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updated: 1/5/2012 5:03 AM

Tips for storing all those holiday decorations

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We had a super Christmas holiday with our family this year. We hope you did, too. But it's time to pack it all up and store it until next year. If you do it right, it will be much more secure and much easier to take out next year.

Here are some of our favorite tips.

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When taking things down, look for burned-out lights, bad wires and other damage, and replace these items if you need them next year. They usually are on sale right now at a real bargain.

Package like decorations together -- all outdoor lights in one box, indoor lights in another and Christmas-tree balls in another. Label boxes as to their contents as well.

As far as the lights go, you can roll them up onto a reel straight off the house or bushes. Next year, you only will have to unroll the lights, and they will be ready to plug in. Special storage for smaller strands can be taken care of on a scrap of cardboard cut into a large "H" shape. Several of these storage "cards" can be stored in one box.

Wrap ornaments and other collectibles carefully. Use extra-strong boxes for these, and don't forget to label them.

Pack fake trees properly to make setting them up again next year easier. Some people leave their trees decorated and covered up to protect it all. You can put this on a dolly and roll it into storage.

Check with your local waste collection agency to see if it picks up and recycles real trees that have served their purpose.

Store all of your boxes or bins in a dry area that is somewhat temperature-controlled, like a basement, interior closet or attic. You don't want to expose these items to excessive heat, cold or moisture.

It will be a ho-ho-whole lot easier to fire things up next year if you do it right this year. Happy holidays from both of us to all of you!

Cardboard cores

Cardboard cores from paper and other projects can be recycled in most communities. The really large ones, such as the type flooring comes on, can be reused for shop storage. Use a saw to cut the large tubes into 1-foot sections, then stack them up on their sides to create cubbies for shop storage. Use glue if you want a sturdier stack. You can use these in the house, too, for kids' toy storage, sewing-room organization and even for gardening supplies.

Use for a leaky hose

A leaky hose can be recycled into a "drip irrigation system." Lay that leaky hose in your flower bed, winding around your shrubs. Then use an ice pick, awl or small drill to make holes next to the individual plants. Install a hose end cap, and you're ready to go. This is a very efficient way to water plants. It can be used during winter and the rest of the year, too.

Super hints

• If you have musty closets, replace solid doors with the louvered kind. This allows extra airflow to the closets without having to leave the doors open.

• I love my new dishwasher. It's thorough and very quiet. It is stainless steel inside and really shows the buildup of mineral deposits from my very hard water. When it starts looking really bad, I run it through a short cycle, empty, with a gallon of household vinegar inside it. This cleans all of the deposits off the sides and makes it shiny and clean again.

• One way to keep the whole family organized is to give everyone his or her own plastic tote with his or her name on it. It can be used around the house to put clothes, toys, tools, books and other things in. When it's full, each person has to take care of his or her own stuff.

Q. I have an older home with showers that need to be replaced or updated. What do you think of the shower covers that are available at home centers?

A. The pros of these "covers" are that most are easy to install, and they will give you a new-looking shower for a bargain price. The con is that it might not be as attractive as some other options. Your budget is a big factor, as is the condition of your existing showers. The drain pans and all water supply/drains need to be in good condition. You also might check into some of the companies that will come in and do this for you. They are a lot more affordable than you might think, and might give you the best bang for your buck. It's worth getting an estimate. Also, most of these guys can do it in one day, which might be worth a little extra cash to you. Let us know what you decide and how it turns out.

Q. Our chain-link fence is still in good shape but has started to rust in several places. I bet it won't be long before the whole thing is rusting. What can I do to stop it and prevent more from starting?

A. This fencing is treated with a galvanized finish, and it sounds like that is deteriorating. We suggest cleaning it with a rust remover and a wire scrubber. Then apply a metal primer and repaint the fence. If you keep the rust to a minimum, your fence should last a long time.

Q. I have a small seating group of concrete benches and a table. They are very old but treasured items. I would like to see if I can get them clean again and put on some type of protective finish so they will continue to look nice for many years to come. What do you suggest for these?

A. Trisodium phosphate is a really good cleaner and should get the pieces totally clean again. Just use caution and follow the package directions. This product is available in most paint departments. A little liquid laundry bleach will remove any mold that the TSP doesn't get. Then you can apply a clear water sealer. This will prevent water and other stains, including mold, from penetrating the surface. It must be reapplied once a year or so to keep the protective properties intact.

Reader tips

• After turning my son loose on his room with a gallon of paint, I was surprised to see how well it turned out. It really looks nice, and I think by letting him do the job himself, he will appreciate it even more. The one thing he didn't do was clean the brush I gave him, so it was caked with paint when I found it. I tried soaking it in water, but it didn't come clean. Then I soaked it in half vinegar, half water. This did the job. The paint came off in just an hour, and I washed the brush clean and put it away for the next paint job.

• Last year I bought a small compressor for my workshop. It's been so handy, and I've found lots of uses for it other than the tools I was using with it. I made an improvement to it by making a stand for it to sit on. It has heavy-duty casters on the bottom that lock when I need them to, a good handle on it to make moving it around easier, and a basket to hold tools, accessories and other small items that I need. This makes it so much more versatile. It's a great tool to have if you don't already have one.

• For what seemed like forever, I worked on loosening a nut, trying to get it to come off. I tried every tool I had. Then I applied some heat with my plumbing torch. Voila! The heat did the trick, and I was finally able to remove the nut. It was a toughie for sure, but the heat took care of business for me.

• I liked to use spray lubricant on squeaky hinges until it made stains on our beige carpet. I found that using thick petroleum jelly instead works just as well, and it won't drip on your floor. Try it yourself and see how great it works. It's amazing.

• I love to cook for my family. I am even teaching my son how to cook while I do it. After all, he'll have to learn sometime. I always pour boiling water from cooking pasta or potatoes into the kitchen drain before it has a chance to cool down. It melts any grease that might have been poured down the drain and keeps my sink running smoothly all the time. I never get clogs, so I know it works.

Shoptalk

• For years, a suspended ceiling was about the only option for many rooms in our homes. But now we have the Zip Up Ceiling System. Requiring just a few hand tools, the average do-it-yourselfer can install one of these ceilings. It gives you a lot more headroom because it isn't suspended like the more common "drop" ceiling covers. It's made of PVC, so it's waterproof, and it's easy to take down if you need to access wiring, plumbing or make other repairs, and it looks great. It even can be used outdoors under a deck or patio cover. Check it out at www.zipupceiling.com, or call (888) 379-9695 for more information and the name of a dealer near you.

• If you've ever replaced a wax gasket on a toilet, you know it's kind of messy, and if you're not careful, it can fail. They also need to be replaced occasionally, which is not a lot of fun. The new Sani Seal Waxless Toilet Seal eliminates most of the mess, is easy to use and more flexible, works with most flanges, and even holds the toilet bolts upright to make setting the toilet bowl much easier. To find out more, go to www.sanisealgasket.com and check it out. It might be the last gasket you ever have to replace!

• 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 thesuperhandyman.com.

2011, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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