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updated: 1/27/2012 3:42 PM

Super Handyman: Simple changes can help people stay in their homes longer

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More and more people are opting to stay in their current homes as they age rather than move to assisted-living situations. There are some things you can do around your home to make this easier and safer.

Each room has its own challenges, and every home will be different. Probably the most common addition to the home will be several grab bars.

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Grab bars are available at hardware stores. There are some that are temporary and hold to the walls or other surfaces by suction. They actually work pretty well. But the best are the ones that are permanently attached to wall studs. Use a stud finder to locate the studs behind your walls, and then drill a pilot hole for the best results.

If you have to drill into a tile, as you might in a shower or tub, use a carbide drill bit and some patience. Use silicone around your mount to keep water from getting into the wall and causing damage over time.

A shower seat is a helpful item. It's also a good idea to replace your standard shower head with one that has a hose on it so that you can use it while seated if you need to.

If you have mobility issues, get rid of rugs and floor mats. These can trip you up if you aren't careful.

The newer lever door handles are really great. They allow you to open and close doors without having to grab and twist a doorknob. They also are great when you have your hands full of groceries or laundry.

Raised toilet seats are an easy add-on, too. They are inexpensive and make life a little easier. Some have armrests that make getting up and down even safer.

Consider adding more light to your home. It's a simple thing to do but really can help a lot. Sometimes it's just a matter of replacing a bulb with one that is brighter. You also might consider using motion sensors to activate some lights to make getting around late at night safer. Contrasting colors also can help in making things more visible.

Steps can be dangerous. You can add rubber mats to the treads to make them safer. Also, ensure the railing is attached securely. If you don't have a railing, add one.

Do a little research, find a good contractor and make your home more comfortable and safer for yourself and your loved ones.

A super organizer

Pegboard makes shops and garages a lot more organized. These panels are easy to cut and install, and provide a wide variety of storage options for tools and hardware. One way to get the most storage in the least amount of space is to install these panels between wooden wall studs in your unfinished garage. You can store tools on the pegboard, and in most cases, they will not stick out into the area and take up valuable wall space. It also allows you to establish specific areas for specific tool storage, i.e., all wrenches in one area, garden tools in another, saws in another, etc.

Misty moment

Cleaning a wood-burning fireplace can be a messy chore, but it has to be done. Of course, you need to wait until the embers are all burned out. If there is any doubt, use a metal container for your ashes. When you start scooping, shoveling and sweeping, make sure you have a spray bottle with you. You can mist the ashes as you pick them up to keep them from getting into the air and floating around the room. This is a very simple thing to do and can keep you from making an even bigger mess as you work. As the bucket fills, cover it when you take it outside -- again, to prevent the ashes from becoming airborne.

Super hints

• One way to get more sunshine into your house during the winter is to remove the window screens. You would be surprised at how much sun they block, and those dreary days will be much less dreary when you have more sun coming in through your windows.

• I have always liked the antiqued look for wood. I have found you can take a plain piece of furniture and give it a little character just by rubbing a bit of dark stain into the cracks and crevices. This really makes these designs pop and adds some texture to the pieces. You even can use old stain, gold paint or even shoe polish if you want. You'll get some really great looks with a little experimenting.

• One of the easiest ways to store your drill is to chuck an eye hook into the drill and then hang it up on your pegboard wall or just on a nail. This frees up valuable shelf or drawer space and keeps your drill handy.

Q. One of our dogs got into the fireplace and dragged some soot out into the room. I've been hesitant to scrub the carpet because I didn't want to grind the soot into it. How should I get this stuff off the carpet?

A. Sprinkle table salt on the stains, and let this soak up some of the soot. Vacuum it up, and try not to scrub it at the same time. Then you can use some vinegar and water to try to get the rest out. That should take care of the problem.

Q. I have a black toilet and sink in my guest bathroom. There is a small chip in the sink, and I would like to try to patch it up. I have been to my hardware store, and I find only white or beige patching kits. Do they make ones in black?

A. Yes, they do -- www.find-a-fix.com, the maker of Porc-a-Fix, has a color-match program that will help you match your manufacturer's finish. You can call the company at (800) 526-3186 or go to the website and find your match. Just read and follow the package directions, and you should get good results.

Q. What's the best way to cover scratches in a hardwood floor?

A. If you haven't tried the touch-up crayons or markers, you'll be surprised how easily they work and how well they cover scratches and even small gouges. They come in a variety of colors, and you can mix them to customize the color to your floor if you need to. They also can be used on furniture.

Reader tips

• I prefer hand sanding for most of my projects. I don't mind using a power sander for the first part of the finishing process, but I would rather finish it by hand so I know I can get the results I'm looking for. When I am trying to work on a difficult profile, I use a piece of clay. I mold the clay against the profile and then cover it with sandpaper. The clay acts as a backer for the paper and lets me do a better job on the profile.

• We have a lot of family photos on our walls. For some reason, they are always crooked. I can straighten them every day, but they are crooked after a day or so. My daughter came over and fixed them. She put a piece of masking tape on the hanging wire at the point where it contacts the hanger. This makes for a better seat for the hook on the wire, and they stay straight longer.

• I waited until after the holidays, but I am stripping the old finish off the dining room table so I can restain it. The stain I bought was a little light. I had an old can of stain, but it was a little too red. I mixed them and tried the new color. It looked pretty good but was still a little light. I put on another layer, and now it's perfect. I saved a little bit in a plastic container for touch-ups since re-creating it might be hard to do. It's going to look wonderful when I'm finished.

• Our outdoor lights have been up for several years. I've made some repairs but decided to replace all of the old wiring. I bought new wiring and found some really good connectors for outdoor lights. These connectors are a little oversized for extra protection from outside conditions. They also have a little bit of silicon inside the cap so that the wires get coated for even more protection when the cap is in place. I think this will help the lights last longer this time.

• Our toilet sweats a lot. I guess the water inside the tank is really cold and the air in our bathroom is warm and humid. I used to have to wipe the floor every day to keep the water from making a mess. I finally found a foam liner kit at my hardware store to line the toilet tank to prevent this problem. It works pretty well. I haven't seen what will happen during the summer months yet, but it sure has made a difference during this winter.

Shoptalk

• The Super Grip Grab Bar from Jobar International allows you to put that grab bar wherever you need it. The suction attachment makes it easy to mount on a wide variety of surfaces. Best of all, you can remove it just as easily and move it to another location when you need to. This grab bar is available at a variety of discount stores, home centers and hardware stores. They even come in several sizes and configurations. Grab one while you can, and be safe wherever you are, in your home or on the road.

• There are a lot of "ice melt" products, but few are safe for pets and children. Safe Paw Ice Melter is 100 percent salt- and chloride-free, comes in an easy-to-use shaker and works great. The liquid component starts melting ice instantly and allows the crystal core to quickly penetrate and destabilize the ice to speed up the melting process. It's green, so you can see where you've put it so you don't waste it or miss any spots. It's guaranteed to be environmentally safe and noncorrosive. It won't harm you, your pets or your deck, rugs, patios, pavers or anything else. To find out more, visit www.safepaw.com.

• 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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