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Quick fixes around the home

It’s time to resolve those everyday annoyances that lurk around the house. A range of basic DIY skills can improve things overnight, says Helaine Clare.

Wobbly chairs, creaking floorboards and sticking drawers... Sometimes I think we put up with such inconveniences for so long that they become part of everyday life. But if the time it takes to create a morning cup of tea as you wait for the furred-up kettle to boil has got to you finally, or you’ve hit your knee once too often on that cupboard door that won’t stay shut, follow my guide to fixing these small DIY jobs.

Washbasins and sinks that drain sluggishly shouldn’t be ignored either because what is just a minor irritation can become more serious if it turns into a blocked pipe. I try not to use harsh chemicals around the house and prefer to look for a greener alternative. Trying to fix one problem can cause another too: I know of people who put powerful blockage-clearing products down their sinks and were soon obliged to call in a plumber to replace the resulting damaged pipework.

I advise taking the safer, more gentle option. If a plunger won’t shift the blockage, bail out as much water as you can and pour down half a cup of soda crystals, followed by half a cup of vinegar. Let it stand for 15 minutes to break down soap and grease and then flush with a kettle of boiling water.

If that doesn’t do the trick, then you’ll have to unscrew the trap (or u-bend) to physically remove the blockage and to check that it hasn’t spread along into the outlet pipe. Don’t forget to put a bucket underneath. Soda crystals are an excellent de-greaser and dissolved and diluted in hot water – the hotter the better – will clean cookers and worktops beautifully.

You will need...

For the wobbly chair:

  • Wood off-cuts
  • Saw
  • Gliders

For the blocked sink or basin:

  • Plunger
  • Soda crystals
  • Vinegar

For general use with the projects:

  • Lubricating spray
  • Screwdriver
  • Nail set
  • Plain household candle
Mend a chair that wobbles

1. Mend a chair that wobbles: Don’t level chair legs by sawing them down – instead build up a shorter leg. Place chair on a flat surface and slide under off-cuts of wood until stable. Draw round chair leg and saw off a circle with a fine-toothed saw. Glue and screw in place. Minimise jolts by placing a sticky backed glider on the bottom of each leg.

Dissolve kettle calcium deposits

2. Dissolve kettle calcium deposits: When the kettle is cold, half fill it with a mixture of two-thirds white vinegar to one-third cold water. Leave for at least an hour. Dislodge stubborn scale with a toothbrush. Rinse kettle several times with cold water. Minimise furring by boiling just the water you need and emptying any surplus before it cools down.

Improve drainage in a basin

3. Improve drainage in a basin: Sluggish draining and smells can signal a partial sink blockage. First, pull out debris with a piece of bent wire. Next, half fill basin with water and stuff a cloth into the overflow to stop air pressure escaping; place plunger over the plughole and plunge vigorously to force the blockage away. Repeat, if necessary.

Ease an awkward key

4. Ease an awkward key: If the key is new, return it to the locksmith with the original for finetuning. Or lubricating spray may work, but avoid oil, which attracts dirt and clogs the mechanism. In extremis, call a locksmith: rather than total replacement, a Yale type lock can be fitted with a new cylinder or barrel, and a mortice lock re-levered.

Stop a dripping cistern overflow

5. Stop a dripping cistern overflow: In a cistern the ballcock rises with the water and the flow cuts off about an inch below the overflow pipe. If the water is too high the ballcock needs adjusting. In old cisterns, bend the metal arm downwards. In modern cisterns with plastic parts, release the locknut, turn the screw clockwise, then re-tighten the locknut.

Fix a kitchen cupboard door

6. Fix a kitchen cupboard door: New cupboards have sprung steel hinges to pull doors in, but older ones often have magnetic catches that become unaligned. Check the metal non-magnetic part of the catch hasn’t lost a screw, causing it to skew. The magnetic part is held by two screws; loosen these and push catch forward. Re-tighten screws.

Silence creaking floorboards

7. Silence creaking floorboards: If a board is rubbing against a joist, lubricate it by sprinkling talcum powder around it. Knock down protruding nails that have worked loose and lost their grip. If constant movement has caused nail heads to wear a hole in the board put in a couple of screws, using a detector to check for hidden pipes or cables.

Enable drawers to glide

8. Enable drawers to glide: Remove the drawer and look inside the chest to check that nothing is wedged behind. Wear and tear can cause drawers to stick – rub a candle along the edges and sides of the drawer to help it glide. Use a spirit level to check the drawer is sitting straight, and if necessary even up the carcase with cardboard.