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Home Improvement FAQ and Information Archive

Safety first

Although the methods in this site have been reviewed for safety, it is not possible to overstate the importance of using the safest methods you can. What follows are reminders--some do’s and don’ts of work safety--to use along with your common sense.


How to clean & repair clogged gutters

Clean dense debris from gutters using a putty knife or a narrow drywall knife. Put the debris in a bucket instead of dropping it on the ground.


Demolition tools

When a home improvement project begins with demolition work, some do-it-yourselfers begin to salivate Finally, a chance to vent frustrations over every leak, squeak, and repair that didn’t pan out and to pound part of the house into oblivion.


How to fix a doorbell

Begin by testing the button to make sure it works. Doorbell buttons are commonly the culprit. Use a screwdriver to remove the two screws that secure the doorbell cover to the house...


How to fix a lamp socket

With the lamp unplugged, the shade off, and the bulb out, you can remove the socket. Squeeze the outer shell of the socket just above the base and pull the shell out of the base (the shell is often marked “Press” at some point along its perimeter. Press there and then pull)...


How to remove a broken light bulb

Before you start to remove the broken bulb, turn off the power to the light (or unplug the lamp, if that’s what you’re working on). Then, with the light switch in the ON position, place the tip of your voltage sensor in the bro ken bulb base. If the sensor beeps or lights up, then the wires are still live and are not safe to work. Check the main circuit panel again and trip the correct breaker to disconnect power to the light. If the sensor does not beep or light up, the circuit is dead and safe to work on...


How to replace a pull-chain switch

First, make sure that the switch is broken, not just the chain. If you find a short bit of chain sticking out of the fixture, pull on it to see if the light turns on and off. If so, you can buy and attach a new length of pull chain. If there’s no chain left or if the switch doesn’t work when you pull the remaining chain, go ahead and replace the switch...


How to install a programmable thermostat

Turn off the power to the furnace at the main service panel. Then, remove the thermostat cover...


How to remove a wall switch

To remove the old switch, first shut off the power to the switch. Remove the decorative cover- plate from the switch by unscrewing the two screws that hold the plate to the switch box. Set the screws and the plate aside. With the cover- plate off you will be able to see the switch and the electrical box it is attached to...


How to install a wireless wall switch

To install the receiver switch, you’ll need to deter mine which wire carries current from the service panel. Bend both the wires so they are as far apart as possible. Turn the power back on temporarily Without touching either wire, pass your voltage sensor over both. One should make your sensor beep and light up and the other won’t. The one that trips your sensor carries current. Turn off the power and label that wire with a piece of tape...


How to fix a bad receptacle

Shut off the power to the switch at the main service panel. Remove the decorative cover plate from the receptacle. Set the screw and the plate aside. With the cover plate off you will be able to see the receptacle and the electrical box it is attached to...


Installing a tamper-resistant receptacle

Shut the power to the switch off. Remove the decorative cover plate from the receptacle by unscrewing the screw that holds the plate to the electrical box. Set the screw and the plate aside.


How to inspect your plumbing

There are two basic kinds of pipes in a plumbing system: supply pipes and drain pipes. Supply pipes are always full of water under pressure and drain pipes (which include vent pipes that only move air) are empty when not in use. Supply pipes usually are 1/2” or 3/4” in diameter and drain pipes are any- where from 1½” to 4” or more. The largest drain pipes are the main drain stack (multi-level houses) and horizontal house drains fed by branch lines.


Understanding floors

When most of us think of a floor we envision the top layer: in effect, the decorative covering -- hardwood, ceramic tile, laminate, or carpet. The “real” floor is hidden underneath.


Removing and replacing sink trap components

Before removing a sink trap, place a bucket under the trap to catch water that spills out. Loosen the slip nut at one end of the trap (a P-trap is seen here). Use channel-type pliers if the nut won’t unscrew by hand.


Choosing flooring

Today’s homeowner is faced with an extensive range of flooring choices. Selecting the right floor can almost be harder than installing it.


Painting Tools

These are the tools you’ll need for your painting toolbox. All these tools are available at almost every home improvement center, paint store, and hardware store.


Decorating tools

These are the tools you’ll need for your decorating toolbox. All these tools are available at almost every home improvement center, paint store, and hardware store.


How to frost-proof your plumbing

OUTDOOR FAUCETS. Remove hoses from all outside faucets when freezing weather approaches. Shut off the water to the faucet at the shutoff valve inside. Drain the pipe from the shut off to the spout by opening a waste nut on the shutoff and the outside faucet itself.


Evaluating floors

Floor coverings wear out faster than other interior surfaces because they get more wear and tear. Surface damage can affect more than just appearance. Scratches in resilient flooring and cracks in grouted tile joints allow moisture to wear away at adhesive, eventually pushing up the floor covering or tile. Hardwood floors lose their finish and become discolored. And loose floorboards squeak. If that problem appears to be minor now, the question is: Clean, repair, or replace?


Panting and papering tools

Painting is a job do-it-yourselfers tackle more than any other, and the one where, for a modest investment, they can use the same high-quality tools professionals use: a basic roller and a good-quality brush. If you have a lot of wall area to cover, consider using a 5-gallon paint bucket with roller screen instead of a pan. You won’t need to keep refilling the pan, and and bucket allows you to douse the roller (covering it with paint quickly) and flick off the extra against the screen.


Choosing paint

Paint comes in various sheens, ranging from flat to high- gloss enamel. Gloss enamels dry to a shiny finish and are best for surfaces that need to be washed often, such as bathroom or kitchen walls or woodwork in any room. Flat paints are used for walls and ceilings.


How to fix a compression faucet

Most compression valves have a threaded metal spindle with a disc-shaped stem washer on the end. When the spindle is screwed all the way in, the stem washer covers a hole, and water flow to the spout is stopped. Drips from the spout happen when the seal between the stem washer and the rim of the hole (called the “valve seat”) is imperfect. Usually, replacing the stem washer is enough to stop the drip.


Drywall finishing tools

To finish new gypsum drywall or repair damaged panels on existing walls, you need a pair of drywall knives and a larger blade for spreading and smoothing compound over wide seams between panels. The basics will do for most projects, although there are specialized drywall tools such as corner blades and swiveling sanding blocks attached to long poles so that you can sand joint com pound more easily.


Hand tools

Many do-it-yourselfers already own the basic hand tools required for building and remodeling walls and ceilings. Unless you plan a special application, such as installing ceramic wall tiles, you won’t need any specialty tools.


Problem solving - Cleaning hardwood floor

Immediately dean spills with a dry cloth. Avoid ribbing the spill into the floor. Once the spill is soaked up, use a damp cloth to blot the remaining residue on the floor. Rinse your cloth often and thoroughly wring it out before using it again. Use a d clean cloth to dry the area when you are done. If it is still sticky allow the area to dry and then use a damp mop.


How to hang a picture

On each side of the frame, mark 8” down from the top. Purchase D-rings or picture hooks rated to support the approximate weight of the picture or mirror (package labels on the hardware give the suggested weight ranges).


Learn About Layout tools

A basic collection of rulers, squares, and levels should serve on most home improvement projects. But it always helps to follow the adage “Measure twice and cut once,” particularly when it can save an extra trip to the lumber yard for more wood.


How to fix a sliding screen door

You can’t remove the screen door until you release the tension on the roller wheels. Back off the adjustment screws, then lift the door out of the channel that holds it captive.


Installing safety coverplates

You can get much of the protection of a  tamperproof outlet with a safety coverplate. Adding one takes only minutes and requires no contact with wiring. Remove the old coverplate from the receptacle by unscrewing the screw that holds the plate to the electrical box.


How to fix a broken window pane

Wearing heavy leather gloves, remove the broken pieces of glass. Then, soften the old glazing compound using a heat gun or a hair dryer. Don’t hold the heat gun too long in one place because it can be hot enough to scorch the wood.


How to install a new towel bar

Position the towel bar and make a mark along the outside of the mounting trim on each side. (Try to avoid positioning the bar so the new holes will fall directly over the old ones.) Repeat for the other side.


Installing a built-up cornice

A built-up molding is a good way to create an elaborate ceiling molding without paying a small fortune for a custom made pieces. On this job, we started with a backer board that supports much of what comes later. We covered this with a soffit board and added a frieze under the soffit. Then a cornice was nailed between the frieze and soffit, and a fascia was nailed to the front of the soffit and backer. We finished up by installing a bed molding along the top edge and a cove molding along the bottom.


Building codes & permits

Building permits are required for any remodeling project that involves a change or addition to your home’s structure or mechanical systems. Building permits are issued to ensure your remodeling project meets local building codes, which establish material standards, structural requirements, and installation guidelines for your project. In short, they ensure that your (or your contractor’s) work is done properly.


Cleaning carpet

Carpet cleaning machines can be rented by the hour or by the day To deep clean your carpet push the machine forward over a 3-ft. square area, releasing the detergent and rotating the brush. At this time hot water is often used, causing steam. When you pull back, cold water is used as a rinse. Some machines allow you to manually adjust the water temperature. Always be sure to rinse thoroughly Slowly go over the same area a couple of times to work the cleaner into the carpet. Repeat this process until the entire carpet is cleaned. Allow the carpet to dry Vacuum.


Ceiling - wood planking

In theory you can use any type of wood plank on a ceiling, including shiplap and other types that are normally used for exterior siding. But those materials generally are 3/4 inch thick, which is not only unnecessary on a ceiling but also a disadvantage due to the weight.


Lighting options

Good lighting plays a key role in efficient design--and goes a long way toward defining the personality of the room. With the proper fixtures in the proper places, lighting can help you avoid working in shadows or relaxing in dimly lit rooms.


Fixing a leaking skylight

A skylight is a great addition to just about any room, especially one that is starved for natural light. But one of these units can also be the source of water leaks that cause internal rot and ceiling stains. Typically the first sign of trouble is a faint brown ring on the ceiling. You can be sure that this indicates a roof leak, instead of just water condensation inside the attic, because the dark edge is caused by traces of asphalt from roofing shingles or

roofing cement. A leak must be repaired.


Installing attic stairs

If you want to add living space to your attic and don’t have a full set of stairs going up there, you should hire a professional to make and install a staircase for you. But if you just want a better way into an attic that currently has only a small access hole, then consider installing a fold-down stairway. This job is within reach for most homeowners and can make getting up and down much easier. The starting point is buying the staircase unit at a lumberyard or home center.


Ceiling - Building and using a deadman brace

Installing drywall is usually a two-person job. To have help carrying and lifting the panels makes the work a lot easier. But help is not al ways around when you need it. Fortunately, you can work alone with the help of two common devices. The first is a rented drywall lift that costs about $50 a day. With this hand-powered tool you can install panels on ceilings and walls by yourself.


Hanging curtains

Curtains can dress a room in elegance, lighten the room’s mood, or do little more than filter incoming light--it’s completely up to you. Choosing them may take some time, but hanging them can be a breeze.


Patching large hole or repairing small hole in drywall

Minor blemishes to drywall surfaces are easy to repair by just filling the spots with joint compound, letting it dry, and sanding it smooth. But larger holes require more effort. You can use one of the kits described in the box on the opposite page.


Installing a wall niche

The space between the studs on interior it walls is the greatest untapped supply of storage space in your house. In a typical wall, this space is 14½ inches wide by 3½ inches deep. Just about every medicine cabinet is designed to fit inside this space. And many fold- up ironing boards fit nicely between studs. But the practical storage supplied by these fixtures is not the only possibility.


Installing a ceiling medallion

Plastic ceiling medallions are lightweight, easy to install, and look exactly like traditional plaster medallions once they are painted. Medallions are available in different sizes and patterns. Some are even designed to allow a chandelier chain to fit through a center hole.


Building a glass-block wall

Glass-block walls and windows not only add a distinctive design element to this room, they also allow filtered light in without sacrificing privacy. These blocks aren’t difficult to install, but the framing in the room may need to be beefed up to support the additional weight. Check with an engineer or architect for what’s required.


Building a soundproof wall

There’s a lot of noise around these days, both inside and outside the house, and most of us would like to turn down the volume a bit. Fortunately, the truck rumbling by doesn’t sound as bad as it could because some of the so is blocked by the insulation in the exterior walls. Unfortunately, interior walls aren’t insulated. In fact, these walls sometimes seem like amplifiers, especially when the kids are watching TV in the next room.


Dealing with home emergencies

Be Prepared - Not every emergency can be prepared for, but if you live in an area prone to hurricanes, floods, earth quakes, or tornadoes, you should have basic emergency supplies on hand, and your family should be aware of what steps to take when disaster strikes.


Finishing drywall seams - Pages 1 2 3 4

Finishing drywall is one of those jobs that get easier with practice. The more comfortable you become with the tools and materials, the faster the finishing will go and the better results you’ll get. For the beginner, the biggest problem is keeping the knives clean and the compound free of any debris. The goal is to get the smoothest possible surface after the com pound is applied. So any impurities that are dragged across the surface will create deep grooves that need to be sanded out once the compound is thy.


How to fix a concrete chip-out and concrete crack

Drive a form board next to the sidewalk and undercut the broken section with a cold chisel and hammer. This will create a modest keyway that will give the patch something extra to grip.


Installing backer board

In wet areas, cement-board is better backing for ceramic tile than regular or water-resist ant drywall as it will not degrade if it should get wet. Although it’s usually ½ inch thick and is installed much like drywall, it is heavier and harder to cut.


How to fix a cartridge faucet

Turn off the water at the stop valves. To avoid losing small parts, put a rag in the drain if it has no stopper. Some cartridge faucets have an index cap covering a handle screw. Other handles, especially on one-handle faucets, are secured with a recessed set screw that can be loosened with a 3/32” or 7/64” hex wrench. A lever type handle with no set screw may be removed with channel-type pliers.





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