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Handyman hints


  •   Make sure that you only DIY within your capabilities! I am an industrial electrician, mother, strict budgeter and long-timer oily-ragger, however, I get nervous when I see people cutting corners, risking their future financial stability and well-being to save a few bob in the short term! I've seen some lethal situations waiting to happen. The house we moved into had had a number of 'basic repairs' done by the home owner - metal light fittings not earthed, terminals not tightened properly, a ceiling waiting to catch on fire from absent heat shielding. There's a reason it costs good money to hire an electrician - it takes years to become one and they assume a lot of legal liability. Do it wrong, and you can void your home's insurance, face prosecution or at worst it can be fatal. The best bet is to save your tradesperson time, and if not urgent (or dangerous), have the small jobs saved up:

- Clear the way to the switchboard, under the house, the attic or the appliance being serviced and know where your access hatches are. They may need room to open a ladder and there's no point paying a specialist an hourly rate to do your spring clean.

- Make sure any fittings you have in mind can be fitted first. There's no point ordering fancy light fittings from China and hiring a tradesperson only to find out that you don't have existing earths or that the gear is unsuitable or non-compliant. A good tradesperson would rather advise you first than waste their time - and your money - later on.

- If the work will involve going indoors and out a lot (such as to an inside switchboard) consider throwing down old towels or drop-sheets in the work area to save time taking boots on and off.

- Record details of any faults and under what circumstances they happen, as complex appliances with intermittent faults may be time-consuming to fix.

- Consider travel time - it's probably worth getting someone local.

- Ask to see your electrician's practising licence - don't pay a premium rate for a cowboy.

- Make sure you get a copy of your Certificate of Compliance and/or Electrical Safety Certificate within 20 working days and store these in a safe place - it is your assurance that the work was completed safely and legally and it will help to have these if something should go wrong. - A.M., Wairarapa. 


  • If your seal has started to go on your fridge simply change the direction the door opens. Most of them are able to be adjusted to the other side for left or right handed opening. Our fridge seal needed replaced at the cost of $120.I asked hubby to try this idea first and it worked. Door has excellent suction and closes fine. - S.J., Dunedin.

General tips

  • I was buying some nails at Bunnings the other day. I needed 2000 (it was a big handyman job!) so I bought 2 boxes of 1000 each. The friendly chap at the counter asked if I had looked at the price of buying 3000 instead. I hadn’t so he went to the isle to check the price and returned with a box of 3000. The costs was about 10% less than the two 1000 boxes. Not only did it cost 10% less, but I ended up with 50% more nails! I was very grateful for the excellent service. - Happy Harry, Whangarei.

  • Thanks to my resourceful husband, I have just saved up to $60 on the cost of a new cutlery basket for my dishwasher. My old cutlery basket was badly damaged, with large holes mostly caused by sharp knives. I was shocked to discover that a replacement basket was not only difficult to source, but could cost up to $60! When I told my husband, his thrifty side appeared and he suggested we use some mesh type plastic to replace the worn sections on the old basket. We went to the local supermarket and bought a cutlery drainer - the type you use on the sink, ours is made by Starmaid – for $2.99. It has a lattice type plastic on four sides and the bottom; hubby cut the plastic lattice with a Stanley knife to fit and used plastic cable ties to secure the new plastic pieces into the six bottom sections of the damaged basket. The holes in the plastic are large enough to let water flow but small enough to not let cutlery slip through. It's also strong enough to withstand the heat from the bottom section of the dishwasher. - B.T. 

  • Youtube has literally thousands of "DIY" uploaded videos on how to fix any house/car problem-plumbing, electrical, mechanical etc etc. The great thing about this is you get to watch a guy/woman show you step by step. Just use the search term & your bound to find what you want! I used it to show me how to change a washing machine hose. Which before Youtube I would have just rung the plumber! - Rene, Brooklyn.

  • When drilling on a slippery surface, place on a strip of tape, such as masking tape, on the surface to prevent the bit from slipping.

  • A strip of masking tape along the cut line will prevent plywood from splitting.

  • Dip the tip of screws and nails into a bar of soap. They go in easier, prevent splitting and makes screws easier to remove should you need to.

  • Pencil stubs make good plugs for plaster walls. The lead makes it easy to screw into.

  • A bit of Talcum powder stops squeaky floorboards and stair treads.

  • If your paint brush has dried hard, try boiling it in vinegar.

  • Before buying a stove check out the classified ads. Good used stoves can be bought for a fraction of the new price.

  • Sanded floors look good, they are hard wearing, and can be decorated with rugs to add a dash of vibrant colour.

  • Dry rot in timber can be treated by bruising with petrol. Hint: don’t do this while smoking!

  • Saws will not jam so often if you rub both sides of the blade with candle wax.

House paint

  • Double to the life-span of paintwork on weatherboards by washing it once a year. Washing takes away the grime that degrades the paintwork. – O.R.


  • After partially using a pale of paint, paint a stripe on the outside of the pale. That will show you how much paint in left in the tin, and also the colour! - Handy Fred, Blenheim.


  • Many service manuals are available free online. I recently diagnosed and repaired my very geriatric F and P smartdrive washing machine by finding the service manual and engaging in a bit of problem solving and DIY. The Service Manual is different to the User Manual that you get given when you buy a machine.  The Service Manual is what the manufacturer produces for the repair technicians to use. It can take a bit of puzzling out to work out exactly what its all trying to tell you, but well worth it to save a technician call-out fee. And even if you can't repair it yourself, you're in a much better position to tell the tech what they need to know and save them some valuable time, too. - Stacey, Dunedin. 

  • Learn how to do basic repairs. First step – read the manual! It is amazing how much money the do-it-yourself-dunce wastes by not knowing how to do some of the basic stuff. Jobs like repairing a broken window, fixing a toilet cistern, replacing a light fitting, and so on. If you still find you are just not up to even the task, scout about for a friend competent enough do have a quick look at the problem for you.

Spray cans

  • When using paint in spray can, do not turn the can over to clear the nozzle. This wastes the paint that is in the tube and uses the pressure to do so. Take the spray nozzles off and keep it in a small jar with turps. Re-attach when needed again. I use a lot of cans for small touch-ups and I find this method saves quite a lot. – G.B.


  • Gain extra storage space under a bed base that is too low by placing 5cm blocks of wood under the legs. This enabled me to fit 3 plastic under-the-bed storage boxes beneath a single bed. Boxes measure 800mm by 400mm by 170mm deep and there is 20mm clearance gap with that under my bed. The blocks used were from a decking job. Don't go too high with the blocks - remember someone still has to climb in and out of bed! - Thrifty, Hamilton.


  • Here's an interesting story sent in by a reader (oily rag ed').

“It can’t be, it must be a mistake, they must have overcharged me” – I thought as a raced out the door of my local hardware store. “They stuff I just bought was on special. They’ve charged me the full quid!”

 “No, it’s not a mistake” the store attendant said. “We always show the retail price on the packaging slip. The invoice you get in the mail will show how much you actually pay”.

Why’s that?, I wondered. A bloke in the trade explained it to me like this. Sometimes tradesmen charge stuff for jobs to their own personal account, and then claim the “cost” back from their clients (showing labour and materials seperately). If a client asks to look at the paperwork about the materials they are shown the packing slip showing the retail price, not the actual cost.

“So it’s a scam then?”, I asked,.  “Well… um… er….no… um…yea”, he replied.

It seems that this practice is fraught with the potential for people to get ripped off. No problem if a tradesman makes it clear to a client that they will be charged full retail price for the materials used on the job, as evidenced by the packing slips, and makes it known that they will make a margin on those materials because they get a trade discount.

The problem is where the benefit of “everyday specials” are not passed onto clients and where tradesman claim they are using packing slips as "evidence" of their "cost” (after all, it takes a good couple of weeks for the invoice to arrive in the mail - and by then the job is probably all finished).

Consumers need to be aware that the packing slip price is a normal retail price, which excludes everyday specials and excludes tradesman discounts.

They also need to know that they can usually go and negotiate their own discount from the merchant (10% “cash” discount for payment on the spot is no problem) and that they will miss out on any specials deals that any member of the public could receive.

Clients may be a better off getting list of materials required by the tradesman and buying the goods themselves.

  • The REAL cost of tradesman

I need to share with your readers my experience with a tradesman (plumber). I had some work done on remodeling a bathroom. The cost included 5.5 hours of labour at $39.50 an hour (which was fair enough I thought), but what I had not expected was the $653.06 charged for materials. When I queried the account they advised I was charged for material at the retail price. Problem was, I personally could go down to a plumbing supplies company and buy the goods at substantially less than retail by simply asking for a discount. For example, I could buy one of the items for $176.89 but was charged $277.13 for the very same item by the plumber.  There are a couple of lessons to learn from this experience.

First, don’t be fooled into thinking all a tradesman is making on your job is their hourly rate. In my case, I estimate the plumber a profit of $236 on the materials (or another $42.90 per hour charged). In other words, they made as much on the materials as they did the their labour. They REAL cost of my plumber was therefore $82.40.

The second lesson is you can save a heck of a lot of money if you buy the materials yourself, rather than have your tradesman do it and charge you. - A.P.


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