Common household issues and how to fix them

Don't panic if things go wrong in your place. You don't always need to call the landlord or be overly handy to fix the small things.

A selection of household tools. Photo:

Anyone who's moved out of home into their own place (or shared place) knows there are always little things that need to be fixed every so often. If you’re really unlucky, an emergency will occur. Most problems are easily fixed without consulting a professional, and only need a few tools and a little time to be repaired. Below is a list of common issues you might find in your own place and how to resolve them. When in doubt, though, always consult with a professional or your landlord!

Grease fire

The first time I started a grease fire in the kitchen, my fear actually saved my kitchen (and potentially my skin). I didn’t know what to do, so I slammed the lid on top of it, and that’s actually what you’re supposed to do! Putting a lid on the pot or pan suffocates the fire and puts it out. Sprinkling baking soda on it will also help it there's no lid that fits the pot or pan. NEVER put water on it! Water doesn’t put the fire out and actually makes it worse.

Clogged or overflowing toilet

If your toilet becomes clogged, use your plunger and plunge as hard as you can until you either dislodge the clog or the water begins to drain. If the water level is high, plunge until it starts to lower, or use something to scoop some water out into the sink to get a bit more control and visualization. Most clogs will dislodge after some intense plunging and won’t require a plumber or maintenance call.

For an overflowing toilet, turn off the valve on the back of the toilet near the wall—this will shut off the flow of water to the toilet. Next, wipe up as much water as you can before it can cause any damage, and investigate the toilet by opening the top and checking the valves and floats. If you suspect the toilet is clogged, you can try plunging, though this is sometimes a more difficult fix that a plumber may be needed for.

Clogged shower drain

Typically, when my drain gets clogged, it's because of hair. Most times a shower drain will only clog from hair or soap gunk, but both are easy to remove. I recommend keeping a “drain snake” on hand if you or a roommate has long hair. They're relatively cheap plastic or metal tools with barbed sides. Slide the drain snake down the drain as far as you can, trying to rub the sides of the pipe like floss between teeth. This may resolve the issue, but most times I usually run some Draino down the drain for half an hour, followed by a hot water rinse to wash the pipe out.

You can also try unclogging it with some baking soda, vinegar, and hot water:

  1. Pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain.
  2. Once the water's gone, dump in about ½ cup of baking soda and let it sit for a few minutes.
  3. Pour a mixture of 1 cup vinegar and 1 cup really hot water in the drain on top of the baking soda.
  4. If you have a drain plug, put it in to keep the fizzing action inside the drain. Otherwise, watch it fizz up and leave it for 10 minutes.
  5. Pour another kettle of boiling water in the drain.

Jammed window

This can be a common problem in older buildings. If your window won't slide up, take a piece of wood (or something equally tough) and wrap it in cloth. Then take a hammer and GENTLY tap around the seal (edge of the window where it's stuck in the frame) to loosen it. Alternatively, you can take a putty or pocketknife and pry the seal loose. Be VERY careful and don't use excessive force. If the window doesn’t come loose, you may have to make a call to maintenance or someone with more expertise, but in my experience, these methods usually do the trick.

Outlets/lights with no power

Most times this results from an issue with your breaker (circuit panel). Check around your place to see where yours is (most apartments have one, but older houses converted into apartments may not). Usually all you need to do is flip the proper switch and this issue should be resolved. (It will be the switch that's not facing in the same direction as all the others.) If your unit doesn’t have a breaker or you live in a converted house, check with your landlord or building manager for this fix and how to repair it in the future. You may have too many devices plugged into outlets that run off the same breaker, so try moving them around.

Changing a lightbulb

I might be the only person who didn’t know how to change a lightbulb when I moved out. When my bathroom light when out, I learned by trial and error (and an embarrassing phone call to my mom when I almost shocked myself and fried the bulb). Before you try to change the bulb, turn the switch off and let it cool down. If you try to change it with the switch on, it will be very hot, and you will most likely get a nasty shock (like I did). Once the bulb is cool, simply grab it with a gentle but firm grip and twist it counterclockwise to release it from the socket. To put the new bulb in, twist in clockwise in the socket. If the lightbulbs are part of the entire fixture, you’ll have to call your building’s maintenance team or landlord.

Loose or torn-off cabinet handles

We’ve all pulled too hard on a cabinet handle or didn’t realize how loose it was until it came off in our hands. When this happens, there are three methods for reattaching it, which depend on the kind of handle. If the handle looks like it screws onto the base in the cabinet door, just screw it back on. If the base is stripped or the handle will not reattach, use a little woodwork or adhesive glue (available at most hardware stores) and glue it back on. If the handle has screws, use a screwdriver to put them back in.