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!