OnTheHouse Express

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Dr. Roof

Keep the top of your house in top condition. Dr. Roof’s advice can keep you from needing costly housecalls.


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Mounting a Room Air Conditioner

. In 1902 Dr. Willis Carrier invented refrigerant air conditioning. Concerned that his new invention would receive a cool reception, he staged a boxing match to attract a crowd to showcase this never-before-used technology.

Almost one hundred years later, a whopping 30 million homeowners are cooling their homes with central air conditioning. In addition, another 18 million homeowners have room air conditioners.

All air conditioners, whether window or wall-mounted units or whole-house central air conditioning systems, operate the same way. A fan sucks warm indoor air across a series of cool coils that contain a refrigerant. The cooled air is then blown back into the room. The refrigerant absorbs the heat and then exhausts it outdoors through another system of coils and fans.

For most homes, a central air-conditioning system is the most efficient and cost-effective means of cooling a home. Unfortunately, such a system can be a budget-buster for some. Still for others, retrofitting an air conditioning system is virtually impossible due to accessibility and construction limitations. Accordingly, it can be a disruptive and expensive undertaking. For these folks, one or more room air conditioners is a viable option.

The Mediterranean-style home that we grew up in, built by our grandfather around the turn-of-the-century, was a perfect candidate for a room air conditioner. Actually, it was a perfect candidate for several room air conditioners, but, for some reason, possibly cost, our parents opted to install only one.

A room air conditioner is typically mounted in a window or through an opening cut in a wall. These compact sources of hot-day relief range in cooling power from 5,400 BTUs for smaller rooms to 18,500 BTUs for big ones. They can be expensive to operate, so, if you plan to run your unit often, it's a good idea to get the most energy-efficient model available.

Location can be as important as size when it comes to cooling ability. Install a room air conditioner as far as possible from exterior doors to prevent drafts and cross-ventilation from interfering with the cooled air. Also, make sure that there are no obstructions in front of the unit, such as furniture or window coverings. Direct the vents upward to get cool air at the upper levels; the cool air will drift naturally down to floor level.

Another consideration is the power source. Most room units are designed to operate on 110 volts and can be plugged into any electrical outlet. This, however, is not the recommended means of powering such a unit. To avoid electrical wire fatigue, which can range from dimming lights to an electrical short and ultimately a fire, the air conditioner should be powered by its own dedicated electrical circuit.

Aside from the electrical work, a room air conditioner can be installed in a window in an afternoon. Most lightweight, smaller-capacity, through-the-window models come with a do-it-yourself installation kit that contains everything needed to install the unit.

Larger capacity room air conditioners and/or through-the-wall models generally require more than one person to install them and, due to the project's complexity, often are best left to a professional. In either case, there are many ways to install them. The most common installation methods include: outside flush mounting (the outer face of the unit is flush or slightly beyond the outside wall), inside flush mounting (the interior face is approximately flush with the inside wall), balance mounting (the unit is installed approximately half inside and half outside the window), and upper sash mounting (the unit is mounted in the top of the window).

Through-the-wall mounts, or "sleeves," are used to install a window-type chassis, a complete unit, or a console in walls.

Be it through-the-wall or through-the-window, a room air conditioner must have adequate support. Most installation kits come with a mounting bracket system that is first assembled and then anchored to the home immediately adjacent to the window. Sometimes, as was the case with the unit our father installed some 35 years ago, no mounting kit is provided. (Dad constructed a mounting shelf out of wood.)

The mounting support should be installed with a slight pitch to allow water to drain away from the window. Be sure to install all panels and gaskets provided with the installation kit. They will help cut down on vibration and allow the unit to operate more quietly. And, they will prevent drafts, should you not remove the unit for storage during the winter months.

Eating Healthy

Start by eating a balanced breakfast; followed by small snacks or mini meals, consisting of fresh fruits nuts and proteins throughout the day. Eat breakfast like a king; lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.

Eliminate soft drinks and other sugary snacks and drink at least 50 ounces of water a day.

Eat some fresh deep water fish two to three times a week.

Do weight lifting exercises two to three times each week to strengthen bones and increase metabolism.

Come on folks, this is not rocket science.

Let’s re-invigorate that old American fighting spirit and fight for our good health and that of our kids.

You can get more exercise, nutrition and health tips by picking up a copy of my “Living Proof” DVD at my website at www.overthehillfitness.com.

Live with vigor,

Karel Nunnink

Assembling a Potter's Bench

. When we're not pecking away at the computer sharing our passion with you via this column, we spend time as the home improvement editors on television. Recently, our producer asked us to come up with a project that would be fun to build, be useful in the garden and wouldn't cost an arm and a leg. Bingo! We had the perfect project in mind - a potting bench that one of us had recently come across in our collection of old how-to periodicals.

The potting bench is to an avid gardener what a good workbench is to an eager do-it-yourselfer. Since we qualify as both, this was an appealing project.

This is no ordinary potting bench. It is a garden work center that gives seedlings and cuttings a coddled start. For gardeners and plants alike, it combines the best of all worlds - a plywood work surface for potting and pruning, a built-in metal bowl for potting soil storage or as a water supply and a soil bed for seedlings. And, the base is open allowing you to tuck your knees under the bench when seated at a stool or to store bags of soil or other tools and materials below. You can build one of these in a weekend, for less than $150.

First, the materials needed: Our potting bench is made of a combination of pressure-treated wood, redwood and exterior-grade plywood. It can be left outside without fear that a season or two of rough weather and voracious pests will ravage it. We brought our material list, complete with cut lengths, to our local home center and, for a small extra charge, had all of the material cut to size for quick and easy assembly. Materials:

Pressure-treated lumber: three 6-foot 4-by-4s, three 6-foot 2-by-4s, one 8-foot 2-by-4, two 8-foot 1-by-4s and one 10-foot 1-by-4.

Redwood: one 6-foot 1-by-2, two 6-foot 1-by-4s, two 6-foot 2-by-8s, one half-sheet of three-quarter-inch exterior plywood, one 4-foot square of one-half-inch mesh galvanized screen, one 4-foot square of landscape fabric, one 16-inch-diameter stainless steel salad bowl, one box of two-and-one-half-inch coated construction screws, one box of one-and-one-quarter-inch coated construction screws and 14-gauge wire staples.

When it comes to tools, you don't have to have a full-blown workshop for this project. If you have the material precut at your local home center you won't even need to pull out a circular saw. However, you will need a saber saw to cut a hole in the plywood for the bowl. The most important tool you'll need is a powerful cordless drill to drive the screws used to fasten the various parts. A tape measure, combination square and level will also come in handy.

With a 2-by-4 in one hand and a screw gun in the other, let the project begin. We found that building the frame of the potting bench upside-down on a flat, dry surface to be easiest. A garage, patio or carport floor will do. Start by making a horizontal box by attaching the front and back pieces (A) to the side pieces (B).

Stand the 4-by-4 legs (D) in each of the four corners and attach them with three screws at both sides of the corner. Next, using the measuring tape and a pencil, mark a point 31 and a quarter inches from what will be the potting table end of each of the 2-by-4s. Also, mark a center point on one side of two of the 4-by-4 posts (D) about 3 to 4 inches in from one end. Align the marks on the posts with the marks on the front and back pieces (A) and fasten them using three construction screws.

The next step is to install the three short pieces of 2-by-4 (C) that will be used to support the seedbed. Screw one to the middle legs and evenly space the other two on what will be the seedbed side of the potting bench. The last step before turning the frame over is to install three leg braces (F) and two cross braces (E). The braces will ensure a sturdy assembly by preventing the frame from rocking side to side or back and forth. Before attaching the two cross braces with screws, use a level to make sure that the pair or legs at the center and at one end are plumb. The frame is now finished and can be turned over to complete the rest of the work.

Use the four pieces of 2-by-8 (G and H) along with two screws at each corner to make a square frame that measures 34 and one-half-inches per side. This will serve as the frame for the seedbed. Cut the mesh screen to 34 and one-half-inches square and attach it to one side of the frame with the 14-gauge staples. Flip the completed seedbed over and line the bottom (on top of the mesh) with a layer of landscape fabric to prevent the soil from falling through. Position the seedbed on the frame so that it is flush with the front, back and one side. Place the precut plywood top (I) on the frame next to the seedbed and fasten it with construction screws.

Place the bowl upside down on the plywood top (I) and trace a pencil line along the entire rim of the bowl. Use a saber saw to cut approximately one-quarter inch inside the line - the entire length of the line to create a hole for the bowl. You will need to drill a small hole in which to insert the saber saw blade to begin cutting. Place the bowl into the cutout. Complete the construction by installing 1-by-4 trim (K and L) at the rear and two sides and 1-by-2 trim (J) at the front. By this time you should have used all of your precut material. If you still have pieces remaining, go back and check the plan and retrace your installation steps.

With the bench complete, the fun begins. Fill the seedbed with potting soil and dig in. Your thumb will be greener than ever and you'll be the envy of your neighbors.