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posted: 1/20/2012 1:30 AM

Super Handyman: Update your home with new ceiling fixtures

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Ceiling fixtures can really date a home, but they can be replaced, and it's easier than you might think. Here are the basics. Once you know that, you can update the whole house.

First of all, you want to try to stay within the existing weight and style of the fixture. This way, you'll be able to use the existing electrical box mounted in your ceiling.

Before you do anything else, you must turn off the electricity to the ceiling junction box. Turn off the power at your circuit-breaker box. Then use an electrical tester to double-check to make sure the power is off.

At this point, you are ready to disconnect the old fixture. You will need a steady ladder and perhaps a friend to help you with holding the old fixture while disconnecting it. Recycle it by donating it to someone who can use it again.

Your new fixture should come with instructions, so check them and make sure you understand the wiring before you start making your connections. When making connections, make sure wires are properly stripped, twisted together and protected with wire nuts and electrical tape. If you have any questions about your connections, consult a professional. A wiring mistake could cause a fire hazard.

You should be almost finished, at this point. You probably will have a cover for the wiring, and you should put that in place. Now turn the circuit back on and test your new fixture.

If you decide to replace more, take your time, and ask for help if you need it. These upgrades can really make a big difference in the look and feel of your home. They also can add a lot of resale value to the property if you are trying to sell it. Have fun!

Hammer time

Driving a nail takes some power, and a good hammer. Driving a nail into thin material takes a little more finesse; you have to be careful not to split the wood. One clever trick that we've used for years is to blunt the tip before driving it in. Just turn the nail upside down and hammer the tip end a couple of times with your hammer. This will blunt the tip, and when you try to drive it into the thin wood now, it should go right in, and with no splits!

Get a handle on it

Always be careful when climbing ladders. Tool belts are great because they hold your tools, and you can have both hands free for holding the ladder rails. You can add a handle to your ladder easily if you feel you need it. It's super easy. You can use a screen-door handle. Just install it with screws or nuts and bolts if you want. You can install a couple of them if you'd like. Make sure you place them where they will be easy to use and in such a way that they'll still allow the ladder to fold up for storage. It can make carrying it easier, too.

Super hints

• When high humidity is a problem in your garage, basement or boat or tool shed, add desiccants -- found in vitamins, electronics and other bottles -- to tool boxes and drawers where tools are stored to keep them from rusting.

• I love candles and have tons of them in my home. I used to spend a lot of time digging the old candle stubs out of the holders. Now I just put a tiny bit of water into the holder first -- more for larger holders -- and then drop the candle in. When it starts burning down and melting, it looks just the same, but when you are finished with them and try to get them out, they come right out with little or no effort. I love that, too!

• Enlarging plans for a new project isn't hard as long as you get someone else to do it for you. Just take your plans, sketches or drawings to a print shop, and they will blow them up and print them out for you in just a few minutes for a couple of bucks.

Q. We had a workman add new lattice panels to our patio for extra decoration. I think they would look better if they were painted. What type of paint should we use, and what's going to be the best way to apply it?

A. You can apply a stain or paint. Spraying on the finish would be the easiest way to apply it. If you go with paint, use a primer first to help it last longer. You may have to do a couple of coats of stain and use an exterior stain that is waterproof and UV-resistant.

Q. I want to clean my bathroom walls. They have paint on them now, and it's in good shape. I don't want to cause any damage but would like to wash them down. What do you use to clean painted walls?

A. Mild, soapy water is our first choice. Test it in a corner to be sure it won't cause damage to the wall. Most of the time, it shouldn't be a problem and should get most of the dirt off the wall. Use a sponge or soft cloth, not something abrasive. Add a little bleach if you have any mold or mildew problems. Watch that you don't get bleach on any towels or rugs. If you do have mildew, run your ventilator fan a little longer.

Q. I have decided that once I get the garage cleaned out, I want to paint the floor. I am so tired of sweeping up the dust and cleaning off stains that happen pretty regularly. I would love to seal the floor and give it a nicer look and feel. What type of paint should I use for long-lasting results?

A. Ask your paint dealer for a garage-floor paint. Epoxy is the strongest coating for this purpose. It's usually a two-component mix, and you'll want to make sure you get a formula that will resist heat-pickup from hot tires and one that can withstand the basic chemicals that one stores in the garage. Most garage-floor epoxy paints come in a few neutral colors. Just make sure to follow all of the package's prep instructions, and take extra precautions if an acid wash is required. You'll love the look, and your garage will stay much cleaner with a sealed concrete slab floor.

Reader tips

• You'll appreciate this tip. We use our fireplace quite often. It adds a cozy feel on those cold nights we have. We close the glass doors to keep the warm air in the house, and we try to remember to close the damper each morning or after the fire goes out. I can never tell if it's closed just by looking at it. But I have a mirror that I keep on the mantel, which I use to see up into the flue to see whether the damper is closed. It's easy to see with the mirror.

• The ice-melting material we use comes in a bag. It works pretty well but can be a little difficult without a spreader. I used my drop fertilizer spreader for this. I just fill the hopper with ice melt and run it down the driveway and sidewalk a couple of times. It's so much quicker than doing it by hand or using the shaker.

• We finally replaced the vent that was in our bathroom with one that is much stronger and quieter. It works great. I installed one vent in the laundry room as well. I didn't have to worry about the noise in there, and we've always needed to vent that room because of the extra humidity that builds up there. Both vents are working great, and are keeping our home less humid and more comfortable.

• We used to use our deep-freezer for meat, but my husband doesn't hunt much anymore. We were going to sell it, but after turning it off and cleaning it, it was really smelly. I tried more cleaning and put a bag of charcoal in it and closed it up. The charcoal seems to have absorbed the bad smells, and it looks new again. I think it should bring a good price, and I'll actually miss it.

• I put up a new ceiling fan in my sunroom. Finally, I can have some cool air in the summer. I didn't like the plain wooden blades, so I took them down and covered them with wallpaper. I used wallpaper adhesive and a simple pattern that I thought would look good. It's very unique-looking, and I can't wait to show it off to my friends.


• A standard electrical outlet has space for two plugs. This might be fine for most standard situations, but there are occasions when one plug is oversized or faces the wrong direction and won't allow enough room for a second plug in the same outlet. There are ways around this, such as adding an extension to the outlet, but that can get old if you need these items plugged in all the time. You might want to switch the standard outlet to a 360 Electrical Rotating Duplex Outlet. Basic skills are all you need to do the work, and once done, the outlets can be turned up to 360 degrees to make them accessible to both plugs. You'll love this upgrade, and it sure can make things easier around your home. To find out more, visit They also make rotating adapters for outlets as well.

• Winter can be a great time to pull weeds. In many cases, you can see them a lot more easily when the grass is dormant. We found the UpRoot Weed and Root remover, and it's a great tool for pulling weeds. It's actually a lot of fun. The long handle means you don't have to bend over to use it. At the tip end, there are four serrated, stainless-steel claws that grab the weed by the roots. A special easy-eject mechanism right on the handle drops the weed off to the side after it's pulled out of the ground. There's even a foot bar, located near the blade, to help you get down into clay or rocky soils. It's superstrong and made to last, and it carries the Fiskars Lifetime warranty. This tool is worth its weight in gold and, for those who don't like to use chemicals in their yard, it's a wonderful way to clean up the yard now and all year round. To find out more, 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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