Diagnosing and Solving Most Common Problems

When you were a renter and something in your apartment broke, you probably asked your landlord to fix it. Now that you are a homeowner, you are responsible for fixing things when they break. You can tackle problems yourself or hire a professional for help. However, it is not always convenient to call in a professional when something goes wrong with your house. Something could break in the middle of the night or the problem might need immediate attention. Plus, professionals can be expensive. Even if you do not consider yourself "handy," you should develop some skills to handle common problems. The following list is by no means comprehensive, it simply provides strategies for addressing some of the most common problems homeowners face.

Clogged toilet. Usually a plunger will clear a block. Insert the plunger in the toilet over the drain hole and pump it up and down several times to build pressure. Then pull out the plunger. If this doesn't work, it may mean that something hard, like a brush, is stuck in the toilet trap. A stiff piece of wire with a hook at the end may dislodge the object. Do not use chemicals to unplug a toilet drain.

Clogged sink, tub or shower. First, locate the overflow drain and plug it with a cloth or rubber ball. Then partly fill the basin or tub with water and insert the plunger over the main drain. Pump the plunger up and down several times and then pull it away. You may need to repeat this process several times. Chemical drain cleaners may work. Sometimes, you can easily remove the device that closes the drain and use a wire with a hook to remove debris caught in the drain.

Running toilet. If you hear water that keeps running in your toilet after you flush it, remove the cover of the toilet tank and check to see that the tank ball and ball seat close tightly. The ball, or flapper, may be out of alignment or something may have gotten into the toilet tank that is blocking the valve from closing.

Tripped circuit breaker. If after you switch on an appliance, the lights go out in the room, it usually means that the appliance overloaded the circuit serving that room or area of your house. Unplug the appliance. Then check to see what lights and other appliances lost power and unplug them or switch them off too. Go to the electrical service panel and locate the breaker serving that area. If it is not labeled look for a breaker that is in a different position than the others. Turn the breaker to the ''off'' position and then to the "on" position. Whenever you turn one or more appliances on and the lights go out, it means the circuit is overloaded. Try moving at least one appliance to another circuit.

Tripped electrical outlet in a bathroom or kitchen. In most newer homes, kitchens, bathrooms and other rooms with running water have outlets protected by devices called ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). You can usually identify a GFCI protected outlet by the presence of two small buttons in the middle: a test button and a reset button. These devices are designed to prevent electric shocks when appliances plugged into them get wet. Sometimes they trip without an appliance plugged into them. If a GFCI outlet is not working, push the reset button.

A heating system that is not working. If your house is colder than expected, check that the temperature setting on the thermostat is higher than the room temperature. Make sure the switch (if there is one) is set on the heating position. If you have an owner's manual for the system, consult it. If you do not have one, order one from the manufacturer. While you are waiting for the manual's arrival, there are some actions you can take. If your furnace has an electronic pilot, make sure that it is in the on position. Also, check the circuit breaker serving the system. If the system does not use a conventional chimney, check the condensate drain and vent outlets to make sure that they are not blocked.