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7 Basic Skills Every Homeowner Can Master

Feb 11 2021

When learning a new skill, it helps to begin with the basics. Want to become fluent in SpanishStart by learning some nouns and verbs. Dreaming of a career in professional tennis? Give holding a racket a shot.  

The same is true for home maintenance. Before you can hang that flatscreen TV on your wall, you’ll want to know what a stud is and how to find one. Want to clean your own gutters? It’s helpful to know how to safely set up a ladder.  

Here are seven foundational skills to get you on your way to being a master DIYer 

1. Find a stud 

When you want to hang something heavy — a shelf, for example, or a television, or a cabinet — you need to find a stud. Studs are the lumber in your home’s frame. The tricky part, however, is that they’re hidden behind your drywall. Though hardware stores sell electronic “stud finder” tools, being able to locate studs without one is a great skill to have.  

 Tips and tricks:  

  • Studs are usually spread every 16 inches. Knowing this, you can measure from the corner of the room, and there should be a stud about every 16 inches. It’s not a perfect method, but it should give you rough idea of where your studs are.    
  • Look for outlets, which are always hung on the side of a stud. Once you figure whether the stud is to the right or left of an outlet, you can use that to measure 16 inches in either direction to find other studs.  
  • If you knock on the wall, you’ll hear a change in sound when there’s a stud behind the drywall. When you knock over the space between studs, it will sound hollow. When you’re over a stud, it’ll sound more solid.  
  • Check the baseboards. Typically, baseboards are nailed to studs, so nail heads mean there’s a stud.   

2. Caulking

Caulk is a pastelike substance used to make surfaces air- and water-sealed. You can find it around windows, sinks, tubs, and countertops. It comes in a tube and you apply it with a caulking gun. The lifespan of caulking is typically five years or fewer, so as a homeowner, you’ll likely need to reapply it at some point.  

Tips and tricks:  

  • When opening a tube of caulking, cut the nozzle at an angle. The angle allows you to control the caulking better as it comes out 
  • Go easy on the trigger. When you squeeze the caulking gun, there may be a slight delay before caulking comes from the tubeAnd when you release the trigger, it might continue to come out. Caulking guns have a lever to release pressureGet familiar with it before you start.  
  • Use painters’ tape for straight lines. Put the tape 1/8 inch on either side of the seam you’re caulkingPeel it away after the caulking has been smoothed into place.  
  • If you use your finger to wipe away excess caulking, wet it with soapy water first. This will keep the caulking from sticking to your finger and making a huge mess 
  • Insert a nail into the tip of the caulking tube or put a small piece of saran wrap over it to keep it from drying out.  

3. Setting up a ladder  

It may seem simple to set up a ladder, but falls are the most common cause of home injury. Because ladders are used for all kinds of home maintenance — cleaning gutters, painting ceilings, hanging shelves — they’rcommon culprits 

Tips and tricks:  

  • Step ladders and extension ladders are the two most common types. When using either, be sure to set them on an even and stable surface. 
  • With extension ladders, place the feet flat against the ground. On dirt or grass, you can dig the feet into the ground a little for extra stability. To determine a safe angle for the ladder, divide the ladder’s length by 4 and set the bottom that many feet away from the house.  
  • While using step ladders, lock the spreaders so there is no bend whatsoever. With extension ladders, make sure the rung locks are secure against the rung.  
  • Maintain three points of contact with any ladder at all times (two feet and one hand, for example). Stay centered. If you need to lean over to reach somethingmove the ladder to a better position 
  • Avoid standing on the top of a step ladder or on the top four rungs on an extension ladder. If you can’t reach what you need, use a taller ladder.  

4. Sanding surfaces  

Whether you’re prepping a surface for paint or smoothing out splinters, knowing how to sand is a key skill for homeowners. There are a variety of different sanding methods, but hand sanding is especially important 

 Tips and tricks:  

  • Wear a dust mask. You don’t want dust particles in your nose, mouth, or lungs. If you’re sanding stain, paint, or plastics, be aware of possible lead or asbestos. If you’re nervous, pick up a test at your local hardware store.  
  • Use a sanding block for flat surfaces. This will help you get the sandpaper flat against the wood for the best results. 
  • Begin sanding with lower grit sandpaper (80-grit is a good amount to start with). Work your way up to finer grit (try 220-grit to finish wood). This will help you get the best results and a smooth finish.  
  • Sand with the wood’s grain to hide the scratches and scuffs naturally caused by sanding.  
  • Many floors and pieces of furniture have a thin layer of wood (called a veneer) glued over a plywood or particleboard base, so be aware of what you’re sanding. If you sand too much on a veneer, you could accidentally go right through it 

5. Patching holes or dents in drywall 

From small holes made by hanging pictures to larger ones caused by accidental impacts, being able to patch your own walls will come in handy. All you’ll need is a putty knife, mesh tape, spackle, and sandpaper.  

Tips and tricks:  

  • Use a lightweight spackle for holes less than ¼ inch deepLightweight compounds dry faster, smoother, and don’t shrink as much. For larger holes or cracks, get an all-purpose spackle. It’ll dry harder, providing a more stable surface.  
  • Before applying spackle, remove paint chips and bits of drywall. Smooth out the area with your putty knife or fine-grit sandpaper.
  • Cover the hole, seam, or crack with mesh tape. Mesh tape provides a good surface for the spackle. The mesh tape can be difficult to tear, so place the blade of your putty knife on the tape and pull.  
  • Pay attention to the angle of your putty knife while spreading spackle. When applying it, you may want to lay the blade almost flat against the wall. When clearing away extra, angle it closer to 90-degrees 
  • Once dry, use fine-grit sandpaper to sand away uneven surfaces. You can always apply more spackle later to fill uneven surfaces. 

6. Applying a coat of paint  

A fresh coat of paint can do wonders for any room. While painting isn’t necessarily rocket science, there are a few tricks to drastically improve the quality of your work. Prepping, selecting the correct paint and brush, and paying attention to your technique can make all the difference.  

Tips and tricks:  

  • Pick the right paint or stain. Consider the purpose of the area you’re painting, whether you need a primer, and what colors are going to work best for the room’s lighting. Work with someone at your local hardware store to get the right stuff.
  • Choose the correct tools. You’ll have a selection of cutting brushes, natural and synthetic bristles, and rollers. Do some research on the different types of painting tools and choose the right ones for your particular job. Ask the paint pro at your local hardware store for help.  
  • Do the prep work. Clean the walls before you paint them and put a drop cloth or plastic down to protect your floor. Border with painter’s tape for clean lines around window your frames, baseboards, and molding. Mix your paint well. Taking the time to prep will make the job go smoother and look better in the end 
  • Apply even coats of paint and brush in the same direction to prevent unsightly lines and blemishes.  

7. Using basic hand tools  

Every homeowner should have toolbox stocked with basic hand tools. No need to get fancy, we just mean flat head and Philips head screwdrivers, a set of Allen wrenches (aka hex keys), an adjustable wrench, a socket wrench set, a hammer, a small level, and a utility knife. If you’re looking to step up your game, you might consider a drill or power driver. Practicing is the best way to learn to use your tools, and you’re likely to get plenty.  

Tips and tricks:  

  • Wear safety glasses and gloves. When it comes to DIY home maintenance, you never know when objects might take flight or slips might lead to busted knuckles 
  • Think about your angles when hammering or screwing. Whether your hammering in a nail or unscrewing a screw, you want a straight line between your tool and the nail or screw.  
  • Use the correctly sized wrench or screwdriver. If you think you have the right one, try the next size up to make sure. A tight fit prevents stripping nuts and damaging your tools. 
  • When using a utility knife, always cut away from yourself to prevent accidents.  

Feeling ready? Give it a shot!  

The best way to learn is by getting your hands dirty. Be easy on yourself. All of these skills take time, patience, and practice. Trust that the more time you put into learning basic skills, the easier they’ll get. And before you know it, you’ll be fluent in DIY and tackling more complicated projects with confidence!  

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