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posted: 11/25/2011 12:30 AM

Super Handyman: Tips for getting your pool in shape before winter

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You are a tough soul if you are still swimming in your backyard pool! Most of us have turned on the heat inside the house by now and are pretty much finished with these kinds of outdoor activities. Regular pool maintenance is still required, though. Here are some tips to take care of pool business quickly and get back indoors!

Do your very best to balance the chemicals in the water. It will be much easier to maintain if you start with a good balance.

The big decision you need to make is if you want to winterize your pool. In milder climates, you may choose to keep the pool "open," but in colder parts of the country, you may choose to shut it down for the season. If you plan to leave it exposed, then make sure your filter is operating at peak performance and that you can run it during freezing times. You'll need to balance the chemicals and keep the leaves and debris to a minimum.

If you plan to close or winterize your pool, you'll need a good cover. These are installed over the pool and are secured in place, and they create a very solid surface to protect the pool in the off season. In most cases, you'll also need to remove ladders, pool cleaners and other equipment that would prevent the cover from fitting tightly over the pool. Some covers require water bags or a layer of water on top for stabilization.

To prepare for the winterization process, you need to drain the water down to a level that is lower than the skimmers. Consult your pool-equipment manuals for specific information on how to protect your equipment. Some require a special antifreeze solution (not the same thing as car antifreeze). You'll probably need to drain and blow out the lines so that water isn't trapped inside to cause freeze damage. You even may want to cover the filter or remove some parts to protect it during the freezing weather.

Keep children and pets out of the area, whether the pool is covered or not. If you need to, add a Katchakid safety net over the area to prevent accidents. With a little light maintenance, your pool will be ready to go next spring and summer!

Caulk talk

When we finish a caulking project, you might think it was done by pros or that we've had a lot of practice. The fact is that we just use the right tools. A good caulking gun is a basic tool, but it can give you good results if it operates smoothly. If it's cold where you are working, warm up the caulk with a heating pad. It will flow more smoothly. To get a smooth corner bead, we have a plastic putty knife that has been filed down on the corners to make it easy to get that perfect bead. Sandpaper will help you create a tool of your own, and then you'll look like a pro!

Instant hardware pack

Wide packing tape has a bad habit of rolling back on itself, making it really hard to unroll. Well, this disadvantage can become an advantage for storing small amounts of hardware. Just pull off a small section of tape, place your spare hardware on half of the tape -- sticky side, of course -- then fold the other half of the tape over to secure it. Now you have a neat little packet of hardware that you can store as is. It will be easy to see what's inside, and you can cut or tear out an item when you need it.

Super hints

• Save those wine-bottle corks in a covered plastic jar full of alcohol. When you need to start a fire, just pull one out, place it in the fireplace and light it. It will burn long enough to get the wood going.

• If you have a toilet or sink that isn't used very often and you want to keep it from becoming water-stained, apply a layer of paste wax to protect the finish. For the toilet, just drain the bowl, apply the wax and then refill it with water. It will prevent that ugly and hard-to-remove water line that will start to appear over time.

• A plumber's snake is great for unclogging a sink drain, but it also is perfect for clearing out an air vent in that same plumbing system. Use it to clean out gutter downspouts and dryer vents, too.

Q. I have a problem that seems to be spreading throughout my home. Several of my drapery rods are starting to loosen from the walls. The screws seem to be letting go, and even when I turn them, they won't stay in any longer. What should I do?

A. There are some special wall anchors that will help the screws stay in drywall better. There are several different types, but all serve basically the same purpose, which is to stay put in drywall. Try a couple and find out which works best for you, then replace the rest of the loose screws with these anchors.

Q. My home is older, and most of the chrome faucets and drain covers are starting to look bad. The chrome is wearing off. Is there any way to make them look better?

A. Unfortunately, the chrome cannot be repaired without spending a ton of money and time. You can try painting them with a metal paint, but I'm afraid you might not be happy with the results. Your best bet is going to be to start replacing them as your budget allows. You'll be surprised what a difference just some new faucets will make in the look of these rooms.

Q. My holiday lights are in need of an upgrade. What do you think of the new LED lights?

A. There are both pros and cons for these lights. Some people don't like the look of the LED lights; they do take some getting used to. On the other hand, they cost a fraction of what the other bulbs cost to operate, so your electrical costs will be significantly lower. They cost more, but the savings on your electrical usage is remarkable.

Reader tips

• We had a bathroom door that just wouldn't stay open. For a while we had a metal door holder that sat on the floor at the bottom of the door, but that got old quickly because we did need it to operate on a daily basis. My wife tried a clever idea. She put a piece of Velcro on the doorstop behind the door and the matching piece of Velcro on the back of the door where the two would make contact. With just a little nudge, the door stays open now, and a gentle tug releases it to close. Finally!

• Our laundry room is a little tight, and my wife was always complaining about not having a place to store detergent and other supplies. The washing machine and dryer don't fit against the wall because of the vent and water lines, so I installed some shelf brackets on the wall behind them. Then I put in a shelf. It spans the gap between the wall and machines, and is large enough to accommodate all of the washing supplies and more. Now the room seems a lot larger, and the supplies are up and out of the way.

• You'll love this. I have an older home with large glass panels in the interior doors, some of which I've had to replace since we moved in. The trim and putty are very old, and I had a heck of a time removing some of it. I found that I could make a handle on the glass out of duct tape and pull the panels right out without having to handle the glass and cut myself. These handles work great, and I have painstakingly replaced all of the broken panels with new (old) glass. The doors look great!

• My condo is a little drafty, and last winter was cold. I had the radiators checked, and the super said they are ready for this winter. I bought a sheet of aluminum to tack to the wall behind each one. It doesn't really show very much, but I think it will reflect some more heat back into the room. My neighbor said he had tried it and he's going to do it again this winter, too. I'll let you know how it works.

• The lack of light in our basement makes it the perfect place for our family TV/game room. It's not fancy, but we are really enjoying it. I wasn't up for painting, but I came up with a neat way to cover the walls. I stapled burlap to the walls instead. The burlap adds some texture and a neutral color, and it seems to provide some sound dampening, too. It looks awesome!


• Portable solar chargers get better every day, and we found one that you should like. It fits in the palm of your hand and has a built-in rechargeable battery. It comes with a cable and 10 adapters, so you can charge all of your small electronics when you are on the go. The carry hook makes it easy to take along, and the anti-slide strips on the back mean you can set it down in less-stable spots. Take it camping, hunting, fishing and lots of other places. Check it out at your Lowe's store. It's less than $20, and might be a great gift!

• You have to see the EvoOrganic Weed Free Garden Watering Blanket. This material can be laid out over an area you wish to cultivate. It blocks the weeds, and also has a built-in drip irrigation system. All you need to do is put it on the ground, stake it down and hook your garden hose up to it. It works great, conserves water like no other system around, saves you tons of time and increases your yields. It's built tough enough to last several seasons. Check it out at

• 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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