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posted: 10/28/2011 12:30 AM

Super Handyman: Get your fireplace ready to go for the winter

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Wood-burning fireplaces are cozy, aren't they? Well, they also can be dangerous if you don't inspect them every year and repair any damage you find.

A thorough cleaning also is a good way to keep them working safely. Here are some things you should take care of if you plan to use your fireplace this season.

Starting from the top and working down is a good idea. But before you begin, cover the hearth with a plastic dropcloth so that as you clean and work, nothing gets into your home. You can buy a chimney-cleaning kit with rods, extensions and brushes. You'll need to know if you have a round or square flue, what size it is and how deep it is. The brushes just need to be worked up and down the flue to loosen the buildup inside the flue. Then you vacuum it out from the bottom. When you vacuum, make sure you have a very fine filter on your vacuum, or the dust and soot will be exhausted back into the room -- not a good plan!

Clean out the hearth area, too. Don't forget the damper, smoke shelf area. You can use mirrors and a flashlight to see up into the flue.

Once it's all clean, look for leaks or damaged or missing mortar in the joints. These areas need to be repaired with fireplace mortar before they can be used again.

If your chimney doesn't have a cover, you'll need to install one. The best type will keep the rain and birds out but allow for plenty of air draw when in use. The screen also acts as a spark arrester to protect your roof. You want to make sure it's firmly attached so it won't blow off.

If you can't do all of these things to make sure your fireplace is in good working order, then consider hiring a chimney sweep. They do a great job and will give you the peace of mind you need to enjoy those cozy evenings by the fire.

Lock blocker

There are times when you don't want a door to close and possibly lock behind you, especially if you have small children. Whether you have your hands full of groceries, garbage or laundry, or you don't want small children to get locked in a bathroom or closet, there's a simple way to prevent a door from latching when you close it. Get a large, heavy-duty rubber band and slip it over the door handle. Now twist it and loop the end over the handle on the other side of the door. The twisted part of the rubber band will sit over the latch and prevent it from moving into the strike plate when you close the door.

Sandpaper scraps

Sandpaper is so handy for so many projects. We usually get packages of several pieces of assorted grits to use in the shop and home. The packages are OK, but if you cut or tear the pieces into smaller sections to use for smaller projects, or have leftovers, then the packages they come in don't really do very well to keep them securely stored any longer. We like to keep ours on a clipboard. This makes sure the pieces, no matter what size or shape, stay together, and you probably can store the clipboard right on your shop wall, making it super handy to get the sandpaper you need for your particular project.

Super hint

• Some plant bulbs need to be dug out of the ground and stored in a cool, dry place during the winter. Allow them to dry out, and shake off the loose dirt. Save some mesh bags from store-bought potatoes or onions to store the bulbs in. Hang them on the garage wall, and they will be ready to go next spring.

• Baby wipes aren't just for babies anymore. They are great for the shop and garden. They actually cut through grease and grime pretty effectively, and are much easier to use than soap and water when you are working outside, where sinks are not handy.

• Stick-on address labels are perfect to put on tools, ice chests, fishing gear and other items that you want to identify as your belongings. If anyone borrows one, he or she will know who to return it to!

Q. We store our pool chemicals inside the garage. We plan to build a shed but just haven't gotten around to it yet. My neighbor told me that the chemicals might cause damage to our cars and other things in the garage. Is this true?

A. The chemicals should be closed up tight enough not to give off any caustic fumes, but yes, the fumes can be dangerous, not only to your cars, but to you as well. It's best if you can store them in a weathertight place outside. They need to be kept dry and away from too much heat or cold.

Q. Our patio roof is practically flat and has had some leaks throughout the years. Is there a better way to seal it than just patching the leaks when they occur?

A. There are some rubber coatings that are made just for this type of roof. You should clean the surface and remove any loose material. If you can get all the way down to the bottom layer, you can apply a solid waterproof membrane over the surface. Then you can apply the rubber coating product.

Q. We are renovating our bathroom and are installing a new toilet-tissue holder. We have patched the wall and painted, but don't know where the toilet-tissue holder should be located. Is there some standard for this? We would like to know about the height of a towel rack as well.

A. A standard towel rack should be located about 48 inches off the floor, lower for children. The standard placement for a tissue holder is 20 to 24 inches from the floor. But you can choose to alter that if you want. It really is a personal choice. You might consider a free-standing older one that includes a magazine rack. It doesn't have to be so standard, does it

Reader tips

• I built a deck in my backyard and also built a nice seating area into it. I used carriage bolts on several parts of it. After a few months, I noticed that the bolts were a little loose, and I went back and tightened them. I never gave it much thought, but it makes sense, because the wood I used to build the deck was moist when I installed it. After it had time to dry out, the bolts were looser because the wood had shrunk. I advise that anyone using carriage bolts on these types of projects go back and tighten all bolts again to make sure they stay snug as the wood shrinks over time.

• My laundry room is a tight fit for our washer and dryer. They touch and make a lot of noise. I move them apart, but they always move back together. I bought a piece of foam pipe insulation and used a broom handle to push it into the space between the washer and dryer. It keeps them from rubbing against each other, and there is no more noise, praise the Lord!

• My wife has a waterproof apron that she wears when working in her garden. It's pink, so I didn't like to wear it much. But I made my own. I got an extra nail apron and sprayed it with Scotchgard waterproofer. Now I have a waterproof apron of my own to wear. And the neighbors don't laugh at me anymore for that.

• My ceiling fan had started to make some noise, so I climbed up the ladder to look at it. I tried to tighten the glass globes on the lamp, thinking that they were a little loose and might be the cause of the noise. I noticed some rubber bands around each globe right where the set screws hold them tightly in place. One was missing, so I found a wide rubber band, added it to the globe and tightened it back up. That stopped the noise.

• My mom still lives at her home, but as she ages, I worry more about her. One thing I did to help her keep her place clean was to make vacuuming easier. I replaced her standard, 15-foot hose with a 30-foot-long vacuum hose. Now she can do a lot more, without having to move the vacuum around behind her so much when she is cleaning. I think I may get one for myself, too. I hate having to carry the vacuum while cleaning the stairs.


• Mulch doesn't have to be a disposable product. Rubberific Mulch, made of recycled truck tires, is made to last for more than 10 years. It's nontoxic, safe for children to play on and has a high safety rating. It's heavier than regular mulch, so it won't float, and it makes an effective weed blocker, retains moisture for plants, won't attract insects and comes in a variety of nonfading colors. Use it on playgrounds, around trees and shrubs or in decorative landscapes. It looks just like the real thing. Check it out at or at your local landscape dealer or garden center.

• Loctite Power Grab is a super construction adhesive. It can be used to secure trim molding, carpet, drywall, wood, glass and just about everything else. The Pressure Pack means it's ready to go without having to use a caulking gun. It's very strong, fills gaps and eliminates the need for nails, screws and staples on many projects. Check it out at your favorite hardware store or nearby home center. For additional information, visit

• 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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