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posted: 3/29/2013 3:24 PM

Super handyman: Keep your brick home in great shape

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A brick house is a strong house. Just ask the Three Little Pigs! But if you want those bricks to look good and stay in good shape, you'll want to try some or all of these tips.

• Start with a clean surface. A power washer is a good choice for cleaning a brick exterior. Make sure you are careful not to cause damage to wood trim, glass windows or other vulnerable areas and ensure that water doesn't leak into the house as you work.

• Do a walk-around and note areas that need to be spot cleaned, have loose mortar, cracked bricks or mortar, missing caulk, and things like that.

• Mildew spots can be removed with a mixture of bleach and water. If you can cut branches back to let the sun in, perhaps you can avoid some of the mildew. A sealer will help prevent more from coming back, too.

• Cracks in mortar or loose mortar should be replaced right away. Remove loose mortar and install new. Mortar repair is easiest to install with a caulking gun, but larger quantities are available for larger areas. Make sure not to seal up weep holes, which are located around the base of the walls.

• Cracked bricks can be sealed back up with regular exterior caulk. You might even be able to find a matching color if you do some shopping around. If the brick needs to be replaced, you can use a masonry bit on your drill to drill a series of holes around the brick, through the mortar, then chisel it out. Butter the brick with new mortar and push it into place. Smooth the mortar and make sure it fills the joint and looks similar to the rest of the mortar joints.

• Caulk areas where other materials join the brick to seal up seams.

• You can apply a water seal to the whole brick siding to add more protection, if you want to.

Create a cozy bed for your furry friend

Pets quickly become parts of our families, and we love to take care of them. You can go to the pet store and pick up a nice bed. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes and types. Guidelines state that most dogs, and cats too, prefer a "den"-type bed -- that is, one that is covered and protective. One clever DIY version is easily made from an ordinary end table or nightstand. If it has a drawer at the base, remove this and paint the inside to match the outside. Place a nice dog bed or pillow on the bottom shelf or the space where the drawer was and turn it over to the boss. It will be easy to clean, and your dog or cat will be most appreciative, hopefully.

Getting a grip on drop ceilings

Drop ceilings, or false ceilings, are great for lots of reasons. They can cover exposed pipes and ductwork as well as other ugly areas. They also are great when you need to do work behind them. To access the work area, you just need to push the tile up and out of the way. Pulling it back into place is a little harder, though. One way to get more control over these ceiling tiles is to use your vacuum cleaner. Place the hose end on the tile and turn on the vacuum. The hose will hold to the tile and will allow you to move the tile into position and set it on the metal framework/grid. Then you can turn off the vacuum.

Super hints

• Plastic boxes with lids are sold as dispensers for baby wipes, cleansing cloths, hardware and lots of other things. Recycle these to store shop items in and keep your garage or workshop organized. Paint and/or relabel them, and fill 'em up!

• I love to paint, and I use paintbrushes for all sorts of crafts and projects. One trick that I always do before using a new brush is to remove any of the loose bristles. You can run your hand over the bristles, or wet them and brush them over a paper towel. If you don't do this, then you'll probably end up with bristles in your paint job!

• If you have to work up on your roof, please be careful. Take a rubber floor mat up with you to sit on or to put your tools on. The rubber mat will give you a steadier base of operations and help prevent you and your tools from rolling off the roof!

Q. I need to replace some of my grout. The problem is that it's pink, and I don't want to have to replace all of it. What can I do?

A. You could buy pink grout. If you can't find it at a kitchen-and-bathroom store, check online. The other option would be to paint all of your grout, new and old, a white color so it will all match.

Q. I have a bar with a marble top. It doesn't look very good, as it's dull with some stains. I'm not sure what to use to clean it up. How do I get it looking good again?

A. Check your hardware store for a marble polish. You'll need to use an abrasive polish to take out the stains and make it shine again. When you do get it looking good, consider applying a sealer to the surface to keep it in good shape. Alcohol, acids and grease will leave new stains without a sealer.

Q. I know I need to renovate my white kitchen, but I'm on a budget and not ready to pull the trigger on it yet. I do, however, need to clean and refill some of the grout joints in my tile countertops. What should I use for this?

A. Start with bleach and water (half and half) to clean and sterilize the grout. Use a grout saw to remove the really badly stained areas or areas that are cracked or damaged. Then just refill the joints with new grout. After it's all clean and dry, use a grout sealer. Most are applied with a small paint brush. The material needs to be wiped off the tiles if it goes over the edges on them. Then give it plenty of time to cure -- overnight, in most cases. You may want to do this every year or until they are replaced. This is also a great way to keep bathroom tiles cleaner longer, too.

Reader tips

• I found some heavy-duty Velcro at my discount store and decided to see what I could use it for in my workshop. I put matching pieces on some of my tools and the wall behind my workbench. Now I can hang some of my most-used tools really handily. It works just fine. I've also used it to keep key wrenches for my bench-top tools right on the side of the housings so I don't lose them. I think others might find some good uses for this, too. Try it and let us know what you come up with.

• We live in an apartment, but we have a small balcony. I have always wanted to have a garden, so this year, I decided to try planting it on our balcony. I bought several window boxes that all match. Then I added a trellis to each and planted them with all of the vegetables that I have always wanted to try. Some are doing very well, while others struggle. I will know better next year what works. This year, I'm still very happy with the results, and I can't wait for my first tomato!

• I'm getting older now and have learned just how much of a difference good lighting can make. I have either upgraded to brighter bulbs or different types of lights to make it easier to work on my projects. Overhead lighting might have been enough for me years ago, but now task lighting really helps. I like the small desk and table lights for my workbench and desk. If you haven't thought about adding more light, think about it. It might make a world of difference to you, too.

• This is going to be the last year for our old windows. They just don't offer enough insulation against higher bills, especially during the winter. We put up Bubble Wrap over some of the windows this year, and it really did seem to help. But this spring we are going to take the leap and buy new windows. The Bubble Wrap was a good idea, though, so we thought we'd pass our tip on to you and your readers.

• I used to have quite a T-shirt collection, but I have outgrown most of them. I found a lady in my city whom I hired to make a quilt out of them. It's amazing. She used only the fronts of the T-shirts, and it's padded/quilted with a flannel backing. I love it, and I'm so glad I did this rather than give them all away.


• Has your water pressure dropped off through the years, especially your hot water? Many times this is due to a buildup of mineral deposits in your plumbing system. There's a little trick you can play with a dime on your pipes to clear out some of these deposits. I've written the steps down so that you can try this yourself. With any luck at all, you'll improve your water pressure and you'll even get your dime back! This information and more is available on www.thesuperhandyman

.com. Check it out!

• Valspar makes a spray paint for appliances. It's quick and easy to use, is scratch- and stain-resistant, and comes in white, almond, black and even stainless-steel colors. So, if your appliances don't match or are just scratched or ugly, you can paint them to give them a whole new look in just a day. It'll take a few thin coats for the best coverage, but is simple enough for most of us to tackle. Check it out at or at your hardware or paint store.

• When you have a slightly damaged or cracked concrete surface that needs a topper, we like to use a product like Sakrete Flo-Coat. It's easy to apply with simple tools, can be applied very thinly, even feathered out at the edges, and requires no priming. It's one of the easiest products one can use for this purpose. Check out the instructional video on the company website,, for more information. It's available at most hardware stores and home centers. It's so quick and easy that you could have a new patio before the day is done!

• 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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