Don't Toss It, Fix It!

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Think about the environmental impact of repair, as any replacement product will need to be manufactured and shipped. In the case of appliances and electronics that contain heavy metals, disposal can also pose an issue even if they are recycled. Photo: Flickr/stitch

For many of the trusty products we use every day, malfunctions are a worst-case scenario. You don’t want to spend the money on repairs, and replacement means you have to get rid of the old one.

But the good news is that many common repairs can be done without a professional, and the only major cost is your time. Do-it-yourself repair can also improve your shopping habits.

“You can be a smarter consumer by knowing how things work and what to do if they don’t,” says Dam Ramsey, president of the Fix-It Club, a Web site that provides 180 step-by-step guides on DIY repair.

“You also discover the satisfaction of fixing something that’s broken, and it teaches you to buy better things that will last longer because you’ll know how to fix them.”

So which projects can you do yourself, and when should you seek outside help? You might be surprised how simple some of these repairs can be.

Check the fuse on appliances and electronics

According to Ramsey, one of the most common repairs for appliances and electronics is to replace a fuse. For those that slept through electrical engineering class, the fuse is a piece of metal that monitors the flow of electricity to a device and prevents overheating. If the fuse blows, your electrical device will stop working.

“The fuse is designed to be the first thing that goes out in an appliance or electronics,” says Ramsey. “They are designed to be the weakest link in the electrical chain, but testing and replacing them is easy.”

The first step in replacing a fuse is figuring out where they are. To do this, you first want to turn off the product in question, unplug it (if possible) or shut off the circuit breaker that provides its power. You will typically find the fuses near the power supply or electrical cord, although they may be on the inside meaning you will have to remove casing with a screwdriver.

Once you locate the fuse, it should be easy to remove with basic tools. If you’re new to fuse repair, take the old screw with you to the hardware store so you can ensure you’re getting the right replacement. Fuses will typically cost less than $5, and you can install it the opposite way you removed the old one.

One thing to keep in mind with fuse replacement is that if the new fuse blows quickly, you have a bigger problem on your hands. But it’s probably worth the small investment of time and money to take that chance because you won’t find a handyman for less than $10. Plus, you’ll want your air conditioner replaced as quickly as possible if it’s the middle of the summer.

Most shirts and jackets come with replacement buttons located in the inside-bottom portion. Photo: Flickr/mistersnappy

Easy fixes for zippers and buttons

For clothing, bags or even camping equipment, what you may encounter is a faulty zipper. Either the teeth become misaligned, snagged in fabric or the slider breaks off. In all of these instances, repair is an option.

You can find zipper repair kits online that will provide you with all the tools and instructions for zipper maintenance. If the slider broke off, you can also replace it with a safety pin or key ring in the original hole, since all you need is something to pull on.

If a zipper breaks near one of the ends, another option is to move the slider (the end of the zipper track where the slider stops when you unzip). You can then sew closed the material below where you reposition the slider, so you won’t have any holes showing.

Another common repair job for clothing is to replace buttons. Most shirts and jackets come with replacement buttons located in the inside-bottom portion. Using a needle and thread, you’ll want to sew through the holes three or four times each so the button stays on, then cut off the remaining thread.

Computer repair for dummies

Ah computers, one of the most complex and helpful products in your life. But have you ever noticed that a computer is basically one big box with a bunch of removable parts? This makes it a prime candidate for repair.

The important thing to address with computer repair is what issue you are trying to solve. If the system is running too slowly, you may want to consider additional RAM or a larger hard drive. If it’s making a lot of noise, it might be time to replace the fan or power supply.

Another important aspect to consider is that if you open up your CPU and poke around, it will likely void any existing warranty. So, if your computer is still covered by a manufacturer or retailer, you’re probably better off having it professionally repaired.

Again, with any electronics repair, the first step is to unplug the device to prevent electrocution. You’ll then want to remove the plastic case of your computer, which can typically be done by removing corner screws and then sliding the case out. Be sure you’re removing the casing and not the front panel.

Now that you’re inside, you’ll notice that most devices can be easily removed. You can slide in new RAM in slots on the motherboard (keep in mind that each board has a maximum amount of RAM allowed, so you’ll want to look this up online for your computer model), or install a new display card for better viewing. Just remember where all the cords are plugged so everything ends up in the right place when you’re done.

You can also repair things other than the CPU. If your mouse has difficult moving, remove and clean the track ball. If one of the keys is stuck on the keyboard, pop it out with a screwdriver and see if there is food lodged underneath.

Squeaky clean tips

You might also find that repairs are necessary for vanity purposes, such as removing a blemish. However, many of the products used for these purposes have chemicals that can be harmful for the environment, so consider natural options.

  • Vinegar can be used to remove rust from portable metals such as jewelry or nails and screws, but be mindful of the smells.
  • You can use a spray bottle of vodka to take care of mold, as well as many other jobs around the house.
  • Kitty litter can be applied to oil and grease stains to soak them up and prevent any oil from washing down storm drains.

For all repair jobs, you’ll have to put in a little bit of work. But with all the information available, it’s likely you can find an easy (and eco-friendly) way to fix many of your household products.

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