Healthy Homes – Keep It Safe – Ask The Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

Healthy HomesThis year, we’ve run articles on the Healthy Homes Program, where we focused on the principles of Healthy Homes: Keep It Dry, Keep It Clean, Keep It Pest Free, Keep It Ventilated.  The next principle to discuss is Keep It Safe.

Safety around the home is something that we think is common in every home, yet injuries are the leading cause of death and disability among children and young adults.  Injuries are not accidents.  They are preventable.  Of these injuries, falls are the leading cause (33%), followed by poisoning (27%), and fires and burns (18%).  Safety is the reason that most municipal governments have required codes for homes, such as a smoke detector in every bedroom, handrails required for stairs and deck steps, anti-tilt devices for ovens.  Even ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI’s) are designed and required in order  to prevent injuries.  These codes go a long way in helping to keep a home safe. 

There are however, many areas where it is up to us.  For example, if you have young children and you open your windows, do you have a window safety guard?  Do you lock up your medicines or household chemicals?  82% of homes have medicine in unlocked drawers and 69% of homes with young children have chemicals in unlocked areas.  Any product that has a label that says warning, danger, or caution should be in a secure location or locked away.  Too often, peoples store products like drain opener under the kitchen sink, where it is easily accessible.

When we hear about injuries or deaths around the home, it may seem incredible that preventative actions weren’t taken, but sometimes we just don’t realize there is a potential problem.  For example, a household with no children really doesn’t need safety locks on drawers or doors, or covers for electrical outlets.  However, if there are grandchildren that visit the home, this could be a problem.  If you should ever see a potential problem in a friends home, be a friend, and let them know about it. 

Through our recent training to become a certified Healthy Homes inspector, in conjunction with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation St. Louis Chapter, we have developed a 65-point, whole house inspection for families who deal with allergy and asthma issues to help identify and remedy environmental issues that cause problems.  We’re offering this inspection at a reduced rate of $90 for the next month for anyone affiliated with, or who mentions the AAFA-STL when scheduling their appointment (normal value is $140).  What’s more, for every 5 inspections performed, Get It Done is offering one hour of service to AAFA-STL clients.

Healthy Homes – Keep It Ventilated – Ask the Handyman St. Louis – Get It Done

Healthy HomesA few weeks ago, we ran  articles concerning the Healthy Homes program, where we focused on the principles of Healthy Homes, Keep it Dry, Keep it Clean, and Keep it Pest Free.  The next principle, which we’ll discuss here, is Keep It Ventilated. 

Most likely, you never think of your home as being a ventilated system.  However, homes are indeed designed for proper ventilation.  Vents are designed into homes to bring fresh air in, and let the old air out.  This is usually done through gable vents or soffit vents letting the new air in, and the roof vents (in one form or another) letting the old air out.  Because the roof vents are typically higher up than the gable vents, as hot air rises, it will escape through the roof.  This keeps your home ventilated.  However, more is going on than just letting the heat out of the attic.  By having a well ventilated home, you are allowing the removal of moisture, odors, and pollutants from your home.  Keep in mind that pollutants are up to five times higher inside the home than outside. 

Consider your furnace, hot water heater, and stove, and clothes dryer.   If they are gas, they must be vented to the outside.  This will help reduce carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.  Even though these items are vented, it is still a good idea to have a carbon monoxide detector/alarm.  Each year, there are over 500 deaths from carbon monoxide in the home, and more than 15,000 non-fire related healthcare visits. 

In addition to the appliances mentioned, bathrooms should also be vented.  Local code requires a bathroom exhaust fan which is vented to the attic or outside in every bathroom, unless there is an operable window.  This is not only for odors, but moisture issues as well.  Is your exhaust fan working properly?  An easy test is to take a few sheets of toilet paper and hold it up to the exhaust fan when it is turned on.  If the paper stays at the fan opening, then you know air is being sucked out as it should.  These fan coverings should occasionally be vacuumed. 

Professionals recommend occasionally opening windows in your home, even and especially in the Winter, to get rid of the stale air in the home.  You want air circulation to give you that exchange of air.  New energy efficient furnaces  take the air from outside, heat it, and then force it into the home.  Furnace filters are made to trap particles.  As the health factors are becoming easily recognized, we now have minimum efficiency ratings (MERV) on our furnace filters.  The National Center for Healthy Housing recommends at least a MERV 8 filter.

Proper ventilation plays an important role in maintaining health, removing humidity and diluting or removing contaminants. 

Through our recent training to become a certified Healthy Homes inspector, in conjunction with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation St. Louis Chapter, we have developed a 65-point, whole house inspection for families who deal with allergy and asthma issues to help identify and remedy environmental issues that can cause problems.  We’re offering this inspection at a  reduced rate of $90 through the end of May for anyone affiliated with, or who mentions the AAFA-STL when scheduling their appointment (normal value is $140).  What’s more, for every 5 inspections purchased, Get It Done is offering one hour of service to AAFA-STL clients.

AAFA-STL is a nonprofit organization that has been serving the asthmatic and allergic needs of the St. Louis community for over 31 years.  AAFA-STL’s medical assistance program, Project Concern, provided uninsured and underinsured children with life-saving asthma and allergy medications, equipment,

Healthy Homes – Keep It Pest Free – Ask the Handyman St. Louis – Get It Done

Healthy HomesNationally, 1 in 15 people have asthma. In Missouri, almost 9% of children have asthma , and in St. Louis, the figure is 1 out of 5!  Asthma is the #1 reason children visit the emergency room and the #1 reason children are hospitalized.

Recent articles concerning The Healthy Homes program discussed the first and second basic principles, Keep It Dry and Keep It Clean.   Continuing in our series is the third principle, Keep It Pest Free.

While it makes sense to keep out unwanted pests, we may not realize what the presence of pests can mean.  Between 1980 and 1994, the prevalence of asthma increased 75% overall.  Some of the pests associated with asthma or asthma symptoms include dust mites, cockroaches, and mice dander.  According to a 2007 American Housing Survey, overall 5.5% of homes had signs of mice in the past in the past three months.  The presence of pests is two-fold.  First, no one wants cockroaches or mice in their home.  So, in an attempt to get rid of the bugs or mice, we use pesticides.  This may or may not take care of the pest, but its use may be causing another problem.    The health effects associated with pesticides include: eye, nose, throat irritation; skin rashes, stomach cramps, nausea; central nervous system damage; kidney damage; and increased risk of cancers.  Overall, almost half of all households with children under five stored pesticides within reach of children. In 2007, Poison Control Centers reported 16,000 pesticide exposures requiring treatment.

So, what are we to do?  First, keep them out!  Block any pest entries, passages, and hiding places.  Second, reduce the availability of their food.  Don’t leave dishes in the sink overnight and keep food stored in plastic containers or bags.  If you already have mice, be sure to empty your kitchen trash nightly.  Clean up the crumbs, and never leave grease out overnight.  Use traps and appropriate pesticides.

Be careful when using pesticides, as many are toxic, even those designed for home use.  Never use a spray pesticide or fogger.  Instead, use baits and powders, such as gel baits, traps, and borate powder.  Be sure to keep even these items away from children and pets.  Good spots are next to walls, baseboards, under sinks, in cabinets, and near plumbing fixtures.

Through our recent training to become a certified Healthy Homes inspector, in conjunction with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation St. Louis Chapter, we have developed a 65-point, whole house inspection for families who deal with allergy and asthma issues to help identify and remedy environmental issues that can cause problems.  We’re offering this inspection at a  reduced rate of $90 through the end of January for anyone affiliated with, or who mentions the AAFA-STL when scheduling their appointment (normal value is $140).  What’s more, for every 5 inspections purchased, Get It Done is offering one hour of service to AAFA-STL clients.

AAFA-STL is a nonprofit organization that has been serving the asthmatic and allergic needs of the St. Louis community for over 31 years.  AAFA-STL’s medical assistance program, Project Concern, provided uninsured and underinsured children with life-saving asthma and allergy medications, equipment, and more.

Recaulking Crown Molding & Baseboards – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

Cracked CaulkI have lived in my home for over 20 years, the house is about 30 years old.  I have just started noticing that there are gaps above and below my crown molding in one room, and gaps around the baseboard and window in another room.  Is my house settling and what can I do?

Good news and good news.  I don’t think your house is settling.  The tell tale signs of settling would be cracks in the drywall or plaster near windows and doors, along with doors becoming hard to open and close.  The other good news is that you can likely take care of this yourself.

When crown molding, baseboard, and casing for doors and windows are installed, they are caulked (except for stained items).  The caulking hides any gaps and creates a nice, finished look.  After years of expansion and contraction due to temperatures, the caulking can, and usually will, separate, showing the gap it was covering.  Recaulking the molding or door is relatively simple.  A caulk gun will cost about $5 and a tube of caulk between $5 and $10, depending upon the type you purchase.   You’ll also want to have paper towels or a rag available. 

There are different types of caulk.  A latex caulk will be the least expensive and will work well, but it turns hard after  a while (not a particular problem by itself, only when trying to remove it).  Also, a latex caulk is not flexible, so when the weather has things expanding and contracting, the caulk may split, causing you to do the job again in a few years.  A solution for this would be to use a silicone caulk.  This caulk will remain flexible forever.  If your baseboard or area you’re caulking is going to be painted over or touched up (anything that is not white), be sure to get a caulk that is paintable, as not all caulks are.

There is a little bit of an art to caulking, but there is also a little trick.  The trick is to apply only small amounts of caulk at a time.  Nothing will make more of a mess that having too much caulk in the area you’re trying to caulk.  So, when you have the new tube of caulk, only cut a small amount of the tip off.  If you find that no caulk will come out of the gun, make the cut slightly larger, but only a little at a time.  When you have it right, begin by placing the tip along the top of the baseboard and begin pulling the trigger slowly.  As the caulk begins to come out, move the caulk gun along the area.  Once you get the hang of it, you can move the caulk gun back and forth, working the caulk into the gap.  Once you have the caulk down, here is the other trick.  Use your finger to smooth out the caulk.  Just wipe it along the area and you’ll quickly see how much of a difference this makes.  However, this is also where the paper towels come in.  You’ll have to wipe your finger off of all the caulk frequently.

Once you have the area caulked, depending upon the color of the molding or wall, you may want to do some touch up painting over the caulk.  Another trick, if you aren’t a very good painter: use a small artist brush and take your time.

Good going, now start on the other rooms!

Adding Attic Insulation – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

Installing Insulation in the Attic

I think I’m finally ready to do something about adding to my attic insulation.  How do I begin and how much do I need?

– John P.  Arnold, MO

The cold weather is bringing many questions such as yours.  Checking your attic insulation for the correct R-factor is easy to do, and adding additional insulation is also easy.

With a flashlight and tape measure, go in to your attic and measure the depth of the insulation.  If it is a loose fill cellulose, you multiply the depth of insulation by 3.5.  So, if your depth is 8”, you have an R-factor of 28.  Iif you have a fiberglass batt (fiberglass that has been rolled out), multiply by 3.2 per inch.  So, if you have rolled fiberglass insulation, and it is 8” deep, your attic has an R-factor of 25 (3.2 x 8).  Most experts would recommend having an attic R-factor between 40  to 50.

If you need to add more insulation, there are basically two types of insulation to choose from.  One is to use a loose cellulose type, which requires a blower (and is usually rented free with a certain number of bags of insulation).  However, this also requires a second person to help with the blower.  The other  type of insulation that is readily available is the fiberglass batts.  This type can be done with one person.

If using the loose cellulose, the blower is placed outside and a hose is run through the house up to the attic, where someone will be dispensing the insulation as it comes through the hose.  The person outside has the job of filling the hopper with the insulation.  If you are wanting to increase the R-factor of your attic by 20, you’ll need to add about 6 inches more.  The person in the attic does need to be careful of distributing the insulation in an even method, so that there aren’t any raised piles.  They also need to be sure not to get the insulation too close to the perimeter, where gaps are needed for proper air flow.

If you’re going to use the fiberglass batts, be sure to use the “unfaced” insulation.  This is the type that does not have a Kraft paper on one side.  This paper serves as a moisture barrier, but since you already have one on the insulation when the house was built, adding a second barrier will only collect moisture, so be sure NOT to use the fiberglass insulation which has one side with Kraft paper.  Laying the batts down is simple, but be sure to lay them perpendicular to the existing rolled insulation, or across the floor joists.  In both cases, be sure to wear long sleeves, have a respirator mask and gloves, along with some sort of utility knife (if using the batts).

After adding insulation, you will probably notice the difference is the summer as well as the winter.  There are many other things you can do to seal your attic and home, but this will help the most.

Time: About 4 hours for an average attic
Difficulty:  Easy
Materials:  Gloves, respirator mask, utility knife, proper insulation (and blower if needed), flashlights or light stand, measuring tape.

How To Fix Cracked Caulking – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

Caulking Crown Molding

I’ve recently noticed that the crown molding in my home has a gap at the top where it was caulked. It hasn’t done this before.

-R. Q., St. Louis

After crown molding is installed, it is caulked at the top and bottom, to hide the gap. Occasionally, this may need to be recaulked. The changes in temperatures will cause the caulk to expand and contract, especially if this area is along an outside wall. In addition, if the caulk has been there for a number of years, it just may be time to recaulk the area.

In some cases, if the gaps are minor, the caulking can just be touched up, or applied over the old caulk, without having to remove any of the caulk. This makes the job much easier. In applying new caulk, it is best to use a caulk with silicone, as it will stretch somewhat, helping withstand the temperature variations. If your current caulk is white, you may not need to touch the area up with paint after the caulk is applied. However, if the crown molding is a different color and the caulk was painted, you’ll need to make sure that you use a paintable silicone caulk.

If you have to remove the old caulk, begin by laying a drop cloth on the floor, then use a razor knife to cut the old caulk out. Be careful not to cut into the drywall or the crown molding itself. Once the caulking is out, you’re ready to add new caulk. If you haven’t caulked before, a word of caution: apply a minimal amount of caulk when you begin. Applying too much caulk (cutting too much off the caulk tube nozzle) will create a mess and will cause more work at the end, along with the job not looking professional. After the caulk is applied, run your finger along the joint to smooth it out. Although this may not be clean and fun, this finishing touch is what makes the job look good.

Let the caulk dry, and if needed, you’re ready to paint the caulk. If you’re not great at painting such a small line, consider using an artist’s brush. It can make things much easier and neater.

Materials: Caulk, caulk gun, paper towels, razor knife, step ladder, drop cloth
Time: Between ½ hour and 2 hours per room
Difficulty: Easy