Keys to the castle do not come with a troubleshooting guide. Owning a house means you're going to have questions and we've got some answers. Consider these tips a crash course in homeowner self-confidence.
Fix a Leaky Faucet
This particular type of water torture is likely due to a failed washer inside a handle. The faucet is just the messenger.
To replace the washer, turn off the water supply valve under the sink. Stuff a rag in the drain so you don't lose parts, then take the handle apart. Pop the screw cover on top, remove the screw, and pull off the handle. Use a wrench to disassemble the stem, and line the parts up on the counter in the order they came off, so you know how it goes back together. Examine rubber parts or plastic cartridges for cracks, and take the offending piece to the hardware store for an exact replacement. Reassemble the parts you've laid out, in reverse. Then revel in the ensuing peace and quiet.
Dig a Hole
A stomp on a pointed shovel, that's easy—and so is electrocuting yourself when you slice into a buried power line. Which is why, says This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook, any prospective hole-maker should first call 811 to notify the local utilities in your area. They'll send someone out to your place, mark any lines you have, and save you from getting buried yourself.
Locate a Stud
Say you want to hang a shelf. Knuckling the wallboard can pinpoint a stud. But to better the odds when your electronic stud finder's gone missing, use deductive reasoning. Most studs are placed at 16-inch intervals, so once you know where one is, you can usually find the rest.
Start at a corner, where there's always a stud. Or take the cover plate off an electrical outlet and find out on which side it's mounted to the stud. From there, measure 16, 32, 48 inches, and you should hit a stud at each go. Eliminate all guesswork by using a thin bit to drill a test hole at the top of the base molding, which you can easily repair with a dab of caulk.
Unclog a Sink
"Chemicals rarely clear a stoppage—they only make a small hole," says TOH plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey. "A full stoppage requires mechanical clearing." Remove the stopper and block off overflow holes. With water in the bowl—the water puts more pressure on the clog—plunge with a flat-faced plunger. If that's not enough, get under the sink and take off the trap to see if that's where the clog is lodged. If the blockage is deeper, rent yourself a hand snake. Slowly push the coil down the drain, carefully twisting, pulling, and pushing when you hit the blockage. If the snake fails, then the still waters truly run deep. Call a drain-clearing service to get things flowing.
Remove a Stripped Screw
Hey, even TOH master carpenter Norm Abram has been there. He recommends a hand screwdriver appropriate for the screw and a double dose of elbow grease to fix this unfortunate bit of handiwork. Gently hammer the screwdriver into the head. Then use as much downward force as you can while you slowly back out the screw.
Avoid Stripping a Screw
That's what the clutch, that sliding ring of numbers on a drill/driver, is for. It stops the bit from turning when the motor feels a certain amount of torque, or twisting resistance—less at lower numbers, more at higher numbers. As a rule, set it low for small screws and high for large ones. But use a low setting when putting up drywall, so you don't sink the screw's head too far and break the paper. When dealing with hardwoods, a higher setting may help get the screws in, but first drilling a pilot hole is even better.
Remove the Base of a Broken Light Bulb
Cut a raw potato in half and, with the power off or the lamp unplugged, press the cut end onto the jagged glass. For a comfortable grip, select a potato with a tapered shaft. The University of Idaho's Stephen Love, Ph.D., recommends a Russet.
Clean Stained Grout
"All grout can be cleaned," says Debby Parker, a contractor who bills herself as The Tile Lady. Her secret weapon: a steam cleaner, which brings most any stain to the surface so it can simply be wiped away. Brushing on a penetrating sealer will keep the grout stain-free.
Stop an Overflowing Toilet
A toilet works by gravity: The water in the tank—just enough to fill
the bowl—drops down and pushes waste through the drain. The float drops, opening a valve that lets in water to refill the bowl and the tank simultaneously. The valve closes when the float rises far enough to shut off the water.
If the water from the tank can't leave the bowl fast enough, then the refill will spill over. To stop the refill action, take off the top of the tank, grab the float, and pull it up to close the valve. That should give you time to reach down and shut off the water, or at least wait for some of the water in the bowl to drain.
Fix a Hammer Mark on Trim
If there is a ding on a finished surface, poke the area repeatedly with a needle, then flick several drops of water on it. Cover it with a damp rag and iron it on the cotton setting. The water absorbed into the wood will evaporate and expand the crushed wood cells. Concentrate the iron's heat on just the shape of the ding by placing an upside-down bottle cap over it. Repeat until the wood regains its shape.
Catalog Your House for Insurance
What should make the master list? Whatever's not nailed down, from furniture and rugs to furs, dishes, and jewelry. If you kept the receipt when you bought these items, great; jot down the value. If not, note where and when you got it.
Then photograph, or better yet, video every room, from every angle. Burn the information onto a couple of disks and send one copy for safekeeping to Aunt Becky on the other side of the country.