place them on a level line. Insert one hanger, then use a level to align the second one.

If you need to hang something too heavy for picture hangers to support, the best solution is to hang the artwork where you can fasten studs. Use a stud sensor (as little as $10.97 at Home Depot) or tap on the wall, moving horizontally until you hear the sound change to a thud. This spot often lines up with the nail holes in baseboards. On drywall, use screws that are 1 1/2 inches long. On plaster, drill a narrow hole until you can tell (by a change of pressure) that you are past the plaster and into the stud. Add 1 inch to the depth of the bit at that point.) If you hit a spot where the bit or screw won’t penetrate, it’s possible you are over a metal plate protecting wire or plumbing. Stop and choose a different location.

If there is no stud where you want to hang the art, buy plastic wall anchors to hold the screws or, for the heaviest loads on plaster, toggle bolts.

– Patch holes in a wall

Patching holes in a wall might seem like something to put off until you’re ready to move. But why not plug them now and enjoy the tidier appearance?

Pinholes are easiest to fix. Lightweight spackle dabbed on with a fingertip is all you need. Let it dry, then touch up with an artist brush and a little leftover paint. If the walls have a texture, apply the spackle with a toothpick so you don’t smear it beyond the hole.

Mending wider gashes requires a support membrane, usually plastic mesh, and spackle or drywall mud. You can buy a kit, such as Dap’s Wall Repair Patch Kit ($7.98 at Home Depot), which comes with a 4-inch square piece of adhesive-backed mesh for reinforcing. Or you can improvise by cutting a small square of plastic window screen and using spackle to hold it in place. Apply one thin coat of spackle that fully embeds the mesh. Let that dry, then apply a second layer that completely covers the mesh and is feathered out at the edges to blend in with the wall. If the wall has a texture, get a spray can of a similar texture, for blending.

To patch a big hole in drywall, you will need to cut out the damaged area with a utility knife and patch in a substitute piece. (Home centers often carry patch pieces so you don’t need to buy a full sheet.) To hold the patch in place, first screw small pieces of plywood along the edges of the intact drywall on the inside surface, with part of the plywood extending into the hole. Set the patch in place and screw through it into the plywood. Bridge the edges of the drywall patch with drywall tape or mesh, then spackle as if you were patching a hole where you didn’t need to add drywall.

– Set a screw that just spins in place

You think you can fix a wobbly cabinet door by tightening that screw on the hinge. But then you turn and turn with a screwdriver, and the screw just spins in place.

Try swapping it out for a slightly wider screw. Or, if you are locked into using the same screw, perhaps because it’s what fits with the hinge, stuff the screw hole with wooden toothpicks coated in wood glue. (If the hole is big, cut thicker slivers of wood with a utility knife.) When the glue dries, slice off the excess with a sharp utility knife, then reinsert the screw.


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