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Do-it-yourself repairs can save both residents and owners money

Renovations & maintenance

There are many repairs that require a professional, but even for the below-average do-it-yourselfer, there are many tasks they can easily perform that can save them, and the property owners, a pricey house call from a tradesman.

“Virtual repairs is what we call it,” said Billy Wardlaw, senior operations manager at Mynd Management, a property management company. “We’ll send YouTube videos of how to fix things and let tenants do some of those repairs by themselves.”

The idea is to save money, without getting your hands (too) dirty. In some cases, such as a clogged toilet or a jammed garbage disposal, the resident would have to pay the repair bill and it behooves them to give it a go.

From unclogging your toilet, to repainting the most basic furniture, DIY repair hacks are a great way to elevate your property. (Credit: Courtesy)

From unclogging your toilet, to repainting the most basic furniture, DIY repair hacks are a great way to elevate your property. (Credit: Courtesy)

Toilet clog

One of the most common problems in either an apartment or a home is a clogged toilet, which can cause some stress for residents.

Luckily, there are a few steps to take before calling in a plumber. First off, if there is a clog, or toilet water is draining very slowly, it’s important not to flush again, which can cause water to overflow on the floor. 

For those stubborn clogs that do not respond to a plunger, we recommend the following steps:

  1. Pour very hot tap water (not boiling water) into the toilet

  2. Add eight ounces or so of dish soap

  3. Let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour

Most clogs will loosen on their own, but a couple pumps with a plunger should do the trick. (Make sure the seal is tight when placing the plunger over the toilet drain.)

Toilet water running

Another common issue in the bathroom is when the toilet water is running between flushes, which can increase water usage and fees unnecessarily.

The first step for this project is to remove the top from the toilet tank. Once the top is off, the first item to check is the flapper, the rubber piece that covers the drain and can sometimes be worn or have some dirt buildup. Clean the flapper and check to see if the seal is tight. That will resolve the problem many times.

Sometimes the chain connected to the flapper is the problem.

“Make sure the chain is not too long and the chain does not get caught under the flapper,” Wardlaw says. He also recommends that owners swap out the flapper every two years since they can get worn and leak water.

Other times the problem is caused by a float that is too high and allows the water to leak into the overflow valve. Adjustments to the height of the float can lower the water level when the toilet tank fills and stop the overflow.

Simple fixes for a garbage disposal jam

Not all kitchens are outfitted with a garbage disposal, but when they fail, sometimes the fix is an easy one. If a garbage disposal is not working or appears jammed, Wardlaw recommends that the first check is for the reset button, which will be sticking up one-quarter inch at the bottom of the disposal and is usually red in color. If the machine does not reset, it should be unplugged before taking the following steps.

  1. Use a hex key (allen wrench) on the bottom of the disposal and try to spin it in both directions. This should loosen many jams. 

  2. Try a broomstick handle or screwdriver to try to rotate the grinding plate from above.

  3. Plug it back in and turn on the cold water and test. If it still does not work, you may need to call in a repairman.

If the disposal is not spinning or is making a grinding noise, Wardlaw warns to shut it off. 

“Don’t leave it on if it’s jammed,” he said, “you’ll burn out the motor.”

Electric current shuts off

Another common household problem that is easily managed by a resident is when they lose electricity, and some lights or an appliance is not working. This usually happens when a breaker switch or a GFCI outlet has been tripped. Both of these are simple to reset. (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters, or GFCI outlets, are generally used in wet areas of the home and are designed to protect people from an electric shock.)

Wardlaw says sometimes it’s hard to tell if a breaker switch is the culprit, but added: “If it’s moving real easy then it’s probably tripped.”

Faucet stopped/flowing slowly

Another plumbing issue that arises that can be easily dealt with by a resident is when a faucet appears to be clogged, or water is coming out very slowly. In most cases, cleaning or replacing the faucet aerator will solve the problem. 

Aerators were designed to ensure a steady stream of water and to prevent water from splashing when it hit the sink. When foreign material gets caught in the aerator, it restricts water flow. 

Some aerators can be removed by hand by turning counterclockwise, but if pliers are needed for a round aerator, it’s best to use a rag or duct tape to prevent scratching. After it is removed, turn the faucet on to be sure the line is clear.

Sometimes the aerator can be flushed and cleaned with vinegar, but a new aerator is only about five dollars so replacing it is often recommended.

How to deal with an ant infestation

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As spring approaches, animals and insects become more active. Ants, though harmless, can cause some distress when they appear, usually around sinks or in the kitchen.

Fortunately, there are several chemical-free solutions to getting rid of ants. One method is to use double-sided masking tape, or double over the tape so there is a sticky side up, and placing them on the counter around the sugar container or cookie jar ants are after.

Cutting a lemon in half and squeezing the juice into the window sill or a door where ants are entering will discourage them. Using a solution of water and lemon juice to wash the floors will also deter ants, as well and roaches and other insects. Also, a mixture of half vinegar and half water in a spray bottle can keep the ants at bay, and can be used at a picnic as well.

Lastly, a liberal sprinkling of talcum powder in front of doors or other areas where ants are entering the house will drive them off.

Replacing smoke detector battery

When you start hearing that annoying beep every few minutes around the house, you might think you’ve got a cricket on the premises.

But it’s more likely your smoke detector battery is out of juice. The detector can be removed from its mount by twisting in a counterclockwise direction. There is a raised tab to push, which will allow you to pop out the battery and remove it. Most smoke detectors use a nine-volt battery, and if you have a tester you can find out if it’s dead. (Most fire departments recommend checking or replacing smoke detector batteries when we turn the clocks forward and back for daylight savings time.) 

When you look inside the smoke detector, you will see plus and minus signs, so when you install the new battery, be sure those are lined up. Not only will this quick resident fix save you money but also replacing smoke detectors is a key fire prevention tip to better ensure protection of your rental property.

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