Disconnect Your Garden Hose – Ask THE Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

HoseIn your “Monthly Maintenance Reminders”, you recommend that garden hoses be disconnected during the winter season.  Why is that?

Great question!  When you use your hose and turn the spigot off, there is still water in the wrapped up hose, including some water still in the line going to the spigot.  During the colder temperatures, this water can freeze, causing the water in the pipes to crack.  In cases where you have a “frost-free” spigot, you may not know there is a problem until you turn the hose back on.  The crack on the frost-free spigots usually occurs behind where the washer is, which is on the inside of the house.  Then,  once you turn on the spigot, the water proceeds to where the crack is (on the inside of your home), pouring water into the house.  On a spigot that is not frost-free, you may notice the crack in the lines right away.

By removing the hoses, there is no water that is able to enter into the pipes.  However, it is always a good idea if you have a shut-off valve for the spigot on the inside of your home, to turn this valve off during the winter.  If you don’t have a shut-off valve for the spigot, one can be installed.  Unless you are competent in plumbing, this is best left to a professional.

If you have an older home which doesn’t have a frost-free faucet, you can change the spigot to a frost-free.  However, in our experience, we replace more frost-free faucets than we do the older spigots, but this could be that people think they can leave their hoses connected.   If you want to update your spigot to  a frost-free faucet, I would suggest contacting a professional.

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Wire Shelf Repair – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

ShelvingI have a wire shelf in my closet that is pulling away from the wall.   Should I just stop putting things up on the shelf or get a new shelf?

It is not unusual for this to happen.  Most of the time, this is due to a combination of too much weight on the shelf along with improper installation.  As long as the shelf isn’t bent, it can be reused and you can make it stronger than before, allowing you to put a reasonable amount of weight on the shelf.

There are three different areas where the shelf might be secured.  At the back of the shelf, the part that touches the wall, there are small brackets that hold the shelf to the wall.  It is best if the holes for the brackets are drilled into studs.  There are plastic anchors that go into the wall and then expand once the screw is tightened, (these usually come with a shelf), but this won’t have as much impact as the brackets that are drilled directly into the studs.  Since you may be starting over somewhat, I would recommend the bracket that has two holes (one above and one below the shelf) as opposed to a one-hole bracket.

Another type of support for the wire shelves is an angled bracket.  This bracket will attach to the front of the shelf, then angle down to the wall below the shelf.  It essentially gives added support to the front of the shelf.  Once again, the screws for the brackets should go into the studs.  Don’t use a plastic anchor that comes with the supports.  The angled brackets should be places about each 3 to 4 feet of shelving, but if you are going to have much weight on the shelf, or just want to never have to deal with this again, make it each 2 to 3 feet.

A third type of wire shelf support is the shelf end bracket.  These brackets are at both ends and support the front portion of the shelf into the side walls (not the back wall).  You may not have a stud at the location these brackets will go, so use an appropriate type of anchor and screw.

The use of all three types of brackets, screwed into the studs, will give you a solid shelf that under most conditions, won’t come out of the wall.  When the shelf is back on the wall, this may be a great time to look at the clothing you’re hanging back up, and decide to donate older clothing to a charity.  Not only will this feel good, but it will make your closet look less cluttered.

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Leak From the Ceiling – Ask THE Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

LeakI have a leak above my kitchen ceiling, but only occasionally.  How do I go about finding out the cause?

Homework!  Yes, it takes a little effort to determine the cause of a leak, but the time spent in doing so can save money.

Begin by determining what is above the leak.  Although water may not come down to the ceiling in a straight line, begin by assuming that it does.  If there is a bathroom above, there are several things to consider.  If the leak and ceiling stain are round in nature, this is a good indication that perhaps the wax ring on your toilet has failed.  To verify this, flush the toilet several times, then come down to the lower floor to see if water is leaking down.  If so, change the wax ring (about $10 in materials and about one hours time, although the toilet can be heavy).

If flushing the toilet did not cause the water leak, look under the vanity to see if there is any water on the floor.  As long as there isn’t, turn on the water to the vanity, then go back down to the area below and see if this brings any water.  If it does, you may have a leak in your drain behind the wall.   At this point, you should contact a professional.

If you haven’t found the leak yet, go to the tub/shower.  First, look for any gaps in the caulking (the area where the tub meets the wall) or small pin holes or gaps in the grouting (the grout is the material between the tiles).  If there is even the smallest of gaps or holes, try to aim the shower directly to that area, then go down and check for water.  It may take a few minutes, so be patient.  Most often in this situation, it is the caulk or grout that needs to be addressed.   Caulking or grouting can be done fairly easily, with materials less than $20 including the grout or caulk, as well as a caulk gun and grout float).  If you do the repair yourself and are afraid it won’t look great, do it anyway.  If the leak stops, at least you know where the source of the water was coming from.  You can then always hire a professional to come and make it look better.

If you still haven’t found the source of the leak, it’s time to start asking for help.  Many times a professional can give you advice over the phone.  If perhaps, there isn’t a bathroom directly over the area on the ceiling, try all of the above attempts at the nearest bathroom.  If you still can’t  get an answer, have a professional come in.  Most often, the first thing they will do is cut a hole in the ceiling in an attempt to see where the water is coming from.  Although this hole can be repaired, you may want to wait for at least a week or so, to be sure that the leak has been repaired.

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Washing Machine Hoses – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

HosesAre the newer washing machine hoses really worthwhile?

Great question!  Most washing machine hoses are a standard garden variety, made with rubber.  As any garden hose can wear out and split, so can washing machine hoses.  Imagine having your garden hose filled with water with the sprayer on the end turned off.  The hose will be under constant pressure, which is the same for your washing machine hoses.  A bubble or crack in the hose can lead to water filling your laundry room until the water is turned off, a terribly expensive thing to happen.

Instead of having the rubber washing machine hoses, you can replace them with stainless steel hoses, which aren’t susceptible to bursting.  Not only are the hoses inexpensive, but this is something that most anyone can do.  The hoses are available at hardware stores (about $20), and all that is needed for installation would be an adjustable wrench. 

Begin by turning off the washing machine water spigots, both hot and cold.  Then move your washer out slightly if you can’t reach where they are attached at the washer.  Unscrew the two hoses, both from the spigot and the washing machine.  Be careful, as the hoses will be filled with water.  Replace the old hoses with the new, stainless steel hoses.  Before scooting the washing machine back in, be sure to turn the spigots back on, run the washing machine for a minute and check for leaks.

Before you scoot the washing machine back into place, now would be a good time to clean your dryer vent.  The easiest way to do this is if you have an electric leaf blower.  If so, move the dryer out so that you have access to the back, or wherever the vent goes into the dryer.  Remove the vent by unscrewing the clamp over the duct.  Pull the duct out, but before going any further, go and check the exhaust vent on the outside of the house.  Sometimes people put screening over these, to keep rodents from entering.  If you have screening here, remove it for the cleaning.  Your leaf blower may be either too small or too large for the 3” or 4” dryer duct, so you may have to improvise, using duct tape or old rags around the leaf blower fitting, to prevent too much air escaping.  Turn on the blower for 20 seconds or so, then go outside and make sure the old lint is coming out of the exhaust housing.  If so, turn the blower back on and let it run for a minute or so. 

That’s it!  Your done.  Just reattach the duct to the dryer, move everything back into position, and mark this off your to-do list.

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Things to Know in an Emergency – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

EmergencyIn a recent article, we talked about emergency planning.  When the St. Louis storms hit, you really should be prepared.  We discussed flashlights, batteries, fire extinguishers, and extra food and water.  However, there are a few other things to know when the emergency happens.

Do you know where your whole house water shut-off valve is?  If you had a leak in a water line, with water going all over, what would you do (besides scream?)  The first thing to do is shut the water off to the entire house.  Normally, this shut-off valve is in the basement, and usually on the wall at the front of the house.  It is an old fashioned hose type handle, and you’ll be able to identify it by noting the water line that comes through the foundation (a single water line, not like the hot and cold lines that may run next to each other in other parts of the house).  Not only should you know where this is, but it is a very good idea to periodically turn this valve several times, to be sure that it turns as it should.  Too often, if not turned for a while, it can get stuck.  The last thing you want in an emergency like this is for it not to operate.  The same is true for the other valves in the basement, as well as those under the kitchen sink, vanities, and for the toilets. 

In an emergency, would you remember where your fire extinguisher is?  And when was the last time you checked the gauge to see if it is still charged (they don’t last forever)?  Would it be wise to have more than one?

Where is your fuse box or electrical panel?  If there were some sort of short, would you know what to do?  And, if a circuit breaker tripped and your basement lights were out as well, do you have a flashlight near the basement steps in which to see? 

All of these items may seem common sense, but when the time comes, you will be so glad that you took some precautions.

Water in the Basement – Ask THE Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

DrywallWith the recent rain, we got water in our basement, for the first time ever.  We think it may have been because we forgot to clean our gutters.  However, it did get the walls wet towards the bottom.  Do I have to take all of the wall out or only a portion of it? I am terrified of any mold possibilities. 

Sorry to hear about the rain in the basement.  Clogged or full gutters can certainly bring water into the house.  My guess is that you will never again forget to clean them.

You didn’t mention what your walls are covered with, whether it is paneling, drywall, or plaster, so let me address each.

For walls made of drywall, if the water was removed rather quickly, you may be able to just seal the area that got wet with a primer, then paint over it.  However, if there are any black spots, indicating mold, it is best to remove it.  Usually, if you go up about 6” above the highest water mark, you will be fine.  Just draw a horizontal line at the this height, then use a utility knife to slowly make your cut.  If you can do this in a straight line, it will be easier when the new drywall goes in.  Remove the baseboard molding, then knock a hole somewhere in the old drywall, so that you can begin removing it.  Every 12 to 16” in length, you will find that the drywall was nailed to a stud, so these nails will have to be removed. 

Once the drywall is removed, if you find any mold on the studs, these should be sealed with a primer.   If you are not familiar with the taping and mudding of the new drywall, it would be best to contact a professional.

If you have paneling on your walls, it won’t look very pretty of you just cut out the bottom, even if you have spare sheets that you can use.  You will have a cut line that will show, and even if you put some trim up to hide the cut, the trim will stand out, unless that trim is on all of the walls.  So, it is easier to replace the sheets of paneling.  The trouble you may run into however, is that if the paneling is older, you may not be able to find an exact match. 

If you have plaster walls, the water may not have done as much damage as it would have done to drywall or paneling.  However, if you are determined to have it taken out, it is best to let the professional do this.

Remember to clean your gutters!

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Ask Questions – Get Help – Ask THE Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

AirI recently had to make a decision regarding my air conditioning unit, which was out of freon.  As this is an area that I am not experienced, I knew that I had to find someone else.  (The last company I had used on my home had come to trouble shoot the air conditioner not working.  Within 10 minutes, a loose wire was found and all was good.  Imagine my discomfort when the bill, beside the diagnostic fee, was well over  $200.  I knew that this would not be the company I called for an estimate).

After searching Angies List, I found several companies to talk with.  They each came out and evaluated the situation, talked with me, and came up with a proposal.  With each person I spoke with, I gained new knowledge and felt better about making the correct decision.

We have zone air conditioning (one system for the main floor and another for the second floor), and both furnaces and air conditioners were of the same age, about 25 years.  Each person I talked with let me know that this was way over the age of the units.  So, I had choices to make.  Repair the unit or purchase a new one?  Then, did I want to replace both the air conditioner and the furnace?  And last, should I replace one or both systems?

It is at times like this that the professionals come through.  Professionals know that a consumer doesn’t know everything.  A good company will explain all that the customer wants to know and happily answer questions.  I am in the habit of telling customers that questions are encouraged.  The more my customer knows, the better I can give them exactly what they want.  Even after the person has left, never hesitate to give them a call with another question.  You will quickly find out how serviceable they are by how quickly they return the call.

Without going in to too much detail, air conditioners are rated by “Seer”,   The higher the Seer, the better.  Furnaces on the other hand are rated by efficiency.  Today,  furnaces can be up to 95% efficient, which means the system is going to do a better job for less money.

I found one company owner, Ken Ross of Total Comfort, that was just great.  He not only answered all my questions, but was happy to compare his thoughts to other companies that I had talked with.  In addition, Ken showed me that if I purchased a higher Seer, I would get rebates from the electric company, as well as the gas company for the furnace.  No one else had explained this, and it ended up saving hundreds of dollars.

Being in the service business, I enjoy meeting people and being of help.  Answering questions and informing customers is something I enjoy doing, and most people in the service business are the same way.  So, always remember, ask the questions!  If you don’t know what question to ask, simply have the person explain the nature of the product or repair.  The same is true with a simple visit to the hardware store.  Professionals enjoy sharing their expertise and helping others.

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Staining My Deck – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

StainI just moved in to a new home.  The deck apparently hasn’t been kept up to date as far as staining.  Is this something I can do myself?

Not only can you refresh your deck by yourself, you might even find it to be fun (well, maybe).  The first step in restoring the finish of a deck is to clean it.  There are a number of products available at the hardware stores and paint stores.  Basically, they combine cleaning agents and bleach.  A typical product requires spraying the liquid onto the deck, waiting a while, then brushing the deck and then rinsing.  For a deck which has not been cleaned  in a while, this process may have to be repeated.

An alternative to this would be to power wash the deck.  Power washers can be rented at some hardware stores, or a rental store that carries tools, ladders, etc.  This is where the fun happens, at least for me.  A few things to think about however: a power wash can be heavy, so you may need some help getting it into and out of your car; a power washer can damage wood and siding if you aren’t careful; be sure to use a tip on the wand which is suitable for decks.  It should have a 30 degree spread or more.  If the spread is lower than that, it can easily mark up your deck beyond a quick repair.  Please allow yourself plenty of time for this project.  Power washing a medium size deck can take all day.  Add more time for stairs, posts, and the outside portions.

Start in an area that won’t readily be seen, so that you can get the hang of it, and be sure to start by holding the wand about a foot off of the decking.  Once you get the feel of it, you can get the wand closer to the wood and the cleaning will go more quickly.  Take your time and be sure to achieve a uniform cleaning.  You will immediately see the dirt being removed from the wood.  In many cases, the color of new cedar wood will come through.  However, be aware that power washing will not take off any stain that was applied.  Therefore, when restaining the deck, you should go with a similar color of stain.

Once the deck is clean, you should wait for at least three days for the deck to dry.  I recommend talking with the experts where you buy your stain.  They will help you with a brush and roller and all the supplies you might need to apply the stain.  If by chance you have a patio below your deck, it would be a good idea to cover it with plastic, as the stain can drip down between the boards if you aren’t careful.  While staining, try to stain only an area that will let you follow the deck board continually until the end.  In other words, start with one or two boards and keep staining these boards until they end, rather than going across on several boards, then coming back and continuing.  This way, you won’t have areas on the boards that get two coats of stain, which will show when you’re done.

This next step is important.  As soon as your deck is dry (about 2 or 3 days), have a Bar-b-que with some friends so that they can see what a great job you did.

Trouble with Exterior GFCI – Ask THE Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

GFCIWhen 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).

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Vanity Drain Clogged – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

PtrapMy vanity sink drain get clogged on a fairly regular basis.  Is there anything I can do to prevent calling a plumber every time this happens?

A vanity drain is the most frequent drain clog to happen,  and fortunately, is usually the easiest to fix.

The simplest and quickest way to attempt to unclog a vanity drain is to start under the sink by locating the “pop-up” arm.  This is the device which raises and lowers the stopper.  Connected to this vertical arm is a horizontal rod that goes into the drain.  Just where it enters the drain is a retaining nut. 

Loosen this nut (it can usually be done with your fingers) and let the arm come out of the drain.  Now, above the sink, you should be able to lift the pop-up out.  When you do so, it may have a lot of hair and gunk attached to it. 

Do not use the sink to wash it out, as you have not yet connected the arm back to the drain!  Instead, use a paper towel to clean off as much as possible.  If need be, take it to another sink and wash it.

Next, use any type of hair removal/drain auger tool to see if there is still anything in the pipe that you can get to.  If you can’t get to it, or don’t have any type of auger/hair removal tool, you still may be able to get to it by going to the next step. 

Loosen the nuts on both sides of the p-trap.  This is the pipe that has a 180 degree bend under the drain.  Have a bucket under this pipe as you loosen the nuts and remove this pipe.  There will be water in it, so be careful to do it over the bucket. 

If there is debris in this pipe, take it to a different sink, one that does not use the same drain.  Wash the inside of the pipe out, but be careful not to let all this debris go down the drain.  Throw the debris away instead of letting it go back down another drain.

You’ve done it!  Put the drain back on, tighten the nuts, and put the pop-up rod back in and tighten that nut as well.  Keeping the bucket nearby, run water in the sink and make sure there are no leaks.

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