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.

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

Healthy HomesAs winter settles in, we spend much more time indoors.  The cold and flu season begins.  When you combine the two, we can be in for a dreary time, especially for those with asthma or allergies.  Being confined indoors means that if there are any triggers of allergies or asthma inside the home, we are being confronted with them even more than normal.   Think about the fact that young children spend 70% of the time in their home.

A few weeks ago, we ran the article concerning the Healthy Homes program, where we focused on the first principle of Healthy Homes, Keep it Dry.  The second principle, which we’ll discuss here, is Keep It Clean.  While we all want to think that we keep our homes clean, it makes even more sense that if we are spending the winter indoors, we want the home to be as clean as possible.  By Keeping It Clean, we reduce our exposure to chemical contaminants, allergens, pest droppings, pesticides and consumer chemicals.

Dust can come from home-grown items such as dust mites or lead dust, or can be resident-made, such as garbage and clutter.  Either way, cleaning is essential.  It is suggested that dry dusting or dry sweeping is not the best way to clean.  Experts recommend vacuuming with a low-emission vacuum with a beater bar, or wet cleaning, using elbow grease, and being certain to frequently change the water.  Using a vacuum that has good filtration and a HEPA air filter is best.  Of course, keeping the dust out can begin at the door by installing a dust walk-off system and taking your shoes off when entering.  Having cleanable flooring is much better than carpeting.  Dust is harder to remove from carpet, and the older the carpeting is, the more difficult it is to clean.  If you are going to clean your carpet, steam cleaning is better than chemical cleaners or shampooing.

When cleaning, consider more natural cleaners.  For example, if you use an air freshener, understand that most commercial air fresheners do not freshen the air.  Instead, they mask one odor with another, coat your nasal passages with an undetectable oil film, or even diminish your sense of smell with a nerve-deadening agent.  Instead, try one of the following: open your windows for a short period during the day (even in winter); cinnamon and cloves boiled in water creates a fragrant smell; potpourri,  or pure essentials oils added to water and left sitting out. 

For an all-purpose cleaner, consider using baking soda (4 tablespoons dissolved in 1 quart of warm water).  It makes a good general cleaner.  Vinegar and salt mixed together is a good surface cleaner.

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, education, and support.  Their educational programs and recourses reach families, schools, and nurses all over the Greater St. Louis area. (www.aafastl.org).

Keeping the house clean will go a long way in helping you survive the winter.  Be careful however, this could be addicting!

Power Washing a Deck – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

power washingI’m thinking of refurbishing my deck.  Should I power wash it first, or use the deck cleaning products?  My house is in need as well.

Great question.  I am a believer in power washing.  If your deck has not been stained in about 2 years, power washing will get the dirt out like you won’t believe.  There are some that do not recommend power washing a deck, but I believe power washing will do a better job than the cleaners, with less effort.  However, it does take some practice to use a power washer.  You don’t want to use a spray nozzle with a tip that is less than 20 degrees spray.  If you do, it can scratch the wood and leave marks.  Use a wide spray, and after practice, you will get the feel.  Sometimes, you will need to have the nozzle closer than 12” to the wood, but as long as you are using a wide tip or spray, you shouldn’t have any trouble.  If you are planning on doing the work yourself, a power washer can be a good investment.  Just be sure to allow enough time to do the job correctly.

If your deck has mold on it, you may need to use a bleach solution.  Simply spray it on, let it sit for a few minutes, then power wash it off.  However, if you are power washing the vinyl siding of your home, and it has mold (usually on the North sides), do not let the bleach sit longer than 2 or 3 minutes.  If you do, it could discolor the siding.

The electric power washers are good, although generally not as powerful.  They are also much lighter if you should have to carry it.  I believe that you don’t have to buy the most expensive power washer, so do some research to see what is best for you.

After power washing your deck, be sure to let the deck dry for at least two days before applying a stain or sealer, and be sure to follow the directions of the stain manufacturer for the amount of time that is required afterwards where there won’t be any rain.

When power washing your home, a ladder may be needed.  If so, remember that the ladder will be wet, so use a great deal of caution.

Turn Your Shut-Off Valves On and Off – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis – Get It Done

Shut off valvesWe regularly remind people to occasionally turn their shut-off valves off and on.  A shut-off valve is one like you have below your toilet.  Not all, but most faucets, whether kitchen or bathroom, have shut-off valves.  You’ll also have some in the basement on your water  lines, as well as a valve to shut the water off for the entire house.

One reason we suggest you occasionally turn these valves is so that they don’t stick.  After a period of non-use, these valves can get so hard to turn that a wrench is required to turn them, and that can also lead to the handle breaking.  If you are having a faucet replaced, or replacing parts to your toilet, the water has to be shut off.  Or, if you have a sudden leak, you will want to quickly shut the water off to the toilet or faucet.  If you have a problem turning the valve at this point, your only option is to turn the water off to the whole house.  You’re then faced with having no water until the leak is fixed.

By occasionally turning these valves (including the whole-house shut-off valve), you can be sure that they are working properly and will shut the water off when you need to.  If you don’t have shut-off valves for your faucets, they can be added fairly easily, if you know to sweat copper pipes.

Occasionally, these shut-off valves can develop a small drip, especially after they have been turned off.  If this happens, tightening the nut behind the handle will usually do the trick.  Also occasionally, when you turn a valve off, it doesn’t completely stop the water.  In this case, the washer on the shut-off needs to be replaced.  If this happens, and you don’t know how to replace the valve, you can try taking just the stem of the valve from a new one and replacing it in the existing valve, as long as they are the same size.

By adding the turning of these valves to a regular household checklist, you will be certain that when needed, the valves will work as they are supposed to.  It would be a great way to start the new year in keeping up with your home.

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!

Recessed Lights Not Working – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

Recessed LightsI have several recessed lights that will go off every so often, then will come back on later.  It’s not the switch or the bulb, and they don’t go off or on at the same time.  Any ideas?

First of all, don’t worry.  I don’t think your house is haunted.  If I have to guess, I would imagine that this only happens in the hot months of summer.  If so, then we can assume that you have an insulation issue where it is surrounding the recessed light, causing it to get too hot.  There are two types of recessed lights to talk about regarding this issue.  There is an I. C. rating and a non-I.C. rated.  The “I.C.” stands for insulation contact.  In other words, if you have an I.C. rated light fixture, then it is ok to have insulation surrounding the light in the area above the ceiling.  If the light is not I.C. rated, then insulation should not be close to the light.  Even though a fixture may be I.C. rated, it can get overly hot.  What will happen at that point, is that the light will shut off.  Once the light has cooled, it will then come back on.

In your particular case, there are several options.  You could go up in the attic and move the insulation away from each light fixture.  However, if these lights are in a first floor ceiling and you have a 2-story home, this isn’t practical.  So, here are some alternatives.  First, make sure that you are not using halogen light bulbs.  The halogen bulb will produce a much higher temperature than an incandescent bulb. 

Next, make sure that the wattage of the bulb isn’t higher than what is recommended for the fixture.  If you remove a bulb, in the housing of the can light, you will see a note telling you what the highest recommendation of bulb wattage is.  If you are using the correct wattage, you might try lowering the wattage, so the fixture doesn’t get quite so hot.

Another simple recommendation would be to switch to the CFL (compact florescent bulb).  This will give off much lower heat than any of the other bulbs.

Get It Done

Checklists for Your Home – Ask THE Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

ChecklistEveryone should have a house check up list.  These are items which are looked at frequently around the house, at least once a year, and this checklist should be written down, so that you don’t forget.  Each month, we list items which you should do for the month, such as change furnace filters and change the batteries in your smoke detector.

While many people may have good intentions, sometimes these tasks may get put onto the back burner.  However, this can be very costly.  For example, each Spring, we repair a number of exterior faucets.  Do matter how many times we try to tell customers to disconnect their garden hoses, it sometimes just doesn’t get done.  So, in the Spring, when these faucets get turned on,  a sudden leak inside the house becomes a big deal.  Especially since the pipe is in the basement, and the person using the hose is outside.  You may not be aware of it until further damage is done.

Caulking and grouting of tubs is another area that some forget.  A $10 tube of caulk or grout can save a very expensive repair or remodel.  What usually happens is, water gets behind the wall at a grout joint (the masonry material surrounding the tile), or gets behind a gap in the caulking (the area around the base of the shower or tub).  When water gets behind and to the drywall, it will quickly become like wet cardboard.  Since the tiles are glued on to the drywall, they have nothing left to stick to, so they feel loose and will eventually fall off.  So, now you have to take out tiles, repair the drywall, then reinstall tiles.  A big problem occurs when you find that you can’t find any matching tiles, and reusing the old tiles doesn’t work out well, as you will be able to see where the repair was made.  So, instead of spending $10 in caulk or grout, you may be looking at thousands of dollars in renovating your bathroom.

That same $10 in caulk can save an expensive door.  When you are outside, looking at your door, look down at the threshold.  Where the jambs (side framing of the door) or side-lights meet the ground and threshold, there should be caulk.  If there isn’t, snow and water will sit there, and eventually rot that wood away.  Some entry doors are very expensive, so replacement would be a huge expenditure.

So, find an exterior and interior checklist and stick with it!  Twice a year you should go through the house with this list in hand.  It would likely take only 1 hour for both, but it could be well worth your time.

Get It Done

Before You Call the Professional – Ask THE Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

Calling PhoneWe receive so many calls from people with problems that have a quick and easy fix, and they are appreciative when we can help them over the phone.  Here are a couple of items that could save you from calling a professional.

If you have a couple of outlets in your home, and maybe some lights, that have suddenly quit working, it could be that a GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) has tripped.  These special outlets are now required anytime an outlet is near water, outside, or in the garage (and sometimes the basement).  Newer homes usually have several of these GFCI’s, but older homes may have one or more as well.  The outlet is designed to interrupt power anytime the current in the hot and neutral wire is not the same in both wires.  It does this in a fraction of a second.  While it stops the power to the individual outlet, depending upon the wiring, it may be connected to other outlets in the house (and sometimes lights as well), and cause these other outlets or lights to go off as well.  Normally, all you have to do is go around to each GFCI in the house, as well as outside, the garage, etc.,  and push the reset button at the GFCI to restore power. 

If you have a kitchen or vanity faucet that has low water pressure, or even no water coming out at all, check the aerator.  This is the last piece of metal on a faucet where the water comes out.  It normally will unscrew, and can be so filled with small deposits, that no water at all is able to come out.  These aerators should be cleaned every so often as a normal maintenance routine.  They can easily be replaced as well and cost about $10.

Have you ever woken in the middle of the night to hear water running in your pipes, as though someone had turned on a faucet, only to have it quit seconds later?  This could be what we call a  “ghost-flush”.   At your toilet, you have a flapper valve inside the tank (it is the part that is connected to the flush handle and chain, sitting at the bottom of the tank).  It is common for these flapper valves to become worn periodically, and no longer stop the water in the tank from escaping into the bowl.  If the water is escaping, once it goes down a few inches in the tank, the fill valve or ballcock in the tank calls for water, to fill up the tank to the normal level.  Since the water only went down slightly, as opposed to emptying completely as in a normal flush, the water sound you hear lasts only for a few seconds.  Replacing the flapper valve will take care of the ghost flushing, but we can’t guarantee that it will help you go back to sleep!

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