With the holiday season approaching, the last thing you need is to worry about home repairs. And as rain and cold try to penetrate your house, it's inevitable that something will go awry -- a pipe will burst or that warped window frame will let in too much of the cold. That's my problem right now -- a window frame in my bathroom just won't seal against the breeze (a minor problem, certainly, considering the damage from Hurricane Sandy, but a problem that is crying to be fixed). I could try to repair it myself, but I'm not too confident in working with aluminum windows, so I may end up calling a professional.
For issues like this, or even just to while away hours doing some D.I.Y. research, there are many apps to help.
If you find yourself struggling to repair something and really need a handyman, a simple way to find a suitable one nearby is Yelp's app, free on iOS and Android. Yelp, often a go-to for restaurant advice, works for home repair experts, too. Type "handyman" or "plumber" into the app's "Filter" boxes, along with location, and it will show a list of people and businesses. The advantage of Yelp is the ability to see how previous clients rated the quality of work. Read several reviews, as people's experiences and expectations can vary.
For a more controlled experience, try RedBeacon (free on iOS and Android), a popular app with many positive reviews. RedBeacon covers only certain metropolitan areas across the United States, however, and may not help everyone. Unlike Yelp's more open platform, RedBeacon has a list of approved businesses and tries to match the task at hand with the right worker. The app operates through a "request" system: users enter job details, and can provide photos and video. The system also has reviews, and can help schedule a time for the work.
More confident do-it-yourselfers may tackle a problem on their own. If it's urgent, like a broken water heater or even water damage after a leak, the WikiHow How To and DIY Survival guide (free on Android and iOS) might be useful. Type in a few key words about the problem into the app's Search page and the guide will return some advice. Its information pages are clear and well laid-out. They begin with an introductory description, then offer a list of steps to follow. The app displays the necessary tools and items, and includes tips and warnings (like shutting off the electricity before trying to fix a water heater). When you're done with the home repair tasks, this app can teach self-defense tricks or help you fix your car. But it's not an exhaustive reference on home upkeep or emergency repairs.
Some apps can turn a smartphone into an actual work tool. One app for iOS devices is Multi Measures ($1, or $2 for an "HD" iPad version). The app's interfaces are attractive and easy to read, and it offers a long list of measurement options that use the device's sensors. It can become a spirit level, a surface level, a ruler, a protractor, a plumb bob and more. It even has a decibel meter to measure volume, and a teslameter, which measures magnetic fields. This last option turns the device into a metal detector, which could be useful if you're trying to find buried treasure, or just nailheads that show where the studs are in your walls.
The Smart Tools app is roughly equivalent to Multi Measures, on Android, for $2.50. And some free apps for iOS and Android promise similar features (sometimes separately -- for example, Smart Protractor for angles, free on Android, or Dual Level, free on iOS). The apps' quality can vary significantly, but they cost nothing to download and test-drive.
Finally, when it comes to buying supplies, an app like Finding HOME & Hardware ($1 on iOS and Android) is invaluable. It shows nearby hardware stores that meet your needs.
Happy D.I.Y.-ing. (Or, at least, I hope your apps find you an efficient and cheap plumber!)
For smartphone or tablet users who dislike the map services from Apple and Google, Nokia's Here app is a new, free alternative. It is available on iOS now and will be on Android devices later. You may prefer its clean, elegant design to the alternatives. ... In time for holiday shopping, Amazon now has an Android tablet-optimized version of its free Amazon Mobile shopping app ready, with one-click purchase options.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.