Listen to Austin 360 Radio

5 simple home repairs you can and should do

Nicole Villalpando,
Regular flushing and draining is an essential element of water heater maintenance. [TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE]

Homeowners often get a little cocky in the home improvement projects they think they can tackle. They think they’ll spend a weekend redoing all their floors, and three months later they are still working on the project. Or they think they can handle a major plumbing job, such as remodeling a bathroom, only to forget to turn off the water before starting.

We asked Brad Casebier, owner of Radiant Plumbing, to give us his take on what homeowners can do to improve their homes. If it isn’t on this list, you should probably call a professional.

Here are the five things you can do (and actually should do):

1. Change your air conditioner filter. “We see a lot of ‘never have changed an air filter ever,’” Casebier says. “It destroys your air conditioner.”

There are different types of filters and how often you should change them depends on which type you have. Some need to be changed every month; some need changed every three months. In general, the thicker the filter, the longer it can stay in. Whichever type you use, there will be an arrow on the side that tells you that the filter’s arrow should match the direction of the air flow.

A good tip: Write the date on the side of the filter so you know how long the filter has been in there.

2. Change out the parts in your toilet. Leaky toilets waste about 200 gallons of water a day, Casebier says. There are two parts that typically fail on a toilet. The first is the flapper, that rubber piece that looks like a drain stopper. The other is the fill valve and the parts that surround it, which often look like a rod and a chain. Both of these sets of parts come in kits with easy-to-understand directions, often with diagrams, and only need simple hand tools.

Take a picture of the toilet parts you’re replacing before you start so you can see how those parts are supposed to fit in your toilet. You also can search online for instructional videos.

Before you start, know how to shut the water off to your toilet. Usually there’s a valve behind the toilet on the wall, and make sure it works before you start any toilet repair.

It’s also a good idea to know how to turn off the water to your house from the street, just in case something really goes wrong. The street shut off value requires a special tool. Know where your tool is and test that your street shutoff valve works. Sometimes calcium builds up and the valve won’t turn. If it feels stuck, don’t force it. Call a plumber to replace the valve or unstick it. It’s a good idea to test your street shutoff valve regularly to avoid it getting stuck when you need it.

The thing with all plumbing is “there’s very much a feel with tightening,” Casebier says. “It needs to be tight, but there is a point where it’s overtightening.” And then things break and you have water everywhere, which makes you glad that you know how to shut off the water to the toilet, the sink or your whole house.

3. Flush your water heater. Hot water heater tanks get filled with calcium. To avoid this, once a year, shut off the electricity or gas to the tank. Turn off the cold water to the tank. Drain the water using a garden house attached to the water heater, while you let the hot water run in a nearby sink. Open and close the cold water to the tank to flush it. Let the tank fill a quarter of the way, then drain it again. Keep repeating until you see no more sediment being flushed. Refill the tank.

Then turn the electricity back on or turn on the gas again, making sure the pilot light is lighted. Run the hot water in your faucets to make sure everything is working again.

Casebier warns that if you have not done this in the last three years, it’s too late. There’s so much sediment inside, you could risk clogging it worse than before by trying to flush it.

4. Flush your air conditioner drain line. Inside your house by the inside workings of your heating and air conditioning system is the drain line. This can get clogged with algae, and condensation from the air conditioner doesn’t have anywhere to go. Usually, there’s a float switch to turn off the air conditioner when the pan to the drain line is full, but sometimes those fail, too. Pretty soon, there’s a flood in your house.

Avoid this mess easily by pouring a couple of cups of plain white vinegar down the drain line twice a year to keep the line clear.

5. Change out your faucets and shower heads. Replacing your sink faucets or a shower head is totally doable and can give your bathroom or kitchen a fresh look. And if you have faucets that are leaking, you’ll want to take care of this.

Make sure you know how to turn off your water to the sink or the shower before you start.

Casebier says so much of the home-repairs-gone-wrong calls he gets are “they didn’t verify that they had shut the water off when an emergency happened,” or they thought their shutoff valve works only to realize it doesn’t.