3 Things to Do Before Calling a Repairman

3 Things to Do Before Calling a Repairman
Having a broken appliance fixed can be costly, but did you know that a lot of common problems can be cheaply and easily repaired on your own? Here are a few simple fixes you should try before dropping big bucks on a service call.

If your dryer isn't drying like it used to, first thing to do is check your lint filter. Even if the filter looks clean, it could be covered by a nearly invisible film caused by dryer sheets. This film reduces airflow and forces the thermostat to shut off the heat before your clothes are fully dry.

To test your filter, pour some water into it. If the filter holds water, it needs to be cleaned. To do this, simply run the filter under hot water and scrub with a stiff kitchen brush and some laundry detergent. And don't forget to check the exterior dryer vent, too. Louver-door vent covers in particular are notorious for lint buildup.

Next, if your refrigerator stops cooling effectively or conks out entirely, check the condenser coils. Some units have these located on the back, while others are hidden behind a panel at the bottom. These coils are part of the ventilation system, and they tend to draw in a lot of dust and pet hair. All this buildup can cause your compressor to overheat and switch off. It's a really common problem, but luckily, it's easy to fix.

First, unplug your fridge. Then, get a coil-cleaning brush, which you can buy at home centers for around $5. Take the brush and scrub in and out between the coils to remove caked on dust, and simply vacuum up what's left. As an added bonus, clean coils will cool your fridge more efficiently, saving you money on your utility bill.

Lastly, if a burner on your stove won't turn on, the problem might be the food you spilled last week. Use a toothbrush to clean off any residue stuck on the igniter, which is that little ceramic nub on the stovetop or under the strike plate. Be sure that the strike plate itself is seated properly on the burner, too.

If the igniter sparks but there's still no flame, there may be a clog in one or more of the burner's holes. If that's the case, clean out the holes with a safety pin or a needle. Just don't use a toothpick since the tip can break off and become a fire hazard.

When it comes to appliances, a minor breakdown doesn't always mean major repairs. Give these tips a try and you'll keep your household running, without the hefty service bills.

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The kitchen is still considered the heart of the home. For a few hundred dollars, you can replace the kitchen faucet set, add new cabinet door handles and update old lighting fixtures with brighter, more energy-efficient ones. If you've got a slightly larger budget, you can give the cabinets themselves a makeover.

Rather than spring for a whole new cabinet system, which can be expensive, look into refacing the ones you have. ... Unless the cabinets are mica, a fresh coat of paint can also do the trick.

If your kitchen appliances don't match, try ordering new doors or face panels from the manufacturer. Many dishwasher panels are white on one side and black on the other. It can be as simple as removing a couple of screws, sliding the panel out and flipping it over.

Simple things like a new toilet seat and a pedestal sink are pretty easy for homeowners to install, and they make a big difference. You can replace an old, discolored bathroom floor with easy-to-apply vinyl tiles -- often applied right over the old floor.

If your tub and shower are looking dingy, consider regrouting and replacing any chipped tiles. A more complete cover-up is a prefabricated tub and shower surround. These one-piece units may require professional installation but can still be cheaper than paying to retile walls and refinish a worn tub.

New paint makes everything look clean and bright again. And don't forget the ceiling. Paint the trim a contrasting color.

Another option: Paint a wall three different shades of the same color. Measure equal sections and use painter's masking tape to mark off each area. Do the bottom of the wall first with the darkest shade. Once it dries, do the middle section with the next lightest shade and so on.

Old houses, particularly, are notorious for their lack of closet space. If you have cramped storage areas, add do-it-yourself wire and laminate closet systems to bedrooms, pantries and entry closets.

Firms like ClosetMaid allow you to measure and redesign your closets online. You can also get design details and parts for these systems at many large home-improvement stores.

Most closets can be updated in a weekend or less.

Finley Perry of F.H. Perry Builder in Hopkinton, Mass., advocates spending a few bucks on nitty-gritty stuff. "It's often very worthwhile to hire an electrician and plumber for a couple of hours to look over your electrical services, wrap or fix loose wires, fix any faulty outlets and check for and fix any water leaks," Perry says.

"Those details tell a buyer that someone has really taken care of the home and can really influence its price."

Carpeting is another detail that can quickly update a home and make it look cleaner. A professional carpet cleaning is an inexpensive investment, especially if your rugs are in good shape and are neutral colors.

If your carpet is showing serious wear, cover it with inexpensive, strategically placed area rugs.

Unless it is truly hideous, most real estate agents don't suggest replacing wall-to-wall carpeting right before you sell your house. The new homeowners may want to choose their own carpeting after they move in.
If you have boring recessed lights in your dining and living rooms, consider replacing one of the room's lights with an eye-catching chandelier. Home stores offer a wide range of inexpensive ceiling fixtures these days. Add accent lighting, instead of sticking with the two ordinary lamps that flank both ends of the sofa.

Spotlights that plug into existing outlets can direct light to features you want to emphasize, like art or plants. If you have a ceiling fan and light you can also buy replacement fan blades (leaving the fan body in place) to update the fixture's look.

Repaint or refinish that front door, and if you have a basic steel front door that has gotten dented, consider replacing it with either another inexpensive steel door or a fiberglass, wood grain door for slightly higher cost.

Next, replace that worn, flimsy little knob on your main entry door with a more substantial-looking handle-and-lock set. A nice, big piece of hardware signals newcomers that this is a solid home. Then, place two large planters on either side of the front door, with a profusion of healthy plants spilling out.
Although it sounds obvious, a nicely mowed lawn, a few well-placed shrubs and a swept walkway makes a great first impression. If you don't have a green thumb, consider hiring a landscaper to install some new sod, plant a few evergreen shrubs and give your front yard a good cleanup. These kinds of changes can instantly change people's perception of your home and, therefore, increase its value. Your neighbors will love you for it, too.
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