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posted: 7/8/2011 12:01 AM

Super Handyman: Be safe in your yard this summer

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A backyard should be your own private oasis. But between the pests, pools and other problems, it can be downright dangerous! Here are a few tips for creating safer and more secure surroundings.

A good fence is a good start. Whatever your choice of material, your fence should keep you and your pets in and keep other critters out. Make sure to use fencing materials that are strong and weatherproof. Pressure-treated or more weather-resistant woods are good choices. PVC, vinyl and other alternative materials also are worth taking a look at. Make sure you have rocks, bricks or wire mesh at the bottom to prevent animals from digging in or out. Lock your gates.

If you have a pool or some other large water feature, make sure it isn't accessible to pets or children who might fall in and have trouble getting out. There are some pretty good alarms that will alert you to a mishap like this. You also can install safety fences around the water itself, in addition to your perimeter fence. Many municipalities also require some type of audible alarm at every exit door to a pool or hot-tub area so you will know if anyone goes outside.

Make sure to keep barbecue grills and accessories away from kids. Gas, matches and lighter fluid left unattended are just an accident waiting to happen. Keep a water hose and/or fire extinguisher handy when cooking outdoors, and never leave a working grill unattended.

All exterior electrical outlets, including lights, should be on GFCI circuits to prevent accidental electrocution. Access to air conditioners, pool pumps and other machinery should be restricted when possible.

Treat for insects in a safe way in areas where children and pets play. Read and follow all direction labels, and keep the kids and pets out of the treated areas until it's safe to come back. Try using safer methods if you can. Certain plants, birds and nontoxic solutions might be a better choice.

Have a super-safe summer!

Check out this totally tubular caulking idea!

Caulking is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to seal up leaks around your home. You can buy caulk for just about every place inside and outside your home. It even comes in a variety of colors. About the only thing you can't find is a device that allows you to get the caulk into a remote area. We have a super suggestion: Tape a flexible plastic drinking straw or aquarium tubing to the end of the caulking tube. Then you can give the trigger a squeeze and direct it right where you need it. This also works to get the caulk into an area where the caulking gun won't go. It's totally tubular!

Upkeep on vinyl siding is a snap

Vinyl siding is one way to give your home a great look with very little upkeep. You'll never have to paint again, and just a little cleaning probably is all you'll ever have to do. You can do the cleaning with a power washer, set on a low-impact setting. Water likely will do the trick, but if you need to use a cleaner, there are some made just for power washers that work really well. If you don't have a power washer, you can use a garden hose with a spray attachment. Scrubbing can be done very easily with a paint roller on an extension pole.

Super hints

• When wedging plastic material into a tight space, spray it down with a little soapy water first. It will slide right in, and the soap eventually will dry up and keep it from sliding back out.

• Cable ties are your friends. They are wonderful in the shop, garden and home. You can use them for a million different things. I use them to corral extension cords, hoses and other loose items. They are great to use as temporary clamps on items that are hard to clamp with the standard type of clamps. When you need to, cut them and release the material. They are inexpensive and can be easily replaced when you need to do so.

• If you are using a shop vacuum to clean up your fireplace -- and it's a great tool for that, as long as the coals are totally out -- make sure to add a very fine filter. Otherwise, it will blow that gray ash right back out into your home and create more of a mess than any fireplace ever could.

Q: We are looking at water softeners. I have heard about some magnets you can install on your pipes that are supposed to catch some of the mineral deposits before they do any damage. It is quite a bit less expensive than a water softener. But do they really work?

A. Honestly, we've never tried them. It might be worth a try. You also might check with your local water-supply company to see if it has run any tests on them. Check online as well for opinions. A little homework will pay off either way. Let us know what you find out so that we can pass the info on to others.

Q. I am just getting into the home-repair game with my first house. I love your columns, and I have learned so much from reading them and really appreciate hearing from other readers, too. I have my first drill. What do I need to do to keep it maintained and ready to go?

A. We always recommend reading the owner's manual first. This will tell you how to put it together, if needed, as well as how to run it. You also usually will get some great tips on maintenance as well as some troubleshooting information. Make sure to check out the manufacturer's website. It might have some great projects you can try.

Q. We had our gutters painted when we had the house trim painted last year. Now the gutters are starting to peel. What do we need to do to paint them again? Why did they start peeling so soon?

A. Gutters need to be primed with a zinc-based primer. Perhaps whoever did it used the wrong primer. How is the rest of the paint job holding up? You need to power-wash and scrape or sand off the loose paint from the gutters. Then use the proper primer. And then you can apply the paint. That should do it, and in most cases, you should get long-lasting results. Good luck!

Reader tips

• I love to cook outdoors, and my wife loves it too, because it keeps her kitchen cool and clean. I wouldn't dare ask her to clean my grill after I use it, but I don't really like to do the cleanup that much myself. When I finish cooking, I always use the used aluminum foil to scrub down the grill. It's just going into the trash anyway, so why not use it? It works great to get the caked-on grease off the grill. I clean the rest with soap and water and some of my own elbow grease.

• Our pop-up tent comes in handy when we are working out at the ranch. We set it up where we are working, and it gives us plenty of shade all day long. When we need to add some stability, we tie a plastic bucket to each corner and fill it with water. The buckets sit on the ground, with no slack in the rope, and act like anchors on the corners of the tent. The weight of the water keeps the tent from blowing around so much. We've even left it like this overnight without it falling down.

• I used to have a push stick that came with my table saw. It's a great tool to use with the saw to help guide the wood into the blade without putting your fingers at risk. I lost this, of course, but I found another tool that works just as well. I use a pencil with a large eraser as a push tool. The eraser doesn't slip on the wood as you use it to push the material through the cut.

• The last big storm we had did quite a number on my cedar siding. I had to replace a whole section of it because of the debris that hit it during the storm. I bought new siding, but my wife objected to me putting it up because it was new, and so was a different color, much brighter than the old, aged siding. So I pulled some off the back of the house and put it on the front; it's weathered and doesn't look different. I put the new siding in the back, where it doesn't show. She is fine with that, and I am a hero.

• I don't like to use weed killers but have had to on some very stubborn weeds this year. I tried the spray and found it messy but the most effective. I needed to find a way to put it on the weeds without damaging the surrounding vegetation. I came up with a neat tool. I got a section of PVC pipe that is about 4 inches in diameter. The piece I use is about 1 foot long. I place it on the ground, with the opening right over the weed, and spray inside the tube. The weed killer goes on the weed but not outside the pipe. It looks weird in the yard, with all the circles, but it's working!


• If you're getting bored just sitting around on your front porch whittling, why not take up the game of chess? We have some super plans for making your own chess set out of hardware. It's really great-looking and is made from leftovers and odds and ends you probably have sitting around your workbench. If you've got a lot of hardware just collecting dust, you probably already have what you need. If not, it won't cost much to put together a complete set. Visit our website at

• Moen's new Flushmount Body Sprays are stylish and flexible. If you are thinking about upgrading your shower, check them out. These new showering systems are made to install easily, look seamless because they are the same size as a standard bathroom tile, and are really great-looking. You can find out more at

• There's a new style in outdoor grills, called the TableQ Grilling System. It's a table with a grill built into the center and seating all around the outside. It's innovative, safe and super cool! Check it out at, and find the right one for your next get-together.

• Write to Al and Kelly Carrell in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006 or visit the Carrells' website at

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