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[How To]: Fix Everything Wrong With Your Apartment

Your apartment's a wreck. So's your life. Here are the ways, DIY and not, you can fix one of those things.
Last updated: 2018-02-23
From the directly and minutely useful to information on living your best self in the world. How To is our regular column on how to accomplish things in the city.

So we've compiled a catalogue of the horrendous issues that might be plaguing your healthy, sane existence, and an even longer list of ways to fix those things. Strap in, we're going to help you fix your entire apartment. ("Life" is up to you.)


Some ground rules before we begin:

First, there's some DIY stuff here, which we suggest you approach responsibly. We're just here to help you get the stuff, don't start pouring caulk down the drain without doing a little more research on how you actually do it first.

Second, don't make drastic or even semi-drastic alterations to your abode without consulting your landlord / rental agency first. You might have to put things back the way they were (with associated costs), pay a fine, lose a deposit, or all of the above.

Third, your first step when faced with a problem should be to call your rental agency / landlord. They're more familiar with the quirks and special circumstances of your apartment. It's a good idea to consult them.

Fourth, if you've run out of options, try calling the public service number 12345. The operators don't speak much English, but they're usually pretty helpful, and if nothing else, can direct you to your local neighborhood committee (juweihui / 居委会), who might be able to help.

Disclaimers out of the way. Let's do this.



How to Fix the Heating (nuan qi / 暖气)

The majority of Shanghai apartments are poorly insulated and have no central heating. Same holds true for almost everyone south of the Yangtze. Some people try to compensate by blasting their AC as hot as it'll go. That might work, but it might also bork your air-conditioning unit and run up your electrical bill without much to show for it. There are smarter ways of forking over dough to get your apartment warm. For example...


Before you think about dumping money on heaters, you might want to check if your drafty apartment has any obvious holes. Window and door frames are common culprits, but we've even seen straight-up holes in the wall for aircon or electrical cables. Here are a couple options for sealing those holes, readily available online or at hardware and home decor stores like B&Q and Jinsheng International Home Deco Market.

Caulk (tian feng ji / 填缝剂) is a fantastic tool for plugging all kinds of gaps, including the ones that are causing a draft in your apartment. It's easy to apply (look up a tutorial online and don't forget to treat it against mold) and it's relatively simple to get rid of so your landlord won't throw a fit.

If you're not comfortable with caulk, insulation strips & tape (jue yuan jiao dai / 绝缘胶带) do a similar job. Dirt cheap, but in Shanghai's damp climate, the adhesive might not last long and you'll have to reapply new strips. If you can't be bothered with that, towels or newspapers work in a pinch. Just make sure to change them out every so often.

A cheap, easy and... an arguably effective solution to the lack of double-pane glass are window stickers, basically an adhesive film you put over the window to keep out the cold. Reviews are mixed on how well they work. If it's really bad, ask your landlord about getting double-pane windows shuang ceng bo li chuang / 双层玻璃窗 installed, but that can be a costly hassle. We'd probably recommend investing in better curtains instead.

Curtains (chuang lian / 窗帘)

Thick curtains are probably the easiest and most effective way of keeping the heat in your apartment. When taking measurements for new drapes, make sure they're long enough to pool on the floor at the bottom. You can get a set of double-lined curtains custom made South Bund Fabric Market. If you value your sunlight more than not freezing, even a set of thin, opaque inner curtains will help.

Heating devices

Electrical heaters (dian nuan qi / 电暖气), also called "space heaters," come in oil and non-oil versions. The non-oil versions usually have an exposed heating element, and use a fan to blow the heated air around the room. They can be pretty noisy, and they work best in smaller spaces, like a bathroom or a small bedroom. They're typically dirt-cheap, with some coming in under 100rmb.

The oil-filled ones work wonders and don't make any noise. But they get really hot to the touch, and if you're not careful with what you put on them, could be a fire hazard. Keep an eye on it in case the oil starts leaking, too. These are a little more expensive, costing in the 300rmb-500rmb range for a decent one.

Some people swear by electrical blankets (dian re tan / 电热毯), because electrical blankets are amazing. They work as regular blankets, but they're most effective when placed underneath your bed sheets or on your couch, so the heat rises. Wrap yourself in a regular blanket to trap the heat and you'll have a hard time summoning the will to move before summer rolls around. These also tend to be cheap, but don't go too cheap; there have been a few isolated cases of shoddy ones malfunctioning and causing fires. Aim for the 150rmb-250rmb range.

Your bathroom may have heater lamps (yu ba / 浴霸) set into the ceiling, usually in two- or four-bulb configurations. If so, congrats. If not, they cost between 100rmb-300rmb, but you'll have to get them installed by an electrician. Check our How To Fix Your Apartment's Electricity section.



How to Get Your Apartment Cleaned and/or Find An Ayi (阿姨)

So it looks like a bomb's gone off in your apartment, and despite being a fully-functioning adult, you can't figure how to get it in order. Maybe your roommates aren't cooperating, maybe you're too busy, maybe the laundry heap has attained sentience and is occupying the kitchen until you recognize its rights. Whatever. Here's how to get an ayi.


Ayi (literally "auntie") is both a term of endearment or address for older Chinese ladies, and a job title that roughly translates to "maid." Not going to touch the gender politics on that one. Basically, they'll clean, they'll throw the laundry on, they'll scrub the floors and do the dishes for you. They might even cook if you're really lucky. They often come with apartments, or rental agencies / landlords will know one.

If not, you're probably best off asking someone else in the building to recommend one, or asking around in group chats. There are literally thousands in the city. Prices can start at as low as 10rmb-20rmb/hour, but you get what you pay for, and also, maybe be a human being and offer a decent salary to the hard-working cleaning ladies of the city.

If you'd prefer something a little more professional, here are a couple of ayi service companies around town with English-language phone lines.

Shanghai MD Maid Service. Phone: 2206 3739
Loy Home Service. Phone: 6155 7750

Serious, serious cleaning

If you've got black mold in the corners and mushrooms growing under the taps, your ayi might just peace out. In that case, you can call a professional cleaners service. They offer daily cleaning services for about 50rmb per hour, but if they need to deal with things like heavy mold, they might start charging by the square meter. Typically it's around 10rmb per square meter.

升华家政. Phone: 3462 4007 / 139 1796 5533
杰西保洁. Phone: 5482 0109 / 136 2198 8346



How to Fix the Plumbing (guandao shutong / 管道疏通)

Sometimes, your dirty little secrets that you keep flushing away get stuck inside Shanghai's narrow and decaying u-bends or drains. This is now your problem. There's a quick three-step, escalating strategy for dealing with this.

Get a plunger/cleaning brush. Apart from your regular plunger, you can get these barbed plastic sink cleaners on Taobao. The name's roughly the same as the professional plumbing snakes (管道清洁钩) so searching for it brings up those tools, but if you just type in "drain cleaner" or "sink cleaner," you should be able to find one. Speaking of drain cleaner...

Drain cleaner. It's called "排水管清洗剂" and it comes in liquid or powder form. Application is fairly simple; pour it down the drain, leave it for several hours/overnight and hope it dissolves whatever is in the way. This stuff is widely available in your local hardware store.

Call a professional: Plumbers are called guandao gong (管道工). Most apartment complexes have a shifu, and it's likely your landlord or building superintendent have them on speed dial. If they can't get rid of the obstruction, they might have to bring in someone with better equipment, at which point you can expect to start having to pay. Prices range depending on the severity of blockage.

What If It's a Real Emergency

If a pipe has burst and the water is spewing everywhere, your first step (after you grab your passport and laptop) is to call your landlord. If, for whatever reason, they aren't picking up the phone, find your building superintendent. Their official title is like dalou guanli yuan (大楼管理员) but you can just ask for the wuye (物业). They tend to either be sitting in the lobby (if your building has one), or at the front gates. Only if that doesn't work should you consider calling in a third party to fix the pipes.

If you absolutely need to call in an outside company, here's a list of a couple that operate professional plumbing services around Shanghai;

上海固颢管道工程技术有限公司. The price range here for dredging is 260-360rmb. 24-hour hotline: 3954 9863
上海匠瑞水电安装服务有限公司. The price range here is about 150-200rmb (add an additional 150rmb for really serious blockages). 24-hour hotline: 5275 7196
上海惠民疏通网. The price range is 150rmb or so, with an extra 100rmb for major blockages. Phone: 139 1711 2499
急事帮. This company provides all kinds of emergency services, including emergency plumbing. Phone: 400 665 1748



How To Fix Your Apartment's Electricity (dian li / 电力)

Unless you're a certified electrician, don't mess with Shanghai's electricity. Behind every wall socket in the older buildings is a tangled mess of left-over cables and haphazard wire splices. You could cut off electricity to the entire floor by accident. We've seen it happen.

If any of your major electrical appliances stop working, whether it's the washing machine, the cooker hood, the water heater or the fridge, you'll want to call in an electrician (dian gong / 电工). Again, your building probably has one who knows the ins and outs of the place, but if they're not available for whatever reason, here are a couple of companies that can take care of your electrical woes.

馨瑞家电维修. This company operates all over Shanghai, and does all kinds of repair, including fixing most of your electrical appliances; fridges, water heaters, washing machines, air conditioners, cooker hoods, the works. Phone: 400 8204 238
上海坤备实业有限公司. This Yangpu based company has service outlets all over the city, and in their raft of services, they provide electrical repair. It costs about 80rmb to come to your door. Service fee is about 200rmb, plus the cost of any replacement parts needed. Phone: 136 2171 3198



How to Fix The Air-Conditioning (kongtiao / 空调)

We might not have central heating in China, but we do have air-conditioning. It's an imperfect solution. Especially in winter, they're often pushed beyond their limits; we recommend you check out our section on heating if you're trying to get it warm.

Common problems with the air-conditioning in Shanghai include dirty or blocked filters, overloaded extractor units, or coolant leaks. If your AC's not blowing air that's the right temperature, one easy thing you can do yourself is to clean the filter.

Depending on the unit, you'll either have to unscrew something or just flip up the plate. Removing the filter shouldn't require any tools, and you can either vacuum it or washing it with water. Leave it to dry out completely, slot it back in, see if that does anything. If you don't know what part of the AC is the filter, it's the gauze-y grid thing. If you're still not sure, leave it alone. Call a technician.

If the issue's more serious than a clogged filter, you can try to call the service center of whatever brand of air conditioner you're using, but odds are good that they'll be sending a shifu who operates in the area anyway. Here are a couple of city-wide companies that can fix air-conditioning units.

上海星颖制冷设备有限公司. Phone: 6601 1830
上海喜梦制冷设备安装维修有限公司. Phone: 5103 5180

If your extractor unit is on the outside of the your building or in an inaccessible space, your repair guy might strap on a harness, climb out a window and ask you to hand him tools while he does it. You can write a horrified blog post about the experience later.

How to Avoid Air Conditioning Illness (kong tiao bing / 空调病)

Ever get a scratchy feeling in your throat when the AC's been running for a while? That's because ACs dry out the air in the process of cooling it. It's not dangerous but it sure can suck. A good solution is to get a humidifier (jiashi qi / 加湿器). These suckers will cost you 50rmb-100rmb on Taobao or Carrefour for a desk-friendly version, or 300rmb if you're looking to get a Midea standing unit.



How to Fix/Set Up Your Internet (kuandai anzhuang / 宽带安装)

Ah, internet. The single most important utility. There are three internet providers in Shanghai; China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile. There are some smaller companies, but they're often using the same state-built infrastructure, so stick to the established companies. It's a good idea to shop around and see which provider can offer you the best rates and speeds, because it often depends on where you live. Packages range between 700rmb-800rmb to 2,000rmb a year.

Note that internet speeds are limited to what your building's wiring can support. Even if you ask for the 20mbps package, your building's set-up might only support 5mbps. The internet providers should be able to look up your building's speed. Or, a street technician in your neighborhood could run a cable out your window and hook it up to a separate network, but that's... probably illegal? Probably illegal.

Just in case, though, here's what you say

我家里没网, 我要装宽带
I do not have internet at home, I want to install broadband

And here's a rundown of the big three.

China Telecom, along with China Unicom, is one of the largest providers in China. You can call their English-language hotline to get information, but you'll have to go into a store with your passport, registration form and housing contract before you're able to set up your internet. Hotline: 10000.

China Unicom is much the same as China Unicom, except they don't have an English-language hotline, so you'll have to go into a store to get information.

China Mobile is the third competitor. You need a phone number with them first, so again, you need to go into the store with your passport to set that up, and then set-up the internet. They've got an English language hotline, though; 10086

Most of the time, the internet provider will also sell you a router for an additional 100rmb-200rmb and set it up with your username and password for you.



How to Call Pest Control (sha chong gong si / 杀虫公司)

Like most packed metropolitan cities in the world, Shanghai has its fair share of rats and roaches. One of the best ways to make sure you don't get an infestation is to make sure you keep your apartment clean of trash, and to try and seal up any holes rats and roaches might use to get into the apartment. You can check out the "Sealants" section of How to Fix the Heating, it works under the same principle. If that doesn't do the job, and you're forced to take more drastic measures, there are several options.

Raid, Mouse Traps & Roach Hotels

Mouse traps (bu shu qi / 捕鼠器) come in all shapes and sizes. Adhesive traps (zhan shu ban / 粘鼠板) are basically just a board with superglue on them. The rat runs on, gets stuck, and can't get up. That means you have to kill them yourself. Or you can go with a cage trap (bu shu long / 捕鼠笼). They're usually made of plastic or wire, but sometimes the trigger plates aren't sensitive enough. Plus, you've got to release them somewhere far away afterwards. Finally, there're plain old mouse traps (lao shu lai / 老鼠夹) like you see in Tom & Jerry. All of these will cost you maybe 20rmb-40rmb on Taobao.

Some people swear by rat poison, but apart from being a real dangerous thing to have lying around the house, there's a chance that the critter will run into a gap in your wall, floor or ceiling, die, and decompose. You think chou doufu smells bad?

Roach hotels (zhang lang wu / 蟑螂屋), meanwhile, are available in most hypermarkets and some convenience stores. Also available in many places are tubes of "cockroach medicine" (zhang lang yao / 蟑螂药), which you can carefully apply around the bottoms of your cabinets or around gaps where you think cockroaches might be coming into your apartment. This stuff works pretty well.

Finally, there's Raid (lei da / 雷达), which is available in just about every convenience store.

Pest Control

If things really get out of hand, you can call in professionals.

My apartment has pests, I'd like to find a pest control company.

Here are two that operate around town, and do everything from identifying gaps, laying out traps, and even fumigating entire apartments if necessary. They both charge to come to your apartment to consult, with additional costs based on the scale of the problem.

Innovative Pest Control Service. 150rmb consultation fee. Hotline: 6536 7350
Pony Environment. 100rmb consultation fee. Hotline: 5618 0668



How to Fix the Locks in Your Apartment (xiu suo / 修锁)

Let's say you've locked yourself out of your apartment. Or you just need your locks changed for whatever reason. You're going to need a locksmith (zhuanye kaisuo / 专业开锁). Luckily, there are thousands in Shanghai. You can just search zhuanye kaisuo Shanghai (专业开锁上海) and find thousands. Alternately, talk to your building guy about calling one for you. You can also just call the fire department at 119, and they'll forward you to a locksmith in your area who works for them. (But that's like... yeah.) When you get someone on the line, you can say;

I've locked myself out of my home, and I need a locksmith.

Locksmiths will sometimes ask to see your passport, rent agreement and/or residence permit after they've let you back into your apartment. Or they'll want to see you grab your key from inside and show that it works on the door. In fact, if they don't, you ought to be a little suspicious. If you want to replace your door locks, make sure to keep the old lock. Your landlord or rental agency might want it back.

Here are some locksmiths that have 24/7 hotlines for door unlocking all over Shanghai. These companies can also replace locks.

上海所艺锁具商行. Phone: 6111 1222
沪熊锁具有限公司. Phone: 3535 3527
上海林纪锁具服务中心. Phone: 156 0185 5558
急事帮. This company provides all kinds of emergency services, including door unlocking. Phone: 400 665 1748



Where to Get Paint for Your Apartment

First of all, are you sure? You definitely want to check with the landlord first, and be aware that you might have to paint it back to the original color. If you're serious about it, it'd also be a good idea to remove the wallpaper first, which can be a fairly laborious process.

If you're absolutely set on getting some new paint up on your walls, you can buy paint, primer and all the rollers and brushes you'll need at the Jinsheng Home Deco Market or B&Q.



Where to Get Your Dry Cleaning Done (ganxi / 干洗)

Not really your apartment, but your sheets and/or sofa covers could use a thorough cleaning. A thorough cleaning. Check out our laundry service tag and use the map feature to find the nearest one. They're usually called "xiyi (洗衣) something," for example, 洗衣中心.


Which critical defect in your living space did we miss out?