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Saving Money: DIY Repair Tips

Our pros share their favorite simple fixes for repairing common plumbing, electrical, heating, cooling and appliance problems.

FH071111_002_CUTREP_01-2Family Handyman
There are some household repairs that are so simple that even the pros feel bad about charging for them (really!). Many of these plumbing, heating, electrical, air conditioning, and appliance repairs are simple things that homeowners overlook. Other solutions in this collection are less obvious, but all of these repairs can save you a big chunk of change the next time something goes wrong.

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Low water pressure at the faucet?

Clean or replace the aerator

Over time, aerators get clogged with minerals or other bits of stuff that break loose from the inside of the pipes. Remove the aerator by turning it clockwise when you're looking down on it. You may have to grip it with pliers to unscrew it. Once it's off, you can take the parts out of the aerator and clean them, but it's usually better to simply replace it. Take it along to the hardware store to find an exact thread match.

Your toilet's not a garbage can

Put trash in the wastebasket instead

Our pro plumber got a call to unplug a toilet he had recently installed. He was surprised because he had put in a toilet that he knew was almost impossible to clog. After repeated attempts with a plunger and a toilet auger, he gave up and removed the toilet to look in from the bottom. The outlet was completely clogged with a tangled web of plastic dental floss holders, which had to be removed one at a time with needle-nose pliers. Save yourself a service call. Use the wastebasket for garbage.

Got a leak?

Try tightening the valve stem packing nut

The next time you see a suspicious puddle of water, look for a leaky valve before you call the plumber. Look at the valve to see if water is leaking out around the valve stem. If it is, try turning the packing nut about an eighth turn with a wrench. If tightening the nut doesn't stop the leak, you'll have to shut off the main water valve, remove the handle and nut, and add to or replace the packing material—still a pretty easy fix.

No hot water?

Check the water heater pilot light

Before you call the plumber, remove the metal cover located at the bottom of the water heater or simply look through the glass door to see if the pilot is lit. If you don't see a small pilot light flame, follow the instructions for relighting the pilot on the label pasted to the tank. Some high-efficiency water heaters don't have a pilot light that stays lit all the time. If you have one of these, check your owner's manual before you reach for the phone.

Refrigerator not cooling?

Check the temperature dial and cooling coils

It could be as simple as turning the dial to a cooler setting. Check the controls. Our pro plumber says it's not uncommon to find that the refrigerator controls are set wrong. Someone may have bumped the dial while putting away the milk or an inquisitive toddler may have twisted the knob. Cooling coils completely caked with pet hair and dust are also incredibly common. Remove the front grille and vacuum the coils.

No flame at the gas burners?

Check stove power source

If you don't hear gas coming out when the burner is turned on, gas isn't getting to the stove. Check to make sure the gas is turned on. If you hear gas coming out but the burner won't light, make sure the stove is plugged in. Even gas stoves need power. If the stove is getting gas and has power, clean the igniter near the burner or clean out the pilot light hole.

Electric stove burner not heating?

A recent cleaning might be the reason

The first thing our pro plumber asks is, “Did you clean the stove recently?” Usually the answer is yes, and the fix is easy. When you slid the burner back into the top, the terminal didn't engage with the receptacle under the stove top or the plastic terminal block got knocked out of its holder. Lift the stove-top to see what the problem is. The fix usually involves reinstalling the terminal block. Also try spreading the terminals slightly to create a tighter connection.

An electrical outlet doesn't work

Reset your GFCI electrical outlets

Some outlets are protected by upstream GFCIs or GFCI circuit breakers. Look in the circuit box for a GFCI circuit breaker and in bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms for GFCI outlets. Test and reset them. This may solve your problem.

Not getting enough heat?

Check the furnace filter and air vents

One of the most common causes of insufficient heat or cooled air is a plugged furnace filter. Change inexpensive woven fiberglass filters once a month or buy a better-quality pleated filter and change it every three months to avoid heating and cooling problems. Another common cause of cold rooms during heating season is a blocked cold air return. Be sure your couch or an area rug isn't covering a cold air return vent because this can slow the entry of heated air into the room.