Tagged Bathrooms and Toilets

Easy DIY Home Repairs

Do It Yourself Home Repairs

With a few tools and a little know-how, these five home repairs are relatively easy to complete.

Credit…Melanie Lambrick
Tim McKeough

By

  • Dec. 5, 2020, 10:43 p.m. ET

As the pandemic forces us to spend our days hunkered down, our homes face far more strain than usual. Faucets bear the brunt of increased hand-washing, toilets get flushed with greater regularity and appliances experience more frequent use. If you have children at home, it’s also possible that your living room now suffers as much abuse as a gym.

Under such increased demands, it’s natural for the home to experience more wear and tear. Plastic and rubber components begin to break down, drains get clogged and boisterous children and pets may damage drywall and window screens.

The good news, especially at a time when you might prefer to limit in-person visits from service professionals, is that many common home repairs are relatively easy to complete, with a few tools and a little know-how.

Stop a Faucet From Leaking

Whether it’s a steady dribble or a rhythmic drip, a leaky faucet is annoying and wasteful. Fixing the problem usually involves replacing parts inside the handles. But before disassembling the faucet, the first and most important step is shutting off the water, said Hunter Macfarlane, a project expert at Lowe’s, in order to avoid room-soaking geysers.

Locate the two shut-off valves under the sink for hot and cold water and turn them off. Then, turn on hot and cold water at the faucet. “If nothing comes out, you’re golden — you can proceed,” Mr. Macfarlane said. If water is trickling out, however, there’s a problem with the shut-off valves. If that happens, he said, “stop and call a plumber.”

With the water shut off, remove the handles (or handle, on a single-lever model) from the faucet. Usually, they have caps that can be pried off to reveal screws or are held in place by small set screws that can be loosened with an Allen key.

Underneath each handle will be different parts depending on the type of valve the faucet uses: cartridge, ceramic disc or ball. Regardless, Mr. Macfarlane said, remove the top nut with an adjustable wrench and use needle nose pliers to pull out the parts. Take the parts to a home improvement store, he suggested, and ask for help finding replacements that are a perfect match. Then, reassemble the faucet with the new parts in the reverse order and test the repair by gradually opening up the shut-off valves.

Tools and supplies: flathead screwdriver, Allen keys, adjustable wrench, needle nose pliers, replacement parts.

Repair a Window Screen

When your new pandemic puppy puts a tear in your window screen, it doesn’t have to be an open invitation for flies and mosquitoes. To fix it, remove the screen, which is usually held in place by small clips or tension springs. Then, locate the spline, a thin cord that runs around the outer edge of the screen on one side.

Place the screen on a flat surface with the spline facing up. Find the end of the spline and pry it up with a screwdriver or utility knife, then pull the rest of the spline out of the frame to release the old screen. “Once you get it started, you can usually peel it out with your hands,” said Chris Janiak, the service delivery manager at Hippo Home Care.

Buy a roll of screening material to match the old screen, and cut a piece slightly larger than the frame. Place it over the frame, and begin securing it by pushing the spline back into the channels with a screen rolling tool (if the spline was damaged during removal, buy a new one). Keep the screen taut as you work, “as if you were installing carpet,” Mr. Janiak said, “because you don’t want a saggy screen.”

Once the spline is in place, trim off the excess screening material with a utility knife, and reinstall the screen in the window

Tools and supplies: utility knife, screen rolling tool, roll of replacement window screen.

Fix a Toilet

Although reaching into the innards of a toilet might seem daunting, most repairs are straightforward. “The great thing about toilets is that they haven’t changed too much over the years — it’s pretty simple,” said Anne Sebestyen, a plumbing repair merchant at the Home Depot.

If the toilet won’t flush, remove the lid from the tank to inspect the chain that runs from the flush lever to the flapper, the circular plug at the bottom of the tank. “A lot of times what’s happening is that the chain might not be hooked to the flapper,” Ms. Sebestyen said. If it is disconnected, reattach it so the flapper lifts when the lever is depressed.

If the toilet won’t stop filling, or it sounds like it occasionally flushes itself, the culprit is usually a leaky flapper, Ms. Sebestyen said.

To fix it, turn off the water shut-off valve behind the toilet and flush the toilet to remove water from the tank. Next, identify what type of flapper your toilet uses. Most toilets use a two- or three-inch flapper — as long as you buy the right size, most replacement flappers will work with any brand of toilet, Ms. Sebestyen said.

Unhook the chain that connects the lever to the old flapper and then unclip the flapper from the bottom of the toilet. Install the new flapper, reattach the chain and turn on the water to test the repair.

Some newer toilets use a canister with a thin rubber washer instead of a traditional flapper, Ms. Sebestyen said. In those toilets, replacement washers aren’t universal, so it’s important to buy a part designed specifically for your brand of toilet.

Tools and supplies: replacement toilet flapper or washer.

Patch a Hole in Drywall

When a doorknob or tumbling toddler punctures the wall, it’s relatively easy to plug the hole. “You don’t have to have a lot of fancy tools, and there aren’t a lot of technical steps involved,” said Kevin Busch, the vice president of operations at Mr. Handyman, a national home repair company.

Small dings and holes about the size of a nailhead can simply be filled with spackling paste — push the spackling into the hole with a putty knife, scrape it flush, let it dry and then sand it flush with the wall. If a divot remains, add a second coat.

A large hole measuring a few inches or more in diameter requires a more involved repair. Mr. Busch said his preferred method is to cut a square or rectangular patch slightly larger than the hole from a sheet of drywall. Hold it over the hole, and trace the shape of the patch on the wall. Then, use a drywall saw to enlarge the hole along the pencil lines. “You make the hole match your piece, as opposed to trying to make your piece match the hole,” he said.

Add drywall repair clips to the edges of the hole to hold the patch in place, and secure it with screws. Apply mesh drywall tape over the seams. Then, use a joint knife to spread joint compound over the entire repair, while trying to feather the edges of the compound into the surrounding wall. (An alternative to cutting your own drywall patch is to use an adhesive metal drywall repair patch, which simply covers the hole before joint compound is applied.)

“That’s really where the artistry comes in,” Mr. Busch said, noting that making the repair look seamless can be challenging. For best results, complete a few thin coats and sand away excess compound to blend it into the wall before priming and painting.

Tools and supplies: drywall saw, joint knife, extra drywall, drywall repair clips, mesh drywall tape, joint compound.

Unclog a Slow Bathroom Drain

Feeling the water level rise around your feet when showering or watching the vanity basin fill up when washing hands can be disconcerting. Usually, slow bathroom drains are caused by a buildup of hair and soap scum.

The easiest way to try to unclog them is to pour in a chemical drain cleaner, said Ms. Sebestyen. However, results may be disappointing, and the chemicals can be dangerous.

A more surefire, and safer, way of unclogging drains is to use a plastic hair snake, an inexpensive tool that resembles a large serrated zip tie, to pull out the gunk.

For access to a shower drain, remove the drain cover. For access to a sink, remove the drain stopper. Most stoppers are controlled by a vertical rod and a horizontal rod connected behind the sink by a clip. To release the stopper, disconnect the rods, then unscrew the nut where the horizontal rod enters the drainpipe. Slide the horizontal rod out of the pipe, then simply lift the stopper out of the sink.

Once you have access, pull out as much material as you can with the hair snake and collect it in a bag or on paper towels for disposal, while trying not to get too grossed out. “You’re fishing,” Ms. Sebestyen said. “But what you’re coming back with is not as pretty as a fish.”

Tools and supplies: hair snake.

The Other Bathroom Wars

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Credit iStock

Jane Serge remembers her father pushing her wheelchair into a men’s room in the late 1970s. “Close your eyes,” he would say, as he quickly wheeled her toward the stalls.

Today, a father who took his disabled daughter into a men’s room in a public building in North Carolina technically would run afoul of the state’s so-called “bathroom bill,” which requires that people over the age of 7 use the bathroom that matches the sex on their birth certificates. While the law is aimed at transgender people, disability advocates worry that it also could affect people with disabilities who, because they need assistance from an opposite sex caregiver or parent, also use opposite sex bathrooms.

Parents like Jennifer Eldridge-Bird of Miami, whose sons, ages 11 and 15, have autism, say their children’s disabilities require that the parent and child stay together at all times.

“They’re not very high-functioning,” she said. “If I’m going in the ladies’ room, they’re going in the ladies’ room.”

Sharisse Tracy, a mother of four in West Point, N.Y., said sending her 8-year-old, who has autism, into a shared men’s room alone is out of the question. “I wouldn’t send him in anywhere alone, let alone a men’s room,” she said.

For Laura Rossi and her 13-year-old twins, using public bathrooms became more challenging as her children have gotten older. Her son, Matt, has Tourette syndrome, accompanied by significant impairment of fine motor and social skills.

“When the twins were little and cute, there were all these smiles and nodding heads,” said Ms. Rossi, a public relations professional who lives in Jamestown, R.I.

But as they got older, she began to hear criticism when she took them into the women’s room. “Matt’s needs are invisible, and he got tall very quickly,” she said. “If there’s not a family bathroom, we got a lot of looks and comments, you know, meant for you to hear but not really ‘to’ you — like ‘this is not the boys’ room.’”

With restroom access a topic of national debate, many people with disabilities and their families are hoping that conversation extends to expanding access to public facilities for every person.

For many of the nearly one in five Americans (and about 5 percent of school-age children) with some disability, lack of access to public toilet facilities challenges their ability to take part in ordinary daily life. For some, like Ms. Serge, 46, who was born with cerebral palsy, the challenges are primarily physical.

“The stalls aren’t wide enough,” she said, quickly ticking off a list of problems she faces regularly in public restrooms in Amherst, Mass., where she lives. “If the door swings in, not out, you can’t close it once you’re in there.” The rails or toilet seats are often loose; there’s not room for her and for someone to help her and she has hit her head on a badly positioned huge toilet paper roll more than once. “And by the time I’m done, the motion-activated flush has gone off, like, 14 times.”

For others — parents of teenage and adult children with physical disabilities, some of whom use diapers, or of older children and teenagers with autism or other cognitive and emotional difficulties — the challenges have to do with their ability to assist family members.

Family members of people with disabilities say large, multi-stall public restrooms present the biggest challenge. Some large retailers now offer family bathrooms, which are ideal because they are private but large enough to accommodate multiple family members as well as wheelchairs and strollers. Individual bathrooms also work better for everyone, but space and cost constraints mean that many public spaces don’t offer them.

Some people say that if there isn’t a bathroom that accommodates the needs of disabled family members, they just stay home.

“We plan all our trips around Michael,” said Jean Lucas, whose nonverbal 7-year-old son uses diapers and a wheelchair. “Sometimes I’m in the middle of the floor, changing him while people are washing their hands.” It’s a situation the South River, N.J., mother of four does her best to avoid. “People say, oh, he doesn’t know what’s going on, but he knows. He understands. He deserves privacy.”

Eric Lipp, executive director of the Chicago-based Open Doors Organization, which advocates for people with disabilities in the travel and tourism industries, says there is a slowly growing movement to offer facilities for changing a diaper on an adult or an older child — a large, stable surface, ideally with a lift, like those designed by the nonprofit Changing-places.org

“Family bathrooms have been a really big addition for people with disabilities,” he said.

Jennifer Kasten, a mother of two daughters, one of whom uses a wheelchair, and a lawyer and special education advocate in Scottsdale, Ariz., said that creating accessible bathrooms isn’t just an issue for people who are transgender or disabled, but something that may affect all people as they age or as their health circumstances change.

“Accessibility has unintended consequences that are good for everyone,” she said, “How we think about accessible bathrooms says a lot about how we think of people with disabilities in general.”

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For Women Who Run, the Bathroom Problem

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On a recent weekend trip to Washington, I was running in Rock Creek Park when the water and coffee I’d had that morning caught up with me. I’d run there only once before so was unsure where relief lay. I’m also a woman, so I couldn’t just pull over to the nearest bush or tree and relieve myself discreetly, the way guys do, through the benefits of outdoor plumbing.

And then, like a beacon of hope and light, just as the need became painfully pressing, I came across a Porta-Potty. One big problem: It was perched on the side of the road, inches from two lanes of traffic, with a door that opened into those lanes. I waited for a gap in traffic, opened the door, ducked in and did the deed greatly relieved, but through it all hoping that a stiff wind wouldn’t push me over into the road or that I would meet my demise on my way out.

When to go and where to go is a tricky issue for female runners.

On training runs, at least I can plan. I make sure my route intersects with at least one coffee shop, fast-food restaurant or that one Porta-Potty in the park near my house that’s always clean.

But races can be far more unpredictable.

One choice is to throw modesty to the wind and simply bare all. But that involves some deep squatting — not something that’s always easy to do on race-weary legs. The problem is made even worse if, like me, you wear shorts that are tight instead of baggy and must be pulled all the way down to the knees to go.

Another option is to give up many precious seconds, or even minutes, waiting in line for a Porta-Potty that may or may not be where you need it, when you need it, and then going through the motions to get out of your shorts, then back into them.

Or, you can always just let it go and hope that no one notices. One female runner I know, who asked to remain anonymous, couldn’t get through the bathroom line at the start of the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon. So she let loose as the race started, grateful that she was wearing sweat wicking tights, which she told me dried fast.

Where to go isn’t a problem limited to amateurs, either. During the 2005 London Marathon, Paula Radcliffe stopped on the side of the racecourse to relieve herself — in the sight lines of a media truck — and then went on to win the race. Before the 2013 Boston Marathon, both Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher didn’t have time to get to a Porta-Potty before the start, so they asked race officials to block the view from the crowds at the start. The officials obliged, using their bodies as a shield.

Now a new solution may soon be available: the Gotta Go running skirt. Skirt Sports, the company that makes the product, plans to release the Gotta Go on a limited basis at the end of May. It’s a version of its running skirt that includes what the company calls “a trap door and relief hatch.”

To release the hatch, “You lift the skirt up, open the Velcro from the front, the flap comes down and there’s an opening that’s anatomically positioned,” said Nicole DeBoom, the founder and chief executive of Skirt Sports. The trap door is adjustable, to provide a personalized fit and accommodate women who want to wear sanitary napkins while running as well.

The idea for the product, Ms. DeBoom said, came from their customers, who complained about incontinence issues arising from pregnancy, childbirth or aging. She’d also heard from women who told her they wouldn’t drink anything before a race because they didn’t want to have to stop to relieve themselves — a potentially dangerous situation that could lead to dehydration and serious medical issues.

But really: Would anyone buy a skirt with a hole in it?

To float the idea, Skirt Sports put up a Facebook post on April Fools’ Day 2015 envisioning “some kind of magical skirt that knows when you’re about to pee and opens up,” Ms. DeBoom said. Some 2,000 female runners responded with their ideas about what they would use the skirt for, with relieving themselves and replacing tampons or sanitary napkins during heavy periods at the top of the list. That led to a Kickstarter campaign, which drew 800 supporters who pledged $75 each. Contributors will receive their Gotta Gos once they become available.

Ms. DeBoom says that if the feedback is positive, they’ll consider adding it to Skirt Sports’ regular line in both short and Capri length.

Though I’m not a huge fan of running skirts — the extra swishing bothers me — at least someone is working on a solution. Until then, I’ll keep waiting in long Porta-Potty lines, or hope I’ll be able to enlist a fellow runner to shield me should I need to peel off to the side of the road.

Or, I could always learn to do what the ultramarathoner Deborah Paquin learned to do: go standing up. She got the idea in the late 1990s, after getting stuck in a Porta-Potty at the start of one race then, in another, accidentally mooning a fellow runner. “I needed to find a better way,” she said. After a few mishaps, she found success “if I tilted my pelvis under a little and spread my legs wide enough and really engage my abs.” Personally, I’m not sure I’m up for the trial and error.

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