Handyman Tips & Tricks – Ask THE Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

When doing things around the house, with experience, you learn some easier ways to do things.  In talking with other people, you also learn little tricks and tips that can make jobs easier.

Here are a few:

  • When you’re trying to get that screw loose that has been painted over, before you try to loosen the screw, first take a slotted screwdriver (not a Phillips screwdriver) and a hammer.  Place the tip of the screwdriver into the slot of the screw and tap it along the slot.  This will get the paint out of the slot, allowing the screwdriver to effectively get a grip, enabling you to loosen the screw.  If the screw you are trying to take out is a Phillips screw, it’s very hard to get the paint out of this type of head, so just give it a shot.  It may also help if you take a utility knife and score around the screw, so the paint won’t hold the edges of the screw.
  • If you’ve ever tried to pull a nail out of wood, you may have found an indention in the wood around the nail, left over from the hammer or pry bar you used.  A quick use of some thin scrap wood, even a paint stirrer, laying under the hammer or pry bar will keep this from happening.
  • Nail pops in the ceiling of your drywall?  Don’t just hammer the nail back in.  It usually will loosen and reappear.  Instead, pull the nail out (be sure to utilize the tip above).  Then replace it with a drywall screw before spackling the hole and touching it up with paint.  The screw won’t come out.
  • If you have trouble starting a small nail into something because your hands are too big, get a pair of pliers, preferable needle-nose pliers.  Hold the nail with the pliers while you get the nail started with the hammer.  Once started, remove the pliers and hammer away.
  • You probably have heard about the use of a potato in helping to remove a broken light bulb.  Sometimes this can work, but to save a potato and the chance that it won’t work, try using a pair of needle-nose pliers.  Be sure the electric is off, then begin twisting the broken bulb around the metal base.  Keep turning the pliers in the correct direction and this will get the socket out.  Be careful of broken glass!

Most everyone has small tips and tricks they use in doing household chores.  If you have one you would like to share, please send it along in an e-mail and perhaps we can share them with other readers.  Thanks!

Tub/Shower Leak – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

I have a tub/shower that has continued to leak water from somewhere, but I can’t find out where.  The tub has been recaulked twice, the tile sealed, but after 60 – 90 days, we see evidence of water at the drywall outside.  Any ideas?

In most cases, a leak such as this is going to be either a caulking or grout issue.  If there is a hole in the caulk, or the caulk has pulled away from either the tub or the tile, water can get behind.  It is then going to either find a way to exit, or will get soaked up by drywall behind the tile.  Inspect the caulk very closely, looking for even a minor hole the size of a pin.  Be certain to also check the caulk around the shower door and door track.  Normally, the caulk around the door and track is a clear caulk, so take your time, as a hole or separation won’t be quite so obvious.  The caulking should be 100% silicone, made for kitchens and baths, as it has additional ingredients to prevent mildew.

If the caulking looks good, next check the grout.  This is the material between the tiles.  Again, a small pin hole can allow water penetration.  Take your time and look closely, even bending down to be at eye level for the lower areas.  If you need to add grout, a hardware store will carry a white and almond, but if you need a different color, you may have to go to a tile store in order to find the color in a 100% silicone.

If the grout and the caulk look fine, I would then have a professional take a look.  The problem could be in the area behind the faucet control, or even behind the tub spout.

Don’t try to repair any drywall until you are convinced that the leakage has been fixed.  You wouldn’t want to go to the trouble of making the repair and then find out you still have a leak.

Good luck!

Mice – Ask THE Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

I’m hearing mice in my attic and don’t know where to begin.  Please help!

A common place for mice to go in the winter is…inside.  Who can blame them!  Unfortunately, just because we don’t want them inside doesn’t really matter.

Your best effort in trying to get rid of them is to find out where they are entering the house.  This can be a lengthy process, but if you find the spot, you may eliminate future mice.  If they are in the attic, go up and look for mice droppings.  Attempt to find out what area they are in.  You might even try placing baby powder or talc in some areas, then come back in a day or two and look for the footprints.  While you are in the attic, turn off any lights and look for daylight around the outside walls.  This may show you a possible entry point.  Keep in mind that it only takes a hole about the size of a quarter for them to enter.  If you pinpoint a wall where you think they may be entering, but can’t find any size of a hole, you might try stuffing steel wool into any cracks.  Mice won’t cross over steel wool and won’t even try to remove it.

Whether you can or cannot find and block the entry point, you still want to get rid of them.  The least expensive trap is the old fashioned spring trap.  You can purchase several of these and leave them in different spots.  The best thing to load the traps with is peanut butter.  Yes, we’ve always heard that cheese is what mice love, but it isn’t quite true.  Peanut butter will work the best.  Leave the traps along the perimeter of the walls, not out in the open.  Mice tend to travel along the walls.  Another version is a box trap with batteries, which will send an electrical charge when the mouse enters the box.  This type of trap is more expensive, about $25 plus the batteries.

Another method of trapping the mice is with a live trap.  This is basically a box with food inside that the mouse will enter, but cannot exit.  The only requirement in using the live trap, is that you must check the trap often, and then you will have to find somewhere away from your home to release it.  Another option for getting rid of mice is the use of poison.  However, there are several reasons that this may not be a good option.  If you have children or pets, this could be deadly.  Poison may kill the mice, but what happens then?  You will have to go and search for the dead mouse, and very likely will not find it.  You will then have to live with the smell.  So, the use of poison is NOT recommended.

Drafts at Outlets – Ask THE Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

The cold weather is showing me several areas along the outside walls where cold air is coming in, especially at the outlets and switches.  Is there an easy way to seal this gap?

Indeed there is.  There are several ways to eliminate the air drafts coming into the home.  You  can begin by finding out where the drafts are using a candle.  Slowly, but carefully move the candle past your switches and receptacles, watching the flame movement.  Be sure not to get the candle so close that it touches anything.  Usually, you’ll only find these drafts along the outside walls.

For each outlet or switch, begin by removing the cover plate.  Although it is always a good idea to turn the power off to these outlets or switches, since you won’t be removing or touching any electrical wires, as long as your careful, you may not need to turn off the power.  If you can see above, below, and to the sides of the electrical box which holds the switches or outlets, then this gap can be allowing air to enter the room.  The easiest method of closing this gap is to use a minimal-expanding foam.  This is a product which comes in an aerosol can.  By connecting the furnished tube to the can and following instructions, you can insert the tube into the gap and fill the area with the foam.  Be certain to use a minimal-expanding foam.  There are some foams which will expand a large amount, but because of the electrical boxes, you don’t want anything other than the minimal-expanding type.  Don’t overfill the area.  You can always go back and add more.  In addition, it’s always a good idea when using this foam to wear gloves, and have a drop cloth beneath the area where you are working.  Once the foam is dry, if need be, any overspray can be cut away so it doesn’t go beyond the wall.

A second part of the project would be to install foam cover plates behind the cover plate you removed.  These seals are sold at hardware stores and are inexpensive.  It is a simple procedure to install, just follow directions.

After you’ve completed both projects, reinstall the original cover plate.  Then, to see the difference, bring the candle back to the area and perform the same check as before.  You should find a great deal of difference.


GFCI – Ask THE Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

When I had my Christmas lights up, I found that the outlet they were plugged into kept tripping and I continually had to reset it.  Do I need an electrician?

There could be a number of items that cause this.  First, it sounds like the outlet you have the lights plugged in to is a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter).  If there is any rain or snow which comes in contact with the outlet, it could be shutting down because of that.  If so, you may want to consider installing a perpetual cover for this.  It is a simple installation, similar to changing an outlet cover, and costs about $10.  It will allow you to leave something plugged in (Christmas lights, low voltage lights, etc.) while still allowing the cover to protect the outlet.

A second item to check would be the plug connections on the lights.  It is a good idea to use electrical tape on each connection, especially on the ends.  Again, rain or snow could cause the GFCI to trip.

It is also a possibility that the GFCI needs to be replaced.  A GFCI will cost about $15.  Unless you are familiar with household wiring, it is probably best to have a professional take care of this.  One thing you don’t want to do is replace a GFCI with a non-GFCI outlet.  The electrical code requires exterior outlets to be either GFCI’s, or to be protected by a GFCI (a GFCI located somewhere else in the home bringing power to this outlet).

Ice Dams – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

With the recent snow, I’ve noticed that I have ice coming over the top of my gutters.  Does this mean the gutters are full and need to be cleaned?

If your gutters weren’t cleaned after the fall, there is a chance that debris is causing some problems.  However, if you weren’t seeing them overflow before the snow, chances are that what you are seeing is an ice dam.

Ice dams are the result of backups of ice, underneath the snow, at the lower parts of the roof.  When the heat from your attic heats the roof, the heat is warmest at the ridge, or peak of the roof.  As this snow melts, it comes down the roof, underneath the snow.  It then freezes at the lower parts of the roof, which are colder.  Now, you have frozen ice sitting under a blanket of snow, which acts as an insulator to the ice.  The ice will then prevent any further runoff from emptying into the gutters.  Instead, the runoff will back up the roof, going under the shingles, eventually finding its way into the house.  The damage inside the house could be water damage to the ceiling or wall, in addition to causing rot on framing.  On the outside, it can damage shingles and can cause the gutters to pull away from the house.

Many people think that heat tapes, which are sold in hardware stores, are a way to prevent the ice dams.  While the tapes may prevent ice from forming in the gutters, it doesn’t prevent the ice dam.  It only pushes the ice damn further up the roof.

The one solution to ice dams is a cold roof.  If you have insufficient insulation in your attic, heat from your home will come into the attic, and warm your roof.  This is how the ice dam process works.  However, if your attic is well insulated, the heat in your attic will be minimal.  This will allow the snow on the roof to melt slowly and evenly.  In addition to the proper insulation, adequate ventilation is essential, coming either from the soffit venting, or gable venting.

Proper insulation will not only lower your utility bills, it prevents the damage that can be caused by the ice dams.

Cold Air Returns – Ask THE Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

An inspector told me that I need more fresh air ventilation in my furnace room.  How do I go about taking care of this?

Basically, this all has to do with your gas furnace.  Your gas furnace operates on combustion, or igniting of the natural gas.  All combustion requires oxygen.  So, what your inspector is telling you is that you don’t have enough combustion air around your furnace.  As some furnaces get their fresh air from outside, those that don’t require a large open area in order to get this fresh air.  If your furnace room is too small, you need to get more combustible air into the room.

The easiest way to do this is to install cold air return grills either in the door to the furnace room, or on one of the walls.  Usually, inspectors like for a grill to be installed at the lower portion of the door or wall, as well as the upper portion.  So, you’re going to need to get two grills.

It is up to you as to where you install the grills, on the door or the wall.  Installing them on the wall is easier if you have drywall instead of plaster.  For installation on a wall, choose an area near the furnace and start at about 1 foot from the ceiling.  Measure the outline of the return grill onto the wall and plan to cut the drywall about one inch less than the dimensions of the grill.  Cut out the drywall, mark the location of the holes for securing the grill, then install anchors such as zip-its into the drywall, then secure it.  Do the same for the lower area, having the lower portion of the grill about one foot off the floor.

If you’re installing the grills on the furnace door, remove the hinge pins and put the door on a saw horse.  Mark the locations for the grill as noted above, then cut the holes.  For this, you’ll need a jig saw.  When you’re done, you may decide to install a grill on the inside  portion of the door as well, because of the way it looks.  There isn’t a requirement for this, but it will make the finished job look better.