I went on a do-it-yourself website recently to get some of the latest tips on the best ways to quickly and easily take care of home repair problems. I found articles like “Fixing a Leak in a Vinyl Pool Liner,” “Cleaning Your Espresso Machine,” “Chandeliers Made of Household Items,” and “How to Match Cracked Travertine Tiles.” Really? What kind of lives do these people have? Whatever happened to fixing the broken window your kid threw his baseball through, or killing rats without poisoning your lazy cat, or any of the common problems ordinary people have to deal with?
So I thought it might be time to lay out my expertise, based on years of experience, on the easiest ways to fix things that are broken. (First rule of DIY: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Unless you truly enjoy spending all your free time assembling chandeliers out of common household items.)
Many people think that when you are painting a room you first need to scrape all the old flaking paint off the wall, or at least clean the excess dirt and grime off so that the paint will stick better. This is completely unnecessary and a waste of time. Who do you think is looking for specks of dirt or loose flakes on your wall, anyway? Your wife? She left you years ago. Your kids? You only get to see them every other weekend, and anyway, why would you bring them back to this dump to play? They’d much rather go to Chuck E. Cheese, or McDonald’s, so why disappoint them any more than you already have? In fact, why are you bothering to paint this room at all? You don’t care and the only other people who ever come here are meter readers and pizza delivery guys. Save the effort and go paint the town instead.
Back when you were a teenager you used to change your oil and do your own tune-ups in your parents’ garage with a box of old tools your Dad won in a poker game. Nowadays when something breaks on your car, you need a computer and thousands of dollars of specialized tools to even diagnose what’s wrong. And many of the spare parts cost more than the first three cars you owned, combined. Basically after your warranty runs out, if something breaks on your car and the repair involves anything more than duct tape and WD40, you might as well just trade it in for a new one. As soon as you start fixing a used car there will be no end to your grief and expense and all the expertise you gained back in the day of rebuilding carburetors and replacing brakes with pliers and a corkscrew won’t save you a penny. Also if you mention any of your brilliant repair ideas to your mechanic, he’s likely to purposely sabotage the next thing that’s scheduled to break to remind you who’s in charge.
Ha, ha, ha. When did you ever fix a broken appliance, other than by whacking it on the side with a hammer and hoping that it started working? The rule of thumb is: If the appliance costs less than $1,000 and is no longer under manufacturer’s warranty, buy a new one. If the appliance costs more than $1,000 then what the hell were you thinking to pay so much for a crummy appliance that was bound to break? If you can’t afford a new kitchen appliance then just eat out. The meals are much cheaper when you take into account all the food you burn or that goes bad because you forgot to eat it, and the cooking is way better. If you have a broken washer or dryer, go to the laundromat. Who knows, you may even meet somebody who will let you share a cup of Tide.
There are two kinds of plumbing problems that typically need to be dealt with: too much water coming in or no water (and other awful messes) going out. If you have too much water coming in the first thing you need to do is stop the flow. Unless you have a Dutch boy handy to stick his finger in the leak, this means you will need to find the local shut off valve and turn it clockwise. Always remember “Rightie tightie, lefty loosie.” Unless, like me, the plumber who installed your valves put them in backwards, in which case the first thing you will do is break them off and send a spray of water all over yourself and the bathroom. Don’t panic! The biggest mistake most people make when trying to fix their own plumbing and the water is rapidly filling up the floor of their home is to freak out and do something stupid. Instead calmly find the main shut off valve for your home and turn it CLOCKWISE! What do you mean it won’t budge, just twist HARDER! OUCH! I think I sprained my wrist! Give me that big wrench. I’ll force it closed! Oh crap, it broke right off, too! OK, now it’s time to panic!
Stop right there. The easiest way to avoid this scene is to call a professional at the first sign of the tiniest drip. Of course since most professional plumbers get paid more than investment bankers this is not a realistic option for most of us. So I recommend using public restrooms exclusively. Also you can usually pay for a health club membership with full shower privileges for less than it costs to fix one plumbing emergency a year. As a bonus, most clubs will even give you clean, freshly laundered towels.