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posted: 3/30/2012 5:01 AM

Super handyman: Tips for increasing curb appeal

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Curb appeal is important, whether you're selling your home or not. You want people to know you have pride in your home. Replacing an exterior lamp on the front porch or driveway can make a big difference, and if you spend your money wisely and do the work yourself, you'll get a big bang for your buck. Here are some things to consider and tips to get the job done quickly and right.

When shopping, it's best to replace the old fixture with one that mounts basically the same way. For example, if your fixture hangs from the porch roof, a hanging lamp will be a quicker replacement than a new wall fixture.

Also consider the type of bulb used in the new fixture. LEDs and CFLs use a lot less electricity than the older incandescent bulbs, although some folks don't like the look of the new lights. Consider a lamp or lamp base that has a dusk-to-dawn feature or motion sensor built in to save energy and provide better security while looking good.

Turn off the circuit breaker to the lamp before beginning the replacement of the fixture. With the power safely turned off, you can start removing the old fixture. WD-40 can be sprayed on rusted nuts and bolts or screws if they are hard to turn. Be careful not to drop any of the tiny parts. Your old fixture can be resold or donated to a charity if it's still in good shape.

The new fixture will come with wiring instructions. Usually connections are simple and wire nuts are provided (black wires together and white wires together). Make sure connections are secure before the final screws are installed.

If the fixture is attached to a wall or ceiling, use silicone caulk around the edges to seal out the weather.

Give it a test. Check it at night to see if a different bulb, brighter or dimmer, might look better. You'll be surprised what a difference a new lamp can make to your home's exterior.

Hardware cloth isn't cloth

Hardware cloth is not cloth at all but wire mesh. It can be used for a lot of things around the shop and home. We have used it to line a plain iron fence in order to keep the dogs inside the yard. It also can be used to create baskets or bins to store shop items. Use a wire cutter and cage clips or cable ties to cut, bend and hold the shape. Fill them with tools and other shop items, and keep them better organized in your shop. They are great for gardening items, too, because they will allow air in to dry off tools.

Tool storage

Plumbing-pipe strapping comes in handy for lots of projects, especially shop storage. It's also inexpensive to use. One thing you can do with it is install it horizontally across the open stud cavities in your garage or shed. This gives you a perfect place to store long-handled tools like shovels and rakes, pipes, molding and other long materials. It doesn't get much easier than that!

Super hints

• Shallow soil means you have to add iron to your landscape, which can cause rust stains on siding and concrete. Clean the rust off these surfaces and seal them with a water seal once a year to prevent future stains.

• Outdoor lighting doesn't have to be super-expensive. The Christmas clearances were loaded with LED lights for half price. These use practically no power at all and, when placed in trees, shrubs, arbors or on a trellis, add quite a bit of ambience to a boring backyard in the evenings.

• A new paintbrush needs to be cleaned and conditioned before it is ever used. Wash it in warm, soapy water and let it dry. Then comb it out to remove any loose bristles so they don't end up on your walls.

Q. I have a leak in my toilet that is not the flapper. I've replaced that. I can still hear water running, and I think it is going into the overflow tube, although I can't see it. What can I do to stop it?

A. Check to make sure the water level in the tank isn't higher than the overflow tube. If it is, lower it a little bit. If that's not it, it's probably that the inlet valve to the tank might not be shutting off all the way. Sometimes you can clean it with vinegar and remove the mineral deposits. If not, just replace it. They usually are fairly inexpensive.

Q. We have a kitchen table that has been in the family for years. It's old and rather beaten up, but I would never get rid of it. I would like to know how to resurface it. Should I use a stripper or sander, or both?

A. Before you do anything, try cleaning it with mineral spirits paint thinner. This will remove quite a bit of grease and some stains so you can see what you are dealing with. If it's stained rather than painted, sanding it will bring the original finish back up to the surface. If it is painted, then use a stripper. Sand it smooth either way, and clean up all the dust. Then you can apply a stain or primer and paint. Make sure to use a clear polyurethane over your topcoat of stain or paint to protect it.

Q. We bought some imported clay pottery to go around our pool. Unfortunately, they have no drainage holes in the bottoms, and we plan to drill some to prevent damage to the plants we will put in them. What's the safest way to prevent cracking the pots when we do the drilling?

A. Use a carbide-tipped masonry bit, and drill at a slow speed. Take your time, and use water to lubricate the pottery as you work. Place the pot on a surface with a little give, like a rubber mat or a bed of sand.

Reader tips

• We moved into a home that had a lot of plain, gray steppingstones running around the house and through the yard. My wife jazzed them up with some spray paint and stencils. She put a stencil pattern on each block and then sprayed them with some exterior spray paint to make them look better. It was such a simple thing to do, and it really gave our plain yard a little more personal look and feel.

• Finally we are getting to replace our old and ugly vinyl tiles in the kitchen. We peeled most of them up easily, but there were a few that were stuck down really well. I got them off the floor with ice. I know it sounds crazy, but I put a bag of ice on the tiles that were stuck in order to make the adhesive brittle. It worked, and the tiles were easier to chip up with the chisel I was using. The ice worked so well that I am now looking forward to doing the bathroom.

• Our fireplace is just a standard model, but the mantel was barely there at all. I bought four wooden shelves and glued them together to form a very thick piece of wood. Then I stained it and used heavy-duty brackets to hold it up on the wall over the fireplace. It looks really neat and gives us lots of display space for family photos and other items.

• Our laundry room is really just a large closet in the front hallway. It's nice that we can close it off, but the washer is so loud that it's not much of a disguise. I bought rubber mats for the machines to sit on. This helped, but then I also weatherstripped the doors, and that made a lot of difference. They still are a little noisy, but sealing around the doors really made a big difference. They are much quieter now.

• You'll love my bird feeders. I just pick up some of the pine cones that are all over my yard. The ones that are open work best. Then I mix peanut butter and birdseed together and pack it into the sides of the pine cones. I hang them from the trees and watch the birds get fat and happy. The squirrels like them, too, so I put out enough for both of them so nobody goes without. It's easy to do and fun to watch.


• Krylon Spray Paints are very popular, and there's a paint for just about every situation. The Non-Skid Coating is a perfect example. It's a spray, so it dries quickly and is very easy to use. It adds extra traction to walkways, ladders, steps, boats, pool decks and many other places. It can be used on wood, metal and concrete, and it even works on heavily traveled surfaces. It comes in black and clear. Check it out at or at your hardware store, paint store or home center.

• The Maestro Occupancy Sensing Switch is a simple replacement for a standard wall light switch that turns the lights off and on when you enter or leave the room. It's the perfect solution for children's rooms, laundry rooms, basements, garages and other areas where you might have your hands full or not be able to easily reach the wall switch. It will not turn on at all when there is another light source, like a window with daylight coming in. It looks just like a standard light switch, and it's very easy to install. It can save you money on your light bills, too, and add safety and security to your home. To find out more, go to

• 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

2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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