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updated: 5/10/2013 1:53 PM

Super handyman: Protecting your home from water damage

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We get a lot of questions through the mail and on our website about problems that often are caused by drainage issues around the outside of your home. So many times, you can do a little inexpensive advance work and prevent a lot of costly damage to your home. Here are some things to look for and take care of that you might not have thought of as contributing to problems around your home.

Guttering is a really good way to redirect drainage from your roof to another location away from your foundation. Clean them out at least twice a year and make repairs as needed. You can prevent a lot of clogs by installing covers and screens over them. There are screen and other guards you can put over the downspouts to prevent them from clogging, too. Also make sure splash blocks are placed at the end of the downspouts and sloped away from your foundation.

Make sure soil around your home's foundation is sloped gently away from the house. Any water that does fall in this area needs to drain away from your foundation. Over time, shallow spots can occur, so break out the rake or hoe and take care of it.

If your house is built on a sloped lot and water drains toward your home, consider installing French drains to intercept draining water and carry it to a better location, away from your house. In some cases, just creating a swale and/or berm can resolve the issue.

These simple tips can go a long way toward protecting your home from water damage.

Clear up that clogged drain

Clogged drains are such a hassle -- even more so if you can't locate the plunger when you need it. We've tried a lot of things to unclog drains, but one actually is quite effective when you don't have a plunger to use. Fill a large plastic soda bottle with water and then quickly place the open end down into the clogged drain and use the bottle to cover the rest of the drain as much as possible. Then squeeze. The force of the water is, many times, enough to force the clog out of the way. Just be careful not to make a big mess while you're at it.

Antennas are still handy around the house

Once you've finally made the leap to cable or satellite, your antennas become obsolete. We always recommend stripping parts from appliances before you trash them, because many of these parts can be used for other projects. TV antennas are great for lots of things. You can use them to turn sewing projects inside out. We love to use an antenna as a retrieval tool. Just glue a good magnet to the end of the antenna and use this to pick up hardware or small tools that have been lost behind a workbench.

Super hints

• Even computers can make errors when mixing paint, so we always suggest that you use half the paint from one can, mixed with another half a can of paint in your tray. This way, even slight differences won't be seen when you are using more than one can of paint on a project.

• Last week, I was working in a place where I felt a little less than safe. I had my car there, so I knew I could drive off if I were in some type of danger. But I also had my car keys in my pocket. This meant that, if I needed help in a hurry, I could just push my panic alarm and the lights would flash and the horn would honk. If you have keys like this, remember that you can use them to call for help in many cases.

• If you like to read a good magazine in the bathroom, you can create a super magazine rack from a hanger. Just drape the open magazine over the bottom piece of the hanger and hang up the hanger somewhere in the bathroom for easy retrieval when you want to read it.

Q. I am going to replace all of the grout in my shower. Once I've finished this part of the project, how do I seal the grout to make it last longer?

A. We recommend using a silicone sealer for the longest-lasting results. You need to wait for the grout to cure longer -- just follow the package directions. Check your hardware store and see what it has. Most are easy to use and, even though you will probably have to repeat this occasionally, it's a smart thing to do and is worth the extra time involved.

Q: Our toilet makes a loud noise when it's filling. Is there a way to stop this from happening?

A. It's probably a small restriction in the line caused by mineral deposits. Try cleaning the water-supply valve inside the tank with vinegar, with the water to the toilet turned off, of course. Hopefully that will do the trick, as other nearby valves will be much harder to get to for the same cleaning.

Q. I really need your advice. I am trying to put up paneling in my office and there is a fireplace on one wall. I want to try to get the paneling right up against the fireplace but, the edge is a little irregular. How does one get this edge trimmed just right without ruining the paneling?

A. There's a little trick to this. Hold the paneling up next to the fireplace so that it's plumb and just touching. Now, get an old metal compass with a pencil on it, and spread it to the width of the largest gap between the two materials. Place the point of the compass along the edge of the fireplace, and use the pencil to trace the irregular edge directly onto the paneling as you move from top to bottom. Now you can trim the edge to fit perfectly. Keep in mind that you'll probably have to trim the other edge to fit well up against the next piece of paneling, too.

Reader tips

• I found a great way to shield my spray paint projects from dust, as well as keeping the overspray away from the rest of my shop. I got a large box from a neighbor after he had purchased a new washer. I can fold it up when I don't need it, but open it up and set the item to be painted inside the box while spray painting it. Since the side is open, it's easy to get to most parts when painting, but it does capture most of the overspray.

• Our old metal wheelbarrow is still in good shape, and I plan to keep it for many years to come. I did replace the old wheels with some better, heavy-duty wheels. These are supposed to last a lot longer and resist punctures better. I put nice bicycle grips on the handles and have added hooks to the side to hold some tools and other supplies.

• I wondered if those upside-down tomato planters worked, so I decided to create one of my own to test it out. I used a gallon milk jug, cut the bottom and poked three holes around the edges to hang it upside down with. I bought a tomato plant that was in a 4-inch pot, because I knew it would have good roots. Then I put it into the jug so that the plant was poking out the bottom and the roots were still inside. Next, I filled the jug with potting soil and hung it up. I've had it up for more than a month now, and have been watering it when it looks a little dry. It's doing quite well, and I expect it to flower any day.

• OK, I confess. I accidentally glued my fingers together with a fast-acting glue -- you know the one I'm talking about. I was in a hurry and wasn't paying attention, and it happened. My wife came to the rescue with some fingernail-polish remover. It worked fast to remove the glue. I plan to keep a bottle of this in my shop now, not to release myself, of course, but in case I need to remove this glue from another project.

• We finally got together as a neighborhood and had a block party on our street. I was asked to bring the drinks, but rather than trying to haul a couple of ice chests down the street, I used my garden cart. I filled it with ice and drinks, and just wheeled it down. Several people called me a "genius" for coming up with this idea. I just did it because I was trying to make it easier for myself.


• For summer furniture, you can't beat PVC plastic pipe. It's lightweight, inexpensive, easy to work with and weather-resistant. You can build just about any piece of furniture once you have learned the basics. We have put together a sheet detailing the basics of working with the plastic pipe.

Another good summer project might be a wooden picnic table. We've also got plans for a very simple, long-lasting family picnic table made from wood. This table is a one-piece design, which is both safe and convenient. You can have both sheets for only $1.

• Custom Cupboards has just launched a new concept for kitchen cabinets that will raise the bar to a whole new level! Facets is a line of digitally produced prints that can be printed directly on cabinet doors and drawer fronts. It's not a paper product, so it won't peel off. The Facets line includes a very wide variety of designs and even allows you to submit your own designs or photos for imprinting. The Facets line is available in cherry, maple and alder. These designs also can be imprinted onto paneling and other stock. The concept is genius and really only limited to your imagination and budget. It's new, so you need to go to their website,, for more information on how the process might work for you and also where you can find a local dealer. Isn't technology amazing?

• PoolTunes is a neat, wireless floating speaker that you can use in your pool or spa. All you need to do is plug your audio device into the wireless transmitter, and it broadcasts to the full-range, waterproof, floating speaker. The range goes up to 35 feet and even includes a volume control. It has a built-in blue LED light and an on/off switch. The transmitter and speaker both run on batteries. These are available at pool stores, catalogs and online. Rock on!

• 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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