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posted: 5/3/2013 4:01 AM

Super handyman: Service AC unit before the weather heats up

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Chances are you probably haven't fired up the old air conditioning just yet, but you really should. It's a good idea to test it before you really need it. But before you try it, you should do a little light maintenance first. This could head off any problems that are likely to show up at the beginning of the season. If you don't want to do it yourself, find a reputable air conditioning service person to do them for you.

We can't seem to say this enough, but change your filters regularly. Not only will your house air be filtered, but it will prevent dirt from clogging your air conditioner coils.

Speaking of the coils, there are a couple of things you should tend to with these. We like to clean these at the beginning of each season. Cut the current to the unit before opening up the side to look at the coils. A little warm, soapy water will get most of the gunk off them.

Clean the drain pan under the coils as well. You can pour a little bleach into the pan to clear the drain, too. If you have an air compressor, you also can use that to clear the drain. Check this drain pan periodically to make sure it's working. A clogged drain pan can overflow and cause a lot of water damage in a short amount of time. They do make auto shut-offs for these if you want to make sure you prevent an overflow.

When you close up this area, make sure you seal all of the joints for the best efficiency.

Look at the ductwork, and make sure it doesn't have any visible holes where leaks could occur. Check it again when you finally turn it on and see if you can "feel" any leaks. Seal leaky ducts with mastic. It's messy, but it works the best.

Go outside and take a look at the compressor. Again, make sure the power is "off." Use a garden hose or air compressor to clean it up. Clogs of grass and other debris will prevent good air flow and cause more wear and tear on the compressor. Make sure insects are not nesting in this unit as well.

Before it gets too hot, test it out. Note any problems, and address them before summer arrives.

A socket storage solution

Through the years, we've amassed quite a collection of sockets and wrenches. Keeping them in a box just wasn't going to work. We found a better way to keep them organized. We bought some large key rings. Then, we put the different sets together on these. Now, it's easy to find just the one you need when you need it. Plus, the rings are easy to hang on any pegboard shop wall, or a nail, if that's what you have handy. These rings also are great for storing other tools on, so keep a few extras around.

Use a level for easier drilling

Sometimes it doesn't matter how straight you drill a hole, but other times it can make a huge difference. That's why a lot of newer drills have a built-in level on them. Of course, if your drill is older, then you probably don't have this luxury feature. You can, however, add one without a lot of trouble. Just see if you can locate a small level and tape it to your drill. Line it up with the drill bit for an exact level. You can use a rubber band or even glue if you want a more permanent addition. This will not ensure success, but will give you an edge anyway.

Super hints

• It's said that a tightly wound extension cord can overheat and cause problems, so why not turn that extra-long cord into two, shorter cords? If you need both for a project, then use them, but if you don't, then you don't have to worry about that extra length getting in your way. Just install new plugs on the ends, and you're ready to go.

• I love to cook but hate to waste water, so when I have water left over from cooking vegetables, I just pour it into my rain barrel instead of down the drain. It's full of nutrients that help my garden grow even more abundantly than I ever thought possible.

• You may want to add ventilation when you paint, but be sure you don't stir up a lot of dust in the process. That dust will just settle on your newly painted walls or furniture. Stirring up the air is just stirring up trouble.

Q. I can feel air leaking around my window. One gap is almost a 1/2-inch-wide crack. What can I use to fill a larger area like this?

A. They make foam filler strips that you can buy in most hardware stores. These are soft and pliable and can be stuffed easily in larger cracks like this. Just scraps of regular insulation also can be used. Once the large gap is filled, you can cover the area with wood trim and/or caulk. This can make a big difference in your comfort level and should also cut down on your utility bills.

Q. Our cabinets are almond-colored laminate. They aren't the best, but we would like to keep them longer. How can I paint them a different color? I am thinking of a light gray, so it's not a drastic change. Do I need to do any special prep work also?

A. You should plan on scuff-sanding the surface so the paint will stick better. There are some pretty good epoxy paints available for kitchen surfaces, and they come in a good variety of color options. These are a little tricky to use, but work well and last a long time. Good luck!

Q. I've seen patching kits to fix chipped porcelain and other hard material like that, but I have a big boo-boo in my kitchen. I have a broken corner from my countertop. I'm not even sure how it happened, but I would like to know if there is any type of patching kit for granite?

A. Although not very common, it does happen that granite gets broken or chipped. They do make a patching kit containing an epoxy material. It's a little difficult to find, so you'll have to do some shopping around for it. It actually works pretty well if you follow the package directions. Good luck!

Reader tips

• I was trying to locate a leak in my refrigerator, and didn't want to try moving it to see around the back side. I grabbed a small hand mirror and used it, held in the space behind the refrigerator, to see what was going on back there. Once I could see the water dripping, I knew I had to go ahead and move it, so I called a friend for help. The mirror was a neat trick, so try this if you find yourself in a similar position, needing to see behind something heavy or in a hard-to-reach area.

• My wife brought home an old lamp that she just loves. Unfortunately, it has old, rotting wires, so I had to remove the old wires and install new. I bought a light kit that contained most of the parts I needed and, although I had never done this type work before, I did it. It works great, and my wife loves it even more now. I'll bet she probably paid less for the lamp than the light kit cost, so I'd say she did all right. I know she would have paid a lot more for a new lamp, for sure! Plus, I'm a hero now!

• It doesn't seem like I've had my newest shovel that long, but the fiberglass handle has started to age, and I get a lot of those horrible splinters in my hands when I try to use it. I ended up with some leftover foam pipe insulation after weatherizing this past winter. I took a long piece of it and wrapped it around the shovel handle and taped it in place. Now I can work all day in the garden and never get a splinter.

• Our sunroom is great during the winter. We keep a lot of our plants there on cold days and keep our home gym there for workouts when we have to stay home. Typically we've just had to suffer, until this spring. We found a great fans that are mounted in a special bracket that sits in a window. It's working pretty well so far. We also bought a cut-to-fit filter for it because we both have allergies. I didn't think that would help that much, but it has. I guess I'll have no excuse not to work out now!

• My daughter wanted to paint her room green. I thought we had found the perfect color, but after doing a whole wall, I discovered that it didn't look anything like it did when we picked it out in the store. It didn't even look green in our house. So we went back to the store and brought home a couple more colors to try, remembering what a difference it made in our own natural light. What we thought was a nice brown turned out to be the perfect shade of green for us after all. I wanted to warn others BEFORE they start painting like we did.


• If you have noticed that the pressure in your water supply has diminished over time, especially the hot water supply, it may be something as simple as mineral deposits clogging up the lines. It's not a very hard thing to fix once you know a little trick you can play with a dime. It's a very simple thing to do, and it may just solve your problems -- at least, your water-pressure problems. This information, and a lot more, is available on, so stop on by when you get a chance!

• Quick Dam might be something you should keep on hand for emergencies, especially if you are in a flood prone area. Each bag weighs less than one pound but, when exposed to water, absorbs it and in just a few minutes will swell up to create a barrier to help contain or divert floodwater. They can be used indoors or out, for fresh or saltwater and can even be stacked up to 5 feet high or connected, end to end, up to 50 feet. To get more details and to find a local dealer, visit

• Air conditioning and furnace filters trap dust and even pollen in some cases, but Lysol is now making a line that has built-in antimicrobial properties. It is the first air filter certified "asthma and allergy friendly" by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. It is unscented and pesticide-free and removes pollutants that average filters don't catch. It's available at hardware stores and home centers. To find out more, visit

• 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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