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A big chunk of our hard-earned money ends up in the greasy, grimey hands of plumbers, electricians, heating and air conditioning technicians, etc. Owning a house comes with maintenance costs that can amount to $4,000 or more per year. Imagine what you could save with easy-to-learn DIY skills, avoiding a call to the Maytag man every time an appliance breaks down?
LET’S GET OUR HANDS DIRTY, KIDS!
Here’s a list of the things you (yes, YOU) can do around the house yourself, without having to worry about being technically skilled (no.’s 3 through 10 will appear in future posts):
1.) Toilet Repair and Replacement (this post)
2.) Faucet Repair and Replacement (this post)
3.) Cable Pulls (internet or cable TV – though you don’t need cable TV, right?)
4.) Window Sash Replacement and Screen Repair
5.) Tiling and flooring
6.) Appliance and Hot Water Heater Repair
7.) Door Lock Swaps and Re-keying
8.) Light Fixture and Dimmer Installation
9.) Basic Duct Work
Toilet Repair and Replacement
Toilet repair is among the more seemingly straightforward, but also frustrating experiences. The most common problem is a clog (yuk) or leaking tank. When it’s a clog, you go for the plunger and go to work. And hope, and flush, and pray, and plunge, and so on…
For any issues with the tank, you don’t need to worry about dirty water. The inside of the tank is probably one of the least contaminated spots in your home. Only clean water goes in there, trust me. But don’t go drinking a glass of toilet tank water or anything silly like that.
Your first step in making any repairs within the tank is to turn off the water to the toilet. The shut-off valve is located near the bowl. This will allow you to flush whatever water is in the tank so you can easily replace worn or broken parts without cold water in your way. Your local hardware shop can help you find the right flapper, flush lever, or fill valve for your particular toilet model. There are tablets you can buy at the hardware store that’ll dissolve in the tank. Do not flush – if your toilet is leaking water, you’ll have colorful blue water in the bowl within minutes.
Replacement of other parts, like the fill valve, are pretty straightforward. Again, just take a picture of the tank’s inside with your phone, and bring the old fill valve to your local hardware store.
REMEMBER TO RIDE YOUR BIKE TO THE LOCAL HARDWARE STORE. It is much less frustrating to roll back there on two wheels to get the RIGHT part the third time, than it is to drive back twice. At least you gain some exercise from the process (Someone told me that once…)
To replace the entire toilet, make sure that tank is empty the water supply is turned off first. You might need to hack off the bolts holding down the bowl to the floor, if the bolts are too rusted. Just make sure the new toilet has sufficient fit and clearance with the wall behind the tank.
Nothing gross at all – just pop a new wax ring on the waste hole in floor, bolt down the new bowl, and then attach the tank. After the water supply is reconnected, you’re in business. Who needs a plumber?
Here’s a very good video from This Old House that’ll walk you through the process:
Faucet Repair and Replacement
For this kind of work, you might want to stretch out the back muscles a bit, because you’ll probably be doing a good amount of the work lying on your back under the sink. Just like with toilet repair, there’s no big secrets or mysteries to fixing or replacing a kitchen or bathroom faucet. If you know you have to replace your faucet, or are simply upgrading, make sure you turn off the supply valves first, which should be right under the sink (hot and cold).
Oftentimes, a newer faucet from a reputable company (e.g., Kohler) comes with a lifetime warranty. We’ve had Kohler send us a brand new faucet head for our kitchen faucet TWICE in the past year due a clogging issue. Free.
A reduced flow of water from the hot or cold supply could be due to a few factors: the supply pipes may be rusting out from the inside if they’re old galvanized steel, or, the supply on/off valves are defective. If you’ve isolated the problem to the valve (you can check this by comparing hot vs. cold valves – both rarely fail at the same exact time), be sure to replace with a quarter turn valve.
They are more reliable and easier to operate. Compression fittings are easy to install – no soldering required. For your viewing pleasure, our friends at This Old House have a great video on leaky faucet repair: https://youtu.be/7UbXmKW-v6o
How much can you save with DIY plumbing skills?
In a typical single family house, with one kitchen and two bathrooms, you’ll probably run into two or three repair jobs per year. Usually, the parts cost no more than 10% of the labor cost of a professional plumber. I learned how to tackle these jobs without any experience, but a few resources sure came in handy:
1.) Reader’s Digest New Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual
2.) You Tube (you’re going to put Joe the Plumber out of business!)
Sometimes you just need to trust in your ability to learn and turn (wrench or screw driver, whatever the tool for the job happens to be.) With an average of three service calls avoided per year, at a cost of $150 per hour, you can figure to save close to $500 per year with some basic DIY plumbing skills. Let’s look at the 40 year opportunity cost of these skills. If you start using your toolbox in your 20s, you could save $127,000 by the time you start collecting Social Security.
Now, consider the rest of the list we started with up top. Brick on brick, the savings will stack up to some huge dollars. Admittedly, you will find yourself making a few extra trips to Home Depot as you learn to be handy. There is a time factor as well. Some choice swear words are inevitable (and perfectly acceptable, dammit!)
In summary, many of you might prefer to read a novel or play golf instead of learning how to fix problems and work with your hands in order to save money or experience a sense of accomplishment. That’s fine – it’s all about choices. Just make sure you give it a try and break out of your comfort zone. You might find you like the fit of that sweet leather tool belt after all.