10-Minute Home Repairs

If the title made you smirk, you’re probably a veteran do-it-yourselfer. You know that most home repairs touted as 10-minute jobs can easily take three times that given Murphy’s Law. The following 10 micro-projects, however, really do take 10 minutes. Waiting for water to boil for your morning cup of tea? You can do any one of these home repairs in the process ... and then reward yourself with the tea!

1. Silence a Rattling Door

If an open window makes a door chatter Morse code, grab medium Philips and slot head screwdrivers, two pairs of pliers and a washcloth. Use a screwdriver to remove the doorknob’s strike plate (the metal square on the jam that reinforces the bolt hole). See the tang, or the lip that curls into the hole? Wrap the strike plate in the cloth (to avoid marring it) and use the pliers to bend the tang a half-centimeter toward the hole’s center. Repeat and bend further until the rattling stops.

2. Strengthen a Weak Kitchen Chair

A dowel connecting two legs pulled out of its socket, inviting wobbling and spinal discomfort? Put a dab of glue on its end, force the dowel into its hole and lash the legs tight with a belt. Use a drill to slowly run a small screw into the leg (at 45 degrees) so it penetrates the freshly glued dowel inside. Voila! You've restored the mortise and tenon integrity on the side stretcher.

3. Re-Stick Peeling Wallpaper

Paste a minor curl down with adhesive, smooth it with a damp sponge and run painter’s tape on the seam. Remove the tape after 24 hours.

4. Bury a Popped Sheetrock Nail

Hammer it deep into the sheetrock with a nail set. Drive in a screw just below it to make sure this doesn’t happen again; give the screw a slight countersink. Apply a dab of spackle and paint.

5. Hide a Wood Scratch

Snag your kid’s huge crayon box and find the one closest to the wood’s hue. Try to color out the gouge; sometimes it works. No cigar? Take the crayon to a hardware store and get a scratch repair pen that’s slightly lighter.

6. Kill a Musty Odor

If your garage or basement reeks, buy a big bag of plain charcoal (not the stuff that lights without fluid), lay it flat in an inconspicuous spot and cut a large square out of the bag. Let it suck up stink. Replace every six months.

7. Lube a Stubborn Lock

Don’t use WD-40; liquid attracts dust. Use graphite powder.

8. Mend a Hose

Pick up a few couplers that’ll fit your garden hose. The next time you slice it with the mower or otherwise spring a leak, grab one for a quick fix.

9. Install a USB Outlet Charger

Or three-prongers if your home is ancient. Yes, your first one will take longer than 10 minutes, but your fourth will be a display of mastery. Shut off your power at the circuit breaker and follow the directions. Tip: You can’t swap out a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) safety outlet (the ones with test and reset buttons) for a USB.

10. Change Your Furnace Filter

I know. Not a fix. Not an upgrade. Boring. I’d probably rather watch the water boil. But as far as incredibly quick, simple household jobs go, you can’t beat its bang for the buck. (With the exception of changing the smoke detector batteries twice a year during daylight savings, like your local news lady tells you.) Change the filter every one to four months, depending on its type. You’ll breathe cleaner air, save energy and prevent expensive furnace problems.

Safeguard Your Home Against Burglars

If you lock yourself out of your house -- and almost everyone has -- is it easy to get back in? If so, your home is a burglar’s dream.

One home is robbed every 15 seconds in the United States, according to the FBI. Most burglaries occur during the day when the owners are absent, and the break-ins require but one minute. 70 percent of robberies involve forced entry. The remaining 30 percent is made up of a combination of overly-trusting souls and those who simply forget to lock the door or latch the window.

Luckily, spoiling a robber’s day is simple, as your garden-variety thief moves on if breaching your defenses requires more than a couple of minutes.

Criminals Hate Landscaping

Experienced burglars seek to remain hidden. Remove that ability by following what police call the “3-7 Rule.” Prune shrubs so they’re no more than 3 feet high; prune trees so limbs are 7 feet above ground.

Short, thorny bushes planted alongside your home, especially under windows, are the bane of an intruder’s existence. Prowlers further detest small, crunchy gravel that makes enough noise to give them away.

Lights should illuminate doors and windows. Situate some lights so they shine through the upper limbs of trees.

What’s Behind Door No. 1?

Hollow-core doors are acceptable inside a home, but are worthless for external security. Exterior doors should be solid wood or metal clad, fit firmly in their frames, and be at least 1 3/4-inches thick. Investing in a metal doorframe frustrates burglars to no end.

Many people secure sliding glass doors by placing a broomstick in the bottom track. It’s a good idea, but sliders are easily lifted/pried off their tracks. Eliminate that risk by drilling three holes in the upper track and installing 1 1/4-inch, large-head, sheet metal screws. Twist the screws until the sliding door barely clears them.

Windows to the World

Dedicated burglars can always break glass, but most prefer to avoid such raucous noise. They know almost all windows are secured by flimsy latches, which is why you should install keyed locks. Don’t put keyed locks on the windows in rooms where children sleep (in case of fire). Instead, secure them in the same manner as a sliding glass door.

Don’t Let Burglars Clean Out Your Garage

A garage door is a weak point in home security, and automatic garage door openers tend to work on similar frequencies (making hacking easy). Latch your garage door manually. If the door lacks a manual latch, have one installed.

Lock Before You Leap

Standard doorknobs come with a simple spring-lock, easily jimmied or bypassed (with screwdriver or credit card) by even amateur crooks. Install a double-cylinder deadbolt lock if your exterior door features decorative or breakable glass located within 40 inches of the lock. A single-cylinder deadbolt suffices on doors lacking glass.

While you’re working on the door, install a heavy-duty strike plate in the doorframe. This is held by six 3-inch wood screws, in contrast to regular strike plates that feature only two 3/4-inch screws. For best results, the bolt must extend at least an inch into the doorframe, and be constructed of case-hardened steel.

Why You Should Buy a Jack Russell Terrier

Nothing bothers burglars more than the sound of a barking dog in the house. Oddly enough, based on police reports, homes with large dogs are robbed more often than those with small, yappy ones. Large dogs are frequently more trusting and relaxed than their smaller counterparts, and few canines are more noisy and protective than the venerable Jack Russell terrier. They will not shut up if a stranger is prying at a window, and have a volume that belies their diminutive size (plus, Jacks are just a whole lot of fun to have around).

Don’t Advertise Your Vacation

Social media may be a facet of your daily life, but don’t rush to post news of upcoming vacations and weekend getaways. You never know if online acquaintances or “friends of friends” moonlight as robbers. Further, don’t post pictures of yourself on a faraway beach until you return home. While away, send photos in private e-mails to family and trusted friends only.

Have neighbors pick up your mail/newspapers (or put a hold on service) if you’re on an extended trip. Also, set your lights on timers that will switch on and off at random times.

Update Your Kitchen Cabinets

If just looking at your outdated kitchen cabinets makes you groan, know that there are plenty of ways to liven them up. Your first, biggest choice is whether to reface or replace. Once you’ve made that decision, it’s time to choose a style, materials, finishes, hardware … and the list goes on. But don’t worry -- the below tips will help you navigate the sea of cabinetry choices.

Go Green

Taking the eco-friendly reno route is a big priority for a growing number of homeowners, and there are a number of green options available. Narrow the field by making your decisions based on environmental impact. For example, refinishing your existing cabinets with a low-VOC paint or varnish and adding eco-friendly knobs and pulls would be gentlest to the Earth.

Can’t save your existing frames or doors? Look for used cabinets that someone else chucked during a remodel; they’ll often be in good shape. Find used pieces by checking online classifieds and calling some contractors and condo managers. Pay it forward by donating anything useable from your old cabinetry. Much of it is probably salvageable for someone else in need.

If you must buy new cabinets, opt for reclaimed wood if it’s in your budget. Ask kitchen contractors for tips on local sources. Your next best choice is to use Forest Stewardship Council-certified plywood with a wood veneer. FSC-certified wood has been harvested using sustainable methods. This option also uses fewer natural resources than hardwood.

Veneered plywood will likely be your least expensive choice in buying new. Want hardwood? Highly renewable bamboo or lyptus are green favorites, though they can be pricey. The next step down, ecologically, is a long-lasting, durable hardwood like maple or oak. Only go with FSC-certified wood.

In general, you want to avoid particleboard, pressboard and fiberboard, which typically use formaldehyde as a binder. Same goes for synthetic materials, laminate and PVC. However, composite materials that have green features, such as wheat board, are being developed all the time. Look for FSC certification and/or the Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) seal.

Finally, opt for a local cabinet provider, as shipping earth-friendly cabinets across the country isn’t very green. Try the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and Green Cabinet Source for sources. And always buy cabinets that can be easily refaced later down the road.

Modern Makeover

Updating your kitchen cabinets is a good way to bring your kitchen into the 21st century. For the most modern look, consider getting stock (as is) or semi-custom (slightly modified) cabinets that sport a full overlay, which means the edges of cabinet doors and drawer covers are very close together so you can’t see much of the cabinet frame between them. Contemporary-styled pulls will also add a modern touch.

For a super sleek space, go frameless so the edges of the cabinet doors and drawer covers are flush with the frame edges. How about a more radical idea? Consider going with glass door panels -- or no cabinet doors at all -- for an open-storage feel.

When it comes to current color trends, extremes are in. Opt for a very dark wood or white composite materials.

Functional Fixes

With so many style options, it’s easy to become a little fixated on aesthetics, but don’t forget to think about functionality. The way kitchen cabinets function can be just as outdated as the way they look. Devote some of your remodeling budget to creating organizational amenities and labor-saving features such as: Lazy Susans, pullout shelves, deep drawers for pots and pans, appliance-hiding panels, special drawers for food-storage wrap (foil and plastic), hanging hooks and more.

Small luxuries like smooth drawer rollers, soft-close systems (to prevent slamming) and European cabinet hinges (to allow full opening) can make your cooking and cleaning experience much easier.

Foundation Damage: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

A firm foundation truly is the most important part of any home. It supports the weight of your house, and is a vital component to its overall integrity. If the foundation fails, you can be sure there will be damage to the rest of your home in some way or another -- it’s just a question of how serious that damage will be.

You should begin a foundation fix at the first signs of disrepair to prevent the damage from spreading to walls, ceilings and other areas of your home. Not only will this help to preserve your investment, but it also will limit bigger, more costly repairs in the future.

Symptoms

Identifying the signs of a foundation problem is crucial to minimizing the damage. Most warning signs are obvious, but others can be more difficult to identify. The following list includes the most common signs of foundation damage. One of these symptoms alone may not be related to your foundation, but if you’re experiencing several of them simultaneously, it’s a definite red flag.

  • Sticking windows
  • Doors that stick or fail to close properly
  • Unlevel, cracked or sagging floors
  • Hairline cracks in drywall or masonry walls both inside and outside of your home  
  • Bulging, bowing or “out of plumb” interior or exterior walls
  • Separation between the sill plate and foundation wall
  • Running cracks through brick, block or masonry walls in a stair-step pattern
  • Larger-than-normal gaps around windows and doors
  • Separation between additions, chimneys and fascia boards                                                                                                                                   

Diagnosis

The most common type of foundation damage -- settling from soil compaction or desiccation -- is unfortunately the most expensive to repair. This type of damage usually results from the ground settling or sink hole activity -- common in areas with limestone bedrock -- where the ground beneath the structure begins to drop or give way. Lateral pressure from swollen or settling soils can also destabilize walls, causing them to bow or bulge. Another common culprit leading to foundation damage is excessive water accumulation around the structure.

Treatment

Repairing a foundation requires specialized equipment and knowledge that should be left to the professionals. Severe foundation damage requires underpinning to raise and support the structure with steel hydraulic push piers, drilled concrete piers or pressed concrete pilings.

Hydraulic push piers are regarded as the most cost-effective method to repair the foundation permanently. The columns rest on the load-bearing stratum underground and attach to the foundation of your home, providing permanent support for the structure.

Before the foundation repair begins, homeowners can help limit the potential damage to other areas of their home:

  • Verify that the ground around your foundation is sloped properly and that water is not collecting around the base of the foundation.
  • Seal all exterior cracks with a high-grade sealant or epoxy to lock out water and moisture.
  • Clean all gutters and downspouts. Make an effort to direct the runoff away from your home.

Although these repairs might seem minor when compared to the overall scope of the problem, they will help to prevent further damage to your home. These are also excellent upkeep techniques to reduce foundation problems in the first place. However, as noted above, most foundation issues are created by external factors well out of a homeowner’s control.

The best thing a homeowner can do in the event of a failing foundation is to contact a professional immediately. The problem will not go away and will only grow larger over time.

A Money-Saving Plan for DIY Furnace Repair

Heating your home can be expensive, but it’s a necessary expense. That’s why it’s important to give your furnace the upkeep it requires. Luckily, there are a few things you can do on your own to keep your furnace running smoothly … and save money in the process.

Safety notes: Always turn off the electrical power and fuel supply before performing maintenance on your furnace. If you don’t already, you should have several CO detectors around your home to alert you of a potential emergency situation.

1. Check and Clean Your Burners

Entrust a professional to make any adjustments on your burners, but you can at least perform a visual inspection to make sure they’re burning efficiently and cleanly. It’s better to catch any issues early on so they don’t turn into bigger, more expensive problems later. To do this:

  • Make sure the power is off
  • Remove the combustion chamber door
  • Check the burners and heat exchangers for any cracks or abnormalities
  • Turn the power back on and activate the burners by turning up the heat
  • Flames should be even and blue
  • Yellow flames indicate dirty burners

2. Vacuum, Vacuum, Vacuum

A good vacuum at the beginning of the season can help ensure you don’t waste money by running an inefficient heating system that’s clogged with dust.  

  • Turn the power and the fuel supply off
  • Vacuum the burners and the furnace base
  • Use a flashlight to look for and clean up soot, which can indicate poor combustion and can corrode the chamber walls
  • Lift off the blower door and vacuum the blower compartment
  • Remove any floor registers and vacuum out the ducts, or clean radiators and baseboard heaters, making sure they are not blocked

3. Clean the Flame Sensor

Your furnace burners may have trouble lighting if the flame sensor is dirty. Pull the flame sensor out of its bracket and clean with a piece of fine emory cloth.

4. Replace Filters

This is one of the most important things you can do for your furnace. A fresh filter will keep the furnace running well and will keep the air in your home clean. While there are newer, high-efficiency filters that don’t need to be changed as frequently, common $1 fiberglass filters work just fine if you replace them every one to three months.

5. Install (or Check On) a Thermostat

If you don’t already have a programmable thermostat, install one! It’s a project you can do yourself, with the help of some YouTube tutorials. Having the ability to control your home’s temperature will save you a ton of money. In fact, setting your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours a day can save you up to 15 percent a year on your heating bill.

If you already have a thermostat, change the batteries at least once a year. If the thermostat doesn’t run properly, the furnace may shut down.