|Volume 2, Issue 01||January 2005|
By now you've probably broken all your resolutions. So much for losing weight, exercise, quitting smoking, getting organized and bringing about world peace.
Don't despair. You can have a second chance.
Resolve to do something around the house, like tightening loose screws in a door hinge or fixing that broken chair leg, or putting up shelves or maybe adding a dimmer switch.
If you feel a bit more energetic, build a bookcase or put up track lighting, clean out the garage or maybe paint a room or two. Who knows, you just might burn off some calories and get some exercise, which will go a long way toward making good on your original resolutions.
Don't be surprised if your "kill two birds with one stone" resolution routine has some very positive effects on your home fix-it "to-do" list. The surge of adrenaline that you experience from the physical exertion and the excitement associated with successfully making a few home improvements and burning off some calories can throw your do-it-yourself get-up-and-go into high gear.
Thus, in celebration of a new year and in consideration of your desire to get more exercise and to trim down, we offer some suggestions for home improvement that will assist you in your quest for self-improvement.
Is your home looking a little worse for wear? Need a few fixes, here and there? Good impressions start at your front door. If your door's beat-up and faded, repaint it, using two coats of satin-finish paint. Flat is too dull, and gloss too shiny. Then, as budget allows, add a shiny knocker, fancy new hardware, a door mat and plants to set it off.
In the bathrooms, polish or replace sink fixtures and install a state-of-the-art shower head. Then clean grout with a toothbrush and a 50-50 solution of bleach and warm water.
In the kitchen, new cabinet knobs and drawer pulls and well-scrubbed counters complete the transition.
Want to kick it up a notch? How about a kitchen or bath cabinet tune up? No money in the budget to replace or reface cabinets? First, tackle the hardware, adjusting hinges on misaligned doors. All you need is a screwdriver and a little trial and error. Fill any stripped screw holes with toothpicks and white glue so that loose hinges can be firmly reinstalled. Adjust or replace any catches that hold doors shut, and any worn or bent drawer rollers and slides.
Add felt bumper pads to silence doors. After giving all interiors a good scrubbing, turn your attention to cosmetic details: touch up nicks and scratches, tighten, glue or replace knobs and handles and clean wood-cutting boards with lemon juice and table salt.
Keeping mechanical systems working efficiently and saving energy should be a part of any new year's resolution list. When it's cold outside your furnace, the water heater works harder, accounting for 86 percent of the typical winter gas bill. There are steps you can take to reduce seasonal gas bills.
First, for both safety and efficiency, have your furnace professionally inspected and perform routine maintenance such as changing filters, adjusting burners, lubricating mechanical parts and cleaning the blower chamber.
Second, if you haven't done so already, install a programmable thermostat to automatically control your home's temperature.
Third, weather-strip and caulk all drafty windows and doors -- that'll save at least 5 percent on your heating cost.
Fourth, check heating ducts for leaks, and make repairs with a mastic-type sealant (not duct tape). This could cut heating costs by 5 to 20 percent.
Finally, lowering the setting on your water heater thermostat can cut water heating by 10 to 20 percent.
If you'll be caulking to reduce drafts, weatherize or prevent interior leaks (such as around sinks and tubs), but are concerned that you'll end up with a mess, we'll have you caulking like a pro if you follow these simple steps.
Caulking requires two important tools: (1) your finger and (2) lots of paper towels or a damp sponge. Your finger, because it is flexible and can be formed to fit almost any shape or surface, and the paper towels or damp sponge so you can frequently clean your finger and the joint where the caulk is being applied.
Want to caulk like a pro? After wiping the joint with denatured alcohol, apply one continuous course of masking tape to either side of the joint. The edge of the tape should be held approximately one-sixteenth of an inch from the center of the joint.
Tip: use blue painter's tape instead of conventional masking tape because it has less adhesive and is easier to remove. With the tape in place, caulk away, removing the excess as discussed earlier. Simply peel back the tape, pulling away from the joint, and, voila, a perfect joint every time.
When it comes to exterior maintenance, unless you're socked in with ice and snow, the roof might be where you'll go.
When serious winter weather sets in, it pays to make a midseason check to see how your roof is holding up against heavy rains or ice and snow. One of the best means of accomplishing this is by using a pair of binoculars with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
If on the roof you must go, it's wise to note how pro roofers stay safe, and avoid nasty falls. They wear soft rubber-soled shoes and they nail 2x4 cleats across the roof at 6-foot intervals as slide guards. For themselves and their tools and materials, they use fall arresters on steep roofs -- belts, harnesses and ropes. That's something you should do, too.
Down below, they string caution tape to warn others of possible falling debris, and they avoid back injuries by careful lifting and the wearing of support belts.
Here's hoping that all of your New Year's home improvement resolution solutions are successful and that you and your home (and family) will be better for it.
In the "Three Little Pigs," the title characters learned the importance of good home construction and how to protect themselves from the Big Bad Wolf.
No matter how well a building is built, in the long run, it is only as good as its ongoing maintenance. While it's probably true that you don't have to fend off wolves, winter sometimes can be as ferocious. Wind, rain, snow and ice are a few of the products of winter that can put a home and its mechanical systems to the test. A bit of seasonal maintenance can pay big dividends in savings on costly repairs, lower utility bills and added comfort.
In the years that we have spent in the construction business, we have found that water is the single greatest threat to a home. Whether it be from a leaking shower, a broken pipe or poor drainage, water damage can result in costly repairs. So, the first step in getting your home ready for winter is to protect it from water damage.
What is the condition of the roof? Missing shingles, cracks or worn spots are a sure sign of a potential roof leak. If you're skittish about heights, you can, with binoculars, make a close inspection of your roof with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
When making your inspection, pay particular attention to flashings and roof jacks. Jacks are the metal and rubber cone-shaped structures that surround plumbing pipes and other elements that exit the roof. The metal can, over time, become corroded and the rubber gaskets can become brittle resulting in leaks. Also, metal flashings at valleys, chimneys and wall-to-roof connections should also be checked and repaired.
Where does the water go once it hits the roof? Ideally it travels to the lowest point of the roof and into gutters and downspouts and then into a drainage system that transports it away from the home. If you don't have gutters and downspouts, install them. If you do, make sure that they are clean. Downspouts should not be allowed to discharge water next to the house. This can cause everything from cracks over windows and doors to rotted floor framing.
The best, most permanent method of dealing with this condition is to install solid drain pipes that will carry the water to the curb and into a municipal storm drain system or into non-erosive riprap. The water can also be collected into a sump and discharged using a sump pump. If time or money won't allow for this method now, temporary downspout extension devices can be installed that will direct water away from the home. If you do have a sump pump, clean it and check to be sure that it is working properly.
We have reported before about the dangers associated with a damaged or dirty chimney. The firebox and chimney should be inspected annually and cleaned as needed. One good rule of thumb is to clean the chimney after each cord of wood is burned. Also, make sure that birds have not made a nest atop the flue. The spark arrester and chimney cap should be in good condition. The former prevents a potential roof fire while the latter prohibits water from traveling down the flue. Further minimize potential water damage by sealing exterior brick and stone with a high-quality stone and masonry sealer. This will help to prevent damage from freeze and thaw cycles.
If you are heating your home with something more than a fireplace or wood stove, such as a furnace or boiler, you will want to ensure that it is operating in safe and peak operating condition. Although many local utility companies will make a no-charge annual safety check of your heating system, we suggest that you enlist the services of a qualified heating professional. Checking for a cracked heat exchanger is just one of the many elements of a professional checkup. A cracked heat exchanger can be deadly as it can fill your home with the silent killer - carbon monoxide.
Other furnace tune-ups include filter replacement, blower compartment and duct cleaning, motor lubrication, fanbelt adjustment or replacement and burner cleaning and adjustment. Many local heating professionals offer annual service contracts which typically include two visits per year; one for heating and one for cooling.
Caulking around windows, doors and gaps in siding not only will prevent drafts, but will safeguard siding from water damage, as well. Siding exposed due to peeling paint should be scraped, filled and spot-primed. A more thorough preparation and painting can be done in the spring.
Finally, a winter item that is often overlooked is a bad-weather supply kit. The kit should include a battery-operated radio to monitor news and weather reports, extra batteries, a flashlight with extra batteries, cat litter for traction, shovels for snow and picks for ice.
No furnace will continue to operate efficiently without regular periodic maintenance. Keeping the home's heating system clean, lubricated, properly adjusted, and replacing the filter regularly will not only result in more efficient heating, but will also extend the life of the system and save energy and expense.
Ideally, the furnace should be inspected and serviced by a professional heating contractor or qualified service technician at least once a year, preferably before each heating season begins. Many heating companies offer such a service at a reasonable price. If you do your own maintenance, a qualified professional should examine the system every three to five years.
The first step in furnace maintenance is to replace the dirty furnace filter with a clean one. The purpose of the filter on a forced-air furnace is to keep dust, soot, and other contaminants out of the air that is blown into your living area. Once the filter has been sufficiently coated with this grime, it causes the furnace blower to work harder, making it more costly to operate and shortening its life span.
Since filter size and location vary from furnace to furnace, you'll need to check the owners handbook for this type of information. If an owners handbook doesn't exist, this information usually can be found on the furnace or on an inside panel of the furnace. Some furnaces have more than one filter that will need replacement one near the blower and one at each cold air return. Buying replacement filters by the case will cut down on the unit price and will make replacement convenient.
The blower compartment of forced-air furnaces should be clean and dust-free. Use a vacuum with a dust brush attachment to remove any lint, dust, or debris that may exist. The same should be done for the fire box or burner compartment. Caution: Make sure that the furnace is turned off and has had a chance to cool completely before attempting to clean it.
There is nothing more disturbing than a furnace that sounds like an automobile skidding out of control each time the blower engages. If such is the case in your home, chances are that the fan belt needs to be replaced or tightened slightly. The fan belt should typically "give" only about 1/2 inch. In most cases moving the motor bracket will usually be all that's required.
Any other squeaks and creaks can be silenced with a little lubrication. All bearings and other moving parts should be lubricated with fine machine oil. If the furnace is oil-fired, the bearings in the pump motor should also be oiled periodically. The fuel filter in the main oil line should be replaced once a year.
Finally, the burners should be adjusted to ensure that they mix the proper amount of fuel and air for safe and efficient combustion. This is something that most utility companies will do free as a service for their customers.
Q. Four years ago, I had a new 20-year fiberglass shingle roof installed on my home. The roofer that installed it went out of business two years ago (telephone disconnected and mail returned). The workmanship was warranted for only three years, but the shingles are supposed to be good for 20 years. Some of them are already beginning to show wear.
How does one deal with "warranties" by contractors who simply disappear? Who will fulfill the warranty for the "20-year shingles" if the contractor is gone? Of course, I have no record of or idea who the warranting manufacturer is. Gernot R., San Francisco, CA.
A. According to the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), a leading trade association pledged to professionalism, the best way to protect your warranty is by doing your homework up front when selecting a roofing contractor to be sure that you will be dealing with a real pro. While this doesn't guarantee that all will go well, the odds will most certainly be in your favor.
Unfortunately, it appears that the contractor that installed your roof was just one of many who claim to be professional roofers, when, in reality, they have no established place of business, telephone, technical experience or credibility.
Whereas the workmanship part of your warranty has expired, you are still entitled to the material warranty if you can determine who the manufacturer of the product is and that it was installed properly. We have often seen material warranties voided due to faulty installations.
We would advise you to enlist the services of a professional roofing contractor or an experienced roofing consultant to verify the manufacturer of your particular fiberglass shingle. Once identified, the expert will likely be able to put you in touch with the manufacturer's representative who can offer some assistance.
The NRCA says that it's a good idea when reroofing to keep an extra bundle of shingles with the wrapper attached identifying the brand name and the manufacturer. In addition to providing exact identification in case a warranty question arises, it also provides replacement shingles.
A free list of professional roofing contractors located in your ZIP CODE area is available to you, along with a booklet of roof care tips, by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to the NRCA, Buying a New Roof, 10255 W. Higgins Road, Suite 600, Rosemont, IL. 60018, Attn: Lillian
A powerful new instant drain opener -- one of the superstar products introduced at the recent International Hardware Show in Chicago and hailed as one of the most innovative and outstanding products of 2004 -- is now a featured product at The Home Depot.
The Kleer Drain™ Instant Drain Opener received the hardware industry's "Retailer's Choice Award," out of hundreds of new products, for its revolutionary, patented technology that uses a burst of compressed air to clear clogged household drains fast and effectively.
Kleer Drain™ technology truly gives homeowners professional-quality results using mini-CO2 cartridges and special MAG-Power(tm) Disks to create a burst of air that clears even the most stubborn clogs.
The versatile and re-usable Kleer Drain™ easily adapts to kitchen and bathroom sinks, tubs, showers, toilets and other drains (up to 4-inches) -- indoors or out -- and offers three levels of air-burst power to clear drain lines as needed.
For slow-running drains, simply insert a MAG-Air(tm) CO2 cartridge in Kleer Drain™, place the rubber cup base over the drain and press down on the handles to unleash a powerful burst of CO2 that keeps drains running free.
For clogged drains, insert one MAG-Power(tm) Disk, along with the cartridge, to increase velocity when the compressed air is released -- creating a "shock wave" of water that rushes safely through pipes to clear drain lines instantly. Adding two disks provides even more power -- that "blasts right through" even the most stubborn clogs.
Company Vice President Mark Allenbaugh notes, "Caustic chemicals and plungers not only are generally ineffective...when used together, they're a hazardous combination that could lead to serious injury. Instead, with Kleer Drain™...one push and 'whoosh'...clogs are gone. The response to our new air-burst technology has been nothing short of amazing."
In recent field testing by 135 members of the Handyman Club of America, Kleer Drain™ also received an extremely favorable 85% approval rating -- earning it the Handyman Club of America Seal of Approval and a full product review in the "member tested" pages of the March/April 2005 issue of Handy magazine.
Now, when drains are clogged, homeowners no longer have to pour caustic chemicals and wait...or plunge and re-plunge again and again...or (worse yet) reach for the phone...perhaps on a holiday. A clogged drain no longer needs to spoil quality time with friends and family, thanks to Kleer Drain™.
Kleer Drain™ is now sold at all The Home Depot stores nationwide; or to order on-line, visit www.homedepot.com and -- on the home page -- click on the "Shop" pull down menu (next to the Home Depot logo), select "Plumbing" and at the bottom of the page you'll find Kleer Drain™ featured for $29.98.
If you would like to preview Kleer Drain's revolutionary new air-burst technology visit www.kleerdrain.com. For further questions,
please call (800) 624-9942.
Here are some of Dom's best recipes for you and your family to enjoy over the next month!
Crunchy Citrus Salsa — This salsa is delicious on grilled halibut or catfish, and just as good on tortilla chips!
Beef Tenderloin — With my three sons, there better be beef! Try this classic recipe, with a little help from Dom's new All Purpose Blend.
Apple and Cranberry Crisp — Warm and toasty from the oven, this dessert is amazing with cool whip, vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt on top.
Old Fashioned Apple Pie — Nothing like ringing in the New Year with some hot apple pie!