As a professional handyman with 15 years of experience in the Seattle area, David Rea has been summoned to rescue homeowners from sticky situations involving everything from furniture assembly to a dancer’s performance pole that had become stuck to a living room ceiling. He is always eager to teach them a thing or two.
For example, he sometimes answers calls from homeowners whose InSinkErator kitchen garbage disposals have stopped working. Very few of them know about the hex screw on the bottom of the canister that frees the blades, or the tiny button that resets the machine.
“Typically the blades have jammed up, so I teach the homeowner how to restart the unit,” says Rea, who has practiced his trade as the Queen Anne Handyman since 2005. “It takes three extra minutes or so, but it might save them hundreds of dollars in future visits when they simply can fix it themselves.”
With winter bearing down fast, many homeowners may view the upcoming months as a fallow period for DIY projects. But Rea says there is no slow season in his profession, especially in a city like Seattle, where a steady influx of new residents continues to propel nonstop demand for housing.
“There is actually too much work,” says Rea, who has served as handyman for residential properties such as the Escala and Insignia high-rises in downtown Seattle.
“The first couple of years it used to get slow around the holidays or when people took vacations in the summer,” he says. “But as I have been in business longer, there are less and less slow times.”
(As for that dancer’s pole: The tension spring had broken, and Rea had to slice the pole in half to get it down.)
For homeowners who can resist the instinct to hibernate this winter, here are five small DIY projects that are easily manageable using only the tools that can fit in a pocket, along with some advice from Rea.
1. Replace caulk around a tub or sink
This is a fairly easy task that can prevent water from seeping inside drywall, causing mold to grow.
It takes Rea less than an hour to recaulk a typical bathtub. He uses a box-cutter blade to strip away the old material, then gently squeezes out a bead of silicone caulk about 2 inches at a time, smoothing the seal with his index finger.
“If you try to wipe more than 2 inches at a time, you will end up with a big mess on the wall and on your finger,” he says.
Pro tips: Never moisten your “smoothing” finger, but keep it clean by daubing it with a paper towel. “So many leaks can be prevented by just checking to see if your caulking is cracked or missing or moldy,” he says. “They make colored acrylic caulks but they don’t last nearly as long as the silicone products.”
Tools needed: Box cutter, index finger.
2. Paint a drab room
Painting a room is a rewarding DIY project that scores high on the instant-gratification scale. And with careful planning and deliberate steps, you can give a bathroom or powder room a new lease on life in less than a day.
Pro tips: Use an eggshell or semigloss finish, with glossy on the trims, especially if you have children. Paint the wall’s edges and tight spots first, using painter’s tape where needed, then deploy your roller. Break the job down into smaller parts, doing a wall at a time to ensure a uniform look with no visible seams.
Tools needed: Paintbrush, roller, tape.
3. Replace your weatherstripping
Weatherstripping, the flexible barrier around a door or window that keeps out drafts and keeps in heat, can dry and deteriorate with age, becoming less effective. When you run a furnace in the winter with damaged weatherstripping, you’re basically paying to keep your porch warm.
You can remove the old material with needle-nose pliers and replace it with measured lengths of new weatherstripping, either with adhesive strips or by wedging it into place with a flathead screwdriver or similar tool.
Pro tip: “If you are standing inside your house looking at your door and you can see light coming in, you need to address your weatherstripping,” Rea says.
Tools needed: Needle-nose pliers, standard screwdriver.
4. Swap switch plates and outlet covers
Decorators know that a room’s trimmings and small touches are like fashion accessories: They can make a powerful, transformative statement.
Who says light switches and outlet covers have to be white plastic? A vast array of replacements are available in metal, wood, ceramic and other materials. Swapping them adds personality and a splash of color to a room. It is a subtle DIY transformation that homeowners can make in minutes while armed only with a screwdriver.
Pro tips: Remove every switch and outlet cover and bring them with you to the home store to be certain you don’t overlook any, Rea says.
Unscrew only the faceplate, don’t put your screwdriver inside the wall or go near anything with wires. And ensure the replacement plate completely conceals what’s underneath.
“Make sure faceplates are on outlets and switches, with no wires visible,” Rea says. “Think about childproofing with plastic inserts for outlets or upgrading circuit breakers to AFCI [arc fault circuit interrupter] protection or dual function AFCI/GFCI [ground fault circuit interrupter]. Upgrading circuit breakers is a job best left to a professional.”
Tool needed: Standard screwdriver.
5. Boost your Wi-Fi
Home Wi-Fi on the sluggish side? It might not be your provider’s fault. It could be your modem. That was the case at Rea’s house.
“My son was getting very little Wi-Fi, 25 megabytes per second on his basement computer,” he says. “I realized that my equipment was quite old — seven years, to be exact — and the technology and speed had changed. I was paying for 200 megabytes and realized that my old modem could only push max 135.”
Pro tip: Rea upgraded to a 1-gigabyte modem and added a router, and now his son’s PC clocks 100 megabytes per second. “It still isn’t great, but at least he can open his games now,” he says.
Tools needed: Patience.