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Park City Home: Handyman’s Special

6 DIY skills every homeowner should have

Bob Payne
The most important tool for a handyman? Enthusiasm.

Dealing with some home maintenance issues clearly requires hiring a professional. You don’t want to poke too deeply into your gas heating system or mess around with an electrical circuit originally installed during the reign of the rotary telephone. But with a few basic skills you’ll be pleased to discover how many service-calls — and bills — you can avoid. 
 
Locate a stud
If you’re hanging anything heavier than a lightweight picture, it’s wise to nail (or, in the case of a heavy item, screw fasteners) into the wooden studs that usually reinforce a room’s drywall or plaster surface. While studs are typically hidden from sight, locating them yourself eliminates the need to call a carpenter every time you want to add to your collection of carved cow skulls. The traditional way is simply to rap your knuckles along the wall horizontally until the sound changes from hollow to solid. Making it easier is that most studs are normally positioned every 16 inches or, in newer homes, 24 inches apart. So if you find one stud, you have a head start on finding the others.

A more sophisticated method uses a hand-held stud finder, which in most cases is either electrical or magnetic. Stud-finders are not foolproof, though, so rapping your fingers can prove to be not only a fallback but also a way of waving your analog flag.

Reset a circuit breaker
When an electrical device shorts out, or too many devices are plugged into one circuit at the same time, they may cause a circuit breaker to trip, knocking out the power in part of your home. You may be able to skip a call to an electrician by resetting the circuit breaker yourself. Start by shutting off all appliances and lights that seem to be on the circuit, then locate the metal box that contains your electrical panel, making sure the area beneath the box is not wet. Any tripped switch on the panel will be shifted toward the off position. Push the switch all the way to off, and back to on. Then, after lessening the load on the circuit by unplugging some appliances, turn them back on. If the breaker trips again, call the electrician.

Unclog a bathroom drain
Mostly because the human imagination can be so painfully vivid, and because plumbers are so well paid, homeowners dread calling a professional for a problem in the bathroom. If the problem is a slow-draining sink, tub, or shower, which is often related to an accumulation of matted hair, the call may be unnecessary. Try boring into the clog with a small snake-like auger, which goes by such names as drain stick and hair snake. These devices are simple, cheap, and easy to use. When they don’t work, which could be the case if the clog is farther than 18 inches or so down the pipe, you will at least appreciate the profession of plumbing more than you did before.  

Remove a broken lightbulb
Potatoes, soap bars, corks, and even duct tape have their champions as a means of removing the base of a shattered lightbulb from its socket. The most sensible way, though, is with a pair of rubber-handled needle-nose pliers. The critical step is to make sure the power to the socket is off, either by flipping the proper circuit breaker, or, if you are not sure which one it is, shutting off the main power for the entire house. Wearing protective gloves and safety goggles, grab the base of the bulb with the pliers and twist counterclockwise. If that doesn’t work, forget the potato and call the electrician.

Use a fire extinguisher
What you have least of when flames flare up is time. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher, and learn how to use it before you need it. The extinguisher’s label will tell you which types of fire it is designed for and its effective range, along with details of the acronym PASS: 1) Pull the pin. 2) Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire. 3) Squeeze the trigger. 4) Sweep the spray from side to side. Typically, you’ll have 8-12 seconds of spray time. If that’s not enough — which will likely be for any fire larger than the size of a wastebasket — get everybody out of the house and call 911. 

Shut off the water 
Either for maintenance or an emergency, it can be useful to know how to shut off your home’s water supply. Individual appliances or fixtures, such as a toilet or a faucet, often have a shut-off valve located next to them. If you can’t find one, it may be necessary to shut off the main water supply. It’s best to learn where the main shut-off valve is ahead of time, but it will probably be found in a utility space or on an outside wall, close to where the water comes into the house. (Can’t find it? Call your local water company and ask where to look.) If the valve has a round handle, turn it clockwise as far as it will go. If it has a lever-type handle, turn the handle ¼ turn, so that it is at a right angle to the pipe. 


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