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posted: 3/9/2012 6:03 AM

Organize your recyclables for a 'greener' year

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A lot of you have resolved to be better organized this year, and we want to help. One of the areas that we now have to keep under control is our recyclables. Let's face it -- it is trash. And in order to be "green," we now have to save and sort our "trash."

First of all, it's a good idea to keep it all in one place. That place should be in a garage, mud room or utility area -- someplace away from your kitchen and living areas. You may want to have a small receptacle in your kitchen, but as a rule, it should be transferred to the main area once a day.

Determine what items you will be saving. For example, in our city, curbside pickup includes only glass, some plastics and papers. The glass and plastics can be mixed, so we have two bins for these three items. Other things that you may want to collect are batteries and other hazardous materials that can be turned into a collection site.

If you don't have a regularly scheduled pickup where you live, then plan a day, once a week or once a month, and take these items to a local collection site. Check municipal properties, shopping-center parking lots and other areas for drop-off bins near your home or office.

The collection bins can be just about anything. We like the stackable bins because they take up less floor space. You can use trash cans, plastic boxes or even bags hung on a wall. Use a permanent marker or stick-on labels to make sure the items are put in the right place. You can use cardboard boxes for a while, until you can estimate what your storage needs will be on a regular basis.

Don't ditch that broken lawn mower

A dead lawn mower can be recycled. Heck, if you set it out at your curb, chances are someone will pick it up before the day is out. But you can recycle it yourself by turning it into a handy garden cart. Just remove the motor and blade from the deck and attach a heavy-duty plastic-bin box. This will hold potting soil, plants, tools, garbage or whatever you are transporting around the yard. It probably won't be as fun to use as a lawn mower, but it might come in pretty handy!

Tips for making a great stud wall

One little trick to building a perfect stud wall is to do it on a large, flat surface first, then raise it up into place and secure it. Here's another tip for getting the studs in just the right spot: Once you have the first stud in place, you can use a pre-cut spacer, placed up against the first stud perpendicularly. The second stud is butted up against the spacer and nailed into place. The spacer can be used at the top and the bottom of the wall. For a 16-inch center, the spacer would be cut to 14.5 inches, and for a 24-inch center, it should be cut to 22.5 inches.

Super hints

• You can store and use calculators, phones, MP3 players and other electronic equipment right in a clear plastic seal-a-bag. It keeps the dust away from the device, and it's still easy to see and use, in most cases.

• It's been a long time since I've had a baby around my house, but I remember how absorbent diapers are. They are great for quick pickups of big spills, and it never hurts to have a few around, just in case of a spill. Maybe one of these days I'll be a grandmother myself, but I'm not in a big hurry!

• Squirrels, opossums, rats and other creatures that want to get into your attic can be repelled with a mixture of chili powder and petroleum jelly. Spread or paint it onto places they are chewing, and they will high-tail it out of your yard.

Q. I have popcorn ceiling texture, and would like to see if I can find an easy way to remove it. Got any bright ideas?

A. Dampen it with a spray mister full of water. Then gently scrape it off with a plastic putty knife. The water softens it, and it will come off a lot easier this way. Be sure to vacuum really well before applying more texture or paint.

Q. How can we clean some white stains off our basement floor? We had a little accident, and water was on the floor for a couple of days before we found it. This white stain started after the mess was cleaned up, and it persists even though we have cleaned it up a couple of times. What is the deal?

A. It sounds like you are describing efflorescence, which can come out of the concrete when it becomes wet. Make sure you don't have any moisture problems in your basement before making repairs. Try using vinegar to clean the deposits off the surface. Make sure you let it dry completely. Then use a water sealer on the concrete to help prevent future damage.

Q. The last time I cleaned out my fireplace, I found a couple of places where the mortar is starting to crack around the bricks. What should I do to fix this?

A. DO NOT USE IT until you have made the proper repairs. Check the whole firebox for more places that might be in the early stages of deterioration. Once you have identified the areas that you need to repair, remove all of the loose material. Vacuum away all of the dust. Then use a mortar patch made for fireplaces or high-heat situations. Make sure you follow the package directions and give it time to cure before using the fireplace again. Closely monitor your firebox, and inspect it every season before you use it. A good chimney sweep will spot these problems and more, so hire one every year for your own safety.

Reader tips

• We painted our dining-room walls and decided to paint the ceiling, too. We had paint rollers but no extension poles to use with them to help reach the ceiling. One of my neighbors told me that the rollers would fit on our broom handle. It works. I also put one on our screw-on broom handle, and both worked just fine. It turned out to be quite a lot of savings over the cost of these extension poles, and we aren't likely to need them again for a long time.

• Our house's foundation moves a little during winter and summer. When this happens, we have trouble locking some of the doors on our home. We found some great locks that are installed on the door jamb and fold over the back of the door when it's closed to keep it from being pushed open. These don't work like a doorknob lock, so we can use them even when the doors aren't latching properly. We think you should have these even if your doors DO lock, because they work really well.

• Save a large piece of packing foam to use in your workshop. It's great to stab your hand tools into so they will be right there on your bench top, within easy reach. It also can be used as a bulletin board when put up on a wall. I've even put leftover pieces between the studs in my shed as extra insulation. My wife plans on using some with potting soil in her large urns, as the soil doesn't need to fill up the whole container just for a few plants near the surface. It also will make them easier to move around if we need to.

• I found some really good drawer organizers for my shop. They originally were made for kitchen drawers, but they work great in the shop, too. They have separate compartments for a variety of tools and hardware. This makes keeping things straight in the shop a lot easier. When I need a tool but am unsure what size, I can just take the whole organizer out and set it on the workbench, where I can get to the tools I need.

• Cleaning my oven is one of my least favorite things to do. But I found a better way. I mix 1/4 cup of ammonia and 2 cups of hot water in a large baking dish, and put it into a warm oven. If you leave it in there overnight, it loosens up the grease and makes it easy to wipe off the next morning. You can repeat it whenever you need to and keep your oven clean all the time. I wouldn't use it on my daughter's continuous-cleaning oven, but on mine, it works great.


• If you are a clever do-it-yourselfer and you like to get creative, you might be interested in making some wind chimes. We have some simple plans that we can share with you so you can make your own. It's a fun project and can make a super gift for your favorite gardener. Our wind chimes are made from electrical conduit (pipe), which is easy to cut and not very expensive. The other parts are available at your favorite hardware place ... or, you may have 'em left over from another project. The plans are also available on our website,

• If you want to finish your basement walls in record time and without hauling home a bunch of heavy, awkward materials, check out InSoFast panels. You simply use construction adhesive to secure the panels right to your basement walls. You get insulation, vapor barrier, build-in framing and mold resistance in one easy-to-handle panel. You need to see it to believe it, so go to to check out the video. It even can be used in exterior applications, and it is made of 40 percent recycled materials.

• Touch 'n Foam Landscape is a black-colored foam that can be used to fill gaps in rocks, brick, cement, wood and cloth. It is made to stay black even in sunlight, and can be used to reinforce crumbling mortar in walls, is waterproof so it can be used in and around ponds and other water features, and is safe for wildlife, fish and birds. It expands inside gaps and offers superior adhesion. It even can be used on trees. Find out more 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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