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Essential DIY Skills Every Homeowner Should Know

One of the joys of being a homeowner is having full control over your own space, but that also comes with the responsibility of ongoing upkeep and routine maintenance. But what if you’re not handy? Will you have to shell out cash for a repair person every time the toilet runs, or deal with the street light glaring into your bedroom because you haven’t figured out how to hang the curtains? While some projects are better suited for the pros, other common tasks aren’t as difficult as you may think. Here are five essential skills that you can — and should — learn to save yourself time and money around the house.


How to Paint a Room

What you’ll need:

+ Paint (1 gallon per 400 sq. ft.)

+ Paintbrush

+ Roller

+ Paint pan and liner

+ Dropcloth

+ Painting tape

+ Ladder

+ Drywall compound (optional)

+ Putty knife (optional)

+ Sandpaper (optional)

Step 1: Prep

Before painting, repair any holes in the wall so you have a smooth canvas.

  • Remove nails, and use a putty knife to spread a thin layer of drywall compound over the holes.

  • Allow to dry, then repeat the process one or two more times until the holes are filled.

  • Sand the spackled areas until they are flush with the wall.

Step 2: Tape

Apply painter’s tape around the edge of the ceiling, door frames, and trim to prevent the new paint color from getting on those areas.

Step 3: Cut in

Use a paintbrush to paint the edges around the tape, also known as “cutting in.” This is an important step as your roller will not be able to get into these smaller corners and crevices.

Step 4: Roll

  • Pour the paint into the pan, and gently dip the roller in the paint. Roll off the excess toward the back of the pan. You don’t want too much paint on the roller, or it will leave drip marks on the wall.

  • Using a medium to light pressure, apply the paint in an up-and-down motion, slightly overlapping each stroke as you move down the wall. Roll slowly to avoid splattering the paint.

  • Allow the paint to dry and apply a second coat.

  • Once the walls are completely dry, remove the tape (be careful to avoid peeling the paint).

  • Use soapy water to clean your paintbrushes and roller, allowing them to dry fully before storing them.


How to Hang Curtains

What you’ll need:

+ Curtains

+ Curtain rod and brackets

+ Screwdriver or drill

+ Screws

+ Wall anchors

+ Tape measure

+ Level

+ Pencil

+ Stepladder

Step 1: Measure

Before you buy your window treatments, determine the right width and length of your panels and the appropriate curtain rod and bracket sizes.

  • Measure the width: Each curtain panel should be as wide as the window, and each window should have two panels.

  • Measure the height: To determine what length of curtains you should buy, first decide how high you want to hang the rod, then measure from that point to the floor. The curtain rod should be hung at least 4 to 6 inches above the window frame, though it can go all the way up to the ceiling to make the room look taller.

  • Rod size: The curtain rod should extend beyond the window by 4 to 6 inches on each side, so choose a rod that is 8 to 12 inches longer than the window’s width.

  • Bracket size: Measure the depth of your window, including the trim and any blinds that are affixed to it. Your brackets should be long enough to extend past this so that your curtains will hang correctly.

Step 2: Hang

Once you’ve purchased the right materials, it’s time to install them. Remember to measure twice and drill once so you don’t end up with multiple holes in your wall.

  • Position your brackets on the wall based on the measurements you took in step one (at least 4 to 6 inches above the window, and 4 to 6 inches beyond the window frame). Use a level to ensure the brackets are straight, then use a pencil to mark where the screws will go.

  • Drill in the brackets. If you’re not drilling into a stud, use wall anchors. If your curtain rod is longer than 4 feet, you may need to add a bracket in the middle for extra support.

  • Slide the curtain onto the rod.

  • Place the rod onto the brackets, and secure it by tightening the set screws on the backside of the brackets.

  • Add any finials to the ends of the rod, and you’re done!


How to Fix a Running Toilet

In order to repair a running toilet, you first have to find out the cause of the leak.


The flapper is a rubber stopper that keeps the water in the tank, and when you flush, it lifts to release the water into the bowl. A faulty or worn-out flapper is the most common cause of a running toilet.

  • Remove the lid from the tank, and press down on the rubber flapper. (Don’t be grossed out: The water in the tank is the same, potable water that comes out of your tap.)

  • If the toilet stops running right away, you need a new flapper.

  • To replace the flapper, turn off the water to the toilet. The shut-off valve is located behind the toilet.

  • Reach into the tank and remove the flapper from the flush valve. Remove the chain.

  • Install your new flapper (a universal replacement flapper should work, but some toilets may require a specific size). Reattach the new flapper the same way you removed the old one, and attach the chain to the flush handle lever.


The float is a plastic cup that slides up and down the fill valve to maintain the water level in the tank. If the float is too high, water is likely flowing into the overflow tube, causing your toilet to run. The water level should be 1 inch below the top of the overflow tube.

  • Turn the screw on the float cup clockwise to lower it.

  • Flush the toilet to see if the water level adjusted to the right height.

  • If that solves the problem, you’re done! If not, replace the fill valve.

Fill valve

The fill valve is the cylindrical shaft inside your tank that refills it with fresh water after each flush. It may need replacing due to normal wear and tear.

  • Turn off the water using the shut-off valve located behind the toilet.

  • Flush the tank to drain the water, and use a sponge to soak up any excess water in the tank.

  • Unscrew the water supply line and lock nut located outside the tank.

  • Remove the fill valve from inside the tank and replace it with your new one. Be sure to bring the old valve with you to the store to select the right type.

  • Once everything is reattached, turn the water back on, and you’re done!


How to Change Locks

What you’ll need:

+ New locks (most door locks come as a complete kit with all necessary hardware)

+ Screwdriver


  1. Using a screwdriver, unscrew and remove the existing doorknobs.

  2. Unscrew the latch plate on the edge of the door.

  3. Follow the same steps to remove the old deadbolt and latch.

  4. Install the new doorknob latch in the existing opening, and follow with the new doorknobs. Tighten the screws.

  5. Place the new deadbolt latch into the existing opening and tighten the screws.

  6. Attach the exterior side of the deadbolt lock and the interior plate to the door, and screw in to tighten.


How to Caulk

Caulk is used to seal up gaps and seams in numerous areas around the house, from baseboard trim to bathtubs and sinks. After a while, caulk wears down and needs to be replaced, but it’s an easy fix.

What you’ll need:

+ Chemical caulk remover

+ Caulk removal tool

+ Alcohol

+ Bleach (optional)

+ Caulk (available in a handheld squeeze tube or rigid plastic cartridge)

+ Caulk gun (if using the rigid cartridge)

+ Cup of soapy water

Step 1: Choose the right caulk for the job

There are specific types of caulk for different applications. Talk to someone at the home improvement store to choose the right caulk for your particular project, but in general, here are the two main types:

  • Silicone: Best for windows, bathrooms, and other high-moisture areas.

  • Latex: Best for trim, baseboards, drywall. Can be painted.

Step 2: Remove old caulk

Don’t re-caulk over existing caulk. Remove it to create a clean, fresh surface to which the new caulk will adhere.

  • Apply the chemical caulk remover to the area and allow it to sit for the specified time, at least a few hours. The goal is to soften the caulk so it’s easier to remove.

  • Use a caulk-removal tool to scrape away the old caulk. If the caulk doesn’t want to come up, use a hairdryer on its highest heat setting to soften it further.

  • Clean the surface with alcohol and allow it to dry thoroughly. In high-moisture areas, use a bleach and water solution to remove any mold or mildew.

Step 3: Apply new caulk

  • Cut off the tip of the tube at a 45-degree angle. You may also need to puncture the seal inside the tube to allow the caulk to dispense.

  • Place the tip of the caulk dispenser at your seam or starting point, holding the cartridge at a 45-degree angle.

  • Gently squeeze and drag the bottle to apply the caulk, using steady pressure as you dispense.

  • Dip your finger in soapy water and drag your finger along the freshly applied caulk — working in one, solid motion — to smooth it out.

  • Let it dry, and you’re done!

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