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updated: 12/9/2011 10:29 AM

Super Handyman: How to prevent a pest invasion

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If you hear the pitter-patter of little feet running around your house and you don't have kids, you might have other critters! Mice, rats, squirrels, raccoons, opossums and other rodents like a nice, cozy home, too, and your attic might be the perfect spot, if you aren't careful!

Here are some of our favorite tips for keeping these pests out of your home.

• Keep trees trimmed back so the critters won't have easy access to your roof or eaves. If you have fruit trees, remove any leftover fruit so they won't have anything to snack on.

• Don't leave pet food out for them, either. Rodents aren't very picky eaters. They also like bird food.

• If you have a compost pile, you should keep it covered, fenced in or otherwise secured.

• Keep garbage cans closed tightly, too. You would be surprised how clever these critters can be at getting what they want.

• Make sure that even small gaps around the exterior of your home are sealed up. A wide variety of fillers, caulks and other sealers are available at your hardware store and home center. Fill open-air gaps with screen wire, steel wool or other material that deters chewing as they try to gain access to your home. Keep garages, sheds, patio roofs and other adjoining structures sealed up to prevent them from getting into your attic or basement. A farm-supply store is another good source for repellents and traps.

If you do suspect that pests have gotten inside your home, try to drive them out with repellents, and get those gaps sealed up super-tight as quickly as possible. A pest-control company might be an option if you can't do it yourself.

Your home is a big investment, and not only are these pests inconvenient, they actually can cause a whole lot of damage, including chewing wires, which could cause fire damage.

Versatile coat racks

A coat rack can hold lots more than coats. When put in the average garage or shop, it can be used as tool storage. Installed in a garden shed, it can hold hoses and some garden tools. The type we are talking about would be mounted directly on a wall and would have a series of hooks to hold coats, hats, drills, weed trimmers, hoses, shovels and tons more stuff. Talk about handy!

Recycle your solvents

Want to save money on paintbrush cleaners and other solvents? You can if you clean it after using it on your paintbrushes. Just clean your brushes and set them aside to dry. Let the container of solvent sit, covered, overnight. This will give the paint time to settle to the bottom of the container. Then you can carefully pour the solvent back into the original container, minus the paint. You can use a strainer if you want to save time and make doubly sure to keep the paint from getting into the container. It won't be as good as new solvent, but it should work just as well, and since you'll get a couple more uses out of the same solvent, you'll be saving a bundle!

Super hints

• Metal shelves are great in the shop. Most come in a box and are easy to assemble. But you can hang them, upside down, from your garage's rafters. This frees up some valuable floor space and makes for a super-secure storage shelf.

• We bought a very plain coffee table with a glass top. It was boring, so we used tile adhesive to glue decorative tiles to the top and border tiles around the edges. Then we grouted the whole thing. It went from totally bland to dynamite in just one weekend. We also had a blast doing it! It looks super.

• Look in your recycling bin for storage containers to use in the shop. Plastic containers with lids are great for storing hardware and tool accessories. The containers work pretty well and are free!

Q. I need to find a better way of cleaning the filter over my stove. It's filthy. I've tried some kitchen degreasers, and they do an OK job but never get off all of the grease. What else would you suggest?

A. Try soaking them in a shallow pan of mineral spirits paint thinner. This should loosen the heavy buildup. Some folks say you can clean them in the dishwasher. That might be something you start doing after you get the really heavy buildup cleaned off.

Q. We have a wooden threshold at our front door. The door is in pretty good shape, but the wooden threshold has worn down throughout the years. It's time to replace it, and we want to find another wooden one, rather than a metal version. Where should we be looking for this part?

A. A good door dealer should have a supply of wooden thresholds. You're probably not going to find them at the big-box stores. The existing threshold probably is screwed down to the floor, so you would just remove it, cut the new threshold to fit and install it. You also might consider adding a door sweep to your door to add an extra layer of weatherstripping to help keep out the drafts. Good luck.

Q. We had a leak in an upstairs bathroom that has caused some ceiling damage in our hallway. Before painting, we had the drywall repaired. The texturing still looks noticeable. How can we smooth it or otherwise hide the repairs?

A. Perhaps you need to sand off some of the drywall compound if the repairs don't look smooth enough. Sometimes an additional coat of drywall compound can be smoothed over the surface and sanded again for a smoother look. Also, prime the area with a sealer like KILZ before applying the paint. Use a flat-finish paint, as this will not show as many imperfections as a glossy paint finish would.

Reader tips

• Our garage is very roomy. We even have a large closet at the front, where we store a lot of things. The door was difficult to open with the cars in the way, so we removed it and replaced it with a pocket door. This door was easy to install, and it allows us to access the closet without pulling out the cars. We can still lock it if we need to.

• After running into the very clean sliding-glass patio door, I decided I needed to put some of those decals on the door to make it easier to see. I put some fairly plain but obvious stickers on the door. I had some left over, so I thought to put some at the bottom of the door for my dog. He is getting older and has run into the door also. I'm not sure, but I feel like he probably appreciates the help as much as I do.

• I have tried several ways to store my extension cords throughout the years. I found that the best way is to store them in buckets. You can drill a hole in the bottom of the side of the bucket and run the end through it. Then coil the cord inside the bucket and leave the other end on top. Now you can pull out what you need and have both ends available to plug in. You can take it with you if you want, and even can stack a couple of buckets together to free up some storage space in your shop. You can hang the buckets, too.

• I have several rechargeable batteries for my tools. They are just great. In an effort to keep my shop better organized, I created a nifty charging station. I set up an area off to the side of my work space and installed a power strip that is large enough to accommodate all of my chargers. Then I plugged them all in and set the extra batteries in the same area. The tools go on the shelf right below the chargers. Now that it's all in one place, I can keep everything ready to go when I need to use them.

• Many years ago, my husband built a wooden fort and swing set for the kids. The children are grown now and no longer use it, but I started putting some plants around it. This winter I closed it in with plastic sheeting, and have turned it into a pretty nice greenhouse. I ran an electrical outlet to the fort and plan to put up a heat lamp when it gets colder. It's a great place to keep the more fragile plants, and I can get an early start on my vegetable garden inside it, too.


• Fiskars' new ShopBoss is a must-have for the workshop. It's super-tough and very versatile. Designed as a multipurpose cutting tool, it cuts aluminum siding, roof flashing, binding straps, screen wire, light sheet metal and a lot more. It can cut through 18-guage wires and strip them for electrical repairs. You even can remove a bottle cap with the thing. The locking blade is very safe to use, and specially designed grips make the handles easy to operate with less fatigue and more control. The sheath has a built-in belt clip, deburring file, tape cutter and pencil holder, and it carries the Fiskars lifetime warranty. It's just hitting the stores this week. Visit to learn more.

• Scotch Tough Duct Tape has a Heavy Duty All Weather Duct Tape that is great for outdoor repairs. It's waterproof and UV-resistant for a long-lasting, durable bond. It also resists drying and cracking, and won't peel up in the sun, heat or cold. It's flexible and conforms to a wide variety of uses, yet is easy enough to tear by hand. Look for it at your hardware store or home center, or online 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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