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posted: 12/28/2012 5:48 AM

Save money in just an hour with a new dimmer

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Used to be that the dimmer switch was put on ceiling fixtures to help you add ambience to your room. In the past, they were limited to only certain light fixtures but, throughout the past few years, they have been improved to work just about anywhere. They are easier to install on a wider variety of fixtures.

Well, it turns out that they also are a super way to turn energy usage down.

If you have average DIY skills, you probably can remove a standard light switch and install a dimmer easily and start saving money in just an hour or so. Here are the basics of how's it's done.

• Make sure you turn the circuit breaker OFF to the switch that you are going to replace.

• Remove the switch plate cover, and then remove the screws holding the electrical switch in the box. Pull it forward so you can have access to do the wiring.

• Before removing any wires, check the instructions for the dimmer to make sure you understand it fully before moving forward. You should also check to make sure there is enough room in the old box for this new, larger switch and the wires. Replace the box if you need to. It's not good to stuff the wires into it too tightly.

• The wiring is basic and you can just follow the instructions included with the new dimmer on how it should be done.

If you have any questions about your wiring, make sure to consult with an electrician. It's always better to be safe than sorry.

Once the wiring is complete, turn the circuit back on and give it a test. Now use it as often as you can. Each time you dim those lights, you'll be able to see the dollar signs coming your way, even in the dimmer light!

Street numbers you can see

Whether you are having a party or have an emergency, visible house address numbers are very important. One way to create super street numbers is to install a large exterior lamp and then use stick-on numbers, placed on the light, to make them highly visible from the street. If you don't have a large lamp, you can install large numbers, made from glow-in-the-dark numbers, placed somewhere on your house. If you are artistically gifted (not us), then you can use paint to show off your numbers!

Put candle stubs to use

Pulling the old candle stubs out of candle holders is a lot easier if you put a spoonful of water in first. But don't throw them away just yet. These little stubs are great for lubricating metal zippers and wooden drawer runners. They'll also do a pretty good job on sliding windows and doors. Just rub the wax over the edges of these areas, where they will work much better. If there's anything left after that, you can throw them away.

Super hints

• Sweat soldering takes a little practice before you can do it like a pro. One thing you should remember is that the pipe must be dry before the solder will "stick." Stuff a wad of bread into the open pipe to absorb any dripping water before you try to solder. It will dissolve afterward.

• Some of the newer TVs are so flat they almost look like a framed print on your wall. In fact, you can add a frame to one of these TVs to really make it look like a piece of artwork. Choose a thick frame that will accommodate the TV and then just place it around the edges. You'll still need the standard wall-mounting system required by the TV, but it can be completely hidden behind the frame.

• If you want to know how much loose-fill insulation you have, just grab a yardstick and push it down into the attic fluff until it reaches the bottom. Then you can see just how many inches you have. You might need more!

Q. My new roof is much lighter in color than the old one used to be. Now I am starting to see some dark stains that I think are coming from smoke from the fireplace chimney. How can I clean the roof without damaging the roofing material?

A. You shouldn't have smoke stains on your roof unless you have a problem with your chimney. Make sure it is tall enough to have a good draw and that the flue opens fully when you are using it. Also, make sure you use seasoned firewood. Try using a hose-end sprayer and mild soapy water to clean the stains off.

Q. Our den has a fireplace in it that has a thin brick veneer. I would like to recolor the bricks and mortar, if possible. What is the best paint to use on these type of materials?

A. Use a primer first and then the paint. A paint meant for masonry would be your best choice. If you plan to make the mortar a different color than the bricks, you will have to do it with small brushes. If you need smaller amounts of paint, check a craft store.

Q. I am getting ready to paint my kitchen cabinets. The paint dealer urged me to get a glossy paint, but I really like a matte finish. Why is glossy better than matte?

A. Through the years, paint has been improved but, in general, glossy paint finishes are easier to clean than matte finishes. It has to do with the way paint is manufactured. Because of this, the glossy finish is much better for a kitchen, which collects a lot of airborne grease. Cleaning your cabinets every six months with mineral-spirits paint thinner will keep the grease down to a manageable level.

Reader tips

• My wife has a small art studio. I made her some really nice storage for her brushes and knives from some old 4-by-4-inch wood left over from a project I had worked on a while back. I sanded the wood down and then drilled out holes along the top that were a couple of inches deep. The wood is heavy, so it stays in place and can hold all of her brushes and other tools. She likes the simplicity of the wood and has even distressed it through the years.

• I still use an old trick my dad taught me. I keep a little powdered detergent in the pocket of my nail apron, and I let the nails inside the pocket pick a little of it up while they are sitting there. It seems like such a simple thing to do, but it really helps a lot. It acts as a lubrication for the nails, and when I drive them in later, it really helps the job go quicker.

• We've had a lot of family in town, and I thought the toilet had slowed because of that. It wasn't getting any better, so I thought I would take a look. I got a mirror so I could see the holes inside the bowl where the water comes through from the tank. Sure enough, they were clogged. I got a piece of wire and gouged out the salts that had clogged the holes. Now the toilet works like new again. I'm going to do this to the other bathrooms as well.

• I was trying to remove a brick-and-mortar wall from the patio area. I was trying to chip out the mortar with a chisel, but it was taking forever. I decided to take another tack and installed a masonry bit on my drill. This cut through the mortar like butter, and I was able to break the wall down in just two hours. Now I can add the wooden deck we had planned on, and we'll be using it for the family cookouts next spring.

• You would love some of the stuff I've collected through the years. I have several old, architectural pieces made of wood. I know they probably have lead paint on them, and it is cracking, so I decided to seal in this lead, which is one good way to deal with it. I used a thick, clear polyurethane to coat the pieces. This doesn't look too bad, and I'm sure it will keep the old paint from cracking any more.


• Got leaves? Who doesn't at this time of the year? Well, you can put those leaves to work for you if you have a compost pile. After all, the landfills don't really want your old leaves. We have put together an instructional sheet available online that will show you how to build a simple compost bin so you can make your own compost to use in your yard and garden. Once you learn how to stock it and maintain it, you'll have years of free compost and mulch for your landscape.

• We all know that conserving water in the shower is a wise choice. But sometimes you just need a little extra water pressure to get the job done, especially after a hard day's work in the shop. The Niagara BiMax Showerhead easily adjusts to provide 1.0 or 1.5 gallons of water per minute. The pressure is adjusted by means of a dial and delivers constant water flow, even when you are making the adjustment. The showerhead has a corrosion-resistant ABS thermoplastic body and a large swivel adjustment for directional control. It even comes with a 10-year warranty. Check it out and find a local dealer at

• If you need to work on a rooftop, the degree of difficulty goes up. The Bucket Buddy can help you keep your tools on the level. It's designed to create a level platform system and will hold any standard five-gallon bucket. It's made of high-grade steel and has a powder-coated finish to last a long time. It's adjustable to fit in a variety of places, including the roof peak. Check it out at for a dealer and optional accessories.

• 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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