Whether you’re moving into your first apartment or have been living in your home for decades, there are some basic home maintenance how-tos you need to know. From what to do when you trip a circuit breaker to how to paint a wall, here are some essential home tasks worth remembering. These are the type of super-simple how-tos you’ll wish they covered in your high school home economics class—but it’s never too late to learn.
How to Reset a Tripped Circuit Breaker
If you’re trying to blow-dry your hair, watch TV, and run a window AC unit all at the same time, you ought to know what to do if a circuit breaker trips. The first sign of a tripped breaker: everything will shut off.
Familiarize yourself with the breaker box in your house or apartment (if you have access to it). Open the cover and look for the tripped breaker—there may be one breaker that’s now switched to “OFF” or the breaker may display a red marker window that indicates it’s been tripped.
Turn off all of the lights and appliances that are connected to that breaker. Then, flip the tripped breaker to the “ON” position (some models will need to first be switched fully off before turning them back on again). If the lights and appliances now work—ta-da, you did it! If it trips again, consult an electrician.
Safety first: You’re dealing with electricity here, so be mindful to never touch the breaker box with wet hands or if there is water on the floor.
How to Turn Off the Water
In case of emergency, it’s a good idea to know where your home’s main water shut-off valve is located. Some have round wheel handles, others have lever-style handles. If you have a wheel-style handle, you’ll turn it to the right (clockwise) to shut off the water. Lever-style handle? Turn the lever one-quarter turn, so that it is now perpendicular (rather than parallel) with the pipe.
If you’re going away for a while, consider shutting off the water in your house in case of a plumbing leak.
How to Hang a Painting (or Shelf)
If you’re hanging anything with some heft to it, whether an antique painting or a floating shelf, you should first locate a wall stud. Studs are the vertical boards that hold up the walls and form the framing elements of a house. The easiest way to locate a wall stud is to use a store-bought stud finder. Some stud finders use magnets to find nails or screws in the stud, while others (including stud-finding apps) look for disruptions in magnetic fields. Attaching something to a wall stud is more secure than brittle drywall.
If there isn’t a stud in the spot you’d like to hang that shelf, use a drywall anchor or molly bolt (found at the hardware store). Essentially, the anchor goes into the wall first, then you attach the screw, helping to create a more secure hold. Follow the package instructions for the step-by-step.
Safety first: Before you start drilling, be mindful of the placement of electrical wires and pipes so you can avoid hitting them. Be especially careful when drilling in the bathroom or kitchen and avoid the area around outlets.
How to Paint a Wall
Painting a wall is a basic home project almost anyone can tackle. The secret: a flawless finish is as much about prep work as it is about actually painting. Follow our complete how-to to learn how to clean, tape, prime, and paint your way to a beautiful wall.
How to Snake a Drain
Even if you’re careful about what you pour (and don’t pour!) down the drain, the occasional clog is bound to happen. Luckily, an inexpensive drain snake and a plunger may be all you need to fix it. Follow our instructions for unclogging a drain, starting with the easiest method first.
How to Fix a Running Toilet
A toilet that won’t stop running can waste a lot of water over time—not to mention the annoying sound it creates. Fortunately, you may be able to fix this issue yourself (no plumber necessary) by replacing the flapper located inside the toilet tank. Get the step-by-step here.
How to Patch a Small Hole in Drywall
Whether you’re a renter on move-out day or a homeowner, knowing how to patch holes in the wall is sure to come in handy. To fill in small holes left behind by nails or screws, first fill the hole with spackle and level it off so it’s flush with the wall. Once dry (check the package instructions for dry time), sand until smooth. Touch up the spot with matching paint. Voila—good as new!
How to Fix a Squeaking Hinge
To silence that squeaky door, spray some WD-40 onto the hinge as you move the door back and forth slightly. If you don’t have any WD-40 on hand, even some petroleum jelly can do the trick.
How to Re-Caulk
If a small piece of caulk comes undone around your bathroom sink, you can easily fix it yourself and prevent water damage. All you need is a tube of caulk and a caulk gun (less than a $5 investment at the hardware store). Using a utility knife, cut the tube at a 45-degree angle—the closer to the end of the tube you cut, the smaller the line of caulk will be. Load the tube into the caulk gun, and you’re ready to carefully apply caulk to fill in the missing area around your sink. Smooth out the caulk and allow to dry.