More than a year into the pandemic, we’re all suffering from overexposure to our own homes. We’ve had more time to contemplate and less motivation to tackle the out-of-whack elements in our houses and apartments — the minor repairs that have seemingly taken up permanent residence on our to-do lists.
You know the ones I mean. That irksome window you can’t open because it has a ripped screen. Or that rattling bathroom fan that infuriates you every time you flip it on.
“During COVID, people were so physically and mentally worn out trying to keep our families safe that our houses went to hell,” says Caroline Carter, founder and chief executive of Bethesda, Maryland-based Done in a Day, a move-management company.
“Our house has been a safe haven over the past 15 months. And now it’s time to show it some love, especially on things that beep, squeak or creak,” says Carter, author of “Smart Moves: How to Save Time and Money While Transitioning Your Home and Life.”
Small and relatively inexpensive fixes are routinely put off, then addressed just before putting a house on the market. But if the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s to live for today. Make a list of the most annoying repairs, and address them one by one. If you’re handy and into DIY, that’s great. If you have a friend or family member who can help you, even better. If not, many of the jobs take only an hour or two for a professional, whether that be a plumber, carpenter or handyperson.
“We get lots of calls from people who decide they want to put their home on the market right now,” says Chuck Khiel, vice president of Fred Home Improvement, a division of Case Architects & Remodelers. “Instead of taking care of little things throughout the year, they suddenly decide to take advantage of a hot market and have a long checklist of home repairs.”
We asked Khiel, as well as a home inspector and a move-management expert, about minor repairs and how to address them. Here are eight of the most common issues they mentioned.
1. Tune up your toilet
The sound of water continuously running in a toilet “should annoy you, because you are wasting time and money,” says Scott Robertson, owner of District Home Inspection in Washington, D.C. This is usually caused by a leaky flapper not sealing properly. Replacing a standard flapper, generally for less than $10, is relatively easy, he says. He often buys the Korky brand.
“Flappers probably last about four to five years. They are made of a flexible material that is resilient, but a buildup of minerals from your water can make it become stiff over time and not seal properly,” Robertson says.
Take photos of the flapper in your tank, measure the drainpipe opening, and note the manufacturer and model of the toilet before heading to the hardware store. He estimates that the job would take a novice flapper installer half an hour and a seasoned DIYer about 10 minutes.
2. Replace a broken storm door closer
If you hate how your storm door slams shut, and you’ve tried and failed to adjust the tension, it might be time for a new door closer, Robertson says. (In addition to being an annoyance, a fast-closing door can be dangerous for kids and pets — and your fingers.) The cylindrical closer slows down the door and ensures that it closes fully. A pin at each end of the cylinder secures it to brackets on the frame and door. The most common model styles are spring and pneumatic, and both cost around $15 for a replacement. Choose the proper screws to secure it, based on whether the door is made of metal or wood.
3. Silence a noisy bathroom fan
Old bathroom fans sometimes make such a racket that homeowners don’t bother to turn them on. “Fans get clogged and caked with dust particles because nobody ever takes off the cover to clean them,” Khiel says. (Note to self: Use a vacuum to suck the dust out of the bathroom fan once a month or so to help prevent clogging and prolong the life of the unit.) Moreover, he says, humidity can rust metal parts. “The dust and the rust can make a fan start to clank,” Khiel says.
If the fan is not too far gone, he says, it’s often possible to replace the motor in the models by popular makers, such as NuTone, Broan and Panasonic. If you do that, you won’t have to install a new fan, which can require cutting the ceiling open, patching and painting, adding hours — and dollars — to the job.
4. Diagnose a door that sticks
Doors tend to shift over time, and the cause could be humidity, an out-of-kilter latch, just plain age and more. “If it’s a really old house, things move around, and that can throw something out of whack,” Khiel says. “Sometimes people lift up on a door to be able to close it without scraping it, and then that can loosen the screws on the hinges.”
The solution could be using longer screws, or it could mean removing the door and cutting or planing it. The job, if you can’t do it yourself, could take an hour or two for a pro; hourly rates range widely, depending on expertise and location.
5. Upgrade a dingy laundry room
Not everyone has a cheery, Instagrammable laundry room; many people wash their clothes in a dark basement. Carter suggests adding brighter lighting. Refresh the area by replacing a plastic laundry sink with a vanity that has both a sink and storage space. Paint a concrete floor cobalt blue or red. (Concrete paints by Behr or Rust-Oleum are good options.) And install a proper clothes drying rack, so you aren’t hanging delicates from doorknobs or pipes. Carter’s choice is Home Depot’s 40-inch Indoor/Outdoor White Retractable Wall Mount Drying Rack.
6. Add circuits
Have you ever tried to use, say, a space heater and hair dryer at the same time, only to have the breaker pop and shut everything down? This means your appliances are sharing a circuit, a common situation in older homes. If this happens with some frequency, it should be addressed, because it’s a safety hazard and an annoyance. This is not a DIY project; a licensed electrician needs to do a diagnosis, Khiel says. “They will make a recommendation on how to correct the problem,” he says. “If it requires separating a circuit and having to run a new wire, the question is: What will they need to cut through, and how much patching and painting will it require?”
Sometimes, if a panel has extra spots, additional circuits can be added; otherwise, a subpanel could be installed. Or, the situation could require a “heavy-up” — a costly project (about $3,000 to $4,000, Khiel says) that increases the amperage going into the house.
7. Repair damaged screens
Older homes often have windows that are painted shut, which is a fire hazard, or screens that are full of holes. If you want to let fresh air into your house but haven’t had the bandwidth to pry open the windows or fix the screens, it’s time to act. Although getting windows unstuck may require skill and brawn, you should be able to fix the screens with less effort. To make the repair, Carter says, you will need spline (a type of cord that holds a screen in place), a spline roller and some screening. Watch a couple videos online for detailed instructions.
8. Replace dated kitchen cabinet knobs
My own brass, football-shaped kitchen cabinet knobs, circa 1999, are looking pitted, and some are loose. Although I’ve thought about upgrading them dozens of times, I’ve never pulled the trigger. Carter says replacing knobs should be a breeze, even for non-handy types. If you have pulls, you should be able to switch them out to ones of the same width (usually 3 or 4 inches). If you want to trade in your knobs for more trendy pulls, you’ll have to drill new holes. She suggests looking for value packs in chrome or brushed nickel.