Covering Soffits – Ask THE Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

My house has open soffits, so that I see directly to the underside of the roof.  I am thinking of adding a soffit covering to make it look better.  Is this something an average person could do?

Covering the soffit of your house can really create a new appearance for your home, and it’s not too hard to do.  First, you need to determine whether you want a vinyl or aluminum soffit.  I prefer the vinyl for several reasons.  It is easier to work with, costs less, and will give a better appearance for a longer period of time compared to the aluminum.

Next, you need to choose the color.  Most hardware stores will carry white and one or two basic colors besides white.  Not only will you need the basic soffit, but you will need the vented soffit material as well.  This is because your attic is vented through holes along the soffit, so in covering the soffit up, you want to be sure that air can still get in, keeping the attic ventilated.  Along with the soffit material, you will need the inside and outside trim which will hold the soffit material in place.

The basic soffit material is 12” wide and 12’ long, so you will be cutting the material accordingly based upon the measurement from the house to the inside of the fascia board.  Most soffits are about 12”, so if that is true in your case, you’ll be cutting 12” pieces from the 12’ soffit material.  Start by installing the inside trim (going up against the house), using screws.  However, be sure not to screw the trim all the way to the house.  Leave about 1/8” of space, so that the vinyl can move slightly, as it will expand/contract slightly in different temperatures.  Screwing this screw in all the way will cause the vinyl to warp after a short time.

After the inside trim is completed, attach the trim which will go against the fascia board.  With that done, measure each piece of soffit, then insert it into the two pieces of trim.  The vinyl pieces will snap together, creating a locking system that will last a long time.  Be sure when you measure not to cut the piece too short, as this can lead to pieces coming down in a storm, if they aren’t secured properly.  About each 5 to 6’ of soffit, you should use the vented soffit material, for reasons mentioned above.

You will likely find that having a second person will make the job go quickly, as it won’t require moving your ladder quite as much.  However, if you do utilize a second person, don’t let them take the credit.  Keep that all to yourself!

Repairing an Outdoor Light Pole – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

I have an outdoor light pole that doesn’t work. Have tried new light bulbs and no luck. Any ideas on how to fix?


Outdoor electrical post lights are pretty basic, but there two different types which you first need to identify.  Is the light 120 volt or is it a low-voltage light?

A 120 volt light would use your standard wiring and be connected to your circuit panel box.  Another way you can determine if it’s a 120 volt is by looking at the light bulb.  Normally, this type of post light would have a regular light bulb, like you would screw into a lamp.  It could have a smaller base, such as a candelabra, but the bulb is a normal incandescent light bulb.

If there is a switch to turn the light on and off, be certain that the switch is working correctly.  A simple electrical tester will allow you to see if it is.  (See previous Home & Away article about testing a switch.)  If the switch is fine, or if there isn’t a switch, take the tester and touch one wire to the sides of the socket where the bulb goes in, and the other wire of the tester to the small tab at the bottom of the socket.  If you are getting a good connection, then it could be that the bulb isn’t making good contact with the bottom tab.  If you turn the appropriate circuit breaker off, you can then take a regular slotted screwdriver and gently pry up that small tab in the bottom of the socket, so that it will make better contact with the bulb.

Now, if you’re tester didn’t show a good connection, there is usually a small plate on the pole that you can remove.  Inside, you will usually see where the wires come up from the ground and connect to the wires from the head of the lamp post.  Try your tester with these wires as well.

If you have a good connection there, then you may have to get a new lamp post head, usually available through the hardware or lighting stores.  If you don’t have a good connection there, there could be a break in the line running into the house.  For this, call an electrician.

If the light is low voltage, there will be a small bulb (which is more like a bulb you would replace in your car).  You will also have a low voltage wire running underground into the house and this wire will be attached to a transformer, which will be plugged in to a regular household outlet.  The transformer is usually a small black box, which looks similar to the end of a cell phone charger that gets plugged in.  This transformer may be bad, but you’ll need a low voltage tester to find out.  This can get tricky, so you may want to consider calling the electrician to trouble shoot things.

Whether your post light is 120 volt, or low voltage, most lights have a dusk to dawn sensor in the post (a small round “eye”).  Many times, this can go bad, causing the light to stay on or off, regardless of the time of day.  A sensor for a 120 volt is easily replaced and available at hardware stores.  The sensor for a low voltage light is harder to find, but try some electrical supply stores for availability.  Both type of sensors can be changed easily and should come with specific instructions.

So, there really isn’t a single answer the question of how to fix it.  You have to go through a series of tasks to find out exactly what the problem is.  But once you fix it, your delight will be as bright as the post light!

Toilet Flapper Chain – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis – Get It Done

On one of my toilets, I have to hold the handle down in order for the toilet to flush all the way.  What do I need to do?

This can be a source of frustration, especially when nothing appears to be wrong.  There are a couple of possibilities, however, and the fix might be an easy one.

Inside the toilet there is a chain that connects the flushing handle to the “flapper” (the covering which is usually at the bottom of the tank where the water drains out).  Sometimes, the chain has too much play in it.  It should only have a small amount of slack.  If it has too much slack, the flapper may not raise up all the way when the handle is pushed.  If it doesn’t have any slack, it may not let the flapper rest all the way completely down.

In your case, it could be too much slack, so try adjusting it.  First, turn the water off to the toilet by closing the “shut-off valve” which is located under the toilet tank where the water comes out of the wall.  Turn the valve clockwise to stop the water flow.  Then unhook the pin at the end of the handle bar.  Put the pin down a few links in the chain (towards the flapper), making it slightly shorter in length.  Reinstall the “hook” or “pin” onto the end of the handle.  You’ll then need to turn your toilet shut-off valve back on, let the tank fill up, and see if this did the trick.  If not, you may need to adjust it a little more.

If the chain adjustment doesn’t completely fix the problem, there is one more thing to check.  Look at how the flapper is attached to the tank.  It should have either “ears” or a “ring” attachment.  The ears will be on either side of a tube which stands in the toilet – it’s the tube where the water goes down when the toilet is filling up.  These ears are small pieces that stick out slightly and the collar of the flapper fits into the ears.  A different way of attaching the flapper to this tube is by a ring on the flapper which goes over the tube and rests on the bottom.  Both the “ears” and the “ring” are designed to keep the flapper in place.    You should have one or the other.  If you have both, the flapper gets into a bind and won’t operate freely.   If that is the case, remove the ring and use only the ears.

Good Luck!

Digital Timers – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

I have yard lights that come on at dusk and turn off in the morning.  Is there any way to do this with the two lights at my front door?  They are controlled by a switch on the inside.

You have a couple of options here.  The first is the easiest and least expensive.  Hardware stores sell a product that screws into the socket where the bulb goes and has a built in dusk to dawn sensor.  Once you install it, you simply screw in the bulb into the new sensor unit.  There are some possible glitches though.  The new product takes up an extra couple of inches in height, and some light fixtures may not allow for this, as the bulb may no longer fit inside the fixture.  You’ll just have to give it a try.

The second possible problem is that since you have two lights, when one sensor comes on at dusk and turns the bulb on, the sensor on the other light can pick up the light rays from the first one, and this can cause the sensor to think it is daylight, causing the second one to stay off.  Sometimes, this can be resolved by simply screwing the product a little tighter or loosening it, moving the “eye” of the sensor away from the other light fixture.

A second option is to consider installing new light fixtures.  You can get fixtures that have dusk to dawn sensors built in, or ones that have motion detectors built in.  A motion detector fixture will only come on if there is movement in the proximity of the light, then will go off after several minutes.   But the same issue with the dusk to dawn feature as mentioned above still exists.

The third option will eliminate any of the above problems, and that is to replace your inside switch with a programmable digital timer switch.  These switches cost about $30 and will fit inside any box where a regular switch is.  Most stores will carry them in white or ivory.  To install these switches, follow the directions which come with it.  Basically, you’ll need to turn off the circuit breaker to the switch and lights, then remove the switch, making sure to note which colored wires go where, and replace it with the new digital timer.   Then simply follow the instructions for programming the timer.  Basically, it will allow your lights to come on at a designated hour, and go off whenever you want.  There is also an override feature on most models, which will allow you to turn the lights on or off manually.  The only thing you may want to do twice a year, is adjust the timing for daylight savings time.

As long as you’re not afraid of electrical tasks, and you follow the directions carefully, this is an easy project.

Gutter Issues – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

I’m having issues with my gutters.  Rain is falling over the front of the gutter and ruining my plants.  I clean the gutters once a year.   Any suggestions?

Guttering is one of those things that we take for granted, until there is an issue.  There could be several reasons for this run-off, but let’s start at the beginning.

Cleaning your gutters once a year may not be enough.  Twice a year should be the minimum, and if you have a lot of trees in your neighborhood, you may even need to clean them more often than that.  So, first clean your gutters.  Be sure to make sure the downspout is clear as well.  While you’re doing that, if you are able, use a hose to run water in the gutter.  See if the water runs toward the downspout, or if there is a pooling of the water somewhere in the gutter that doesn’t  drain toward the downspout.  If that is the case, your guttering may not have enough slope towards the downspout.

To reslope the gutter would be best left for the professional, but if you are so inclined, this would require taking out the fasteners of the gutter and making sure that the gutter has at least a ¼” drop every four feet.  If you reposition the gutter with this slope, you’ll need to install new gutter brackets, about every two feet.

Another cause for water to run over the front of the gutter could be due to a steep roof and heavy rain.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about that, but if the runoff is only occurring in a particular area, you may be able to install a “diverter” or “splash guard”, which is a small aluminum piece that is typically used at gutter corners.  It is installed on top of the gutter, standing up, and it helps catch the water and make sure it goes into the gutter, and not over the gutter.  Be sure to not only screw this diverter onto the gutter, but caulk under it as well.

Hopefully, this will take care of the problem and your plants will be happy!

New Doors – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis – Get It Done

I’m getting ready to move into my first home.  There are a lot of projects to do once I move in, but my first priority is to change the doors inside the home.  What are my options?

Congratulations on purchasing your first home!  Changing the doors in your home can make a huge difference in the appearance of the home, especially if the old doors are of the dark stained variety.

The options you have are many.  First is the style.  You can choose a 6-panel door (these are designed so that there are 6 raised “panels”, which give the door a sharp design.  In addition to the 6-panel design, there are several other similar designs, such as a 2-panel, 4-panel, raised arch design at the top, and many more.  However, if you decide for anything other than the 6-panel, you may have to special order the door, which will cost slightly more and take a week or more to get it.

In addition to the panel design there is a flush door, basically just flat, with no panels or moldings.  Generally, these are the less expensive of your style options.

Once you’ve chosen the style, the next decision to make is whether to get hollow-core or solid-core doors.  Most interior doors today are hollow core.  This means that there is a basic framing inside the door, but it is generally hollow on the inside, making it light weight, and much less expensive than a solid core door.  Since you are likely to have a number of projects to do in your new home, hollow-core doors will stretch your budget dollars.   However, if you plan on staining the doors instead of painting them, and you have chosen a 6-panel, you will have to get a solid-core door, as they don’t come in hollow-core.

Your next decision is to get pre-hung doors or slab doors.  A pre-hung door comes complete with the framing and casing.  A slab door is only the portion of the door that swings.  So, you could buy slap doors for your new home and keep the existing casing and framing.  However, if you don’t like the casing (the trim around the door) that you currently have, you might as well go with pre-hung doors.  If you are doing the installation yourself, pre-hung doors are also much easier to install.

You’re coming close to being done with the decision making, but there are still a few to go.  A 6-panel interior door will usually already be primed, saving you the trouble of priming it yourself.  But if you are going with a different type, you may have the option of having it unprimed or primed.  Obviously if you are staining the door, you won’t want it to be primed.

Next comes the casing style.  Normally today, doors are coming with 2 ¼” colonial casing, buy if you are special ordering the door, you can get whatever style you want.

A stop into the hardware store, or a door company such as Treecourt Builders Supply will show you all of the options you have and can give you a great feel for the different styles.