12 Simple Home Repairs to Lift You Out of Winter’s Funk

Article By Jeanne Huber

Accomplishments — even little ones — go a long way toward a sunny outlook. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy, quick home repair chores you can do when you’re mired in the thick of winter. For max efficiency, make a to-do list ahead of time and shop for all the tools and supplies in one trip. On your work days, put the basics in a caddy and carry it from room to room, checking off completed tasks as you speed through them.

What to Look (and Listen) For
In each room, look around and take stock of what needs fixing or improving. Focus on small, quick-hit changes, not major redos. Here are some likely suspects:

1. Sagging towel rack or wobbly toilet tissue holder. Unscrew the fixture and look for the culprit. It’s probably a wimpy, push-in type plastic drywall anchor. Pull that out (or just poke it through the wall) and replace it with something more substantial. Toggle bolts are strongest, and threaded types such as E-Z Ancor are easy to install.

2. Squeaky door hinges. Eliminate squeaks by squirting a puff of powdered graphite ($2.50 for a 3-gram tube) alongside the pin where the hinge turns. If the door sticks, plane off a bit of the wood, then touch up the paint so the surgery isn’t noticeable.

3. Creaky floor boards. They’ll shush if you fasten them down better. Anti-squeak repair kits, such as Squeeeeek No More ($23), feature specially designed screws that are easy to conceal. A low-cost alternative: Dust a little talcum powder into the seam where floorboards meet — the talcum acts as a lubricant to quiet boards that rub against each other.

4. Rusty shutoff valves. Check under sinks and behind toilets for the shutoff valves on your water supply lines. These little-used valves may slowly rust in place over time, and might not work when you need them most. Keep them operating by putting a little machine oil or WD-40 on the handle shafts. Twist the handles back and forth to work the oil into the threads. If they won’t budge, give the oil a couple of hours to penetrate, and try again.

5. Blistered paint on shower ceilings. This area gets a lot of heat and moisture that stresses paint finishes. Scrape off old paint and recoat, using a high-quality exterior-grade paint. Also, be sure everyone uses the bathroom vent when showering to help get rid of excess moisture.

6. Loose handles or hinges on furniture, cabinets, and doors. You can probably fix these with a few quick turns of a screwdriver. But if a screw just spins in place, try making the hole fit the screw better by stuffing in a toothpick coated with glue, or switching to a larger screw.

Safety Items
You know those routine safety checks you keep meaning to do but never have the time? Now’s the time.

7. Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. If you don’t like waking up to the annoying chirp of smoke detector batteries as they wear down, do what many fire departments recommend and simply replace all of them at the same time once a year.

8. Ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets. You’re supposed to test them once a month, but who does? Now’s a great time. You’ll find them around potentially wet areas — building codes specify GFCI outlets in bathrooms, kitchens, and for outdoor receptacles. Make sure the device trips and resets correctly. If you find a faulty outlet, replace it or get an electrician to do it for $75 to $100.

Another good project is to replace your GFCIs with the latest generation of protected outlets that test themselves, such as Levitron’s SmartlockPro Self-Test GFCI ($28). You won’t have to manually test ever again!

9. Exhaust filter for the kitchen stove. By washing it to remove grease, you’ll increase the efficiency of your exhaust vent; plus, if a kitchen stovetop fire breaks out, this will help keep the flames from spreading.

10. Clothes dryer vent. Pull the dryer out from the wall, disconnect the vent pipe, and vacuum lint out of the pipe and the place where it connects to the machine. Also, wipe lint off your exterior dryer vent so the flap opens and closes easily. (You’ll need to go outside for that, but it’s quick.) Remember that vents clogged with old dryer lint are a leading cause of house fires.

11. Drain hoses. Inspect your clothes washer, dishwasher, and icemaker. If you see any cracks or drips, replace the hose so you don’t come home to a flood one day.

12. Electrical cords. Replace any that are brittle, cracked, or have damaged plugs. If you’re using extension cords, see if you can eliminate them — for example, by replacing that too-short lamp cord with one that’s longer. If you don’t feel up to rewiring the lamp yourself, drop it off at a repair shop as you head out to shop for your repair materials. It might not be ready by the end of the day. But, hey, one half-done repair that you can’t check off is no big deal, right?

Jeanne Huber is the author of 10 books about home improvement. She writes a weekly column about home care for the Washington Post.

Make your gardens beautiful and SAFE!

Take a good look at your gardens! Make them safe and beautiful.

Gardens create décor for our homes, sources for food, places for entertainment, rest and relaxation, sports and games and a playground for children and pets. They can add a lot to our property values and the quality of our lives. But most importantly, they must be safe. We need to keep hazardous chemicals properly stored, sharp or dangerous materials out of harm’s way, and areas easy and safe to walk through. Less obvious, though, is the danger that can be posed by the very plants that make our gardens beautiful and useful. Since some plants can be poisonous to children and pets, it is important to be aware of these. I have listed some common outdoor and indoor plants below.

When you get rid of weeds in your garden, make sure you don’t get rid of Rover as well. Keep in mind that landscaping aids that make your plants healthy can make your pets sick. The following landscaping staples can harm your pets:

Cocoa mulch: Contains theobromine, the chemical in chocolate that poisons dogs.
Fertilizers and herbicides: Can irritate pet skin, pads, tongues, and gums.
Compost: Ingesting coffee grinds and onions in compost piles can make pets ill.


Aconitum (Monkshood)
Aloe (some are irritants)
Alocasia (Elephant ears)
Alstroemaeria (can cause dermatitis)
Amarylis belladona (Naked Lady)
Anemone (Windflower)
Asclepias (Milkweed)
Cestrum nocturnum (Night Jessamine)
Convallaria (Lilly of the Valley)
Duranta (berries)
Euphorbia (white milky sap)
Gelseminm (Carolina Jessamine)
Heliotrope (Cherry Pie plant)
Ligustrum (Privet)
Nerium oleander
Potato (green skin + raw shoots)
Rhododendron and Azalea (leaves)
Rhubarb (leaves)
Ricinus (Castor bean)
Robinia (Locust trees)
Solanum jasminoides (Potato vine)
Schinas (CA pepper tree- dermatitis)
Taxus (Yews)


Amaryllis (bulbs)
Caladium (juice can cause swelling of mucous membranes)
Christmas Poinsettia (Euphorbia)
Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia)
Diffenbachia (Dumb Cane)
Ivy (can cause dermatitis)
Olea (unprocessed olives are inedible)
Solanum pseudpseudocapsicum (Christmas Cherry)