Help, It's Broken!: A Fix-It Bible for the Repair-Impaired

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9781400098408: Help, It's Broken!: A Fix-It Bible for the Repair-Impaired
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Repair Advice for the Real World

Do you need Help?

1. When faced with unassembled furniture, your first instinct is to:
(a) stare blankly
(b) panic
(c) return it

2. You associate screwdrivers mainly with:
(a) vodka
(b) orange juice

3. You have often wished your living space did not involve:
(a) exploding toilets
(b) wildly varying temperatures
(c) a new pet mouse

If you chose any of the above, this is the book for you!
Whether you live in a house, an apartment, or a 9 x 12 dorm room, chances are pretty good that sooner or later, something in your home will break. So why not be prepared? If you can barely tell a nut from a bolt, then Help, It’s Broken! is your quick reference for all home-repair issues. Expert Arianne Cohen explains what to do in dozens of real-life scenarios, including when:

·your favorite earring slips down the sink

·your key sticks in the front door lock

·your air conditioner stops cooling in mid-August

·you’ve painted the bedroom window shut

Illustrated throughout, this handy reference also includes tips on security and pest control, plus a useful yearly maintenance calendar and resource guide. Best of all, Help, It’s Broken! shows you not only how to fix it all yourself but how to get other people to fix things for you—on the cheap, or even better, for free.

A Great Housewarming Gift

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About the Author:

Arianne Cohen practices her home-repair skills in apartments all over the world. She works for Life magazine and has been featured in All You magazine and the New York Times. She lives in an obsessively well-maintained apartment in New York City.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1: Help, Where Do I Start? The Must-Read Chapter

Dangerous Breaks

Uh-oh, something’s wrong: there is smoke, water, or gas in your living space and you don’t know what to do. Flailing about shrieking, “Heeelp, it’s broken!” won’t help, and neither will calling your dog, crying, or staring at the gathering catastrophe. If you live somewhere, you need to know how to quickly identify and respond to a potentially dangerous situation.

Five Signs That Something is Very, Very Wrong

·Flooding or streaming water, especially near electrical outlets or appliances

·Smoke in your living space or the smell of burning, particularly from an electrical source

·Gas leaks, the smell of gas, or damage to an exterior gas meter

·An activated carbon monoxide alarm

·A circuit that trips repeatedly or flickering lights that you can’t stop

In all five of these scenarios, you need to leave immediately. In the case of smoke, gas, or carbon monoxide, go outside and call a professional from a cell phone. If you are short on cash flow, you should have a “rainy day” fund of a few hundred dollars, for use when it’s raining water (or carbon monoxide) inside your living space.

Who Ya Gonna Call . . .

When in doubt, call the fire department. Although each of the above scenarios has the potential to involve fire or to become life threatening, local fire departments are rarely used for home emergencies. Fire personnel will usually come immediately without flashing lights, and often vacuum up the mess for you, free of charge. This is particularly true of salaried suburban departments that don’t have too much to do—it’s either helping you or playing on the pole. It is perfectly legitimate to call and say, “Hi, I just accidentally hit my gas meter with my car, and I want to make sure I don’t have a gas leak. Can you help me?”

Yes, you’ll feel like a dufus for not stepping on your brake earlier, but it’s better than the feeling of self-implosion. Fire personnel are trained to deal with these situations. If they are busy or not able to help you, they will say so, and tell you who to call.

Who Else To Call, and What To Do in the Meantime

Smoke. Leave the residence and call 911 or the fire department, always. It doesn’t matter if the smoke is from an electrical outlet, from an appliance, or from the large fire in your living room. If the smoke is coming from a contained electrical source, turn off the power supply to that part of the house with your circuit or fuse box, or if you’re not sure how to do that, turn off your main electricity shutoff. Even if you have stopped the smoke, it’s a good idea to call the fire department nonemergency number to have someone come identify and remove the hazard.

Water. If it’s near anything electrical, call the fire department and turn off your main electricity shutoff. If not, call your plumber. If you know where the water is coming from, turn off the water supply to that area of the house. If not, turn off your main water shutoff. Crying while you do this is okay.

Gas. Natural gas is potentially the most dangerous household substance. It can result in sudden flash explosions and fires. If you smell gas, leave and call the fire department. Damage to a gas line either inside your house or to the outside gas lines also warrants leaving and calling. If you feel that it is safe, turn off the main gas supply to the house before you leave, but do not risk your safety. (If you’re one of those people who thinks that gas smells good, ignore that feeling.)

Carbon Monoxide. If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, get out of your living space immediately and call 911. Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, deadly gas that can kill in minutes, so you could feel fine in an extremely dangerous situation. If you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector, go purchase a few for your living space and place them on your walls between knee and eye level, away from draft-causing doors and windows.

Tripping Circuit Breakers, Failing Fuses, and Flickering Lights

If you repeatedly lose power in an area of the house for no apparent reason and can’t pinpoint the problem to one appliance, call the electrician—

Bad wiring can be a fire hazard. If power is flickering in one area and the problem is not a dying bulb or an outside storm, flip off the circuit breaker or remove the fuse for that area of the house, unplug everything with a plug, and call your electrician—you probably have a problem behind your walls that needs professional help. If you lose power to your entire house, it is probably an outside utility problem, so inform the electrical company. Expect a complex, labyrinthine telephone voice system that doesn’t involve humans (“If you hate us, please press two.”).

Animals. Any wild animals in your living space warrant a local animal control call. Chipmunks, bats, and rats count. Animal control will either come over or tell you what to do. Some areas do not have twenty-four-hour animal control departments, in which case you will end up calling the local police nonemergency number, which this author has done multiple times. Feel free to beg a police officer to come help you with an animal in the middle of the night if a bat has you too freaked out to wait until morning. If you have other pets in the house, lock them in a different room. They may tip you off in the first place by acting unusually strange.

As a general rule, without food or water, most animals will leave within a few hours, so make sure none is available. To prevent future animal entries, repair any holes and cut back any shrubs from around your exterior walls.

How to Repair: Fixing It Yourself

You have decided to learn to fix things yourself. Congratulations! Self-sufficiency is always empowering, not to mention convenient—you’ll feel like a superhero for a day and show off your new repair to unimpressed friends for months.

What You Need to Fix It Yourself

A helpful home repair guide, such as this one. Mark up the margins with useful notes, diagrams, and reminders—this is your repair book.

Your toolbox. Every needed tool and product for a repair should be within reaching distance before you start. Open complicated caps ahead of time.

Gloves, overalls, sneakers, and a tarp.

–Gloves: They will protect your skin from chemicals, and breaking fingernails is never fun.

–Overalls: Not just a fashion statement, overalls are the repair outfit of choice for a reason: they’re great. They are durable, have lots of pockets, and will last forever. While overalls are by no means a requirement for home repair, comfortable clothing on which you won’t mind smearing oil and rust is key.

–Sneakers with good, gripping soles: Falls are easy due to liquids and tools lying on the floor, not to mention good dancing music in the background.

–Tarp: Laying a tarp means an easy cleanup.

Time. Leave yourself at least double the time recommended in a home repair guide, and triple the time it would take a professional.

A friend, or someone who knows what he or she is doing. Friends make things fun, and will calm you if you are worried about messing up.

Some music. Turn up the jams. I recommend the classics:

–Good, good, good, good, foundaaations . . .

–Hey Mr. Pipe Repairmaaan, fix a pipe for meeee . . .

–In the tooolbox, the meeetal toolbox, the haammer sleeps toniiiight . . .

–And IIIIIIIIIIIIIII, know how to fix yoooouuuuuuu . . .

–Summer fixin’, having a blast. Summer fixin’, patched it so fast. Found a book, perfect for meeee . . .

Before You Begin, A Big Repair Hint

Most repairs consist of taking things apart, fixing or replacing the defective parts, and putting them back together again. This said, anytime you disassemble something, take the time to lay out the pieces in the order your removed them, facing the correct direction. This will save you hours of frustration when you’re oh-so-close to being done.

You can also jump on the Digital Age bandwagon and take pictures to remind yourself how the pieces go together. Pictures are equally useful for taking to the home repair store to show what you need.


Sometimes self fix-it projects don’t go so well. We understand this. Many of my fondest childhood memories are of watching my mother struggle with various chores of homeownership, such as teetering off a ladder while trying to get a dead bird out of the gutter or trying to install a new doorknob without the proper tools and the wrong size knob. Sometimes such activity requires the use of colorful language. Consider it part of the atmosphere.

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Cohen, Arianne
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Cohen, Arianne
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