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Before You Call the Plumber

or the HVAC repairman, or the appliance repair man or….

If you are a homeowner or a landlord, your training and experience must dos include learning how to make common repairs to household items. Doing so early in your homeowner time-span will save you plenty in money and aggravation!

Here are a few that we, or close relatives, have experienced and solved. We are not handy people, so trust me when I say, if we can do it, so can you.

If you smell sewage

  • All drains have a ‘trap’ – a bend in the pipe that keeps water in it all the time. The water blocks the sewer gas from coming back up the pipe and stinking up your house. Before trying anything else or calling a plumber, try pouring water in all drains that aren’t used each and every day – including the one in the furnace room, the basement floor and sinks, tubs etc. in spare rooms. If the smell disappears in a day, your problem is solved. Just remember to refresh the water in the drains periodically.
  • If putting water in the traps didn’t solve your problem, check the seating of your toilets on the wax ring – if not seated correctly can leak gas (and if it is bad enough, the toilet water can leak out on to your floor!). Wax rings sit between the toilet base and the hole that leads the water out to the sewage pipes. Turn off the water to the toilet, flush it, then empty out as much of the remaining water as you can. Loosen the bolts holding the toilet to the floor and lift off the toilet (careful it is very heavy). Follow instructions to put your new wax ring in, then carefully replace the toilet, bolt it back to the floor, turn on the water and flush several times to make sure it is not leaking. Wax rings can be had for about $3.

If the drain is clogged

  • As a first step, use a plunger – low flow toilets are prone to backups – especially with big loads and lots of paper being flushed – a simple plunging often gets things moving again.
  • If plunging doesn’t work, get and use some drain clearing liquids (like Draino)
  • If a bunch of drains are running slowly, you might have tree roots in the line. Buy a sewer snake (from $40 upwards at places like Home Depot) and use it when things slow down.
  • To keep drains from clogging stop putting hair, garbage, napkins, etc down them!

If your toilet runs constantly

  • Try jiggling the handle to get the flapper valve to seat it self – then get some parts and fix it.
  • Take off the tank top and make sure the chain is connected to the stopper.
  • Check out the tank guts repair kits at Lowes or Home Depot or your local hardware store – a fairly easy fix, once you have done it a couple of times.

If your air conditioner isn’t cooling

  • Clean your inside filter (the one in your inside unit – ours is in the furnace) and the outside filter (we just spray ours with the hose to get accumulated leaves, seeds, dirt and twigs out).
  • Check and replace your capacitor. I’ve never done this one, but it seems the newer air conditioning units (due to EPA requirements) are prone to capacitor failure. What is a capacitor you ask? It is a unit (one for each motor in your AC) that keeps the motor running smoothly. Dustin Mora explains it in laymen’s terms in the post “Seriously, what is an air conditioner capacitor?  To replace this might cost you upwards of $100 plus the cost of the capacitor. The hard parts about replacing it seem to me to be a) finding the correct replacement part and b) making sure you connect the right wires back to the right a blow by blow replacement guide with pictures on how to do it

If your refrigerator isn’t cooling

  • Clean the filter and condenser coils to remove dust and fur balls.
  • Check the thermostat to make sure it didn’t get giggled into a warmer temperature.
  • Vacuum the fan behind the panel on the back of the refrigerator.
  • Check out more refrigerator repair tips here at the Family Handy Man.

If your computer won’t start or has power issues

  • Disconnect the power and take the casing off (usually requires just a screwdriver) and blow out the dust , cobwebs and bugs.

If your gas water heater isn’t heating the water

  • Make sure the pilot light is on!
  • Check the temperature setting and raise it if needed
  • Check to see if your heater is big enough for your water usage – stagger use of water for showers and baths if you have less than 15 gallons per user

If your gas cook stove burner won’t light

  • Take off the stove top grill and the little round ceremic seal strikeplate and clean the igniter with a toothbrush.
  • If you have a pilot light that isn’t lit, lift up the range top (usually hinged at the back), clean the pilot hole and then try to relight it.

What simple fixes can you recommend?  Things most anyone can do? 

This post has been written by Marie from Be sure to visit her site if you’ve enjoyed this post!

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My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. I’m not car savvy at all and didn’t realize how easy it was to change a battery. When the dealership told me I needed a new battery I didn’t want to pay them $30 for labor so I was going to drive 40 miles to have my dad do it. I told the hubs we needed a new one and he easily replaced it for me in minutes!

  2. Youtube has great videos for pluming issues. I fixed my AC from youtube. Youtube University all the way.

  3. If your dishwasher isn’t cleaning and you have hard water, run it empty with a pint of vinegar, you may need to do it twice. Then run it a couple of times with just water to rinse it out good.

  4. Regarding low-flow toilets. They come in different levels of flush power. If you want to replace your old one with a newer one, I’d suggest purchasing a model that is rated between 8-10. They are a little noisier, but definitely flush it all down quickly.
    And I’d suggest after the plunger to use a small (1/4 inch) type of plumber snake in the toilet bowl. This has worked for me many times (while we’re saving up for the stronger but lower flow power push toilets).

  5. I always Google and YouTube my problems to try simple fixes myself first. If that doesn’t work I call my dad and if theater doesn’t work I call the pros. I have saved a ton of money this way for sure!

  6. @Jessica – changing a car battery is something I’ve never done!
    @Jai – I used Utube heavily when I redid our jack and jill bathroom last summer.
    @nonegiven – thanks for the tip
    @richintheheart – good tips.
    @Lance – I love it, laddering your maintenance options!

  7. I have no simple fixes to offer as I’m not handy at all – thanks for sharing these awesome tips!

  8. It’s suprising how well a good vacuuming can make things work better. We are about to become landlords so the tips are appreciated.

  9. I changed a car battery once – my husband was out of town & I was on my own, so I called my dad. His sage advice was to match up the connections right and I’d be fine and he swiftly got off the phone – ACK! I was terrified I’d electrocute myself, so I put on rubber kitchen gloves, HA! I must have been a sight to see…especially when I set off the car alarm in the process and scared the bejebus out of myself!

  10. All great tips that will save you money. The tip on the gas grill reminded me the last time I couldn’t light the burner: a spider crawled in and blocked the ignitor.

    • That’s so funny! It reminds me of the story about how we got started calling problems with computer programs ‘bugs’.

  11. All the tips are great but sometimes we need a professional repair services.
    But really these tips will also save a lot of money for those who don’t want to spend a penny

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