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.

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.

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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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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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Home Repair Book & Tools – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

Tool boxI’m just about to purchase my first home and want to be able to make minor repairs on my own.  I don’t want to spend a fortune on tools.  Can you recommend which ones I should invest in?

Congratulations on your home purchase.  No matter what the age of the house, there will always be something which needs to be done, and if you want to do as much as possible, tools will be a requirement.

One of the first things I suggest you purchase is a book for home repairs.  Home Depot has one, Lowes has one, and I know bookstores have a wide variety.  These books are invaluable in gathering information either for repairs or for project planning.  They will usually cover all of the basics, plus give you information on larger items which you probably will get a professional repair person for.  I would suggest getting one which has ample illustrations, as these can be extremely helpful.  You’ll learn how to fix a toilet, replace an electrical switch, and so many other things!

In getting yourself equipped with tools, I would make a couple of suggestions.   You could go and spend a lot on a tool chest filled with hundreds of pieces, but I would pass on this:   start with a few simple tools such as a small hammer , a good set of screw drivers,  an adjustable wrench (perhaps a smaller one and a larger one), pliers,  a drill, a tape measure, putty knife, safety glasses, and a utility knife.  You may want to get an inexpensive tool box as well. 

A couple of other things to think about are a step ladder, drop cloth, duct tape, a paint brush, extension cord,  a pair of work gloves, as well as a flashlight (at least one). 

When purchasing tools, you can get the cheapest or the most expensive.  My philosophy is if you’re not sure how much you’re going to be using the tool, then don’t start with the most expensive.  Spend less and if you find you’re using the tool all the time, you can then look to replace it, and at that point you’ll have a better idea of what you want.  I could go on and on about tools that you might want, but I think it best to start with the basics and add on as you go. 

If you have some large projects in mind, you don’t necessarily need to buy the expensive tools to get started.  Many hardware stores rent tools which you might need, such as a circular saw, tile saw, hammer drill, table saw, and pneumatic nail guns and compressors.  You will save a lot of money renting these items if you don’t think you’ll ever use them again.  And, you’ll have less clutter in your garage or workbench area. 

Good luck!

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Replacing a Screen – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

ScreenHow do I replace the screen in my sliding screen door?

Replacing a screen in a sliding door is similar to that of a window and can be easily done.  You’ll need to buy some screen, some spline, and a screening tool to work the spline and screen into the groove of the door or window.

First you have a choice as to what the screen is made of: aluminum or fiberglass.  Each one has its advantages.  The aluminum is slightly stronger, but if someone throws a ball or object against it, it may cause a wrinkle that won’t go away.  While the fiberglass isn’t quite as strong, it is more forgiving when tree limbs or balls hit it.  Although I prefer the fiberglass, each situation is unique.  If you have cats or dogs which scratch the screen, go with the aluminum, or possibly a third choice, pet screening.  Pet screening is great, but it is thicker, and may not fit into the groove of your door.

You’ll also have a choice of coloring:  either silver/aluminum or charcoal/black.  I prefer the charcoal as it doesn’t reflect the glare of the sun.

Before you buy your screen, take the old screening out, along with the rubber spline which holds the screen in.  First, take the door off the track by lifting it up slightly, inserting a screw driver or putty knife under the wheels, then pull the door out from the bottom.  You’ll want to lay the door onto a flat surface such as a deck, driveway, or a basement floor.

Then locate where the ends of the spline meet (or a place where it seems loose) and with needle-nosed pliers pull the spline out.  The old screening can then be lifted off the door frame. 

Take a piece of the spline with you to the hardware store, as there are several thicknesses and you want to have the same size.  You will also want to buy the spline tool which lets you roll the spline over the screen and into the groove along the perimeter.  Be sure to measure and take the dimensions of the screen with you.   A few inches should be added to the width and height when purchasing the screen.  You’ll trim off the excess when you’re done installing. 

Once you have your supplies you’ll be ready to GET IT DONE.  With the door off and the screen removed, lay the new screen over the frame of the door, overlapping it evenly on all sides.  Starting at one corner, take the spline and spline tool and work the screen and one end of the spline into the groove of the door.  Take your time and be careful not to cut the screen with the tool.  As you work the spline and screen into the groove, make sure that the screen is still somewhat even where it overlays the other sides of the door.  Continue this process all around the door until you reach the starting point.

All you have to do now is take a razor blade tool and cut off the excess screen.  When doing this, be certain to cut above the spline, not under it, or else you’ll be cutting the screen and will have to start all over, with new screen.  When you’re done, reinstall the door, go inside, sit down, and admire your beautiful screen.  You can also feel good knowing that you’re the talented person that made the repair!

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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!