Expect the unexpected

Sometimes in the midst of holiday fun, the need to accomplish a household task or fix something arises. To keep you focused on joy, we asked BestReviews home improvement and DIY expert, Beth Allen, for advice on how to be prepared if the unexpected occurs. 

The founder of educational resource DIY Hip Chicks and a licensed contractor, Allen shared her expertise about common holiday season problems and the tools and gadgets that will correct them.  

Shop this article: Korky BeehiveMax Toilet PlungerBissell SpotClean Portable Spot Carpet Cleaner and First Alert Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm.

What can go wrong during the holidays?

“With holiday time, there are many things that can go wrong, especially when we end up having additional guests at our homes,” Allen said. “There are more bodies, there is more eating, there is more interaction with pets and your kids. The more people around, the more activity, the more likely that things go wrong.”  

Clogged toilets are common when a house is full of holiday guests, Allen noted. Having a plunger handy is vital, but not just any plunger will do.

“Too many people have what I call a crappy plunger,” she said. “Meaning that it’s just the flat-bottom rubber plunger. The water tends to just splash up at the sides and then you just have more of a mess. So look for a decent plunger.”

Adding a half cup to a cup of liquid dish soap and leaving it in the toilet for an hour or two will also help loosen clogs, she added. 

In addition to toilet clogs, leaks often occur when numerous guests are using showers and the dishwasher is frequently in use, Allen said. She recommends water-leak sensors that alert homeowners to leaks before they get out of control. 

Carpets often get stained during holiday celebrations, Allen said, “because sometimes, you know, your Aunt Nancy gets a little too tipsy and starts spilling red wine on your carpets. And you try not to freak out.”

To help prevent staining, she suggests investing in a quality carpet-cleaning product and a compact spot cleaner to tackle spills and pet accidents when they occur. 

Inclement weather also can put a damper on holiday plans. If you live in an area that’s prone to snow and ice, Allen said to plan ahead. “Do you have a shovel on hand? Make sure you have salt. If you have pets in the home, make sure you’re using a pet-safe salt,” she said.

She added that path lights will help guests see icy patches on a sidewalk. A car battery charger will provide a quick jump start when a battery goes dead in cold temperatures. 

Essential tools to keep on hand

From putting up Christmas lights to hanging stockings to putting up the Christmas tree, Allen suggests a power drill because it is essential for numerous tasks.

“If you’re going to be putting in wall anchors,” she said, “using a power drill is a much better way than using a handheld screwdriver, where you’re wrenching your wrist trying to get these devices into the wall to hold.”

Other tools she recommends include:

  • A handsaw to trim the Christmas tree.
  • A bungee cord with a carabiner clip to tether the tree so kids and pets can’t knock it down.
  • A basic home tool set for numerous household tasks and repairs. 
  • A versatile oscillating multitool that Allen calls “the MacGyver of power tools.”
  • A universal socket wrench to assist with hanging Christmas lights. 

Allen also recommends another useful item, in case holiday guests need a little space.

“The holidays really can put the fun in dysfunction when the family is all gathered together,” she said. “So you may want to have an inflatable air mattress in the closet in case you need to break up people that don’t want to share the same room.”

More useful tips from our expert

  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectorsAllen also recommends having a fire blanket and fire extinguishers in case a fire occurs. 
  • Be careful what you put in the garbage disposal. According to Allen, certain food scraps are likely to cause jams. “Do not ever put in eggshells, potato peels, the stringy parts of meat, you know, from trimming the fatty parts. No bananas,” Allen warned. “You’d be shocked by the things that people put down in the garbage disposer, and then they wonder why it jams.”
  • Use properly rated extension cords and power strips. These essentials protect against electrical surges when using multiple small kitchen appliances
  • Plan for a power outage. A solar generator or portable power station will keep the lights on. 
  • Don’t forget the pets. “Too many times people aren’t watching their pets, and their pets get into things that they shouldn’t, from sugarless gum to chocolate to poinsettias, and pets get sick,” Allen said.  The pet poison control number is 1-800-213-6680.

Best items for your holiday toolbox

black beehive-shaped toilet plunger on white background

Korky BeehiveMax Toilet Plunger 

According to Allen, a Korky plunger does a good job of eliminating toilet clogs. It’s the beehive design that gets deep into the gooseneck portion of a toilet, she explained. This model also has an adjustable handle that makes it easy to use and store. 

Best Bissell SpotClean Portable Spot Carpet Cleaner on white background

Bissell SpotClean Portable Spot Carpet Cleaner

This Bissell carpet cleaner is a favorite of Allen’s for its ability to tackle stains. It’s also compact and easy to maneuver and store. 

white smoke alarm

First Alert Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm

Made by a top brand, this is a combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. It offers voice technology that lets you know the source of the problem. 

Best Capture Spot and Stain Remover on white background

Capture Spot and Stain Remover

Allen recommends this product for its ability to remove tough stains. The handy spray nozzle makes it easy to apply. 

Best Black and Decker 20-Volt Max Drill and Home Tool Kit on white background

Black + Decker 20-Volt Max Drill and Home Tool Kit

In addition to a powerful power drill, this kit includes classic hand tools, such as a hammer, pliers and screwdrivers. It comes with 68 pieces plus a tough storage case. 

blue handsaw

Irwin Tools Universal Handsaw

If you need a saw to cut your Christmas tree to fit your room, this is the one to get. It has a durable blade and easy-to-grip handle that make quick work of tasks that require a basic saw. 

Best Dremel Multi-Max Oscillating Tool Kit on white background

Dremel Multi-Max Oscillating Tool Kit

Allen recommends a Dremel oscillating tool for numerous jobs around the house. Dremel is a top brand that makes a quality tool with user-friendly features. 

Best Craftsman Home Tool Kit on white background

Craftsman Home Tool Kit

With a hammer, screwdrivers, a tape measure and more, this tool kit comes with the items you’ll likely need for repairs as well as decking the halls. It includes a total of 57 pieces. 

The Basement Watchdog Water Alarm on white background

The Basement Watchdog Water Alarm

This water alarm will warn you of leaks before you have a major cleanup and repair job. It’s made by a top brand in the industry. 

blue and white air mattress on white background

SoundAsleep Dream Series Air Mattress

An air mattress provides an extra spot to sleep when guests arrive. In the BestReviews Testing Lab, we found the SoundAsleep air mattress to be soft yet supportive. It comes with an internal pump and storage bag and inflates easily in minutes.

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Jennifer Manfrin writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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