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posted: 6/8/2012 4:34 AM

Super handyman: Tips for preparing your house so you can have a worry-free vacation

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Summer is upon us. That means family activities and vacations. If you're planning on leaving town, take some time to prepare your home so that it won't be vulnerable to thieves or damage while you are away.

Nothing shows vacancy more than newspapers in the yard and by the door or mail piling up. You can have a neighbor pick up these items, or have deliveries stopped while you are out of town.

Set timers inside your home to turn lights off and on while you are away. Set them to coincide with your normal schedule so that they appear at normal times, as if you were there. You can put timers on your TV or radio, also, to make it sound like someone is inside the home.

Turn off phone ringers or forward calls so that they follow you around and won't tip off anyone that you are away.

You can turn off your water heater to save some money.

You can turn up your thermostat to 85 or so to save more money.

You can turn off the water supply to your washing machine to prevent hose bursts.

If you have automatic sprinklers, make sure they are set properly and are working efficiently.

If possible, have a neighbor park in your driveway occasionally.

If you have a burglar-alarm system, make sure it's fully functional and that your call list is up-to-date. If you live in an area with a neighborhood crime watch, notify them or your neighbors of your plans.

Try to store valuables more securely, if possible.

Make sure all windows, gates and doors, of course, are locked.

Now have a great time and worry less about your home! Have a super summer!

Get hooked on this storage idea

Exposed stud walls in a garage are a super place to store all sorts of materials. One really easy way to take advantage of this storage space is to install eye screws along the wall, horizontally, maybe four feet off the ground. These eye screws will give you a place to attach bungees to hold things within the storage cavity. You can use rope, string or wire to do the same thing. Store tools, pipe, trim and lots of other stuff. The eye screws are low-profile, so they won't get in your way much, and they cost very little.

Toilet plunger can repair some car dents

What's the difference between a ding and a dent in a car? Usually about $700! This might sound crazy, but regular readers know by now to expect it occasionally. Some dents actually can be pulled out by means of a toilet plunger. It's true. Place the plunger on the dent or next to it, and very gently push it into the side of the car to gain suction. Then pull. You might get the surprise of your life when it pops back out. It won't work on every dent, but it might work on yours!

Super hints

• If you need an extension tool to reach behind your workbench, use a yardstick. You can attach a magnet to the end with a rubber band or some tape and use it to retrieve hardware or small tools.

• We have some twinkle lights in our shrubs along the back fence line. They are decorative, and we like to have them on when we are entertaining in the back yard. Since we have to plug them into our exterior outlet, I have a plastic bag that I wrap around the plug connections; I tie them together with twist-ties. This keeps moisture from getting into the connection, even if I leave it out all night. When I'm finished, I just take off the ties and remove the plastic bags, and store the cord until the next time I want to use them.

• Musty, moldy smell in your refrigerator or freezer? Just place a bowl of charcoal briquettes inside and change it out once a month. It works better than baking soda when moisture is a real problem.

Q. My front walkway has some sort of crystals forming on the surface. I'm not sure where they came from, as I've not seen any trees dripping or anything spilled on the surface. I can clean them off, but they just come back. It does come off on our shoes and get tracked into the house if we forget to wipe off our shoes. Is there a way to remove it completely?

A. Make sure that water isn't collecting on or under this walkway. Clean the surface with trisodium phosphate (TSP) and then apply a water sealer, like Thompson's, after it has completely dried. You may have to do this once a year, but it should keep it under control, for the most part.

Q. We are having noise issues coming from the family room now that we have our TV mounted on the wall. This wall is between the kids' room and the family room. Is there some way to dampen the sound a little on this wall without moving the TV?

A. Make sure everything is mounted securely. If your speakers are mounted on that wall, try moving them to the adjacent walls. Other than installing another layer of drywall on top of what you already have, there's not much else you can do.

Q. I cleaned my downspouts and had to take one of them apart. Now I can't get it to stay together. The top piece is crimped to fit down inside the bottom elbow, but it keeps falling off. What should I do to keep it in place on a permanent basis?

A. We would suggest sheet-metal screws. These are small, self-tapping screws that should work fine. You can pre-drill the holes if you need to, but most of the time you shouldn't have to go to that much trouble to get them to stay in the metal.

Reader tips

• I keep my yard tools in good shape. I clean them every time I use them, and I store them in the garage so they don't rust. I even sharpen the blades so digging is easier. I hit a rock and actually chipped the blade of my hoe, so I sharpened the notch as well. It's perfect for cutting down tough weeds. A happy accident is what I call it, but whatever it is, it's handy for me.

• Now that we have a grandson, my wife wants to create a gallery in our dining room with all of the family photos. I really needed to locate the wall studs before starting to hang all of these pictures on the wall. I tried to find our stud finder but never could. I used my electric shaver. I turned it on and held it against the wall and was able to "hear" where the studs were. It works amazingly well, better than the real thing, for us.

• My new gas can is much better than the old one. The only problem is that the new one has a wider mouth on it and drips when I need to fill my lawn mower. I got an empty milk jug, cut off the bottom of the jug and flipped it over to turn it into a funnel. Now I can fill my mower without all the mess. I just keep it in the shed right next to the gas can, and it's ready to use when I need it. These funnels are great for lots of other things, too. Make one whenever you need one, and keep them all over the place.

• I was doing as you always said and was cleaning the outside of my air conditioner's compressor for the season. That's when I found the ants. Apparently they had been there for a while, because the pile inside the unit was extensive. I sprayed poison and removed all that I could. Then I sprayed again. They could have done quite a bit of damage from what I understand, but I was able to get rid of them. I'll check inside the unit more often now.

• You will appreciate this idea I had. I put in a closet system, so I had the old metal rod brackets left over. I screwed them into the garage wall, and they now hold both of our bikes. I mounted them side by side on adjacent wall studs and set the bike frames on top of the brackets. They stay put and are out of the way when we are walking around to the cars.


• Summer is a great time of year, but in many parts of the country, it also is humid, and this can bring on mildew problems. Mildew not only is smelly and ugly, it can ruin walls, carpeting and just about any surface it gets on. Learn how to rid your home of this problem once and for all. We've put together a pamphlet called "Mildew Around Your House," and it is full of tips on how to get rid of mildew and how to keep it from coming back.

• Duluth Trading Company has been making work clothes for years, and it has come up with some pretty innovative products. The latest line offers clothing for women with sun protection built into the fabric. The breathable, moisture-wicking fabric is amazing. The line includes a hat, long-sleeved shirt and pants, and all have a ultraviolet protection factor of 50 to protect your skin from the sun's damaging rays. These clothes are designed to be comfortable no matter how hot or difficult the work is, and you'll love the quality of these items -- they're made to last a long time. Go to the website, and see all the clothes offered.

• Go2 Glue does it all. No more hunting for the right glue for the job. If you have Go2 Glue, you'll have it. It's water- and temperature-resistant; gives you about five minutes of work time to reposition your pieces if it's not right; and is safe for wood, metal, leather, glass, plastic, stone and more. The unique applicator is easy to see and control, and you'll get a crystal-clear finish on your projects. It's available at most hardware stores and home centers. 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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