4 Beginner-Level Repairs Every Homeowner Should Know How to Make

published Mar 29, 2022
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Are you facing your first-ever home repair or maintenance project and not sure how to begin (or keep going after that)? Make your way through our starter pack. This content was created independently by our editorial team and generously underwritten by the Toyota Corolla Cross.

Congratulations! You bought your first home. You’ve made it through the first rites of passage: nervously handing over your down payment, giddily scarfing down delivery dinner amid stacks of boxes. But there’s one more critical step in the process of becoming an official homeowner: experiencing that moment you realize you can’t call your landlord when the toilet stops flushing or your bedroom door knob wiggles out of place.

Once your name is on the deed, it’s up to you to figure out how to fix anything that breaks. You don’t have to be a DIY expert on day one, but you should start paying close attention to all of your home’s nooks and crannies and idiosyncrasies. “Become aware of your home and how it operates,” says Eugene Colberg, principal at Colberg Architecture. “Familiarize yourself with how the heating works, where different controls are, where the electrical panel is, and the basic building systems.” 

Then you can move on to teaching yourself about the basic repairs and maintenance that will come up on a regular basis. While you shouldn’t pull out your screwdriver and wrench for every repair around the house — sometimes a fix really does require a professional — there are a number of beginner-level repairs that every homeowner should have in their proverbial toolbox of DIY skills. 

How to Repair a Door Hinge

When you were growing up, your parents may have constantly told you to stop slamming doors. They were on to something. “We slam doors all the time, intentionally and unintentionally, making hinges weaker,” says Goodell David, founder of WoodWorking Clarity.

That means door hinge repair should be high on your list of DIY skills to learn. Luckily, it’s a straightforward process that doesn’t require expert-level handymanship. “Hinges only cost a few dollars, but you’ll pay 10 times as much to hire a pro,” David says.

To get started, you’ll need the new hardware, screws, and a drill. There’s an advantage to choosing a similar style to your previous hardware, or at least making sure the measurements line up: “The holes and measurements are already there, unless you want to change the style of the hinge,” David explains. Once you’ve got your materials ready, open the door fully to expose the hinges, and steady it by placing weights or any similarly heavy object on either side of the door. Go hinge by hinge to take out the old hardware and screw in the new version so that you don’t need to remove the entire door. That’s seriously it — it’s a simple process that only sounds intimidating. 

How to Fix a Leaky Toilet

A leaky toilet could, of course, have many diagnoses, but if it’s a leak around the base, the answer could be as straightforward as addressing the bolts.

Before you even encounter this issue, though, you should ID where the shutoff valve is. “It’s like knowing first aid for your property,” Colberg says. Then, when you do in fact have this problem, first, shut off the water to the toilet. Next, check all bolts around the toilet and tighten or replace old bolts where necessary using a crescent wrench. Turn the water back on, wait a few minutes, and, if the leak is gone, this could be the only fix you need! That said, if it returns, it’s time to call in a pro for more advanced repairs. Remember: Don’t attempt to DIY any plumbing fixes.

Catherine Keo of The Original Plumber also recommends knowing how to unclog your toilet. Find that how-to here.

How to Touch Up Caulk

When you walk into an older room and something feels rundown but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is, there’s a decent chance it’s that the caulk has cracked and separated around windows, doors, or baseboards.

Here’s the excellent news: Repairing caulk takes just a few minutes and will make a huge impact on your space. Sergio Quezada, a Colorado-based home improvement specialist known as Mr. Jalapeño on social media, previously told Apartment Therapy that all you’ll need is a utility blade, caulking, and a washcloth, plus paint and a brush if you want to repaint afterward (which may not be necessary if the surrounding molding is white). First, use the utility blade to cut away the remnants of the old caulk, then carefully apply the new caulk to the area. It should glide on. Use a damp washcloth to wipe away the excess so that only the caulk filling in the space remains. Wait 30 minutes if you decide to paint over the area. 

How to Patch a Hole in Drywall

Whether you’re a renter or an owner, chances are, you’ve had to patch small nail holes in the walls. But the stakes get a little higher when you own your place and you can’t call in the super to fix a larger hole. “Whether they are from an accident or moving an old picture, nearly every homeowner will have to fill a hole at some point,” says Jordan Fulmer of property investment company Momentum Property Solutions, “and it is easy to tell the difference between a job done by a rookie and a professional.” Fortunately, it’s not difficult to learn how to patch a hole and make it look like it was done by a professional. 

If it’s a small hole, just a bit of compound scraped over with a putty knife, left to dry, and sanded will do the trick. (Find more details on this here.

However, when it’s larger than a nail hole, you will need a screwdriver, drywall saw, boards, mesh tape, drywall screws, putty knife, and compound. (Admittedly, this materials list is a bit more advanced than what you may have on hand to begin with.)

“Cut a rectangular hole that is a little larger than the original, irregular-shaped hole,” advises Fulmer. The key is that the larger hole will have clean lines and give you an opportunity for reinforcement behind it using a board and drywall screws. Next, cut a piece of drywall to match the size of the new hole. “You will need a new sheet of drywall for the patch,” says Fulmer, adding that “Lowe’s and The Home Depot both sell 2′ x 2′ sheets of drywall that can easily be trimmed to size.” Screw the new piece of drywall in with drywall screws, then cover it with mesh tape. Cover with three coats of compound, then sand, prime, and paint. It will look good as new — and you’ll have newfound confidence with a saw.