Something goes wrong in your apartment, and while venturing into page two of Google results, you blame your father, the universe, and maybe our tech-reliant society at large for not endowing you with manly how-to knowledge.
We've been there, too. And while there’s no shame in having to search “how to change a shower head” or “how to install a dimmer switch,” it really is just one step removed from calling your mother. Plus, there is a ton of satisfaction in just whipping out a pair of pliers and cooly fixing a problem.
Basics like a socket set, pliers, and a drill are great to have on hand, but don't overlook these damn useful additions.
So let us be your dad for a second and teach you some simple home fixes that you can keep in the back of your mind to tackle whatever problem pops up. Please picture us in a fishing hat with lures stuck to it. We’d prefer that. Thanks.
Changing a Shower Head
It’s almost a given that whatever apartment you move into, the shower pressure is either going to feel like the dribble from a St. Bernard or the cutting jet spray you see in most prison movies. Neither is conducive to a good start to your day.
The solution is pretty simple: All you need is a new, better shower head and a pair of Channellock pliers. Channellocks are adjustable, giving you a firm grip on pipes of different sizes. They’re also angled at the end, making them more powerful for prying loose a calcified showerhead, for example. This fix is just a matter of unscrewing the showerhead, then screwing the new one on.
Test it out, and if you see any drips coming from the joint, take the head off and apply some thread seal tape (aka plumber's tape) to the threads.
Unclogging a Sink
Drains are disgusting. Hair, soap, leaves from your bonsai tree (just a random example) get caught down there and then you have brownish, soapy water just sitting there, which we assume is how the bubonic plague started.
Usually, this is a simple matter of pouring in some Drano and letting it work its magic. Or you can run some water and placing a small plunger in the sink, creating an air bubble in the plunger and a seal around the drain. Then you go to town plunging until the vacuum you’ve created breaks stuff loose. But if the plug keeps happening, you may need to go underneath the sink, like a man. Here's how:
Use your hands, a pipe wrench or Channellocks to take the U-shaped trap pipe off, then the tailpiece, which connects the trap to the sink.
Clean out the tailpiece and the sink pipe with an old toothbrush. After seeing what comes out of there, you’ll never feel truly clean again, but such is the calling of a handiman.
Re-Lighting a Pilot Light
The thought of being instantly engulfed in flames is always unsettling. If you smell gas, you should open all your windows and definitely be ready to call the fire department, but before you do, check your stove’s pilot light.
Most modern gas stoves operate without pilot lights, using electric ignition instead. But it’s not uncommon for appliance-included apartments to be outfitted with older, pilot-based designs. Feel the top of your stove - if it’s warm when you don’t have it on, it’s pilot-based. Basically, a tiny flame is always burning that ignites gas on the burners or oven when you want to cook. Sometimes, the flames goes out and a small amount of gas leaks, causing the smell. It’s easy to fix:
Check your pilot by taking the burner grates off the stove top and lifting the stove top up. It should lift like a car hood, or remove completely.
There should be a small opening and tiny, blue flame on either side of the stove. If one of the flames is out, that’s likely where the gas smell is coming from.
After leaving the windows open awhile and letting the room air out thoroughly, hold a lighter or match close to the small opening. It'll gently ignite.
The oven works on the same principle, but the would-be flame is under the stove, accessible by the oven’s bottom hatch. Obviously, only relight in a well-ventilated room.
Installing a Dimmer Switch
Lighting makes or breaks an apartment. Big windows are great during the day, but when the sun goes down, you can still keep the mood (and not burn out your retinas) by installing a dimmer switch. You've got to be damn careful, though, not to electrocute yourself. If you’re not comfortable, call a professional. But if you take the right precautions, you’ll be fine.
Also, make sure you get the right kind of switch for your lights. When you go pick out your switch, know what kind of bulb you’re using, how many switches connect to the light in question, and the total wattage you’re dimming (just add the watts of all the lights you’ll be dimming with that switch).
First, switch off the power to the room from the breaker or fuse box. This is absolutely necessary to safely proceed to the next steps. Just turning off your light switch won't cut it.
Make sure it’s off by flicking the light switch. If it doesn't work, you're good to go
Use a screwdriver to take off the switch’s faceplate, and use a circuit tester to make sure everything’s off.
Note how the wires are connected to the switch. Take a couple pictures with your phone to remember where the wires were connected.
Use a screwdriver to detach the switch from the wires. You’ll probably be working with two insulated wires and a bare copper ground wire.
Now use wire strippers to take off about half an inch of insulation from the two insulated wires (your new dimmer switch will tell you exactly how much to take off).
Use a screwdriver to connect the wires from the house to the switch, or if there are lead wires already on the switch, use wire connectors (those little yellow cone things) and electrical tape to connect them to the house wires.
Connect the switch to the wall with a screwdriver, and attach the faceplate on the switch.
Turn the power back on and test it out. If it works, great. If not, you’re going to fry like that kid in Jurassic Park. Just kidding. Turn off the power again and double check your connections — odds are, you just left something too loose.
Fixing a Wobbly Chair
This is one of those fixes that is really simple in principle but has an annoying twist. In a lot of older wooden chairs, the stretchers (horizontal wooden pieces connecting the legs) come loose and hang out. This can result in someone sitting down, the legs splaying out, the chair breaking under them, you making a snide remark about their weight, and everyone hating you.
Prevent all of that by putting some wood glue around the end of the stretcher and inside the hole and pushing it together. Easy, right? Here’s the annoying part: You have to clamp that overnight so it sets. Most traditional clamps are useless for these angles, but there are two tricks you can use:
Wrap a ratchet strap around all four legs and tighten so that it holds together.
Loop a rope around all four legs twice, then use a stick or screwdriver to twist the rope until it tightens so much that it clamps the glued stretcher in place. Rest the stick or screwdriver on another stretcher or leg so that it doesn’t unwind.
Loosening a Sticking Keyhole
There is nothing more annoying than coming home after a long day of overly-long meetings, forgotten passwords, needlessly cc'ed emails, and Jeremy taking 20 minutes to explain that he wants an .eps file, not a .jpeg (damn it, Jeremy) and then having to jiggle, twist, and sweet talk the key into your front door to even get into your place.
Fortunately, there is an unbelievably simple, instantly gratifying trick: powdered graphite. Maybe it’s the same stuff we used to get on the side of our hands in elementary school, maybe it’s ground-up unicorn hooves. It doesn’t matter. If you put this in a keyhole, your key will slide in, and it will turn easily. It also works with sticky hinges. Just keep it away from your clothes — it'll permanently stain the fabric.
Woah, you’re already looking more masculine after reading this. Now you have the knowledge to be king of your castle, and your destiny. Get used to hearing things like, “Wait, you know how to install a dimmer switch without Google?” and “You changed that showerhead so nimbly with your Channellock pliers,” and “I’ve fallen deeply in love with you.” Being man of the house is a big pair of boots to fill, but you’ll be just fine.