Medicine Cabinet Troubles – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

“I have a medicine cabinet that hangs from the wall. I would like to have a recessed cabinet installed instead. Can this be done?”
–J.S., St. Louis

In most cases, this can be done without an enormous amount of work, as long as the wall consists of drywall and not plaster. The main cause of difficulty is if there are electrical lines or plumbing behind the area.

There isn’t a way to know for sure, but there are a few things you could look for in order to be better informed. For example, is there a bathroom directly above this one, with a vanity or toilet in about the same place? If so, the drain stack pipe could be in this area, or plumbing supply lines. Or, if there is a light above the existing medicine cabinet, there could be electrical wiring behind the wall. Electrical wires can be moved out of the way much easier than any plumbing lines.

Unfortunately, the only way to know for sure would be to cut out a hole in the area you want to install the new cabinet, and take a look.

To do this, make a hole directly behind where the existing cabinet is. That way, if you find plumbing that will prevent you from completing the project, the hole can be patched with a rough repair and you can rehang your existing medicine cabinet without having to do a finished drywall repair.

If you find nothing behind the area where the new cabinet will go, then continue to cut out the area for the new cabinet, consulting the directions for the dimensions of the rough cut-out. Chances are, that when you have removed the drywall for this cut-out, you will find a stud running up and down behind the area. You will need to cut this portion of the stud at the top and bottom of your opening. You will then need to create a top and bottom plate where this stud has been cut, essentially creating a “box”, which will surround the new medicine cabinet. Because you previously cut the drywall to the correct opening size, these 2×4’ss can go behind the top and bottom edges of the drywall, so they won’t be seen. When this is done, insert the medicine cabinet, screwing the top and bottom into these 2×4 box you created.

If the medicine cabinet has a mirror, be sure to smile at yourself for a job well done!

Time: 1 ½ hours
Materials: Drywall knife or utility blade, 2×4, drill, screws, sawz-all
Difficulty: Medium

Clogged Dryer Vent – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

“I’ve read that a clogged dryer vent is a fire hazard.  Why is it a fire hazard and how do I clean it?”

-S. K.,  St. Louis

A clogged dryer vent can indeed be a fire hazard.  If you think about the vent being stuffed with lint and the hot dryer air trying to get past it, it isn’t difficult for a fire to get started.  I’ve heard that hikers sometimes take a small bag of dryer lint with them to help get a campfire started.  That should give you an idea of the danger.

If you don’t clean your vent regularly, you might notice that the dryer takes longer to dry a load of clothes.  In most cases, there is nothing wrong with the dryer, it’s just that the circulation of the heat is reduced by not being able to exit.  Cleaning the vent and keeping it clean can likely reduce the running time of the dryer.

The easiest way to clean a dryer vent is to use an electric leaf blower, if you have one.  Begin by moving the dryer out to gain access to where the vent goes into the wall.  Remove the vent hose, which is usually attached to the dryer with a 3” or 4” clamp.  Loosening the clamp with a screwdriver will allow you to do remove it.  For the leaf blower, you’ll need an attachment to go on the motor body (instead of attaching the long tube pieces that are normally used).  We use a PVC 4” to 3” reducer, but this may not fit perfectly for all leaf blowers, so you may end up just taping this reducer to the end of the leaf blower. 

Next, on the outside of the house, remove the vent cover housing, if you’re able.  Sometimes these housings are just screwed on, so removing it shouldn’t be difficult.  Then, insert the leaf blower where the dryer vent begins at the dryer location and let the air blow all of the lint out.  This may take a few minutes.  It is also a good idea to physically check the outside housing, as sometimes the lint may build up here, just before it exits the house.   If so, just remove as much as you can here by hand, then run the leaf blower again.  Afterwards, it’s just a matter of putting things back the way they were.

If you don’t have an electric leaf blower, you may have to disassemble the duct work in order to clean it.  If you have the solid, rigid ducts, this can take quite a bit of time.  If you have the flexible ducts, it is usually easier to simply replace it, as the cost is about $15, and no matter what you do, you’ll never  get all of the lint out of them.

Good luck!

Materials: electric leaf blower, duct tape, maybe a reducer fitting; screw driver

Time: about 1 hour

Difficulty: easy

Chewed Door Frame – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

“My new dog has chewed the frame and molding around the door where we keep her. Can this be fixed or do we need a new door?”
— C. M. Ladue

Oh the joys of pet ownership! First, you may want to think about something. Is the dog still chewing? If so, you may want to wait on the repairs until the dog stops chewing. Otherwise, you may find yourself doing this repair more than once!

Chewed Door Fram - Get It Done - Ask THE Handyman STLIf the chewing is along the jamb of the door, use sand paper to try to smooth it out. For deep gouges, use a wood filler and a spackle knife to spread the filler into these areas. Let it dry and sand it smooth, before priming or staining.

If the dog has chewed the trim (casing) around the door frame, this might be easier to replace than repair. It’s just too difficult to sand them down and try to build them up with putty – especially on the newer ones that are more decorative. Your labor to try to repair it would be much more than it would be to simply replace it.

If you’re replacing the casing, first remove one side or piece so that you can take it to the hardware store to get it matched. There are several types of profiles as well as widths, so it is best to be sure. If your casing is painted, try to get casing that is already primed. It will save you time and money.

Using a razor blade, score the line where the casing meets the wall and the line where it meets the door frame. This will help when pulling the casing off, to make sure it doesn’t pull the paint away with it. Using a small crow bar, gently get it under the casing at the top or bottom and begin to pull it away just a little. Move the bar up or down, continuing the process until the entire piece is pulled away, going slowly. After it’s off, be sure that all of the nails came out with it. If not, remove the remaining nails.

When you’ve purchased the new casing, measure the new piece, and then cut it with a miter saw. If you don’t have a miter saw, you can purchase a hand saw with a miter box for a reasonable price, as opposed to renting a powered one. Make your 45 degree cut for the top and cut the piece to the proper length. Then, using finish nails, nail the casing into place, putting the nails in about each two feet.

Materials: Utility knife, small crow bar, miter box and saw, tape measure, latex caulk and caulk gun, spackle, finish nails, nail set, fine grain sand paper, hammer, spackle knife.
Time: About one hour or two for one piece of casing if this is your first time doing this.
Difficulty: Easy, but this requires some patience!

Gutter Pulling Away – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

I’ve recently noticed that water is coming down between the gutter and the house.  It looks like the gutter is farther away from the house here than it is elsewhere.  Can this be fixed?

M. R. – Eureka, Mo

Most likely, this will be an easy fix.  Until not long ago, gutters were usually installed with nails.  As the seasons cause the wood to expand and contract, nails can become loose in their hole.  If your gutters are not kept clean, the weight of the debris and water which might sit in the gutters, can add up enough to cause the nail to back out, letting the gutter pull away from the gutter board it is attached to.  In most cases, installing a new gutter bracket, with a screw instead of a nail, will correct the problem.

Begin by setting up your ladder under the area where the butter begins to pull away.  Have your hammer with you so that you can remove the nail from the old gutter bracket.  Once this is removed, install the new bracket.  We like the type of bracket that is readily available from the hardware store, that comes with its own screw.  So, it’ just a matter of hooking the bracket onto the gutter, then screwing the screw into the gutter and gutter board behind it.  As you position the gutter when you’re doing this, try to get the gutter to be in the same position it was.  In other words, don’t raise or lower the gutter.  As long as you weren’t having a problem with the flow of the water in the gutter, keep it in the same position.  Once you have your first bracket in, move your ladder down  to install the next bracket.  You should have a bracket for each  2 ½ feet. 

If by chance you’re screwing in the new bracket, but the screw keeps turning, it is likely that the gutter board behind your gutter has some rot.  You can try a different spot to see if the screw will find better wood, but even if it does, this soft wood on the gutter board will need your attention in the future.  Replacing a section of gutter board is a more difficult job, but one that you shouldn’t ignore.

Time: about ½ hour

Materials: ladder, drill, gutter bracket, hammer to remove the old gutter bracket nail

Difficulty: easy