6 Fixes to become your own handyman (or handywoman for that matter)

Updated April 17, 2017

Maintaining a home means dealing with the wear and tear it will inevitably endure. And in an age where people feel too busy -- or, perhaps, intimidated -- to take care of pesky little household issues themselves, they often end up throwing money at the problem. In many cases, the pesky little problem is an easy little fix, if you just know where to start and what to do. Not all repairs require paying a handyman, so learn how to be your own.

With a running toilet, the most common mistake is thinking you need to call a plumber!

Lynda Lyday, author of The Homeowner's Manual

Replacing tiles

There was a time when retiling meant mixing the adhesive, masking off countertops, laying the tiles and then waiting a day until it was set before grouting. But thanks to advancements in technology, you can now simply use a tile adhesive on a roll, eliminating much of the hard work.

“Bondera is a two-sided, pressure-sensitive roll adhesive tape,” said contractor Paul F. Ryan, host of various shows on the DIY Network. “You put it on the wall, lay the tile and you can grout right away. It's good for the small jobs, but in a shower surround where it'll take you a full day to lay tile anyway, it's probably not going to save a lot of time, but if you have a simple backsplash in the kitchen, or a smaller job, it's a choice you may want to consider.”


When putting up a shelf, one question you should ask yourself is how it will be held up. You will need enough brackets to support the weight you intend to put on the shelf. Also, check to see what the wall is made of, be it drywall, wood panel, tile, plaster or cinder block.

“If a stud lands in a convenient place to put a bracket [studs are generally 40cm/16 inches apart on centre], then always try to hit the stud. If not, then you will need to buy the correct wall anchor,” said Lynda Lyday, author of "The Homeowner's Manual" and designer of the Lyday Tool Line. “In drywall, I prefer the plastic toggles that have the wings that you compress when pushing them in the wall. The wings then expand once in and can hold a good amount of weight.

"Always drill a hole big enough to allow the toggle to go in.”

The importance of anchors cannot be stressed enough, if you want your handiwork to last. “Many people don’t use the proper anchors in the wall," Lyday added. "Items such as toilet paper holders, brackets, towel racks will easily come out of the wall with wear and tear."


Adding a fresh coat of colour to your walls? Nowadays, you needn’t sit around all day literally watching paint dry. Considering an option like the PaintStick will save you a lot of time. The paint you need will be inside the handle, eliminating the need for a messy paint roller tray.

“The stick attaches to a special paint lid with a filler tube. When you pull the lever back, the tube fills with paint,” Ryan explained. “You apply the paint by twisting the handle on the paint stick as you roll it onto the wall. It also acts as a roller extension so you can paint from floor to ceiling without a ladder.”

Fixing drywall

Doing a drywall repair is another task manageable with a little research and planning. Once you’ve figured out the thickness of the drywall – residential areas usually use 1cm/½-inch drywall, while in some cities it may be 5/8 inches thick – try to cut costs by asking your local home center if they will sell you a piece of drywall that has been broken. They sometimes give them away, on request.

“The mistake most people make is cutting the hole first in the wall and then trying to match up the new piece to fit,” Lyday noted. “Instead, cut your new drywall piece big enough to fit over the damaged wall area, and then trace around it and cut it out with a drywall saw.”

Lyday has an extra tip that saves on any potential damage to concealed wires or pipes.

“If you have a lot of repairs, take a jig saw and place an old wood-cutting blade in it," she said. "Have it stick out as far as it will go and measure a 1cm/½ inch from the bottom of the plate and mark on your blade. Remove the blade from the jig saw and lock down on both sides with locking pliers and bend the blade until it snaps at the line. Put the blade back in the jig saw, and you can now cut fast and easy through the drywall without the blade going beyond the thickness.”

Light switch & outlet covers

Replacing light switch and outlet covers may seem like a subtle change, but it's a big part of revamping a room. And while the task itself is not particularly tough, many people are unaware that they’re missing out on saving themselves a lot of money if they devote a little more time to the job.

“When you remove the cover, place an insulated insert behind the new cover to stop drafts," Ryan advised, adding that these are sold at most home centers. “Outlet and switch covers are a main source of air leaks in homes, and insulating them can save a lot more energy and money that you may realize."

Careful when putting the covers back on, though, he says. Tightening them too much can crack the cover.

Running toilet

If your toilet won’t stop running, the majority of times your flapper – the flat, rubber piece attached to the chain – is likely the problem. A new flapper costs just a few quid, and promptly replacing it will save on a potentially huge water bill from the several litres lost each hour.

“In most cases, you will need to make a few cuts to remove the centre circle from it so the holes fit over the tabs on each side,” Lyday said. “Rule of thumb: Make it look like the one you just removed. Before you replace it, turn off the water at the valve just behind the toilet. The most common mistake is thinking you need to call a plumber!”

Know when to use your wallet

Part of being an efficient handyman is knowing when you’re in over your head with a particular home improvement task. It’s useful to know when reaching for your wallet instead of the toolbox is the more sensible option.

“Sometimes, it's better to step back and let the experts do part of the project, like plumbing,” said contractor Paul F. Ryan. “They know the codes, have the specialised tools and may know a few shortcuts.”

But if you do decide to go it alone with a big task, it’s important to remember that thorough research should take place before you get to work.

“Some people over-estimate knowledge and jump in without thinking,” Ryan added. “Suddenly, the wall is opened up and you have a huge headache ahead of you… There is also a lot to the saying, ‘Measure twice, cut once.’ Double check measurements, openings and manufacturer specs before firing up that saw or drill.”

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About the Author

Ryan Smith has been a writer since 1999, contributing to "Vogue Italia," "Hong Kong Tatler" and "OK! Magazine," among other publications. He holds a degree in psychology from the United Kingdom's University of Surrey.