Whether you’ve just moved in, or are making improvements, knowing how to tackle common household maintenance tasks, such as fixing a leaky tap or unblocking a drain, can save you time and money.
Getting to grips with basic DIY skills can also be enormously rewarding, says Alison Winfield-Chislett, founder of The Goodlife Centre1, which teaches everything from tiling to basic plumbing. “One of the reasons I started the centre was the delight I saw when people had learned a few fundamentals of DIY," she says. We refer to a drill as an ‘empower tool’, as there’s so much satisfaction to be gained by fixing a problem yourself.”
If you feel confident about tackling some household jobs, we’ve put together some top-line DIY advice from experts to help you get started. However, if you’re unsure about a project, or concerned about safety, always seek professional help. Comparison sites, such as Rated People and Checkatrade.com, will help you find a verified local tradesperson you can trust.
How to stop a dripping tap
“There are a number of causes for a leaky tap,” says John Giblin of Giblin Plumb and Heat2, a registered gas engineer and plumber with 18 years of experience. “But one of the most common is a worn-out washer, which can be easy to replace.”
John advises: “Before you start any repairs, turn off the water supply at the stopcock, or use the isolation valve, which should be located on the pipes below the sink. Turn on the tap to run off any remaining water in the pipe, then put in the plug so any falling parts will be caught.
“Remove the tap handle (the screw that holds the tap together is often found beneath the decorative cap, or beside the hot and cold indicator on a mixer tap) and unscrew the valve underneath using an adjustable spanner. You can then prize out the washer from underneath the valve and replace it with a new one, before carefully reassembling in order. (You can find useful diagrams online.)
“Put everything back in place and turn the water back on. If the new washer hasn’t fixed the problem, call in the experts.”
How to change a fuse
A fuse is a protective device that breaks the electric circuit in the event of a fault or power overload. In your home, you’ll find fuses inside plugs, fused connection units (linked to appliances, such as electric ovens or dishwashers) and, sometimes, in traditional mains fuse boxes. These days, most fuse boxes have been replaced by miniature circuit breakers (MCBs), which are reset with a button or a lever, and don’t require a fuse. In the event of a blowout, a good hardware store should be able to help you select a replacement.
“Changing the fuse in a plug is straightforward,” says Alison. “First, remove any screws or prize the plug open to find the fuse holder. Remove the fuse using a screwdriver and replace with a new one of the same amperage. Replace the cover, along with any screws, and test. If the device blows again, or still doesn’t work, there may be a fault with the appliance.
“Before changing a fuse in a fused connection unit, make sure the relevant appliance unit is switched off. The fuse holder will be located next to the switch, and can be eased open using a flat-head screwdriver. Once open, remove the fuse and replace with a new one of the same amperage. Then close the box and switch the unit back on. If you are at all unsure as to whether the switch is in good working order, switch off the circuit in the circuit box before you begin.
“It’s important not to take any chances. If you’re in any doubt, consult a qualified electrician – a quick phone call should establish if you need professional help."
How to hang wallpaper
Decorating with wallpaper is a great way to enhance your home and add instant personality to a room but, if you’re planning to do it yourself, you’ll need to be prepared. “Mistakes can be unsightly, as well as expensive to rectify, so take your time to get it right,” says Rebecca Holt of Studio Holt3, former interiors journalist and graduate of the internationally-renowned KLC School of Design.
“First, choose your wallpaper and work out how much you need. B&Q has a useful wallpaper calculator on their website4 which can help you make an estimate. Before you begin, you’ll need to prepare your wall surface by removing flaking paint or old wallpaper, and washing with sugar soap to remove grease or dirt. If your walls are still marked or uneven, you may need to paper them with a liner before you put up wallpaper.
“When measuring and cutting the paper, allow an overlap of 5cm at both the ceiling and skirting ends. If the wallpaper is patterned, it’s a good idea to place the second length next to the first on the bench before you paste so you can match the pattern before you cut. Apply wallpaper paste from the inside out towards the edges, carefully folding the paper into itself (like a concertina) as you go along.
“When it comes to hanging, start on a full-length section of wall with no sockets (in a corner if you’re papering the whole room; in the centre if you’re creating a feature wall) and use a plumb line (a weighted length of string) to make sure the first length of wallpaper is straight. Gently smooth out any air bubbles with a brush as you go along, and wipe away surplus paste with a damp sponge.
“Step-by-step guides on the B&Q website are helpful, and there are lots of guided tutorials online to help you deal with tricky corners, doorframes, sockets and radiators.”
How to hang a picture
While small frames can be hung with a simple picture hook or a small nail banged into the wall at an angle, larger artworks will need something stronger
“It’s tempting to just smack a nail into a wall and hope for the best, but pictures will look better, and be far more secure, if the wire on the back is held with two screws fixed into the wall behind the frame,” says Alison.
If the wall is hollow rather than brick, you’ll need to locate the studs (supporting wooden struts) so you know where you can drill. A stud detector costs around £15 - £25 from any good hardware store. You should also check there aren’t any concealed wires. A voltage detector pen (around £10) will tell you if there’s an electrical current; if there is, you’ll have to re-think the position of your picture.
Also check for water pipes by working out where the water flow runs round the house – for example, boxed-in sections where your radiator pipes travel from the ground to upper floors.
Fix the screws by drilling holes using a wood drill bit (or a masonry drill bit if the wall is brick) that’s one size smaller than your screw. It can be a good idea to invest in a hanging kit (available from most good DIY stores) which will give you all the equipment you need.
When it comes to positioning, as a rule of thumb, hang the picture at eye level. One quick trick is to mark its ideal location on the wall with masking tape and, if you’re using two screws to fix it in place, use a spirit level to make sure the line is straight.
How to unblock an indoor drain
According to John, there’s more than one way to unblock a drain.
“It’s easy to reach for a bottle of sink unblocker, which you’ll find in most supermarkets, but often the most effective solution is to use a plunger," he says. Cover the plughole to create an airtight seal, then simply pump the plunger up and down to dislodge the blockage.
“An alternative solution is to put a couple of teaspoons of baking soda down the plughole and follow this with a cup of white vinegar. If this doesn’t work, insert a wire (a straightened coathanger works well) or an inexpensive drain cleaner to try and dislodge the blockage manually.
“If the blockage is lodged in the U-bend, you may need to take it apart and clean it out by hand. It’s not a difficult job but it can be a bit dirty, so have rubber gloves, a bowl or bucket and old towels to hand. Use a wrench to unscrew the U-bend, and make a note of any additional parts and what order they come apart in. Once you’ve dislodged the blockage, carefully put the pieces back in order and secure with a wrench.”
How to change a light bulb
While changing a light bulb has become the cliché of an easy job, this is only true of regular bayonet or screw-cap bulbs. Recessed light fittings can be tricky to remove and replace. The bulb and the trim around it tend to sit flush, so there’s no room to get hold of the bulb to pull it out.
Elin Evans, interiors expert at boutique architectural and interior design studio Studio HE (S /HE)5 has a handy DIY tip to help.
First, turn the light off at the switch and wait for it to cool. A normal light bulb should cool in around five minutes, although halogen bulbs may take up to 20 minutes to cool down properly.
Next, cut a 30cm length of duct tape, press the middle part of it directly onto the bulb and smooth it down.
Fold the ends of the tape back against itself so it creates a sort of handle, and then twist it anti-clockwise to loosen the bulb. You should then be able to remove it by hand and replace the bulb with one of the same amperage.
How to choose the right trader at the right price
If you’re not confident in tackling a job yourself, here are five quick tips to help you find the expert you need
- Get recommendations from friends, family or your local social network. It’s hard to beat referrals by word of mouth.
- Ask other professionals for their trusted contacts. If you’ve had a good experience with a building company, for example, ask if they can recommend a reliable electrician or plumber.
- Find an approved trader through the Federation of Master Builders6 or via TrustMark7 – the Government Endorsed Quality scheme. TrustMark businesses in your area can be found through a convenient postcode search.
- Always get quotes from at least 3 different tradespeople before making a decision, and make sure they include all costs, from materials to labour to clearing up. It’s also important to clarify whether the quote is inclusive of VAT or whether it will be added on later.
- Before making your final decision, request references from previous clients and follow them up.
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