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

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?

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.

Healthy Homes – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

We recently moved into a new home, and I’m noticing a damp smell in the basement.  Also, my son seems to be experiencing more symptoms of his allergies.  Can this be related?

Great question!  I’ve recently been getting a number of calls regarding allergies and asthma related issues.  So many in fact, that I recently received training from the National Center for Healthy Housing, receiving their Healthy Homes Specialist credential and am partnering with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, St. Louis Chapter (AAFA-STL) to help get the word out on how our home environment can affect our family’s health.

The program consists of many different issues surrounding seven basic premises:

Keep it dry, keep it clean, keep it ventilated, keep it pest-free, keep it safe, keep it contaminant-free, and keep it maintained.     

Ignoring any one of these categories can cause issues that will affect allergy and asthma sensitive individuals.

As an example, if you are noticing a damp smell in your basement, chances are that water is penetrating the interior somehow.  Dampness in drywall, even cement, especially in a dark area, can lead to mold, which in itself can cause allergy symptoms in sensitive individuals.  In addition, if the area is moisture, it can also attract ants and other bugs, which can also trigger reactions.

Mold and moisture can affect individuals greatly, causing upper respiratory tract symptoms, coughing, wheezing, as well as asthma symptoms.  Keeping things dry is a key factor.

Through our recent training to become a certified healthy homes inspector in conjunction with AAFA-STL, 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 this year for anyone affiliated with or who mentions AAFA-STL when scheduling their appointment (normal value is $140).  What’s more exciting about this inspection is that for every five purchased, Get It Done is offering one hour of service to AAFA-STL clients.

AAFA-STL is a nonprofit organization 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, provides uninsured and underinsured children with life-saving asthma and allergy medications, equipment, education, and support.  Our educational programs and resources reach families, schools, and nurses all over the Greater St. Louis area. (www.aafastl.org)

Shower Ceiling Paint Cracking – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

The ceiling paint in my shower has started to crack and peel.  I’ve tried to touch it up with paint, but it only cracks and peels more when I try to paint it.  Any ideas?

If it helps, you are not alone in having this problem.  We see this type of situation far too often.  In most cases, the cause is that the ceiling was never primed before it was painted.  Because of this, the paint doesn’t bond to the drywall like it would if the drywall had been primed.  So, the rule of thumb is, never paint drywall, or even wood, without priming it first.  Yes, two coats of paint may cover the area, but it will never last like it should unless it was primed first.  A primer acts as a sealer and a bonding agent to hold the paint.

So, your first step is to scrape off the paint.  In most cases, you’ll find areas where the paint will come off very easily, but other areas will be very stubborn.  So, you’ll likely have to skim coat the ceiling, so that the surface will be even.  Get off as much paint as you can, then using a joint compound (commonly referred to as “mud”, skim coat the ceiling. (See previous articles on how to skim coat.)  Let this dry for 24 hours, then lightly sand the areas to get things smooth.  You’ll know if you need a second coat of mud after you’ve sanded the mud.  Be sure to have plastic over the tub and anywhere necessary, as there will be dust.

After your surface is even, prime the ceiling, using a roller for best appearance.  Let the primer dry, then paint the ceiling with whatever color you wish, again, using a roller, after you’ve cut in the edges with a brush.

Humidity in a bathroom can be very high due to showers, so it is always a good idea to have the exhaust fan running while taking a shower.  If possible, even let the fan run for about 10 minutes afterwards.

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Crown Molding Caulk Cracking – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

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.

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.

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How to Get A Straight Line When Painting – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

In painting, what is the best way to get a clean line along a ceiling or wall?

Great question!

There are a number of factors when painting in order to get a clean line, such as when painting a wall up to the ceiling. The first recommendation is to have a good brush. For interior work, I like an angled brush, as it allows getting into the corner easily, and a 1 ½ to 2 inch brush works well. Some people like a chiseled brush, which is more like an artist’s brush, rounded at the tip.

Although patience is a great thing to have in painting, so is a good steady hand. If you feel lack one or both of those skills, you might want to consider using painter’s tape. The typical painter’s tape is blue, available in different widths. Painter’s tape is similar to a regular masking tape, but the blue tape doesn’t stick permanently or take any of the surface off when it is removed.

In my early painting experiences, I tried cutting in with just a brush, but I wasn’t satisfied with my results. I therefore switched to using the painter’s tape. However, I became even more frustrated with this, because when pulling the tape off, I found too many occurrences where the paint got behind the tape. This causes extra work in wiping it off and then touching up the area where I didn’t want the paint to go. So, I went back to the brush only, forcing myself to learn the skill.

However, we have just run across a new painter’s tape that we’ve tried out, and have found that it works well. It’s called FROGTAPE, (www.frogtape.com) and is available at Home Depot and Lowes, and perhaps other stores. The tape is green, so you won’t get it confused with the typical blue tape. The reason we’re liking the FROGTAPE is because it is treated with what they call a paint block. As paint is applied to the tape, a polymer on the tape absorbs the water in latex paints, expanding the edge of the tape and creating a barrier. Therefore the paint doesn’t get under the tape. The manufacturer states that the paint was created for latex paints, so if you’re using an oil based paint, beware. The only drawback I’ve found in using this is that at times I had trouble making it stick, so it took more time to get it in place.

As with any painter’s tape, it is best not to leave it in place for too long after the job is done. If the paint has dried, you might be pulling up paint along with the tape. So, it is best to take the tape off before the paint is dry. Be careful removing it wet, however; don’t let the tape touch any other surface, or you may be spending more time doing touch ups.

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Removing Stars from the Ceiling – Get It Done Ask The Handyman

When my kids were younger, they put stars on their ceiling that glowed in the dark. They were attached with an adhesive. The stars are falling off now and the adhesive is hardened and impossible to remove. I am afraid to try any of the products that remove sticky products because they are usually oily. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Oh, what we will do for our kids’ pleasures!

I have been in your situation myself, and I know what you are about to go through. However, the stars that we used were self-sticking, so they were somewhat easier to remove that what yours might be. Since I haven’t seen the room, let me give you a few options.

First, you might try a product called Goo-Be-Gone, or a similar adhesive remover. It is readily available in hardware stores. It will take grease and adhesive off, although it does require some scrubbing effort. This may leave spots but I’ll address how to deal with that later.

For another option, try using a stiff spackle knife to get under the adhesive and pop it off. It may or may not tear the paper of the drywall off as well, but this can be dealt with later.

Since you mentioned that some of the stars are falling off, hopefully the process will be an easy one. Once they are all off, I would recommend cleaning the ceiling with TSP (readily available at paint and hardware stores). Be sure to wear gloves while cleaning the ceiling, as well as lots of plastic to cover the floor and furniture.

If the removal of the stars has torn any of the drywall paper, you will need to do some skim coating to get everything smooth. For this, go back to the July 5 edition of LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE (which can be accessed on line at http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/lifestyle/stories.nsf/homedecor/story/7D6D3FD74B2ECF0A86257475005095BA?OpenDocument).

Next, prime the ceiling with a primer. A primer looks and is applied the same as a paint, but this will seal the ceiling and any leftover adhesive. After this, you’re ready to paint.

If your kids are still at home, perhaps you can elicit a little elbow grease from them on this project. But if they’re grown you can simply forward a copy of this article to them as a reminder of the efforts we continue to give on their behalf!

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Ceiling Stain – Ask THE St. Louis Handyman Get It Done

I have a question for the “Ask the handyman” column.  I just noticed a brown stain on the ceiling of my kitchen.  Does my roof need to be replaced?  Thanks so much for listening. S.M. in Fenton, MO.

Time to put on you sleuth hat and play detective.  Before you consider putting on an entire new roof, we want to try and isolate the cause as much as possible.  The problem could be the roof, a leak from a bathroom (if you have a second floor), or a vent boot which needs to be caulked.

The first thing to do is take a pencil and trace around the stain.  This will help you to discover if the leak is growing as we try to isolate it.  If the leak only happens when someone is using the bathroom upstairs, then you can easily explore the source by tracking when it happens.  However if the leak expands when it is raining, we will need to look at the roof.

You may want to start with a visual inspection.  Look at the shingles for cracks, raised edges, etc.  This could be a sign that a new roof is needed.  A typical roof will last between 15 and 20 years.  If you suspect a new roof is needed, call several roofing companies for estimates.

If your roof looks like it’s in good shape, then you want to check the vent boots to see if the leak is coming from there.  Usually in the back of the house, there are one or more pipes which come through the roof and extend up about one foot (they are usually between 2” and 4” in diameter).  These are vents from your interior drain pipes and allow proper ventilation and drainage.

Where they go through the roof, there is flashing around the pipe, called a “vent boot”.  Sometimes this flashing needs to be caulked or replaced.  Try using a clear silicone caulk or roof cement if you see a crack.  If the “boot” needs replacing, they are available at the larger hardware stores, and usually come in different sizes, but some are adjustable for a range of sizes.

The best way to install a new vent boot is to remove a few shingles around the boot flashing, lower the new boot over the old one, caulk it down, and then reattach the shingles.  I’ve even seen the new boot installed directly over the old one without removing shingles and just caulking it in place.

Once you’ve corrected the source of the problem, leave the ceiling stain a little longer to make sure the issue is resolved.  Then you can touch it up with a stain killer and paint and it should look good as new.

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THE St. Louis Handyman

Get It Done THE St Louis Handyman “Ceiling Stain”

I have a question for the “Ask the St Louis handyman” column.  I just noticed a brown stain on the ceiling of my kitchen.  Does my roof need to be replaced?  Thanks so much for listening. S.M. in Fenton, MO

Time to put on you sleuth hat and play detective.  Before you consider putting on an entire new roof, we want to try and isolate the cause as much as possible.  The problem could be the roof, a leak from a bathroom (if you have a second floor), or a vent boot which needs to be caulked.  Check this out before contacting a St Louis Handyman.

The first thing to do is take a pencil and trace around the stain.  This will help you to discover if the leak is growing as we try to isolate it.  If the leak only happens when someone is using the bathroom upstairs, then you can easily explore the source by tracking when it happens.  However if the leak expands when it is raining, we will need to look at the roof.

You may want to start with a visual inspection.  Look at the shingles for cracks, raised edges, etc.  This could be a sign that a new roof is needed.  A typical roof will last between 15 and 20 years.  If you suspect a new roof is needed, call several roofing companies for estimates.

If your roof looks like it’s in good shape, then you want to check the vent boots to see if the leak is coming from there.  Usually in the back of the house, there are one or more pipes which come through the roof and extend up about one foot (they are usually between 2” and 4” in diameter).  These are vents from your interior drain pipes and allow proper ventilation and drainage.

Where they go through the roof, there is flashing around the pipe, called a “vent boot”.  Sometimes this flashing needs to be caulked or replaced.  Try using a clear silicone caulk or roof cement if you see a crack.  If the “boot” needs replacing, they are available at the larger hardware stores, and usually come in different sizes, but some are adjustable for a range of sizes.

The best way to install a new vent boot is to remove a few shingles around the boot flashing, lower the new boot over the old one, caulk it down, and then reattach the shingles.  I’ve even seen the new boot installed directly over the old one without removing shingles and just caulking it in place.

Once you’ve corrected the source of the problem, leave the ceiling stain a little longer to make sure the issue is resolved.  Then you can touch it up with a stain killer and paint and it should look good as new.

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THE St Louis Handyman