Just fix it: Three key home repairs you can do yourself

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By Barbara Ballinger / Chicago Tribune

Home repair can be intimidating, yet there are numerous projects you can learn to tackle on your own with a bit of courage, the right instructions and good supplies. Here are step-by-step instructions for three attainable projects.

TILE A BACKSPLASH

Updating a kitchen or bathroom doesn’t have to mean a gut overhaul—even one new zippy backsplash in crisp subway tiles can make a world of difference. Go white for classic, or consider pale green glass. Suzy Opalinski, project specialist at Lowe’s, advises watching the company’s video first and buying supplies in advance of tackling your job.

The tips:

Always buy at least 10 percent more tile than you need, since dye lots change and you may drop a few pieces or cut them incorrectly. Consider choices in porcelain tile; it’s easier for a beginner to work with than natural stone. And don’t forget to buy a bag of plastic spacers and ready-mixed grout.

You no longer have to mix mortar and struggle with getting the right consistency for applying the tiles to the wall. The easiest way to start is to select tiles that already have been mounted on mesh. Or you can expend a bit more effort and select tiles that you adhere to an adhesive mat. The mats come in 18-inch rolls measuring 25 square feet, and you’ll have to cut them with a scissor. Affix them to fit between the top of the counter and bottom of the upper cabinets. Then place the tiles on top, starting with the bottom left side and moving to the right, cutting tiles at the end if needed, and leaving space between each tile for a plastic spacer that you’ll later remove, replacing it with grout.

Once all the tiles are in and spacers out, you will apply the grout. To apply, use a rectangular float, similar to a sponge, and dab the grout in between the tiles like you’re buttering toast—at a 45-degree angle. You can later sponge off excess with water.

INSTALL A NEW TOILET

Replacing a toilet, believe it or not, is almost simpler than baking a pie. The trick is to take it one step at a time. Our advice: Follow an online video, using these tips to navigate key details.

The tips:

Before removing the old toilet, measure the area from the wall behind the toilet to center of one of the closet bolts, which hold down the toilet. If the toilet has four closet bolts, measure to the center of one of the rear ones. Then, measure from the center of the mounting holes to back of the new toilet you’re considering. If the base of the new toilet is shorter than the distance between the rear bolt holes and wall, it should fit. In small bathrooms, also measure from the sides of the flange bolts to sidewalls or other objects—maybe a sink to be sure there’s clearance.

Check out supplies packaged in a complete kits that include the tank, bowl, wax ring and a hardware kit. If you plan to replace the supply line, the flexible ones encased in stainless-steel mesh are strong and convenient.

When removing your old toilet, place the tank top flat on the floor, preferably in another room. Don’t prop this fragile top against a wall close to where you’re working. If it falls, or if you bump into it while trying to maneuver the heavy toilet pieces, it will probably break.

As soon as you remove your old toilet, plug the drain hole to keep gases from escaping into the room, making sure that your plug can’t fall into the drain line and stop it up.

When you’re ready to install your new toilet, put something under it such as a blanket to prevent damage.

When installing washers and bolts to hold the new toilet in place, make sure the tapered washers are installed with the appropriate side up. The washers will be labeled in the manufacturer’s instructions.

When your toilet is installed, you may need to make minor adjustments to the flushing mechanism. Try flushing to see it works.

FIX A CLOGGED GARBAGE DISPOSAL

First, know how to avoid a clogged disposal in the first place. Don’t overload it and never pour grease, vegetable peels or rinds down the drain. Use cold water and run the disposal until empty.

The tips:

Every so often, grind a few pieces of lemon in the disposal for 30 seconds in cold water. Acids are good for the drain pipe and to keep the disposal smelling clean.

If your disposal doesn’t turn on, reset the switch on the bottom by pressing it. Next, check the breaker. If it’s off, turn it back on.

If the disposal hums, there may be something caught. Use an allen wrench to move the drum back and forth and try to free the obstruction.

If you reach into the disposal, always first unplug it.

To get something out that’s already inside your disposal, like a bone or rock, go in with tongs.

Lift the flap, take a look, and see if you can find and grab the item.

 

More information is available at www.todayshomeowner.com.