Every home has a few DIY repair and maintenance jobs that need attention, and even though many are very straightforward to fix we often put them off and tolerate the inconvenience for far too long.
But when a loose floorboard stubs your toe once too often or you have a door that’s a struggle to close, the time is ripe to do something about it.
Of course, sometimes we don't have the luxury of putting off the work, as when a plumbing emergency strikes it needs immediate attention. So it pays to know how to stop a disaster in its tracks before it causes too much damage.
General house repairs
From silencing creaks to repairing failed fixings, these jobs will take next to no time to complete.
You can do a substantial amount of fixing and mending with just a few tools: a set of screwdrivers, a claw hammer (useful for pulling nails out as well as knocking them in), a multi-purpose medium-toothed saw, steel measuring tape, spirit level, pincers, pliers, an adjustable spanner, a nail set (for driving nail heads just below the surface) and a craft knife. A good drill is also invaluable.
- a set of screwdrivers
- a claw hammer (useful for pulling nails out as well as knocking them in)
- a multi-purpose medium-toothed saw
- steel measuring tape
- spirit level
- an adjustable spanner
- a nail set (for driving nail heads just below the surface)
- a craft knife.
- a good drill is also invaluable.
1. Securing a loose floorboard
Over time the flexing of floorboards can loosen nails, so try driving them in deeper with a nail set. If the board is bowed, use stainless steel screws instead of nails and cover the heads with wood filler. Moistening the wood will make it easier to screw down. Screwing is also a good way of fixing boards over cables. BEFORE you begin work, always check that there are no pipes or electrical cables directly beneath them – you can only proceed safely when you have done so.
2. Silencing creaking floorboards
If a board is rubbing against a joist, lubricate it by sprinkling talcum powder around it. Knock down protruding nails that have worked loose and lost their grip.
If constant movement has caused nail heads to wear a hole in the board, put in a couple of screws, using a detector to check for hidden pipes or cables – BEFORE you begin work, always check that there are no pipes or electrical cables directly beneath them – you can only proceed safely when you have done so.
3. Fixing creaky stairs
The movement of wood causes joints to loosen and rub against each other. Try sprinkling talcum powder into the joint of the problem step.
If the friction persists, strengthen the joints. Glue blocks will be fitted between the tread and the riser: prise away the blocks, inject wood glue into the joint and refit the blocks.
4. Replacing a failed wall fixing
Masonry fixings often fail because the hole and plug are too big for the screw, so always match the size of the drill bit, wall plug and screw.
Ensure the hole is deep enough, too – if your drill doesn’t have a depth gauge, put a piece of masking tape on to the bit to mark the length of the plug, plus 6mm.
5. Repairing a door that sticks
Wet weather can cause wood to swell and doors to ‘bind’ or stick. Painted doors are better protected, but natural wood can be varnished or oiled for weatherproofing. Identify a swollen area by rubbing a wax crayon along the edge of the door and opening a few times. Use coarse glasspaper to smooth areas.
Doors that require brute force to open or close need fixing sooner rather than later to prevent joints from weakening or the handle shearing off.
With the door open, check a stone hasn’t got jammed against the frame. Inspect hinges and tighten screws. Lubricate with a few drops of oil to ease movement.
6. Opening a stuck sash window
When painting a sash window, move it regularly while the paint dries to prevent it sticking.
If the sash is stuck, score the edges with a craft knife, then work a filling knife between the sash and the beads – you may need to ease it from both sides. Grasp the meeting rail and shake the sash to break the paint seal.
7. Rehanging a coat rail
1. If screws are pulling away from the wall, the first task is to unscrew the rack to look at the fixings. Here, there is one fixing at each end but to give extra support, add another in the middle.
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2. The bricks in this house are soft and crumbly and the screw holes are worn and now too big. You can use a chisel to fashion a tapered peg from a piece of wood, in which to put back the screw. Don’t smooth the peg’s surface, as a crude finish will grip into the masonry better.
3. Knock the peg into the wall then saw off so flush. Unless you plan to repaint, place a sheet of thin card beneath the blade. To keep the cut straight, press the blade with your free hand. Mark the centre of the peg with a bradawl, drill and fix rack – but don’t fully tighten the screw.
4. Hammer a peg into the other side. Hold spirit level on top of rack and tap a nail in the peg to hold in position. Drill hole and insert screw. Tighten both screws securely. For a neat finish, countersink screw heads beneath level of rack and hide with wood filler.
8. Rehanging a dropped cupboard door
1. This cupboard door has dropped – opening and closing it is a struggle as it scrapes along the floor and has to be lifted up at the same time. Where both sets of hinges have failed, as here, take out all of the screws and remove the door to carry out some running repairs. Spray release oil on difficult-to-turn screws.
2. The wood behind the hinge has a deep split. For a successful bond, first clean away dust with a brush or scraper. Force glue into the gap. Clamp firmly while glue is drying, protecting the door frame with a wood off-cut. Wipe away any surplus glue with a damp sponge before it sets.
3. The strain on the hinges has worn and enlarged the existing screw holes. We strengthened the fixing by using wooden dowels. Drill holes with a bit the same diameter as the dowels and apply masking tape to the bit, to serve as a depth gauge. Rake out the holes. Smother dowels with glue and knock in place.
4. Prop the door against the frame, raising it up fractionally with plywood off-cuts. With a bradawl mark the position of the middle screw on each hinge. Drill holes and drive in screws. Open and close the door a few times and once you are satisfied the door operates freely, insert remaining screws.
9. Dealing with a power outage
First, see if neighbours are affected. If so, telephone the emergency helpline of your distribution company, who should tell you when the power will be restored.
If it's just your house with a problem, check your trip switch in the main fuse box.
If you reset the trip switch but the electricity goes off again, you may have a faulty appliance. Reset the trip switch and turn each one on one by one.
Once you have identified the problem appliance check the plug, then try it in a different socket to establish if the fault is with the appliance or the original socket.
10. Easing an awkward key
If the key is new, return it to the locksmith with the original for fine-tuning. Or lubricating spray may work but avoid oil, which attracts dirt and clogs the mechanism.
In extreme cases, call a locksmith. Rather than total replacement, a Yale type lock can be fitted with a new cylinder or barrel, and a mortice lock re-levered.
Old furniture is full of character, but over the years fixings fail and wood warps, making it function poorly.
However, a little TLC employing a few basic techniques will have these treasured old items of furniture working like new.
11. Tightening loose knobs and handles
Some knobs are screwed into the wood and regular use can make them work loose and enlarge the hole. Push wood filler into the hole or tap in a piece of matchstick or dowel dipped in wood glue.
Metal handles often have a small rod that goes through the wood, secured with a nut. Tighten with a spanner.
12. Fixing a drawer that sticks
Check nothing has fallen out and become lodged down the back of the drawer. The runners (strips of wood inside the carcass that the drawers slide on) or the undersides of the drawer can become rough.
Check nails are not protruding, then smooth with abrasive paper and rub a candle stub along surfaces.
Use a spirit level to check the drawer is sitting straight, and if necessary even up the carcase with cardboard.
13. Levelling a wobbly chair
Don't level chair legs by sawing them down – instead build up a shorter leg. Place the chair on a flat surface and slide under off-cuts of wood until stable.
Draw round chair leg and saw off a circle with a fine-toothed saw. Glue and screw in place.
Minimise movement by placing a sticky-backed glider on the bottom of each leg.
14. Fixing a cupboard door catch
New cupboards have sprung steel hinges to pull doors in, but older ones often have magnetic catches that become unaligned. Check the metal non-magnetic part of the catch hasn't lost a screw, causing it to skew.
The magnetic part is held by two screws; loosen these and push catch forward. Retighten screws.
While complicated plumbing jobs require the expertise of a qualified professional, when a pipe bursts or freezes, or the drain is blocked, you need to act fast to sort it out before it results in expensive damage.
We round up the top remedial plumbing jobs, which will at the very least tide things over until the experts arrive.
15. Maintaining your stopcock
The mains stopcock inside a house is often beneath a downstairs sink, or in a hall. Make sure you know where yours is.
Twice a year, spray it with release oil and turn it off and on again a few times. Once it is fully off, turn it back on a quarter of a turn so that it is less likely to seize up.
Mark the spot of the outdoor stopcock, too.
16. Installing isolating valves in taps
If you have any plumbing alterations or renovation work done, make sure that each tap is fitted with an isolating valve so that you can easily turn off the water for a specific section if there is an emergency, or if you need to simply replace a washer. This will give you peace of mind and help to prevent leaks.
17. Maintaining gate valves on pipework
Twice a year, turn gate (sluice) valves off and on and give them a spray with release oil to stop them seizing up.
Familiarise yourself with which section of pipework each valve regulates, and make a note next to the valve – a card luggage label can be tied on and is easy to access and also a practical reminder.
18. Defrosting a frozen water pipe
Minimise damage by turning off the mains stopcock, and if you have one, the cold water tank stopcock in the roof space. Cover area with plastic sheet in case of leaks.
If there is no sign of a split in the pipe, open the tap nearest to the frozen section and very gently blow a hairdryer on the pipe beginning at the tap end.
19. Repairing pipes with tape and hosepipe
In very cold weather, if a cistern won’t fill or there’s no water from a tap, it could be due to a frozen pipe, probably in the roof space.
Examine the pipes: a bright, shiny copper split shows up on dull pipes. If split, wrap with duct tape and slip on a short length of hosepipe secured with jubilee clips or wire. This makes a great temporary repair until you can get the section of pipe replaced.
20. Repairing a pipe with epoxy putty
As an alternative to hosepipe, make a repair to the pipe with epoxy putty. These are temporary measures, so lessen the stress on the pipes by turning down the mains water pressure.
21. Unclogging a blocked shower
If water is sluggish to drain away, take action before it becomes a total blockage and the shower tray overflows. If there is a trap, lift it out and clear away debris.
Otherwise find a piece of wire and bend over the end to form a hook. Pull out the blockage (often shed hair) then use a plunger until water flows freely.
22. Fixing a cistern overflow
In a cistern, the ballcock rises with the water and the flow cuts off about an inch below the overflow pipe.
If the water is too high, the ballcock needs adjusting. In old cisterns, bend the metal arm downwards. In modern cisterns with plastic parts, release the locknut, turn the screw clockwise, then re-tighten the locknut.
If water is pouring from the overflow of a toilet cistern or cold water cistern in the loft, lay a piece of wood across the cistern and tie the float arm to it to stop the flow so that you can investigate the cause.
Common problems are a leak in a metal ball float or a faulty float valve. You can buy replacements at DIY shops.
23. Sorting out a toilet that won't flush
If the toilet does not flush, it is likely that the lever has become detached; over time the wire link wears through the plastic lever connector.
Remove the top of the cistern and, until you can get to the DIY shop, tie a piece of thick string to the wire link and leave it overhanging the cistern. Just pull string upwards to flush.
24. Unblocking a toilet or drain
Investigate if the water level in the bowl is higher than usual or is taking longer to clear after flushing. Turn off the cistern isolation valve or tie up the ball valve. Protect your arm by covering it with a bin bag and check the pan.
If the blockage is further along, bail out excess water and unblock using a drain auger, a long flexible tool that will prise a blockage apart.
If you've tried a plunger and cleaned the u-bend, you need to clean the pipe leading to the outside drains.
Once all the pipes are clear, run hot water and soda crystals down to flush away any detritus.
If the drain is still blocked, check the gully grate outside and remove debris. Raise the manhole cover nearest the house and slide two drain rods towards the blockage.
Add more rods as needed and continue pushing while working them backwards and forwards. Turn rods in a clockwise direction to stop them unscrewing.
25. Unblocking a slow-draining basin
Sluggish draining and smells can signal a partial sink blockage. First, pull out debris with a piece of bent wire.
Next, half fill a basin with water and stuff a cloth into the overflow to stop air pressure escaping. Place plunger over the plughole and plunge vigorously to force the blockage away. Repeat if necessary.