Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Best Christmas Gift Ideas for DIYers

Ok, the economy is in the tank. Entry level Christmas trees have gone from last year's $19.95 to $29.95. Enough with Wall Street and the bloated auto industry, are we going to have to bail out the holiday festivity industry as well?

Let's hope it doesn't come to that. But whichever way the wind blows from now until Santa flies, people will buy Christmas presents. The question is what?

Hand Tools, Anyone?

I may not know a silk tie from a Garmin, but I do know tools. And what better to give a DIYer than a gift box of hand tools? Real estate is not moving just now, so it makes sense to fix up the home you've already got.

This is actually a good time for this because the big box stores like Home Depot usually put up some good sales. Internet gift shopping is also big this holiday season.

Baby, it's Cold Outside

I know a lot of you are already into the snow. I kind of remember what that's like from the time I was stationed in Maine. Not so here in South Texas. It was in the low 60s yesterday. Brrr. Hey, but it's a humidity-infused chill, OK?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Christmas Sneaks up Once Again

OK, maybe sneaking up isn't the right phrase. After all, Wal Mart has had their Christmas stuff out for about three months now. It's just arriving so quickly.

This Year I Pledge to Avoid the Christmas Rush

Yeah right! Like that's going to happen. But one thing I want to do is try out LED Christmas lights. I'm all about going on the cheap with the electricity bill. And they say they last forever. Troubleshooting light strings is not my favorite chores.

We'll probably end up going to the Christmas tree farm and chopping down a choice one. We missed doing it last year because the tree rancher was giving the land a break. He just raises them for fun so he can afford to do it right.

Pre-Winter Chores

Actually, come to think about it, doing the holiday decorating is a great time to take care of those change of season chores. Home maintenance never ends. No complaints though. I'm lucky enough not to be an ARM or sub-prime mortgage volunteers, uh, I mean victims. Locked in at 6% and glad of it.

Do Your Christmas Shopping Early

This is something I've always wanted to try! It's one of those things most people keep saying they're going to do so as to avoid the crowds. I don't mind being out there in the mall on December 24, as long as I'm not standing in line. I just like the people-watching aspect of it.

No, this year I'm going to do my shopping on the Internet. Low stress, no mess...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Select a Roof Contractor with Caution

Those of you that read this blog know that I recently underwent the Hurricane Ike experience. That was one rip-roaring ride!

Anytime a storm of this magnitude happens, folks experience roofing problems. The big blue FEMA tarps are still all over the place. Since my roof is new, I didn't have any roof issues (knock on wood). But a lot of my neighbors weren't so lucky.

What Kind of Roof Material do You Want?

If your home insurance company is paying for a complete new roof, this is the time to ask yourself flavor you want, a metal roof or composition shingles. Composition is cheaper but steel shingles or panels last longer and boost home equity.

How to Hire a Roofing Contractor

Man, this is an important issue. There are a lot of "storm chasers" out there. Easy to spot - out of state license plates. Even Houston's Mayor White is running radio ads warning citizens to use caution. They may be professional or they may not. The bottom line is that they won't be around later, no matter what their warranty says.

So, what to do? Follow a vetting checklist and do your homework. Only then hire a roofing company and accept the bid.

What's on the Contractor Checklist?

Basic things, mostly.
  • Check the company history.
  • Get references.
  • Call the BBB.
  • Ask to see and verify bonding and insurance paperwork.
  • Is everyone on the construction crew working legally in this country? (If they cheat here to cut corners, they'll cheat other ways.)
Do these things and you'll do well!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Relocating? Use a Professional Mover!

The real estate market is in flux, but that doesn't mean that people aren't changing homes. Companies relocate employees and some folks are taking advantage of lower priced homes on the real estate market just now.

The last time I moved, I did it all myself. I didn't realize I had so much stuff. Especially stuff that I didn't need. What a hassle! The next time I'm going to let the professional movers do the heavy lifting for me. Especially my table saw and other assorted power tools.

I've been known to pinch a penny or two, so you can be sure I'll shop around for removal quotes. Not only do I not want to pack and move my stuff, I don't want to carry it up the stairs at the new place, either!

Of course, one of the first thing (and most necessary one) is to shop around for mortgage quotes. The rates are still quite low and the rumors have it that the Fed is going to cut the prime rate again, which will free up more credit in the US, which will ripple across to the UK and the rest of Europe. Such is the effect of a global economy, as we recently found out.

Along with free mortgage quotes, there's the weather to think about. Planning and keeping an eye on the weather reports is crutial when relocating. Just last weekend I saw a poor slob driving along with his pick up truck loaded up with his furniture, electronics, etc. when the skies opened up, poured down the rain, and totally ruined his day. Or month. Some days it doesn't pay to get out of bed...

Just another reason to use an insured professional moving company.

The great thing about moving to a new place is that if you plan it right, there's always a window of opportunity, before you move in, to get some serious DIY work done before all your belongings are in the way. Painting, installing new kitchen cabinets, and installing a new laminate floor come to mind.

These are a few things I prefer to do myself!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Real Estate Downturn? Remodel Your Bathroom!

With the real estate slumping and the market flooded with foreclosed homes, it's no time to sell. Smart homeowners are turning this into an opportunity to remodel and add to their property's equity.

Money is not Being Spent on Summer Vacations

It's true! Most people are avoiding visiting the gasoline pump. Fuel is just too expensive, prompting folks to take "staycations". It makes for a golden opportunity to do some work around the house. Bathroom remodeling is particularly popular.

Floors can be a challenge. Laminate flooring like Pergo or Armstrong is not a good choice - it doesn't do well around water. Regular carpeting has the same problem. So are you stuck with tile? Nope. I read an article not long ago where a woman put in seagrass.

Seagrass Carpet Flooring?

I'd never heard of the stuff. But I found that because it comes from the water, it does well around water. Plus, it's a green building material and will be a sustainable resource as long as the oceans are around.

Walls? Paint or Wallpaper

These are the usual options. In one bathroom remodel I recently did, I removed wallpaper, floated the walls, used a knockdown drywall texture, and then painted.

So if you're looking for something to do as summer winds down, hang out at home and add to the value of your property.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Don't Let Credit Debt Control You

Debt. It's not a fun thing. The simple fact of the matter is that it's easier than ever to get stuck behind a mountain of bills. And like a snow covered mountain, at some point the avalanche is going to come tumbling down on your head - unless you do something proactive about it.

What can you do? Other than stopping eating, you can make a budget and get some credit counseling. It's fair to say that this is a happier strategy than the way it was taken care of in the old days: debtor's prison.

Been There, Done That

I found myself in this situation a few years back. After getting laid off from the IT industry, I decided to go into the handyman business. After all, I had the background and many of the needed tools.

I registered my DBA, let the state know I was going to be sending them money in the form of sales tax, bought some tools on credit, and started advertising. I owed Home Depot money for tools and material, and owed the local paper money for a weekly ad in the business card section.

Things slid downhill financially from there on. I hadn't taken into consideration that business in the handyman world didn't work like other businesses. It's unregulated, staffed by folks that don't collect or pay taxes.

Bottom line? I ended up living on a tight budget, not using any more credit, and finding other sources of income. But the upside is that I learned a lot about managing my finances.

The contents of this blog are sponsor supported.

Landscaping and Bathroom Remodeling

There's a Hurricane over in Florida and although it's too far away to affect me, I'm getting rain anyhow. And that's a welcome thing because the ground has been far too dry.

Removing a Tree Stump

The wet ground will make it easier to remove a tree stump in my yard. I've got other landscaping chores to do as well - if I can make the time. My neighbor is a real champ at working in her yard so it makes me look pretty bad by comparison.

Bathroom Remodeling

I'm still finishing up my bathroom remodel, but at least the end is in sight. The knockdown drywall texture I put on the walls and the blue color of paint that my daughter picked out came out looking pretty flashy, if I do say so myself.

What's left? Towel racks, baseboard, and door trim. At some point I'll change out the light fixture but it's fairly low on the to-do list.

Not too long ago I wrote an article on monorail pendant lights that has proven very popular. Perhaps I'll go that route. Light fixtures are like mattresses and plumbing fixtures, the sales mark-up are way out of line.

I guess I'm in the wrong business. Nah, writing is too much fun.

Kelly Smith

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Health Insurance: Are You Covered?

As they say, two things are certain - death and taxes. But don't forget the middle ground: injury and illness. Is the health care system important? You bet. Just look at the current and past political hype. The medical care system is one of the central issues.

There's no doubt about it; you need insurance. Traditionally, medical insurance has been underwritten by employers. But the work landscape has been changing radically. More and more people are self-employed or work for companies that provide no coverage.

Luckily, there are options. Take Kaiser Permanente Colorado and Kaiser Permanente Georgia for example. How is Kaiser different? They operate like a credit union in the sense that they're a non-profit company with no shareholders to lean on them for dividends. They leverage these savings to make health care insurance affordable for small company employees and self-employed workers.

I count myself among the self-employed. Luckily, I'm covered by my wife's plan, but what would happen I she lost her job? With Kaiser Permanente California I could take advantage of one of many options, such as a copayment plan, a deductable plan or a PPO plan, among others.

The bottom line? Make sure you've got coverage. Don't forget the middle ground between death and taxes! A portion of this blog's content is sponsor supported.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

How About Those Tankless Water Heaters!

Jeeze, you wouldn't think that in the middle of the Southern summer I'd be concerned about a hot shower. But I am!

Whether I'm lathering up up at the gym or just trying to be a bit more, um, sociable, at home, I really like my hot showers. But did you know that hot water production eats up to 14% of your home utility bills?

Try a Tankless Water Heater

So what the heck can you do about it? Well, you can stop bathing, but I don't think that's going to garner you many fans. Why not cut your losses with a tankless water heater?

These are also known as on-demand or instantaneous water heaters and have long been popular in Europe. Lately they have been getting a wider fan base is North America due to high energy costs.

For the past 30 years or so they have been growing in popularity. Coupled with an alternative energy plan, this option could really save you some similar bucks.

DIY Install or Pro?

Do you want to do the job yourself? Good question. It's not really a hard job but you might get installation for free just for doing the deal. Also, if you are installing a gas-fired water heater, you'll probably need an inspection.

If you can sweat copper pipes (pretty simple for my intrepid DIY readers!) you're on your way. Otherwise, pressure your dealer to install for free. Believe me, if he doesn't want to make the sale, you don't need to be doing business with him!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Using a Contractor Directory

Face it, there are times when even the most intrepid DIY'er has a task that he or she just doesn't want to tackle. Don't have the equipment? Don't have the time? Just don't want to dive into that septic tank? Your solution might just be using a contractor directory.

Build a Professional Relationship

Some of these services are very regional but the best ones stretch far and wide and are very comprehensive with respect to the trades they represent. Take Portland Contractors for example. The upside of using a directory like this is that you can develop a relationship with one company, rather than a new one every time you need help.

Look for a Range of Services

You might think changing out a toilet is the only task you don't want to handle but what happens when you're out of town and a pipe bursts? You need a plumber anyhow. Sheetrock repair? Simple job but once again, if you're out of pocket, well, you are.

Bottom line? Keep your DIY hat, but hook up with a contractor Directory as well. A portion of this blog's content is sponsor supported.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Wrestling with a Wireless Network

Since I find myself vying with my daughter for the computer's pilot seat this summer while school's out, I decided to set her up a box of her own. I had an old Compaq Proliant sever gathering dust, so I set that up.

Why Linux? I'm cheap!

I was always a UNIX/Linux guy when I was coding, plus I'm cheap, so it made sense to use an open source OS rather than a Micro$oft product (the server wasn't formatted). So I put Ubuntu on it.

Plenty of games. Yay! However, it only took about five minutes to hear, "Awwww, there's no Internet!"

OK, so I installed a Linksys broadband router between cable modem and my primary PC. So far, so good. Now I've just got to get the Linux box to see it. Challenges, challenges.

But Back to Work...

But I can only spend so much time pulling my hair out fussing with drivers and cables. Still got to make a living so I wrote an article on installing suspended acoustical ceilings. There was a time when I used to do that for a living.

So I've done blue collar gigs and white collar gigs in my time. Which one's better? It depends on how you look at it. Desk jockeys make more money, but construction work can't be outsourced overseas. Not yet anyway.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Gotta Love Home Improvement Shows

My wife spends a lot of time watching those popular home makeover shows. Are they reality shows? Are they personality shows? Are they educational shows? Are they thinly-disguised shills for Home Depot and Lowes?

All of the above, I'm afraid. But that's alright - it gets homeowners busy doing their own home makeovers. That's aces in my book because that's the business I'm in: showing homeowners how to DIY and tackle remodeling projects.

They Sometimes get it Wrong...

Many times I catch myself walking through the room when one of these shows is on, and I overhear myself saying, "No, that's just wrong!"

I'll be the first to admit, sometimes I'm partly wrong too. Well, not wrong, just of another opinion. In most projects, there's more than one way to skin a cat. For example, one time, the macho DIY guy was doing a backyard project.

He was going on and on saying, "We're using Red Cedar for this project because it's weather resistant and it's a renewable resource!" What?? So since when isn't pressure-treated pine not weather resistant and a renewable resource?

Bottom line is that a whole lot of people are going to go out and spend extra money they don't need to because they think they're saving the environment.

Keep it Simple

Another time, they advised the viewers to go out and rent a compressor and hopper to texture a room. Ow! Messy, expensive, and not needed; not when there are simple ways to texture drywall.

Turbo-Speed Home Makeover

Another thing I find interesting about those shows is the speed with which they complete the projects. Never worked for me! For one thing, I always run into something unexpected that demands a clever workaround.

I usually need something I don't have or decide I want and end up going to the local home improvement center. (OK, I just like shopping there!)

Anyhow, TV networks, keep those shows coming! You inspire us all and give emerging designers a platform for exposure. And my wife keeps me busy...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Attic Ventilation Lowers Utility Bills

Sure, you've maxed out your attic's recommended insulation R-value. But don't start loafing quite yet; there's still work to be done to take the load off your AC and wallet.

Categories of Attic Vents

Installing an attic vent is a simple DIY project and in most cases you can be done in a couple of hours. There are two categories of vents/fans. The first kind is passive roof venting. This includes turbine or whirlybird fans as well as ridge vents.

The second category is the active vent. These are electrical; either home-wired or solar powered. These are activated and shut off by thermostats and occasionally, humidistats. These are mounted either on the roof top or on the gables.

Installing Attic Vents

Ridge vents run the length of the roof ridge and are best installed during new construction and when doing a re-roofing job. The shingles on the vents will match the roof shingles so the look is very slick.

Turbine and power vent installation can be done at any time. It involves computing the attic CFM requirement, cutting a hole in the roof, and installing the unit. Some wiring is required on electrical powered units.

Are Solar Powered Vents Worthwhile?

Sadly, the answer at this point is no. While we would all love to adhere to green building practices, the pennies just don't add up here. Why? Solar powered units are expensive and direct-wired ones use very little juice compared to what they shave off utility bills.

Of course, if you just install a whirlybird (turbine), there is no external electricity involved. The fins on the globe spin in the wind and draw cooler air through your soffit vents and hotter air out of the attic.

Modern ones have sealed bearing races. They never need lubing and run silent, like a submarine in stealth mode.

Which ever way you decide to go, your options are wide open. Chill out.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Anitques: Not Just Used Furniture

When my sister lived in Europe, she told me that many folks there considered antiques to be just "used furniture". Not so here in the USA. We like out antiques although we do have our share of used furniture. Shabby particle board comes to mind there!

So why do we have such a different view of antique pieces? It probably has a lot to do with the relative young age of our country compared to our European cousins. We also have strong feelings for our immigrant roots, while Europe is where, well, where we emigrated from.

Restore and Refinish Your Antiques

What can you do to preserve the value of your pieces? Refinish your antique furniture, that's what! There are a few important considerations. Most importantly, you must use authentic period materials.

For example, in almost all cases, you'll have to use hide glue if gluing is required. Got surface crazing? You're going to want to leave that.

To Use It, or Not to Use It; That is the Question

There's always that question and it depends on the individual. I have a fondness for vintage fountain pens (an obsession actually; just ask my long-suffering wife). The same question arises in the pen world. Use them or put them in display cases?

I use all of mine. Right now I've got my Parker Vacumatic (plunger filler) in rotation; having just set aside my Eversharp Skyline. But I digress. I favor using antique furniture too. It will still be around when I'm reduced to dust, and I could care less if anyone faults me for using it.

Should you use yours or showcase it? That's your decision. But whatever you decide, take the time to bring it back to life. It's likely made from better materials than you'll find in new furniture.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Remodeling Made Easy: Prehung Doors

In a world where everything is compartmentalized, shrink-wrapped, solid-state, and plug 'n play, it's no surprise the construction market is responding with some ease of use strategies of their own.

Case in point - prehung doors. The concept isn't new; in fact, Home Depot is full of them. The issue is that most homeowners still see hanging doors as something mysterious. The fact of the matter is, installing a prehung door is easy if you just follow the sequence of steps; 1,2,3...

Variety is the Spice of Life

Yes, it's true even with doors. Prehung doors can be had as elegant mahogany entry doors or the lowly hollow-core interior closet door. No matter, they're all simple to work with, barring existing complications.

These kind of doors have long been the mainstay for commercial exterior doors; not the pretty front glass ones with the displays, but the heavy steel ones lurking out back in the alley by the dumpster.

I've installed a lot of these in my day, and thank goodness for the sturdy steel "spreader" at the base of the jambs. The block masons tend to knock things out of whack.

Time is of the Essence

The only time things are critical is when you're installing your home's front, back, or side door. Why? Well, you want to be able to lock up at night when you go to bed. The trick is to make sure you've got all your tools and materials laid out and get an early start.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Acoustic Drywall - Shhhh!

Acoustic drywall - is it soundproof? Well, not really. Just like you don't run into too many waterproof watches, just a lot of water-resistant ones. It's one of the best acoustical solutions in many situations though.

When Would You Use Sound - Dampening Drywall?

The best time to use this product is during new construction or during a remodel. It's possible to simply add a layer over an existing wall, but in most cases, the offset problems created make this impractical.

There's one situation that would make me go to the trouble of dealing with the offset issues - when installing a home theater.

QuietRock, Brought to You From Quiet Solution

Quiet Solution is a division of Serious Materials and is really at the forefront of this technology. Their solution of putting sound control in the wall itself sidesteps traditional techniques such as suspended baffles and wall-mounted acoustic panels.

The range of their customers speak volumes about the effectiveness of the product: Usher, Snoop Dog, KB Homes, Hitachi, Marriott, Hyatt Hotels, Ozzy Osbourne, and others.

QuietRock Installation

Acoustical drywall is installed just like regular drywall. If you can tape and float drywall already, you've got all the skills in your toolbox already.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Vintage Kitchen Cabinets - Very Retro!

The two rooms in your home that are gold in your pocket, from an equity point of view, are your bathroom and your kitchen. That's what a realtor told me. Given that fact, a bath or a kitchen remodeling project make sense. And some homeowners are opting for vintage kitchen cabinets.

Why a Vintage Kitchen?

Good question. There are three main reasons that make sense to me:
  1. For the same reason people gravitate towards comfort food in hard economic times. There's comfort in the old days and old ways.
  2. Functionality. Before microwaves, dishwashers, and trash compactors, things had to work. Things like hoosier cabinets. Things like California coolers. And things like vintage kitchen cabinets that stretch from the floor to the ceiling. Now that's storage space!
  3. Finally, it's stylish! Families are spending more time in the kitchen, just like they did in the days before dens with cheap paneling and shag carpets were hip.

Ceramic Tile Counter Tops VS Granite

Granite counter tops are currently very popular. But they're also quite expensive. Ceramic tile is just as attractive, cheaper, and at least as durable. Vintage kitchens were very big on tile after they got away from wood.

And they came up with some very attractive color patterns. How about jadite green with black? Or burgandy and yellow? If you go this route, be sure to use a top-notch grout sealer.

So indulge yourself with a kitchen makeover. This is certainly not the time to put your home on the market to trade up. Why not juice up your current home equity instead?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Supplemental Energy: Solar Panels

The current energy crisis seems to have everyone on the hot seat. Something of a similar nature seems to rear its ugly head every few years. Is it time for supplemental residential alternative energy? I think so. How about solar power?

The Benefits of Solar Energy

The benefits of solar energy are many. For one thing, there's no OPEC for energy captured by residential solar panels. Whereas the supply of petroleum can be manipulated, radiant energy cannot.

Installing PV (PhotoVoltaic) panels at at the home makes the homeowner eligible for certain state and federal tax benefits. The fact that this monetary incentive is provided indicates that the government might bankroll research for this type of alternative energy source.

Is Solar Energy Cost Effective?

In a nutshell, yes. There are up-front costs of course, but PV panels are extremely low-maintenance. Pay now, save long term. When you shop for panels, you'll need to consider the dollars per watt ratio.

Also, keep in mind that each panel model is rated by its conversion efficiency ratio. Taking these two analysis tool into consideration should help you make the right green electricity decisions for your personal situation.

Who Makes Solar Panels?

I found six major credible solar panel manufacturers. This isn't a totally inclusive list, of course, but I centered my research on companies that are already heavily funded in energy production. This gives them more research and development funding than a start-up might have.

The list includes BP, Kyosera, Suntech, Evergreen Spruce, Sharp, and General Electric. Suntech was recently chosen to power Bird’s Nest Stadium for the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

Is solar power for you? Only you can decide. But if you're considering putting a new roof on your home, this is the time to consider it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

How to Hang Wallpaper

Trends in home decor are just like clothing and social attitudes: they swing back and forth like a pendulum. Paint or wallpaper, paint or wallpaper? Decisions, decisions.

Wallcovering Items: Wallpaper and Borders

Other than paint, these are the two things next in line that folks use to dress up their rooms. Use one or both for a quick decor redo. Either way, the first thing you'll have to do is prepare the wall for wallpaper.

This is easy enough on new construction, but involves a few more steps with a remodel project. As long as you're comfortable with, or willing to learn, drywall taping and floating, it's not a problem.

Hanging Your Wallpaper

Got the walls ready? All you've got to do now is finish the job. That means doing the work. It's not a tough task but it does take some patience and close attention to detail.

At this point you can hire a wallpaper contractor or hang the wallpaper yourself. I recommend doing it yourself, with a helper if possible.

Depending on how comfortable you feel with the job, you can buy regular residential paper or commercial rolls. The main difference is that the commercial stuff is twice as wide. This will make the job go faster if you have a large area to do with lots of long walls.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

My Evolving Workshop

I'll bet some of you are like me; your home workshop leaves a little to be desired, size-wise. Mine is the garage. This means you have to be creative in how you set it up and what you stock it up with.

Using Benchtop Power Supplies

Since your work space comes at a premium, this means a lot of benchtop power tools. A grinder, drill press, table saw, and more. This means installing a convenient benchtop power supply. Mine is in the form of a heavy-duty strip.

Since my workbench is on locking casters, when I move it around I connect it with a heavy-duty extension cord. If you do this, do it safely and be sure it can handle the load!

Using Benchtop Tools

Although my bench has a large drawer (boasting my very first attempt at hand-cut dovetail joints), it's pretty much wide open to store the tools that rotate off the top, depending on what project I'm working on.

When do I need to wheel it out? Mainly to use the benchtop table saw with extensions.

Future Workshop Plans

As you can imagine, the work, uh, I mean fun, is never done. The woodshop is the ever-evolving beast. In the future, I'd like to...
  • Design and build a good dust collection system.
  • Find a more efficient way to store lumber.
  • Re-design my odds-and-ends storage.

So, instead of doing, I sit here writing. But I am a freelance writer to support my DIY habit. You can relate, right?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Home Office Refurbishment Tips

Recent estimates report that 33% of Americans are self-employed in some capacity. Now, the report didn't break it down into full-time or part-time details, but it means one thing for certain - lots of home offices! Whether you're remodeling a bedroom into your office, or remodeling your current one, you can use these home office refurbishment tips.

Office Interior Lighting

All interior lighting is not the same. In the office, in particular, it falls in three distinct categories: general, task, and accent lighting. How much of each you use depends on your needs. General lighting is usually implemented with overhead fluorescent fixtures.

Task lighting is used to focus on your work area to avoid eye strain. Good choices here are undercabinet, track, monorail, or Y lighting systems with halogen or LED bulbs.

Accent lighting usually illuminates artwork. This is taken care of with ceiling-mounted fixtures.

Buy Ergonomic Furniture

This is important for your comfort and long-term health. The two most critical pieces are an ergonomic office chair and computer desk. Before shopping, know what you need. Draw a detailed plan noting where things should be situated.

Although it might be tempting to do so, I wouldn't recommend placing the fax, copier, and printer where you can just reach over to make a quick paper grab. Why? Because you need to get out of your chair now and then to get the blood flowing!

Flooring - Choose Wisely

You've got many choices when it comes to flooring. Carpet is the best choice for sound control and if you'll be spending a lot of time on your feet. The downside is that occasionally you'll have to hire carpet cleaners.

Are you after a a more contemporary look? You might consider laminate or hardwood flooring.

When it comes to sprucing up your home office, consider that you'll be spending more time in there than you would a conventional office. Plan accordingly.

Did you find this article helpful? Find more content and DIY information at www.ICanFixUpMyHome.com.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Air Conditioners and Swamp Coolers

Since it's summer, one of the topics I've been writing on is air conditioners. If you've got one, it's time to tune it up. If it's too far gone, it's a great time to install a new one. The SEER ratings are high, Energy Star abounds, and if you live in the U.S., you've probably got a tax rebate.

Another thing to do in the spring or early summer is tune up the thermostat. Hardly anyone does this.

The thing about A/C units is that there's many options. Do you want to cool just the living room during the day but the bedroom at night? Get a portable air conditioner. How about cooling just one room all the time? Consider a window-mounted unit.

During my research, I delved into the world of swamp coolers, or evaporative coolers, as they're also called. I've never lived in the desert so I didn't have first hand knowledge of them. But I was surprised to learn how closely they resemble the cooling towers that I've worked with.

A swamp cooler is very simple compared to a central air conditioner. A central unit has a condenser unit, evaporator coils, and a closed system with refrigerant and oil. A swamp cooler is just a box with water soaked blanket pads hanging inside.

Did you find this article helpful? Visit me at www.ksmithwriter.com/.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Choosing the Proper Home Insulation

Of all the energy-saving, utility bill-cutting approaches that are employed in the modern home, insulation is the best publicized. Why? It's the cheapest method of making your home energy efficient. Attic insulation, wall insulation, floors and crawlspaces, it's all recommended. But which type is the best for the job? The answer, it turns out, is, "It depends".

Which Kind of Insulation is Best?

This depends on:
  • Your budget - How much will you spend VS how much you'll save on utility bills.
  • What's available locally - This can affect how much you'll pay for material.
  • The area to be insulated - Different areas of the home have different needs.
  • How much insulation needs to be installed - How much square footage will be covered?
  • Method of application - Will you roll it out? Will an insulation contractor spray it?

R-Value Considerations

An insulation's R-Value is it's resistance to heat flow (out in the winter, in during the summer). The higher the number, the better. The insulation's data sheet or packaging will give you a number, but there are other factors to consider.

For example, fiberglass batts installed between exterior wall studs will give you a certain R-Value, but heat will still flow through the studs. This is an example of thermal bridging. Little can be done here except using insulating sheathing or using an alternative framing technology such as SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) or ICFs (Insulated Concrete Forms).

Density also has an effect. For example, fiberglass batts will only give the rated insulating value if they are normally "fluffed out", not compressed into a smaller space than they were designed for.

Types of Insulation

  • Blanket insulation - This may be purchased in either batts or rolls. In areas such as attics, rolls are easier to install. Batts work well in walls between studs. The paper tabs are stapled to the studs to keep the batts from settling down over time, victims of the force of gravity.
  • Blown-in loose fill insulation - This is usually rock wool, cellulose, or fiberglass. It works well in attics and requires pneumatic equipment. Either an insulation contractor can be hired or you can rent the equipment and DIY.
  • Foam insulation - This can either be open-celled or closed-celled. This type is also sprayed on. The open-cell insulation allows for moisture to move through it but has a lower R-Value than closed cell.
  • Radiant barrier - This can either be a powder that is mixed with latex paint or a radiant barrier foil product. The radiant barrier paint can be sprayed on the underside of the roof sheathing or rolled/sprayed onto walls. The foil is claimed to work better on the roof sheathing in the attic but some claim that it interferes will cell phone reception.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Implementing Energy Saving Strategies

The price of crude oil is up again today and most market analysts don't expect any relief soon. This will have a ripple effect across the whole energy sector, affecting natural gas and coal, for example. Our utility bills will be one victim of this trend. You can begin to take steps now to ease the pain.

Cutting your electricity use is especially important now, with more air conditioners being turned on. The first thing to do is to get started on the annual air conditioner tune-up.

To prioritize your energy-saving projects, you need to know where you stand. You can have a professional energy audit done, or simply follow your own energy efficiency checklist. Once you know where you stand, consider necessity and your budget.

If any of your improvements involve the attic, get after it before we get any further into the summer. I know; I made the blunder of spraying radiant barrier paint in warm weather.

Seriously consider installing ceiling fans in any room in which you spend any time. They'll pay for themselves and add serious equity to your abode. ROI for you financial types out there. Payback for the rest of us Joe Schmo's.

Here's a tip: if your refrigerator is an older model, this is the time to replace it. Refrigerators are huge power gobblers, especially if you have kids that have a hard time with the phrase, "No grazing, you're not a cow!" With the tax rebates being distributed, retailers are making some very sweet deals.

Check with your electrical provider; the price per KWh is not the same all day and night. There are things you can schedule, like running the clothes dryer, on off-peak hours. Now get out there and save, save, save!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Building Green with SIPs

My last post was about building green, which is really hot right now. I've been doing more research on the topic and it seems to be like more fuel efficient cars - research and development, as well as implementation, really kicks in when the economy makes it an attractive concept.

Which is totally correct; we live in a market-driven economy. It's interesting how much ado is made of pollution today without reflection on how much progress has been made in the past fifty years. Can you believe it; we used to have rivers that would spontaneously break into flames?

So we have moved forward. The trick is to keep moving ahead. Kudos to the building industry for making strides forward.

A very innovative new combination of building materials and building technology are SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels). The idea is simple - foam insulation sandwiched between two sheets of OSB (Oriented Strand Board).

The panels are designed and sized using residential construction software and the assembled off site. Once they're delivered to the new home or commercial building site, they're put together and taa-dah! You've got an almost completely air-tight structure.

Isn't it much more expensive than conventional building methods? Surprisingly, no. The streamlined process improves building flow and saves on labor (think framers). It also minimizes wasted material (cut-off sheathing, 2" X 4" studs, etc). Nobody likes to pay for extra dumpster-pulls!

Using SIPs puts the home or commercial building on the fast track to Energy Star certification. The final hurdle is to get more building contractors up to speed. But never fear, the innovators are busy doing that right now.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Green Homes Mean More Efficient Living

It's clear that the building industry is taking a long, hard look at moving towards the greener side of the pasture. This is true in both the commercial and residential building market. And why not? Saving energy money in the long run while playing nice with the planet is a win-win.

There are several movers and shakers putting the green building (or sustainable building) agenda out there. One of the most prominent is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). They have developed a checklist to document the "greenness" of a dwelling.

This certification checklist goes into surprising detail, including such things as Non-toxic pest control, Proximity to mass transit systems, and ENERGY STAR performance.

What will the future of the green building movement be? It's exciting to contemplate. In addition to new construction, there's the issue of remodeling. This tends to focus on inspecting each new appliance or building material going into the job.

Green materials should be recycled or come from sustainable sources. They should also be low on the toxicity scale. And in the long run, they should save money on utilities.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Time for a Lawnmower Tune-Up

Spring has sprung! At least it has here - some of you may still be snowbound. Sorry about that! But either way it's time for that time-honored tradition; passed down from father to son: the lawnmower tune-up. Taking care of this will extend the life of it and circumvent needless frustration.

One important thing to do is sharpen you lawnmower blade. This will drastically increase efficiency, improve gas mileage, and keep the motor from working too hard.

It's also a good time to think about the outdoor projects you've thought about over the long, cold winter. Yard work is likely a large part of it. Why not take inventory of your landscaping tools? Does that old wheelbarrow have another year left in it?

I recently had a rust issue with my lawnmower. It gets so hot here in the summer that there are days when it just makes sense to mow the lawn before the dew dries. When the moist grass wedges itself on the underside of the mower deck, our old friend oxidation pays a visit...

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Time for Air Conditioners; Summer's not Far Off

I've actually had to run my central air conditioner this past week. But then again, this is South Texas. Northern climes aren't necessarily in that situation. But that does present a good opportunity for the old spring tune up.

DIY VS Calling an A/C Service Technician

There are a number of air conditioning repairs and preventive maintenance chores that the average Joe or Joan can tackle. Cleaning the outdoor condenser coils comes to mind. Proper air flow means enhanced performance.

Cleaning and straightening the cooling fins also fall in this category. How many times were they bumped by the lawn mower last year?

For adding or recovering refrigerant, you're going to need certification and a set of gauges. That's more than likely something you'll need to call a pro for.

Another thing to check, often overlooked, is leveling the condenser. Check it in all directions and shim it as needed.

Tune Up your Thermostat

Programmable thermostat? Digital thermostat? Turn of the century model? It doesn't matter - they can all benefit from a thermostat tune up. Here's a short list of what you can do:
  1. If its got batteries, go ahead and replace them.
  2. Make sure it's level.
  3. Clean out any dust.
  4. Adjust the anticipator.

If you take care of these spring cleaning chores now, you won't have to rush to do them on that really hot day when the service guy can only book you during his overtime hours.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Building a Porch Roof

A porch is a great addition to any home. Do you have one? Planning on installing one? Just having an outdoor porch is only one part of the whole picture. To really take advantage of it, why not put on a porch roof?

You can think of a porch roof as an extension of the personality and look of your home. The ones that work best follow the same architectural mood of the house and the shingles match the home's existing shingles.

In fact, if your home's roof is in need of a face lift and part of your spring ritual this year is shopping for a reliable roofing contractor, you might as well build the porch roof yourself and then have the roofer come and shingle everything at once. The newer architectural shingles are nice.

Of course, at my house, I'm going to have to build the porch first and then put on the roof and the finishing touches...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Use Radon Test Equipment to Protect Your Family

Most people recognize the dangers associated with mold. If they suspect they have it in the home, they simply call for a mold inspection. A high energy bill? Research other energy providers and call for an energy efficiency inspection.

But mention air quality testing for radon gas and you're likely to get a baffled, "Huh?" Radon is a toxic radioactive gas and the risk of exposure can be high in many areas. Radon is more concentrated indoors than out, entering the home in the water system and coming from the soil. But don't fret; there are things that you can do.

The first thing to do is to buy some radon test equipment. Then, run either a short-term or a long-term test. Once the test results are back from the lab, you'll know what your situation is. There are several things you can do to reduce risk factors - the important thing is to get off the fence and get it done. Number one, it will protect you and your family; and number two, if you are planning to sell, the test results will give you an edge in the real estate market.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

French Drain Installation for Storm Water Drainage

The problem that many homeowners face is that their yard, particularly the back yard, was never properly graded by the residential building contractor. The rolling hills might sit easy on the eye, but they can spell trouble in the form of standing water. If this describes your yard designs, you might consider installing French Drains.

How might this unintended pond and water garden affect your property? A wet basement. Basement flooding. Costly foundation repairs. Any of these scenarios can be devastating to your bank savings account. Poof! There goes that tax refund and stimulus package tax rebate!

French drain systems fall in the green landscaping category. With nothing more than a shovel, some landscaping fabric, gravel, construction sand, and grass sod, you can save and increase your residential property value!

And don't forget, gutter downspouts will help to direct rainwater away from those low spots in the first place.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Diagnosis for Refrigerator Repair

Even though refrigerators are some of the hardest working and longest lasting of all major household appliances, they can become cantankerous at times. It can be something as simple as the interior light burning out or something as problematic needing compressor repair or replacement. In any event, you need some solid refrigerator troubleshooting skills for a good diagnosis.

Many of these repairs can be handled by the average DIY type person whether its a compact refrigerator or a monster. Others, particularly the ones dealing with refrigerant charging or refrigerant recovery, can only be tackled by someone licensed to do so.

And if your fridge is still under warranty, let the service person handle it, lest you void your appliance warranty. This happened to me recently when the almost-new compressor went out and had to be replaced. I'm unlikely to buy another Maytag. Most likely my next will be a Samsung refrigerator.

In any event, here is an excellent refrigerator troubleshooting checklist.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Don't Fall for Woodworking Gimmicks (Mighty Putty)

There's a lot of woodworking tips out there but I prefer the ones that meet two criteria - they are easy to implement and they save money. After all, there's a huge market re-selling an item as a "miracle product" when in fact it's just a regular product with new marketing.

Take TV hawker Billy May's newest offering, for instance. "Mighty Putty"? I don't think so. The only new thing about that product is the name. It's been around for a long time, and at a much cheaper price than he sells it for. It's just been a low-key product.

So don't just grab the phone when you see one of these goofy ads. Do your research and avoid the ginzu knife syndrome. Always do your research.

Monday, February 11, 2008

More on Deck Building - Setting Posts

My series of articles on deck building that I anticipated going, maybe, three articles, has taken on a life of its own! Have I created a monster? You decide. The latest installment (the fifth) is on the fine art of digging the holes and setting the posts in concrete.

Outdoor Construction

The timing of these articles was deliberate. I knew there was a lot of material to cover and that many DIY'ers haven't done much outdoor construction. It's important that all the info gets out there so that once spring arrives, my readers won't have to sit around drumming their fingers waiting on my lazy self.

And it's a good thing that I started early - as I said, there was more material than I thought. For instance, all my outdoor construction has been done here in sunny South Texas. It came as a surprise to me that things such as the frost line had to be considered when determining post depth. (Yes, I do research; I don't just make this stuff up!)

Readers Clamor for Deck Embellishments

Yes, reader feedback is a good thing. I've received, via email, some good suggestions for topics. For example, a surprising number have asked for embellishments like fancy railings, bench seats with storage compartments, and options for hot tubs. All of this is coming after the basics have been covered.

A few readers have commented that I've put in too much detail but better too much than too little, as Shrek would say. So keep the suggestions coming. Contact me via the Home Reno & Repair site or my email, kelly.smith.1@gmail.com. Until then, keep your powder dry!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Fluorescent Lights and Ethanol

I've blogged about the wisdom of tweaking your home for energy saving in the past. I guess I'm just kind of a nut on the issue. Something to do with keeping more of my own money, I think. But now it seems it's not just a suggestion. The most recent energy bill put out by President Bush mandates it.

The Energy Bill Tightens up Energy Conservation

Just how does it do that? For one thing, incandescent light bulbs are being phased out. Of course, you don't have to run out and do it tomorrow; the time period is four to twelve years, whatever that means. Sounds a bit ambiguous and vague to me. Oh wait, that's government talking to us.

So what do we replace them with? Either fluorescent lights, low voltage halogens, or LED bulbs. They're making some good progress on LED light bulb clusters. I changed the bulb in my Mag light to LED and it's kind of cool. (Yes, the color is too!)

Another change is taking a stronger stance on Energy Star-rated appliances. That just makes sense. If you're going to replace something anyway, you might as well do so in a way that saves you money down the road. Otherwise, it's kind of like buying dull razor blades!

Speaking of Energy, Ethanol Stinks

Ok, I probably riled someone up with that statement - but it's true. At least it's true in the good 'ol USA. That's because we use corn. It takes more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than it delivers on the road. And it delivers 10% fewer MPG! So in this case the government is asking us to waste energy. But I guess that's political correctness for you.

The Brazilians nailed it though. They use sugar cane which is a tremendous ROI. We just can't grow as much of it here. And speaking of using so much corn to crank out ethanol, the organically raised cows aren't getting their fair share.

So what are organic cowboys supplementing with? Soy beans. We can't keep up there either. So we're importing them from our favorite trading partner, ahem, China! It's ironic that given all the poison toothpaste and lead-painted toys they send us, that we think the cows are staying organic.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Popcorn Ceilings and Asbestos Content

Do your house have those tired old popcorn ceilings? They used to be very popular because they were easy to install and they saved residential building contractors buckets of money. But during the past few years, they've really fallen out of style. Here's a comprehensive article on how to remove popcorn ceilings.

Beware of Asbestos Content

Unfortunately, many home builders relied on adding asbestos content to their popcorn texture mix. They didn't realize the dangers of mesothelioma and other fiber-related health risks. The asbestos seemed like a no-brainer since the fiber content helped the mix hold together and it increased the fireproofing aspect of the home.

Accordingly, there is one thing that you must do before you attempt to remove any of your popcorn ceilings: have it analyzed for asbestos. There are plenty of labs that can do this for a very small fee.

Asbestos Abatement - Can You do It?

In a word; NO. You'll have to get a professional asbestos abatement contractor to do it if the test is positive. At first glance it might seem not so big a deal; don a respirator, get some bags and scrape away.

Actually, there are a couple of reasons that you shouldn't mess with it.
  • The powers-that-be make the rules very hard to play by - special suits, double bagging, etc.
  • Whoever performs the abatement is permanently responsible for it. That means, like, forever! If someone happens to get into the bags and gets sick, they're coming after you, like fleas on an old hound dog. Have you seen the size of some of those legal settlements? Whew!

Finishing the Drywall Ceiling

Once the old texture is gone, you'll need to bring the ceiling up to standards. Most likely you'll have some drywall taping and floating to do. Remember that you'll be applying the sheetrock compound above your head; keep your mouth closed!

Next, apply a new texture. Get as creative as you want. Finally, slap on a paint job and you're good to go!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Woodworking Joints - Key to DIY Furniture Projects

It's no secret in woodworking circles that strong wood joints are critical with DIY furniture projects. This is true with new furniture or when restoring older furniture pieces. It's also important in other areas of woodworking. Just as the saying goes, "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link", the same is true in woodworking.

Types of Wood Joinery

One school of thought is that there are two broad categories of joints - those using wood glue and those that don't. Japanese wood joinery, for example, is known for its tight, intricate, and glueless joints. There is a whole family of hand saws for cutting them. Other glueless applications are the ones of old, where a mortise was cut all the way through wood and the tenon extended through the other side far enough to accept a keeper peg.

Glued-up joints, on the other hand, are used almost exclusively today, so that's what I'll ramble on about here. When using glue, it's important to choose the right type of woodworking glue for your project.

The Box Joint

A Box joint is also known as a finger joint. The term finger joint is descriptive: the corner is formed by interlinked, square "fingers". The term "box joint" is historical. Before cardboard was so prevalent, produce was brought to the market in wooden boxes.

The challenge was making the box corners hold together as it got slammed about. Enter the box joint. Why? Because cutting box joints is easy to do on a mass market scale using a jig on a table saw. It was very economical.

The Dovetail Joint

A dovetail joint is made with interlinked corners like the box joint. It gains its incredible strength because of its mating surfaces. The "pins" are flared like a dove's tail, and fit neatly into the corresponding "socket". At the top and bottom are the "shoulders". Dovetail joints are ideal for applications that get a lot of action, such as drawers.

How do you cut a dovetail joint? The traditional way is with a dovetail saw (pictured above). But to get the most accurate and professional looking results, it's best to use a jig and a special dovetail router bit.

Other Woodworking Joints

Now, this would be a long list, but blogs aren't textbooks, so here are some popular ones:
  • The Lap Joint - The two pieces of wood are cut to overlap. It is used on things such as cabinets or sideboards.
  • Tongue and Groove Joint - A tongue is cut on one piece of wood, centered on the stock. A corresponding groove is cut on the other piece to receive the tongue. It's used to make wider panels, doors, or when installing hardwood floors.
  • Dowel Joints - A hole is drilled through the two pieces of wood and a glued-up dowel is inserted. Sometimes used to strengthen other joints, like the lap joint.
  • Biscuit Joints - Using a biscuit cutter, a half oval is cut into the center of two pieces of wood. Then a full oval glued-up wood biscuit is inserted and the two pieces are joined. It's a great way to form wider panels or build a butcher block countertop.

Obvious Notes - Always use wood clamps with glue joints and put wax paper under your project to keep it from sticking to your workbench!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bathrooms and Kitchens: ROI on Equity for Homeowners

It’s no secret to both real estate agents and astute homeowners alike that there are two main areas of the home that are gold mines for ROI (Return On Investment) when you’re talking home equity. The kitchen is one, and bathrooms are the other.

Kitchens as Family Gathering Places

Kitchens were the main family gathering place in the old days for a couple of reasons. First, there was the big table right in the middle to sit around while enjoying a cup of java and a slice of pie.

If you are lucky enough to have an older, well-built home, please consider refinishing vintage kitchen cabinets rather than scrapping them.

Secondly, in colder climates, that big wood-burning stove made it the obvious place to congregate. It was on anyway, baking the daily bread (or some more of all that pie)!

For a couple of decades, the family kitchen lost some popularity to the den or the living room. But in the past decade or so, the kitchen has reclaimed its rightful place, as architects have opened it up to the rest of the house, made it more spacious, and added central islands, butcher block countertops, and experimented with new materials such as concrete for countertops.

These are the reasons why real estate agents showcase kitchens to potential buyers.

Bathrooms – Intimate as well as Functional

But as I said, the bathroom is also a big ticket room. Bathrooms are both intimate and functional. What can you, as a DIY warrior do for a bathroom makeover? Many things.

Tile is the most popular wall finish for tub and shower surrounds, with ceramic tile being the favorite. Tile is also the most highly recommended flooring material. Installing laminate flooring in bathrooms is inadvisable because of the water present there. Carpeting is a no-no for obvious reasons. Hardwood floors work well, if you have the inclination to pay close attention and keep them well sealed.

When planning a bathroom remodel, consider how much you can spend and what you want to accomplish. Want a new tile look but don’t want to go through all the mess and expense of a total demolition and installing bath tile again? Consider applying tile tattoos.

Removing that tired wallpaper and painting? Easy enough.

Bathroom Lighting – Incandescent Lighting is Being Phased Out

Lighting? Incandescent lighting is taking a popularity hit recently because of energy inefficiency. In fact, the President’s recent power bill set a time line for phasing out incandescent lighting. Why not look into installing LED lighting or low-voltage halogen lighting?

When making any bathroom wiring changes, check the local building code and know what you're doing.

Big changes or little changes, modernizing your kitchen or bath can reap big equity gains.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Tune Up Your Home's Heater

My last blog was about troubleshooting your thermostat when your air conditioner or heater is ill and not doing just what you tell it to. This is always (well, almost) the first thing to look at since it's easy to do and can save you some money on a service call.

If the problem is any worse, the average DIY type might not be able to take care of it. For instance, the stiff regulations for buying and venting refrigerant mean that if you're not licensed you'll have to call someone that is. Unless you've got some good connections to the black market, but you didn't hear that from me!

Questions about Home Heating Systems

Due to the responses I got from both blog readers and the readers of the original thermostat troubleshooting article over at my page at Suite101, I went a little deeper explaining home heating systems, both air distributions and water distribution systems.

So I wrote an article on how heating systems work.

Granted, it took a bit of research for the boiler and radiator systems. There's not many of them here in South Texas. The only time I've really been exposed to radiators was when I was stationed in Maine. Brrrrr!

Tune Up Your Thermostat and Ductwork

But there are a number of things you can do to tweak your system. These are things I do at least once a year, sometimes twice. The no-brainer is to keep a high-quality clean air filter at the return. The next thing is to clean your thermostat and adjust the thermostat anticipator. Both procedures are outlined in the article.

Replacing flexible ducts is another thing you can do, and this is the time of year to do it if your ductwork is in the attic (summer is too hot). I did this in my house a few years ago and used the opportunity to balance the air flow throughout my home's registers. I don't know what the builders were thinking.

Stay tuned; I'm planning to write an article and blog on air conditioning soon!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Fix or Troubleshoot Your Thermostat

I usually try to leave the thermostat alone in the house during the winter. In other words, just leave the heater off and dress right. Although I can do it here in South Texas (we rarely have a cold freeze and 40's at night are the norm), I understand that many of you don't have that luxury.

The real thing that most folks don't consider when they try to conserve their energy pennies is the thermostat. It just sits there on the wall and doesn't tell you when it's sick - just when it's terminal.

Sooo, if things are going horribly wrong, troubleshoot and fix your thermostat first. Don't just call the heating and cooling serviceman! Chances are that you can fix this yourself and the most it will cost you is a little time.

Summertime should be considered as well. Even if the thermostat is out of whack by a tiny five degrees, consider how much the energy waste adds up over a period of time when the air conditioner is running 24/7!

So what to do? First, make sure to change the filter on a monthly basis. It will keep both you and your air conditioning/heating furnace system healthy and operating efficiently. Secondly, make a point to open up your thermostat. Take a look at it. Clean the bimetal coil. Adjust the thermostat anticipator (don't you love that term?).

Finally, if you've got an old basic type of thermostat, consider upgrading to a programmable thermostat, especially if the home will be unmanned for a good period of time during the day. As a good DIYer, I'm sure you can find something to do with the savings!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Thaw a Frozen Water Pipe

We just got our first close-to-freezing weather here in South Texas and I expect it to get even colder tonight. Judging by some of the online questions I’ve answered today, it’s the same all over. A large percentage of the questions are about one topic – thawing frozen water pipes.

There are a lot of misconceptions floating around in cyberspace. One woman is getting cold water in her bathroom but not a drip out of the hot side. She had thought that only the cold side could freeze. The fact of the matter is that ol’ Jack Frost could care less what kind of water the pipe carries – when it’s not running.

What it boiled down to (no pun intended) is that the hot water line was in an exterior wall in an un-insulated older home.

Locate the Frozen Water Pipe

So what do you do if you find yourself in this situation? The first thing to do is find the frozen section. Look for the section between the point of origin and where the tap won’t flow. The most obvious section will be the most exposed section.

Look in attics, crawl spaces, or in the case of the woman above, a wall.

Thaw the Frozen Water Pipe

Thawing a frozen water pipe is not going to be the most pleasant of chores, but it’s important to attack it right away. Procrastination raises the chance of a burst pipe as the ice expands.

Then you’ve really got trouble!

There are several ways to thaw your frozen water pipe. Use any or all of them, whichever works best in your particular situation.

  • Get a space heater in there; it will help thaw the pipe and keep you from freezing at the same time.
  • Use a hair dryer or heat gun. Just remember to keep the thing moving. Spread the joy.
  • Cover the pipe with hot-water soaked towels. The trick with this method is to keep changing them out.
  • Use an electric heating pad. Much better than the aforementioned towel trick.Keep the tap open. As soon as water starts flowing, it will thaw from the inside as you work from the outside.

Prevent Future Frozen Water Pipes

Four words here: install insulation, insulation, insulation. The more you can do to keep the elements away from the pipes, the better. Other options are UL-listed "heat tape," and "heat cable".

Hopefully you won’t need these tips, but if you do, brew some coffee and get on task!