A big chunk of our hard-earned money ends up in the greasy, grimy hands of plumbers, electricians, heating and air conditioning technicians, etc.
Owning a house comes with maintenance (e.g., plumbing!) costs that can amount to $4,000 or more per year.
DIY Skills Even YOU Can Do
Here’s a list of the things you (yes, YOU) can do around the house yourself. No technical skills required. Beyond basic DIY plumbing, just about any aspect of your home is within the do-it-yourself realm.
1.) Toilet Repair and Replacement (this post)
2.) Faucet Repair and Replacement (this post)
3.) Cable Pulls (internet or cable TV – though you don’t need cable TV, right?)
4.) Window Sash Replacement and Screen Repair
5.) Tiling and flooring
6.) Appliance and Hot Water Heater Repair
7.) Door Lock Swaps and Re-keying
8.) Light Fixture and Dimmer Installation
9.) Basic HVAC / Ducting
DIY Plumbing 101: Toilet Repair (and Replacement)
Toilet repair is among the more seemingly straightforward, but also frustrating experiences. The most common problem is a clog (yuk!) or a leaking tank. When it’s a clog, you go for the plunger and go to work. And hope, and flush, and pray, and plunge, and so on…
For any issues with the tank, you don’t need to worry about dirty water. The inside of the tank is probably one of the least contaminated spots in your home. Only clean water goes in there, trust me. But don’t go drinking a glass of toilet tank water or anything silly like that.
Your first step in making any repairs within the tank is to turn off the water to the toilet. The shut-off valve is located near the bowl. This will allow you to flush whatever water is in the tank so you can easily replace worn or broken parts without cold water in your way.
Your local hardware shop can help you find the right flapper, flush lever, or fill valve for your particular toilet model. There are tablets you can buy at the hardware store that’ll dissolve in the tank. Do not flush – if your toilet is leaking water, you’ll have colorful blue water in the bowl within minutes.
Replacement of other parts, like the fill valve, is pretty straightforward. Again, just take a picture of the tank’s inside with your phone, and bring the old fill valve to your local hardware store.
Side Note: Try to walk or RIDE YOUR BIKE to the local hardware store if you’re within a couple of miles or less. It’s much less frustrating to roll back there on two wheels to get the RIGHT part the third time than it is to drive back twice. At least you gain some exercise from the process!
To replace the entire toilet, turn off the water supply first. It’s the little valve behind the toilet covered in pee and dust. Once off, flush the toilet a time or two, then sponge out the rest of the water (don’t worry, it’s clean!) from the tank.
Next, unscrew the supply line from the tank (underside of the tank). You should be able to loosen and tighten with your hand. Never over-tighten the supply, but do make sure it’s a tight fit.
You might need to hack off the bolts holding down the bowl to the floor if the bolts are too rusted. Just make sure the new toilet has enough fit and clearance with the wall behind the tank.
Removing the toilet isn’t too terrible. After the nuts are removed from the floor-mounted bolts, simply pull the toilet up and away. Set the old toilet out in the backyard for now. Maybe a passing neighbor will have an interest?
I always take an old rag to pop into the drain in case any gases come up strong. You’ll next want to pop in a new wax ring over the drain. Even though the old one looks gross, remember it’s just wax. Scrape it off with a putty knife and pop in a new wax ring, centered.
Set the new bowl right on top of the wax ring, again very centered, and push down. Once settled, you can pop the nuts back on the bolts, tighten good, and put the little decorative caps over the bolts. Those look good, but they also prevent rusted nuts (never a good thing!)
Attach the water supply to the tank and use a little Teflon tape to ensure no leaks. Seal around the base with a bead of caulk to stabilize the tank on the floor. Voila! Who needs a plumber?
Faucet Repair and Replacement
For this kind of work, you might want to stretch out the back muscles a bit, because you’ll probably be doing a good amount of the work lying on your back under the sink. Just like with toilet repair, there are no big secrets or mysteries to fixing or replacing a kitchen or bathroom faucet.
If you know you have to replace your faucet or are simply upgrading, make sure you turn off the supply valves first, which should be right under the sink (hot and cold).
Oftentimes, a newer faucet from a reputable company (e.g., Kohler) comes with a lifetime warranty. We’ve had Kohler send us a brand new faucet head for our kitchen faucet TWICE in the past year due to a clogging issue. Free. No questions asked.
A reduced flow of water from the hot or cold supply could be due to a few factors: the supply pipes may be rusting out from the inside if they’re old galvanized steel, or, the supply on/off valve is defective.
Galvanized steel is rotten stuff. It’ll last several decades, then drip, drip, drip, clogged. Go with copper, or even better, PEX.
If you’ve isolated the problem to the valve (you can check this by comparing hot vs. cold valves – both rarely fail at the same time), be sure to replace it with a quarter-turn valve. They are more reliable and durable.
Compression fittings are easy to install – no soldering required. Just remember to apply a little strip of Teflon tape – enough to go around the threads up to six times. Be sure to apply the tape in the direction of the threading for the best results.
For your viewing pleasure, our friends at This Old House have a great video on leaky faucet repair.
Many of the same concepts apply for fixing leaking drain pipes underneath the sink. The great thing about drain pipes is you don’t have to worry about turning off supply valves before you work on them. But you should have a bucket and rag ready to catch any water resting in traps.
PVC tubing is simple in its design, and easy to work with. Simply unscrew joints with your hands to disassemble the length of the drain where the problem (clog or leak) is isolated.
One of the things I’ve learned from our rentals is it’s super important to a.) limit run length as much as possible (shorter the distance, the fewer the joins and failure points) and b.) make sure the fit is as square as possible.
Crazy how some people don’t bother to get a proper fit and wind up with leaks and failures over time. All it takes is a tape measure and a few seconds with a hacksaw to get it right!
How Much Money Can You Save?
In a typical single-family house, with one kitchen and two bathrooms, you’ll probably run into two or three repair jobs per year. Usually, the parts cost no more than 10% of the labor cost of a professional plumber. I learned how to tackle these jobs without any experience, but a few resources sure came in handy:
1.) Your DIY Bible: The Reader’s Digest New Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual
2.) YouTube (you’re going to put Joe the Plumber out of business!)
Sometimes you just need to trust in your ability to learn and turn (wrench or screwdriver, whatever the tool for the job happens to be.) With an average of three service calls avoided per year, for $150 per hour, you can figure to save close to $500 per year with some basic DIY plumbing skills.
Let’s look at the 40-year opportunity cost of these skills. If you start using your toolbox in your 20s, you could save $127,000 by the time you start collecting Social Security.
You’ll Become Proficient with DIY and Even Enjoy It!
Now, consider the rest of the list we started with up top. Brick on brick, the savings will stack up to some huge dollars. Admittedly, you will find yourself making a few extra trips to Home Depot as you learn to be handy. You’ll spend a lot of time, in the beginning, figuring sh*t out, and some choice swear words will emerge… Dammit! (my thumb!!)
Understandably, you’d prefer to relax and unwind after a hard day in cubicle land. Heck, I’d rather read a novel or play golf instead of replacing a dirty old toilet too!
That said, it’s rewarding to fix problems (plumbing, electrical, etc.) yourself, and work with your hands. The money you save is icing. Give yourself a sense of accomplishment and show a friend how it’s done. You might get a beer or two out of the deal!
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This is a great, very useful post! I grew up blue collar, working for my dad’s construction company. The skills I learned have saved me a small fortune. Just this morning I fixed a stripped hot water handle in my bathroom sink.
abandoned cubicle says
Nice work, Ty! It doesn’t take much to get started on this path. And once you make that first repair or upgrade, the confidence to take on bigger jobs grows. These days, I’m putting more into learning detailed bike repair.
The Green Swan says
Great post! I’ve tried my hand at DIY a few times and now that I’ve had a bit of success I feel more comfortable trying first rather than paying someone.
Coincidentally, just yesterday I noticed one of my toilets running. I took a look and after a brief minute playing around with things I determined it was the flapper meeting water leak out. A quick trip to Lowe’s, a five dollar part and less than five minutes installation and it was fixed!
abandoned cubicle says
Thanks, Green Swan! Funny you mention that. One of our commodes is tormenting me with the same leaking tank issue this weekend. I might need to find a more capable flapper – this toilet is cursed, I swear…
Mustard Seed Money says
My dad is an awesome DIY. I unfortunately do not have his same level of confidence but still attempt to do it. Usually if I get stuck I can call him to help me. With Youtube and other videos available it’s really made life easier for DIYers.
abandoned cubicle says
You know, that’s where (my dad and step-dad) I got the confidence to attempt a lot of these things. I hope to pass along some of the lessons to my little ones. Worse case, they’ll be darn good with YouTube. ????
Mr Defined Sight says
A person can indeed save a lot of money by fixing these things on their own. Not my specialty but am working to get better at it. I have a buddy who can fix about anything and would help me out a lot but alas we moved to a new city now. Google and Youtube time baby!
If you’re really in a pinch, Mr. DS, just get your buddy on Skype or FaceTime. Course, that might not be very ideal if you’re working underneath a sink…
Amber from Red Two Green says
Ahhh how I long to have DIY skills. I will admit I usually make DIY projects worse, and then have to hire someone that can come fix what I did haha. But I LOVE the idea of how much doing it myself can save me, so thanks for including some “how to’s” 🙂
abandoned cubicle says
You can do it, Amber! Persistence pays off. One tactic you can try is shadowing a friend who has these skills. Apprenticeships are key in the trades, so why not do that with DIY? Best!
I remember my first place the toilet didn’t work properly, I resolved to fix it myself rather than pay a plumber a couple hundred to do it. Took a few hours, about 3-4 back-and-forths with the hardware store (multiple things wrong, learning as I went). It’s surprisingly easy to fix most things around the home, just need to have the confidence to try.
abandoned cubicle says
That sounds familiar, MrSLM. Thanks for sharing your example! That’s really the gist of scrutinizing everything we traditionally outsource: just need the confidence to go in and try – but keep YouTube on stand by.
Amanda @ centsiblyrich says
LOVE this! We are all about DIY at our house – it’s saved us a ton of money over the years. We gutted and remodeled both bathrooms (and much more) in our last home. On the first bathroom, it took hubby a little while to get all the plumbing down, but he did the second one in no time after learning those skills with the first. I even wired the outlets in our basement a couple of years ago – lo and behold, they are still in good working order!
Sometimes it takes a little upfront investment of time, but those skills will stick and come in so useful for future projects – plus doing them yourself saves sooo much money!
abandoned cubicle says
Nice work, Amanda! Gutting rooms and starting from scratch takes a lot of hard work and knowledge. I have yet to do that myself. The main point you make is that it’s like learning to riding a bike. So true.
gas hot water heater Paddington says
Clogged drains. Many of these calls could be avoided by taking greater care in what you put down drains- especially the kitchen sink drain, the most used and most clogged drain in the house.
Indeed. Never ever ever throw potato peels down that thing!!
I have to 2nd that YouTube is the place to go to learn all kinds of DIY skills.
Most the time you can find a video and just follow along.
I’ve done a lot of DIY repairs using YouTube as my guide. It allowed me to repair things around my house and car that were way beyond what I thought my DIY skill level was.
YouTube rocks! I’ve fixed two dryers, a couple washing machines, and a hot water heater thanks to Tuber. Sometimes the Internet does good things, right??
Justin Newman says
Hey Cubert! Good to read Your blog, This is very helpful for me. Your knowledge about How to Save Money with DIY Plumbing Skills is fantastic.