11 Handy Tips and Tricks to Help With Your Next Home Project

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Updated June 7, 2022
An overhead view of a woman opening a toolbox
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These home improvement hacks will help you tackle your next project with confidence

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Imagine you’re a contestant on “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?”nearing the final rounds, and you’re stumped by a home improvement question. If you can still phone a friend, there’s no one better to call than your trusty local handyperson. By definition, a jack of all trades, any competent handyperson must accumulate a set of useful tips and tricks to navigate the novel problems that frequently confront them in their work. 

If you don’t have the high stakes of a game show to get your handyperson to spill the secrets, don’t worry. We’ve compiled 11 valuable bits of home improvement wisdom that will help you on your way.    

1. Save Your Caulk With a Wine Cork

You’ve finished caulking your shower, and it looks great, but you had to open that third tube to make the finishing touches. With two-thirds of the tube still full, you don’t want to throw it away, but you know it will quickly dry out if you leave it open. With a synthetic wine cork and this handy trick, you don’t have to. Simply drill a hole about an inch into the wine cork and fit it over the tube’s applicator, where it will form an airtight seal. 

2. Stop a Running Toilet Dead in Its Tracks

The sound of a constantly running toilet can be annoying, creating a tooth-grindingly unpleasant ordeal for all within earshot. You don’t have to wait for a local plumber to show up to get relief. Just reach behind the toilet, find the shutoff valve and turn it clockwise. This step will stop the water flow to the toilet—and the irritating sound. Fully fixing the running toilet is a simple DIY job that you can now perform in peace. 

3. Spare Your Hands from the Hammer

The worst part of using a hammer is holding the nail in place. Even when you successfully avoid bashing your precious digits, you have to deal with the anxiety building up with every blow. Instead of white-knuckling it every time, hammer like a handyperson and use an implement—not your hand—to keep the nail in place. Pliers are your best bet for keeping the nail rod firmly in place, but you can also use a fine-tooth plastic comb to secure the nail between two tines.

4. Read The Manual

A woman looks at a manual
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If you find home improvement tasks confusing or overwhelming, you may not know where to start. While there are many tasks you’ll want to hand off to a pro, any home improvement expert would definitely tell you that reading the manual can help make any DIY project easier. 

Nearly all the appliances and features in your home came with a manual at some point—and in many cases, they provide simple solutions to the issue you’re facing. Before throwing up your hands and calling in the pros, locate the appropriate manual in your home or find it online and read through it carefully. The solution you seek may be nearer than you think. 

5. Be Your Own Grease Buster

A clogged kitchen sink can quickly become a major issue as the dirty dishes pile high. Many plugs are simply caused by hardened grease. Before paying for expensive emergency services, try loosening and clearing the clog out yourself. Boil water and pour it into the sink, repeating as necessary until the grease has melted. Once the clog has cleared, squirt a little dish soap down the drain and run hot water through the tap to flush the system. 

6. Low Flow in the Shower? Clean the Head

If the flow of hot water from your shower has been strangled to a trickle, you can take a few steps before calling a pro. You probably don’t even have to replace your showerhead—just clean it! 

Mix a solution of one part white vinegar and one part water in a bucket or large bag. Remove the head and submerge it in the solution, letting it soak for a few hours. Reattach it and run hot water through it to clear the debris. If you don’t have a removable shower head, you can affix the solution bag to the tap, ensuring the head is fully submerged.

7. Patch a Small Hole in Your Window Screen

When summer finally arrives, you want to throw open your windows and let the sweet air into your home. But if you’ve got small holes in your window screen, you may also be opening the door to mosquitos and other unpleasant pests. 

For small enough holes, you don’t need to replace the whole screen: just clean the mesh with a gentle spray of compressed air and then use a paintbrush to dab it with clear nail polish. Let it dry and then at a second coating.

8. Silence Squeaky Floors

A closeup of a child walking on a wood floor
Photo: MoMo Productions/Stone/Getty Images

Hardwood floors are gorgeous, but the charm quickly fades if they squeak underfoot. Try sprinkling talcum powder, baking soda, or powdered graphite on the floor and working it into the seams between the floorboards with a rag. This will lubricate the wood and should stop the noise if the source of the issue is friction between the boards. 

9. Revive a Stripped Screw

It can be extraordinarily frustrating to try to remove a stripped screw from an old piece of furniture or a device. You can turn the screwdriver repeatedly, adding more or less power from this or that angle, trying to get a grip but failing to connect. 

Make like a handyperson to cut down on the aggravation: Simply stretch a rubber band over the screw head and then push in your drill or screwdriver. The rubber band will fill the gaps in the head, allowing for a tighter fit. 

10. Patch The Hole in Your Door

There’s an easy fix if you’ve got a hole in one of your interior hollow-core doors. First, fill the hole completely with spray foam insulation. Let it dry overnight so that the foam has a chance to fully expand. In the morning, you should find that it has formed a mound. Using a razor knife, slice the mound until the spray foam is contained within the door frame. Add a coat of drywall compound, let it dry, and then sand it down. Then just touch it up with paint matched to the shade already on the door, and voila! It’s as good as new.

11. When In Doubt, Use the Circuit Breakers and Shutoff Valves

When the cause of a problem isn’t apparent, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to turn off the right circuit breaker or water shutoff valve while you explore potential solutions. 

Understanding how to use your circuit breaker box is an essential home improvement skill. If you’re facing an electricity-related issue in a part of the house and you’re not sure which breaker needs to be turned off, use a plug-in radio or boombox and turn it up loud enough to hear from the breaker box. Flip the switches until the sound turns off. 

You should also locate your water shutoff valve in advance to use it quickly in case of any flooding. If your home is on a slab, it’s likely near the water heater. If you’ve got a basement or crawl space, it’s probably there. 

Taking steps to cut off the electricity or plumbing is a great way to avert the most disastrous potential outcomes as you expand your skills through simple DIY projects.

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